PhD in Music Psychology and/or Music Information Sciences 
supervised by Richard Parncutt at the 
Centre for Systematic Musicology, University of Graz, Austria

Updated September 2013

Are you thinking about a PhD in the area of music psychology and/or music information sciences? The Centre for Systematic Musicology in Graz, Austria has established a good infrastructure for research students. We have also been receiving regular enquiries from students who are evidently not only talented and motivated, but also diverse with regard to culture and gender. That is promising, because we believe in a positive long-term connection between the quality of research and the diversity of researchers (Allen et al.,. 2006).

Before you can join us you must jump over the following hurdles.

This page aims to help potential PhD students to solve these problems so that they can join us here in Graz. But first consider some more general issues. 

What is it like to do a PhD in Graz, Austria?

Graz is a great place to study systematic musicology. There is plenty of sysmus research going on here. There is also a thriving student scene and lots of live music. Graz has four universities: the University of Graz plus independent universities of art/music, technology and medicine.

There are many research centres in the world in the area of systematic musicology, but there is only one Centre for Systematic Musicology. This may seem like a trivial observation, but the success of our recent grant applications suggests otherwise. The advantage of the label is that you can be broadly interdisciplinary in your approach and present the benefits of interdisciplinarity in grant applications. Then you can compare the aims of your project and the aims of the centre. We focus on music psychology, but like also to incorporate approaches, arguments, materials and methods from acoustics, sociology, physiology, computer science and philosophy.

There is no German language requirement for the PhD in Graz. But you probably would not come here if you did not plan to learn or improve your German. The English language skills of most students and academics in Graz are very good.

Entrance and course requirements are similar to other universities (further info below). The Studien- und Prüfungsabteilung will decide whether you fulfill the entrance requirements (further info below). You will be required to take a few extra courses that are relevant to your project. It is usually possible to find courses in English (e.g. some of the courses that I offer).

Why do a PhD in the area of music psychology or music information sciences?

Much of my music published research has combined psychological and computational methods. That includes my PhD (University of New England, Australia, 1987), my 1989 book Harmony: A Psychoacoustical Approach, and many subsequent articles on music perception and cognition. I have also published in empirical music sociology. For that reason, my research students generally work in one of these subdisciplines and not in other areas of systematic musicology - although my venia docendi allows me to supervise in any area of systematic musicology. 

Why would an ambitious young researcher today want to do a PhD in the area of music psychology, empirical music sociology or music information sciences?

Answer no. 1: There are plenty of interesting questions to ask in both areas, so there are plenty of opportunities to make an original contribution. Just go to any big international conference and you will be confronted by more questions than answers. That's the hallmark of a dynamic, developing field of research.

Answer no. 2: Contrary to what some people might tell you, there are interesting, rewarding careers out there for young researchers with good ideas, energy, flexibility, international mobility, and persistence. If that is you, I can predict right now that for every ten positions you apply for, you will get one. That may seem like long odds, but after a while it will become a routine. You will start to understand how the system works, and gain confidence. By pursuing this strategy, you can count on getting a chain of different positions after your PhD - some postdoc research positions, some junior university teaching positions - in different countries. If you continue to publish in good journals during that time, and if you apply regularly for professorships, the probability is high that you will eventually get one. You may even get a permanent or tenure-track position soon after your doctorate, but don't count on it! Read more here and here.

What research topics are available?

Students who ask this question are generally not ready for a PhD. Good PhD students in systematic musicology generally formulate their your own research question, and then try to convince their supervisor/s that it is a good one. They have generally been thinking about that question for some time, and they are highly motivated to answer it. On finishing their PhD, they know much more about that question than their supervisors; in fact they are already something of a world expert on the topic. (Can you imagine being a world expert on a given topic? Do you want that? These are important questions to ask yourself!) For your interest, here are some ideas about research questions that interest me.

What kinds of doctorate can Parncutt supervise?

There is no doctorate program called systematic musicology, music psychology, empirical music sociology or music information sciences. My doctoral students, or the doctoral students that I co-supervise, are enrolled in broader programs such as humanities ("philosophy"), psychology, or music. 

This page is primarily for students who are considering the possibility of a Doctor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Humanities, University of Graz (Doktorat der Philosophie an der Geisteswissenschaftlichen Fakultät) (more) under my supervision in the general area of systematic musicology (that is my official area of teaching and supervision or venia docendi). I normally supervise projects in music psychology or music information sciences, which are subdisciplines of systematic musicology. To be admitted to the program you will have to present a list of completed courses that can be considered equivalent to courses in the Musikologie curriculum. For example if you studied psychology you will find that many of your courses are similar in the main aims to our courses in music psychology or systematic musicology. If you are unsure feel free to ask.

Theoretically, it would be possible for me to supervise a doctorate in psychology (more) if the research project belongs to music psychology and Uni Graz accepted me as a (music) psychologist on the basis of:

Unfortunately the psychology department recently (2012) rejected this possibility. Instead I am expected to apply for a second Habilitation in psychology. Perhaps the best strategy would be to apply for a second venia docendi called "music psychology". But that would be a long procedure, and it would take up the valuable time of many people. Meanwhile, I am free to co-supervise doctoral students in psychology, and it is ok if the student gets more input from me than from the official supervisor.

A third possibility: I can (co-) supervise artistic or pedagogial doctorates at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz (more). In that case, and if the project is not based on original quantitative or qualitative data, it is not necessary for the student to satisfy the prerequisites below about previous empirical research.

Some a disseration can be cumulative, that is, you can publish some papers in good journals on a similar topic and put them together with an introduction to make a dissertation. Further details for Uni Graz are here

The kind of PhD program I would like (but don't have)

This section is not interesting for most potential PhD students, so you might just skip it. But I thought I would include it so that you can see how I think about examination procedures, if you are curious.

In 2013 have been negotiating with student services about reforming doctoral programs, and I have implicit support from two vice-rectors (research and teaching). But they have little power to change the system, because each doctoral program is mainly determined by a combination of national laws and curricular committees, both of which are intrinsically conservative. Democracy has its pros and cons, it seems.

Just for the record, here is how I think a doctoral program should work. For simplicity I will write in the indicative ("is" instead of "would be"), as if the program already exists:
There are no other requirements for the degree:
The above program does not exist. But it would be nice;-) As always, I welcome comments and suggestions.

Which kind of doctorate is best for your later career?

Back to reality, and the doctorate programs that really exist right now at the University of Graz:

For students of psychology and other sciences this raises the question of how important it is to have a PhD in sciences rather than humanities. Imagine you are applying for a professorship in psychology in 10 years’ time (or 5, if you are brilliant). The committee members are mainly psychologists, the others are mainly scientists (from the Faculty of Science). None of them know much about your research. There should be reviews of applications by international experts, but unfortunately this usually does not happen. So the committee members rely to a large extent on “objective indicators”.

They first want to see your publications. Peer review? Citation? Impact? Relevance? If you do a PhD in Graz we would probably first work on a conference presentation, then turn it into a paper for an good international journal with peer review, then after that is submitted you would start writing your dissertation. That way you would get both a good publication and a good dissertation, rather than one or the other. A collection of published articles with an original introduction ("Sammeldissertation") is now (2012) possible in Graz in the natural sciences but not the humanities. Perhaps we could apply for an exception since systematic musicology is mainly scientific and a "Sammelhabilitation" is now possible in the humanities. And besides this rule might change soon. Anyway a regular dissertation is not such a bad idea, I wrote one way back in 1987 and then turned it into a book that was published in 1989. In any case I would recommend writing your dissertation in English in a structure that can easily be turned into separate papers later. That means for example three separate chapters describing three separate experiments about different related questions, plus a general introduction and some general conclusions, five chapters altogether.

The members of a professorial selection committee in psychology will then want to be sure you have a good undergraduate masters degree in psychology. They will especially want to know that you have a command of the fundamentals of empirical methods. But even that is not essential. Until 1988, I was a permanent lecturer in the Department of Psychology, Keele University, England although my undergraduate studies were in physics and music.

The committee members might also judge you on the reputation of your supervisor, but that does not happen much in my experience. Instead the reputation of your supervisor has an indirect effect: students with good supervisors get better support that allows them to progress more quickly toward good international publications. And that is the first thing that the committee looks at. If you apply for other positions or for a position outside of the German-speaking world my guess is that it will matter even less whether your PhD was officially in psychology (science) or not.


You will first need a Masters degree that is relevant for systematic musicology. The ideal solution is a specialist masters degree such as those offered in Jyväskylä, London and Sheffield. Recall that the aim of the Bologna ECTS system is to enable students to study in a foreign country. Regardless of where you are from, international mobility gives you new insights into your discipline and broadens your horizons.

Incidentally, I would have created a degree course of this kind in Graz but for two hindrances: the large amount of administrative effort to get it off the ground, and the risk that not enough students will enrol (a problem already faced by other such programs). Besides, I don't want to take students away from courses organised by my friends and colleagues in other countries.

I generally accept Graz students with a Masters degree in Musikologie with Schwerpunkt Musikpsychologie und Akustik. In the Musikologie program we carefully build up the abilities that you need to do your own independent research in music psychology or music information sciences. A Masters degree in Musicology from another university may be insufficient from my point of view (although it may satisfy the University of Graz student admissions office). This is an important question, so if this applies to you, please read the following carefully!

A PhD is an original contribution to international research. Specialists in the same area (the examiners) must agree that it represents a "significant" contribution. This is the main question that is asked, or should be asked, in any PhD examination. It follows that to be accepted to a PhD program, you should be in a good position to make such a contribution. This should be clear in advance.

To make a significant contribution in subdiscipline X, you need a good command in advance of that subdiscipline's research methods. I say "subdisciplline" and not "discipline" because of the increasing specialisation that has been happening in all disciplines. That in turn is due to the increasing volume of research in all disciplines: experts know more and more about less and less.The diversity of methods in musicology is enormous due to the mixture of humanities and sciences; even within the humanities, ethnomusicology and historical musicology have very different methods; the same applies for example to acoustics and neurosciences. To do a PhD, you need a command of methods in the specific subdiscipline that corresponds to your research question. 

To have a good chance of making a significant contribution in the area of music psychology, you will need to have a good command of the empirical methods of (music) psychology before you enrol for the PhD. If you don't have that background, you risk not finishing your PhD, which could mean years of wasted time. To get the required background, you must first learn about methods and data analysis, which normally happens in a bachelors or masters program. You must then carry out a small empirical study, analyse and interpret the data, and write a report in standard form with introduction, method, results and conclusions. (This really is important, that is why I have highlighted it! I am very disappointed when promising students do not satisfy this criterion, because they often propose interesting projects and are otherwise well qualified and highly motivated. But without a good methodological grounding, they are unlikely to be able to complete their project.) The main evidence of your ability to apply empirical research methods is usually a masters dissertation that reports the results of a smaller empirical study. You can also convince a potential supervisor with a presentation at a good international conference (e.g. ICMPC) or a research report submitted for publication in a good journal (e.g. Music Perception).

Similarly for music information sciences: to have a good chance of making a significant contribution, you need to have a command of the empirical methods of music information sciences before you enrol for the PhD.First, you will need to acquire advanced computing skills in the processing of audio or symbolic files (music notation), or in the implementation and testing of computer algorithms (which incidentally was the core of my PhD and my 1989 book, upon which many further projects were based). Many people acquire these skills in a bachelors program. You then need to demonstrate that you can apply these skills in a small research project of your own. As for music psychology, that usually happens in a masters program, and the evidence of your ability is usually your masters dissertation. Again, you can also convince a potential supervisor with a presentation at a good international conference (e.g. ISMIR) or a research report submitted for publication in a good journal (e.g. Journal of New Music Research).

Apart from that you will need:

In closing I want to stress the importance of a thorough grounding in empirical methods. I regularly get enquiries from people who think they are ready for a PhD in sysmus, but I am pretty sure they are not, because they don't have enough grounding in empirical methods. Please believe me if I say this to you. I have experienced students wasting time trying to do a PhD for this reason, and I don't want it to happen to you.

Enrolment for a PhD at Uni Graz

This is the boring adminstrative part, but don't worry - it will not take much time. The following details may have changed since I wrote them, but they will be roughly correct. At the University of Graz, enrolment applications are accepted twice per year. The deadline is one month before the beginning of the corresponding semester, so the deadline for winter semester (starting on 1 October) is 1 September and for summer semester (beginning on 1 March) is 1 February. Citizens of EU countries can apply up to two months after they start to study, i.e. until the end of November for winter semester and the end of April for summer, but if they apply after the start of semester they are not guaranteed places in courses. The university usually takes a few weeks to process applications (legally the process may take up to six months, so sit back and relax). If you have a question about this procedure you can contact the administration of the University of Graz directly on +43 316 380-2192 (Studien- und Prüfungsabteilung, student records). If you are having trouble getting information in English and your German is not good enough, I can ask a student assistant to help you.

Funding your PhD

Our centre has a half-time position for a doctoral student, which is limited to 4 years. It will next be advertised in early 2014 and filled in April 2014. The wage for this position is the standard Austrian rate for a researcher with a masters degree, including insurance and holidays. It will remain the same throughout the four years regardless of whether and when the position holder gets a doctorate (apart from small increments that depend on union negotations and inflation). The position aims to help you to get your doctorate during the four years and at the same time give you the experience in teaching and administration that you need to get research or teaching positions later on; of course all of these things also benefit our centre and the university as a whole. We assume that most of the research that you do will be part of your doctorate and will include conference presentations and smaller written pieces such as proceedings contributions. We also assume that you will contribute as a team member with unique skills and experience to research projects of the centre. You would normally spend about half of your working time on those different aspects of your research, and about quarter each on teaching and administration. The teaching is one course per semester within the Musikologie program that's 90 minutes contact time per week. The teaching can happen in either German or English.

The Austrian government may not yet have realised the importance of PhDs for the overall research performance of universities and for national development. There are no Austrian government scholarships for PhDs (please correct me if I am wrong or if the situation changes). PhD students are expected to have rich parents or live on rather little.

But there are other several possibilities. First, the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Graz occasionally (about once per year) offers PhD scholarships. For that, I will have to recommend you.

In 2013 Uni Graz offered some new funding sources. Next try where several options are offered. Then, the Erasmus Mundus Masters and PhD scholarships; write a complete draft of your application and visit me to talk about it before submitting. Or look for scholarships and fellowships in the OEAD database: enter your country and see what you can find under the various disciplines that are relevant to your planned research. For example, students from China can apply to the Chinese Scholarship Council, and other bilaterial agreements between Austria (FWF) and different countries are listed here.

You may also consider the possibility of drafting a grant application for an FWF stand-alone project on my behalf. But remember that I don't have much time for writing grant applications so you might find yourself waiting a long time while I get around to it. To shorten the waiting time, work with me to prepare a complete application whose content I can agree with. I will do this if you clearly satisfy the prerequisites above and I think your idea has potential. We would start by developing and agreeing on the basic idea (that might take some time by itself). In 2009, doctoral students on FWF projects worked for 30 hours per week (longer was not allowed) for two years, and earned 1830 Euros gross per month for 14 months per year (i.e. you get occasional bonuses for Christmas and so on). So your gross yearly income would be about 25 600 Euros. This possibility applies to anyone in the world (including students already in Graz) who would like to do a doctorate in Graz. It also applies to postdocs; for rates of pay click here. New possibilities might have appeared since this page was written. So it is worthwhile writing directly to FWF Austria and the Research Office of the Uni Graz and asking for suggestions. I don't revise this page very often, so this list is neither current or complete. If you know of possibilities that I have missed, please email me so that I can include them.

Postdocs can also apply for:

Other possibilities are listed on the FWF homepage.

I like to apply for funding through the Austrian research fund FWF, because applications are generally written in English, reviewers are generally international experts in the specific area of the application, and the review procedure is relatively fair and transparent. I have no experience with IFK but from their webpage they seem to follow a similar policy.  Regarding IEF I have heard that the chances of success are not bad the second time you apply (after you reply to reviewers comments) but applications are only accepted once per year.

The success of any grant application will depend on:

Further ideas for funding are here.

What to do first

Before you start planning a grant application, you need to make sure that your basic idea is good, because if it is not good you risk wasting a lot of time and effort. After that, find, read and understand the most important current and older relevant literature. On that basis, develop and revise your idea and approach. In this process, it is usual to revise your idea many times, so plan time for that and don't be surprised when it happens repeatedly. That's what good research is like!

After that, for most people the best next step is to give a talk to an interested (semi-) expert audience. If you live near Graz or are considering traveling to Graz, please ask me for a timeslot in my research seminar; the current timetable is here.

When preparing for such a talk, it is important to search the literature again - even more thoroughly than before. Make a list of possible search terms in English (extend the list each time you find a good literature source, depending on the terminology the authors are using, and look for different combinations of terms) and search a number of different databases including for example Google Scholar, RILM, and databases in relevant parent disciplines of systematic musicology (psychology, computer science and so on). Also, don't forget to search your local university libraries for relevant books, and consider searching for the main terms in language(s) other than English.

After you have digested all that literature, decide which literature is both good and relevant to your question, revise your idea according to the content of the literature, and present your idea against the "state of the art". For any good idea there is always plenty of relevant literature in different disciplines, so if you can't find much, it invariably means that you need to look more carefully and/or broaden your scope. To give you a rough idea of typical amounts of literature: if you give a talk on your planned research that begins with a survey of relevant background literature, you should refer to at least ten good relevant literature sources, which you should have chosen by considering at least a hundred candidates. It is always good if the literature you consider comes from different relevant disciplines, is written in different formats (article, chapter, book, conference proceedings) and possibly languages, and has been subject to peer review procedures.

Of course, the background literature can and possibly should inspire you to move in a different direction. If that happens, go with the flow.

Tips for doing your PhD

Well that is a rather big topic, and if you are only starting it may seem like a long way away, but let me briefly address some central issues. Ultimately your work will be judged according to whether you have made a significant original contribution to research. So it is a good idea if you can speculate in advance what that contribution might be. 

If you want to make a significant original contribution to science (as opposed to humanities), you will generally have to balance methods and content. Why? Without a good command of current methods, it is very unlikely that you will make a significant original contribution. But the content is also important, because content is often considered to be the contribution.

These points are also important in the humanities, but in that case methods tend to be less important and the context of the research is correspondingly more important. By "context" I mean social, cultural, political or historical context. In systematic musicology and other social sciences, we should be aspiring for a balance between humanities and sciences (cf. CIM and JIMS). For that reason, I recommend paying careful attention to questions of context in your PhD dissertation, even if the main focus is scientific and empirical.

My past PhD students

My past PhD students include Werner Goebl who worked on expression in piano music, and Margit Painsi whom I co-supervised on a project on the psychology of music education. Both now have permanent academic positions in Vienna. You can find their theses and publications in the internet. I also co-supervised the dissertation of Sarah Kettner on the role of narcissism in music performance. I am currently (2012) supervising Daniela Prem who is investigating jazz voice sound (timbre). We also have a postdoc at the Centre for Systematic Musicology, Erica Bisesi, who until recently (2011) held an FWF Lise Meitner fellowship and then successfully applied for her own FWF stand-alone project to study emotion and expression in piano music. (Nota bene: If you are good, you can apply for funding and get it!) Many of my masters students have presented their research at international conferences. These include Manuela Marin who is the main driving force behind the SysMus conference series and currently (2012) has a predoc position at Uni Wien. Other masters students who presented research at international conferences include Angelika Dorfer, Elena Gasenzer, Doris Grillitsch, Thomas Hutsteiner, Karen Jost, Annekatrin Kessler, Johann Lassnig-Walder, Gottfried Reichweger, and Anita Taschler. My student assistants Fabio Kaiser, Martina Koegeler and Martin Winter have also presented their research at international conferences. For further information see my student profiles and publications pages.

Further information

Feel free to telephone me at work or arrange a time by email to telephone. My contact details are here.