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Centre for Music and Science


The Faculty of Music offers a 1-year MPhil in Music targeted at individuals with an undergraduate degree who wish to develop more experience in music research. This MPhil provides a varied collection of courses designed to develop and hone research skills, as well as an opportunity to conduct a significant research project resulting in a substantial written dissertation. Within this MPhil in music one can then take the Music and Science track, which means focusing the optional courses on relevant scientific topics and conducing a research project into a particular area of music and science.

The first term involves some rather intense study of general topics and research skills in musicology. There is a lot of required reading for this part of the course, and only a small part is scientific in nature. MPhil candidates should ideally have some prior knowledge already of some musicological literature, be it through prior taught courses or self-study, and they should have some enthusiasm for learning more about this research area. Example authors include Carl Dahlhaus, Anne Shreffler, Richard Taruskin, Guido Adler, Carl Stumpf, Suzanne Cusick, Carol Krumhansl, Eric Clarke, Lawrence Kramer, Susan McClary, David Beard, Olivia Bloechl, Theodor Adorno, Simon Frith, Rachel Mundy, Paul Gilroy, Carolyn Abbate, Nicholas Cook, Amanda Wiedman, and Gundula Kreuzer.

The second term involves taking two taught courses which are chosen from a wider selection. Music and Science students are likely to take the Music & Science course as well as another empirically oriented courses, for example research skills as taught by the Social Sciences Research Methods Programme (SSRMP) or the Computer Music course run by the Department of Computer Science and Technology. Of course, they also have their pick of the other non-scientific courses run by the Faculty of Music.

The third term is dedicated wholly to the research project, though students will have typically made substantial progress already on this project in the previous two terms. MPhil Music and Science research projects are generally supervised by the CMS Director, Peter Harrison. As part of the application process students are asked to write a short research proposal; students are encouraged to think carefully about how the proposed project relates to the research topics, methodologies, and philosophies outlined on Peter's webpage as well as ongoing projects in the CMS.


Why should I do an MPhil?

The MPhil provides an excellent opportunity to develop research skills (e.g. designing surveys, conducting interviews, applying statistical methods) that are highly valued both in academia and in many parts of industry (e.g. market research, audio branding). It simultaneously allows you to immerse yourself for a year in a particular research topic of your choosing, which can itself be a highly enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Why Cambridge?

The Music MPhil at Cambridge places a relatively high weight on its research component compared to most other Master's programmes in music psychology. There are relatively few taught courses, and these courses are mainly focused on critical thinking and research skills and critical thinking as opposed to foundational knowledge. The student is therefore free to spend the larger proportion of their time on their personal research project. This setup is particularly well-suited to students who already have experience in music and science (e.g. from undergraduate courses) and have already started to develop their own research interests.

A special property of the Cambridge MPhil is the freedom it provides to select optional courses from different departments. The University of Cambridge has many world-class teaching programmes in a great variety of fields, and it can be very valuable to incorporate some of these different programmes into one's MPhil experience.

How do I apply?

Prospective Music and Science MPhil students should apply for the MPhil in Music, and state their intention to work with Peter Harrison at the Centre for Music and Science as part of their application. See How to Apply for details on the application process and required materials.

How do I get funding?

MPhil funding is available, though highly competitive. Most applications are made through a central University scheme; see Funding Postgraduate Study for details. In order to be eligible for funding one must typically apply fairly far in advance, not much less than a year before your proposed start date. Please see the official guidance for up-to-date information on these deadlines.

There are some other funding opportunities available outside of the central University scheme. One example relevant to US citizens is the Churchill Scholarship, which would take you to Churchill College, where the CMS Director happens to be a fellow.

What should I write for my research proposal?

An important start is to read broadly around the field of music and science, and music psychology in particular. There are some good generalist books out there covering a wide variety of topics, for example:

  • Deutsch, Diana. Psychology of Music. London, UK: Elsevier, 2013.
  • Hallam, Susan, Ian Cross, and Michael Thaut. The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017.
  • Thompson, William Forde, and Kirk N. Olsen. The Science and Psychology of Music: From Beethoven at the Office to Beyoncé at the Gym. Westwood, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group Inc, 2021.

In this process, you want to be working out what topics particularly interest you, which papers you think are the most relevant, what you like most about these papers, and how you think they could be improved or extended. At the same time, you should spend some time thinking about how your developing research interests could align with the research topics, methodologies, and philosophies outlined on the CMS project page as well as Peter's webpage.

Once you've developed some clarity about research topics, your task is to distill them into one or more well-defined research questions, which should concern an unsolved issue in the existing literature that you think you can address within the scope of an MPhil project. This research question (or research questions) then form the basis of your research proposal.

For the MPhil application, the research proposal should be approximately 250 words in length, not including the bibliography. You should structure it as continuous prose, using headings if you wish. You should cover the following items:

  • Background. Introduce the general field within which your work will be situated, and describe some existing work/findings in this area. Finish by noting relevant lacunae or problems with existing research that can be used to motivate your own work.
  • Aims. Summarise the aims of the present work. Your aim would usually be to answer one or more specific research questions, which you should state explicitly in your proposal. Your aims might also include creating some kind of tool or research material (e.g. a corpus). These aims should be clearly linked to the lacunae/problems identified in the Background section.
  • Methodology. Summarise the methods you would employ to accomplish these aims.
  • Significance. Summarise the significance of your proposed research in terms of addressing lacunae/problems in the field.
  • Skills. Explain how the proposed project relates to the skills you currently have and the skills you wish to acquire.
  • Timescale. Suggest a tentative timeline for the research, bearing in mind that the MPhil lasts 9 months (beginning in October), and that you work on this project for the full 9 months, but with other taught courses also taking place in the first 6 months. 
  • Logistics. Comment on any materials/equipment you need for the research. Note that the CMS does not currently have facilities for neuroimaging (e.g. EEG, fMRI), and most experiments should focus instead on behavioural experiments. It may however be possible to use heart-rate monitors and eye-tracking equipment.
  • Bibliography. Provide bibliographic details for articles/book chapters that you have cited in your proposal. You are encouraged to use APA formatting. Note that the bibliography does not contribute towards the word count.

It's important to note that the research proposal is not a final commitment. We would expect to workshop these plans during the early parts of the MPhil. The main importance of the submitted research proposal is to demonstrate your familiarity with the relevant literature, your ability to understand and critique its limitations, and your ability to conceive of a practical research plan.

Should I get in touch before applying?

It's not necessary to get in touch in advance of applying, but it can be helpful. Peter will be happy to advise regarding potential project proposals.

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