A PhD at Birmingham Conservatoire will help you create opportunities to develop research skills that support performance, composition or a scholarly career. Whether you are interested in music (including composition, music technology, musicology, performance and jazz) or performing arts (theatre, acting, directing, applied drama, dance and interdisciplinary performance practice), you will be supervised by leading experts in the field.
Choosing to study in a conservatoire environment allows you access to top-level performers, enabling you to situate your research in an environment of practical music making and acting.
A PhD enables you to follow a programme of self-directed, independent study, supported by experienced supervisors who are themselves experts in their area. Birmingham Conservatoire operates a system whereby you are able to assign your allocated hours to a number of specialist advisors, allowing you to tailor the support you need to the requirements of your own project.
Whilst you will be developing as an independent researcher, you will be supported both by your supervisors and the wider Conservatoire research community. As well as bespoke research skills training for musicians and performing arts students, there are regular opportunities for you to present and share your work with other research students.
PhD degrees are research programmes. They allow you to learn as you work through the issues associated with solving a particular problem. Each research degree student is supported by a team of supervisors appointed for the particular study. In all years of study, students will be required to present their work in meetings of fellow students and staff conducting parallel research.
We have a large number of research staff who supervise PhD students in a range of different areas. We particularly welcome proposals for projects in the following areas:
Composition (Professor Joe Cutler, Dr Michael Wolters, Howard Skempton, Dr Ed Bennett, Dr Seán Clancy, Dr Andrew Hamilton, Edwin Roxburgh, Errollyn Wallen)
We welcome applications from students with a wide range of compositional interests, including:
We particularly welcome applications in the following areas:
(Dr Simon Hall, Professor Lamberto Coccioli)
As part of the Integra Lab, we welcome applications in:
Music Performance as Research
(Dr Aleksandar Dundjerovic)
Professor Deborah Mawer is the Director of Research for Birmingham Conservatoire, whilst Dr Carrie Churnside is Research Degrees Coordinator.They are supported by a team of supervisors (appointed from our Research Staff) who have a wide range of specialisms and expertise including:
Since our mission is to promote the highest standards of performance and composition, it follows that our Research Policy is sharply focused on these activities.
Applications relating to the practice and philosophy of musical performance and composition and other areas of particular interest in the conservatoire context are therefore encouraged.
Starting: Sep 2021
Starting: Feb 2022
Starting: Sep 2021
Starting: Feb 2022
The University reserves the right to increase fees in line with inflation based on the Retail Prices Index or to reflect changes in Government funding policies or changes agreed by Parliament up to a maximum of five per cent.
To apply for our Conservatoire PhD research degree you should have, or expect to be awarded, a Masters degree in a relevant subject area from a British or overseas university.
Exceptional candidates without a Masters degree, but holding a first class Bachelors degree in a relevant subject area, may be considered.
We also welcome enquiries from potential PhD researchers without formal academic qualifications but with appropriate levels of professional experience.
Please send us an initial PhD enquiry containing your brief PhD research proposal (max. 500 words), and/or any questions or queries you may have.
We will review your initial enquiry to ensure your research proposal compliments one of our PhD research interests and if so we will ask you to make a full application.
Please refer to our English Language Requirements.
At interview you will normally be asked to bring along a recent essay demonstrating your academic writing skills.
If you intend to use performance as integral to the project you will also need to audition. We would like to hear you perform for about 30 minutes, with a programme relevant to your project if possible. The standard should be equivalent to post-Masters‘ level at a UK conservatoire.
You will need to present two recent scores together with recordings if available. The expected standard, in each case, is equivalent to that of a completed Masters' from a UK conservatoire. Feel free to consult our Research Department for further guidance.
Your research proposal in the full application should address the following areas:
Provide a succinct summary of what has already been done in the field. In the case of practice-based projects this will include compositions and performances as well as literature.
What is it that your project sets out to discover? What are your aims and objectives?
How will you go about undertaking your proposed project? Provide a provisional timeline.
Indicate here if you require any specialist resources (e.g. access to studios, performers, specialist software, etc.)
What will be the outcome of your project? How will it benefit the research community? Will the findings be applicable outside of academia?
If your project includes practice (composition or performance) you will be asked to provide a portfolio of recent work and may be required to audition.
As each PhD is an individual research project, it is impossible to specify what additional costs may be incurred. Whilst the Conservatoire is able to offer limited financial support towards the direct costs of research (e.g. the purchase of books or digital reproductions of primary sources; attendance at conferences and workshops, etc.) you may need to supplement this. Any potential costs should be identified in your application.
Before you apply, please send us an initial PhD enquiry containing your brief PhD research proposal (max. 500 words), and/or any questions or queries you may have.
Our PhD section is the place to go for application tips, FAQs, funded opportunities, helpful blogs and more!
If you're considering doing a PhD there's probably a lot of questions going through your mind: how am I going to pay for it? Should I quit my job? Will I cope with the workload? But most importantly, what is it really like? Karen Patel, a full time PhD student, shares her experiences of juggling life, a part time job and her studies. Read more in Karen's blog.
Full-time students are expected to complete within 3-4 years, whilst part-time students may take 4-7 years. In your first year (two years for PT students) you will spend time reviewing the field and refining your research proposal and projected plan. You will be supported in this through attendance at the PGCert in Research Practice, which runs for the first semester of your studies.
At the end of your first year (second year for PT students) you will complete a Progression Assessment Panel, at which you will present your work to the Conservatoire research community and undergo a viva with an external specialist. Your second year (years 3 and 4 for PT students) is likely to be spent undertaking in-depth research in your chosen area, with the third year (years 5-6 for PT students) involving writing up your results and presenting them in a suitable format (whether that be through composition, performance, or entirely written).
Our PhD programmes are offered full-time or part-time. These modes of study ensure that we can create a PhD research plan around your lifestyle needs, even if you are in full-time employment or overseas.
As each doctoral project is unique, so is each student’s day-to-day experience. A typical day might include reading, analysis, composition, performance, or critical editing, or any combination of the above. Whatever the nature of your project, all doctorates require independent study and require you to manage an extended, self-directed research project.
We support a range of thesis submissions, including composition portfolio supported by a short written commentary, or a combination of written and performance elements, as well as a traditional written thesis of 80,000 words.
Birmingham Conservatoire is a multidisciplinary institution that is home to both musicians and actors. Our research students benefit from the opportunity for collaboration between these two disciplines, as well as from working with others from across the faculty, which includes the Schools of Art, Architecture and Design, English, Fashion and Textiles, Jewellery, Media and Visual Communication.
Maya Verlaak is a composer who creates new music by developing compositional concepts relating to the properties and context of place, performer or instrument.
“Her hands-on composing attitude encompasses the idea that nothing is taken for granted, every single parameter invites reflection. In addition, by being fully committed, open to learn and using creativity, no project is impossible.” (Dr Michael Wolters, supervisor)
“What I most enjoy about the course is the freedom to do anything, and the possibility of doing projects both in the UK and abroad” (Maya Verlaak)
For the first six months of your PhD you will undertake the PGCert in Research Practice, which is a taught and compulsory part of the PhD programme. You will meet with your supervisors and attend classes every week. This is an essential part of the PhD which will help you to get your research started and set you up for the rest of your PhD journey. The PGCert programme covers literature review and research methods which are specific to your faculty.
You will also be supported through the activities of our PGR Studio. The PGR Studio seeks to promote an experimental, creative and practice-based space that resonates across all the academic Schools and disciplines in the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media. A studio can be an artists’ studio, a design studio, a recording studio, a rehearsal studio or a writing studio.
The PGR Studio aims to enhance our postgraduate research (PGR) community and student experience through supporting routes into and out of PhDs through professional and career development within and beyond Higher Education as well as the transition throughout PhD study. We run workshops, training, social events and other activities in partnership with our PGRs for our PGRs
You can also strengthen your PhD research and personal/professional development by participating in wider international research communities and conferences, and by helping to teach degree modules to undergraduate students.
The Doctor of Philosophy or PhD is recognised worldwide and is often an essential requirement for those wishing to follow an academic or research career in the field. Our ConservatoirePhD research degree has been designed to help you achieve a career in music and performing arts research or academia. Many of our PhD graduates have gone on to have successful careers as practitioners.
Dr Fang Fang completed her PhD in composition in 2016 with a portfolio of works integrating Chinese folk songs into new music. She now works as a lecturer in composition at Sichuan Conservatory of Music, China, teaching composition, analysis of music and musical form.
PhD graduates often continue their research through post-doctoral fellowships and academic posts. Conservatoire graduates also frequently go on to have successful careers are practitioners in the field.
PhD researchers funded under the Midlands 3 Cities Doctoral Training Partnership have the opportunity to undertake industry placements as part of their research. For more information visit the Midlands 3 Cities website.
For those students not funded by Midlands 3 Cities, the PhD still allows you the opportunity to work with other institutions and companies as part of your research. You can discuss your options with your potential supervisors, if you feel a placement would benefit your research.
OpportUNIty: Student Jobs on Campus ensures that our students are given a first opportunity to fill many part-time temporary positions within the University. This allows you to work while you study with us, fitting the job around your course commitments. By taking part in the scheme, you will gain valuable experiences and employability skills, enhancing your prospects in the job market.
It will also allow you to become more involved in University life by delivering, leading and supporting many aspects of the learning experience, from administration to research and mentoring roles.
Our Conservatoire PhD will help you create opportunities to develop research skills that support performance, composition or a scholarly career.
Birmingham Conservatoire has close links to arts organisations both in the city and beyond. PhD students and graduates often benefit from these connections. For example, Dr Seán Clancy was composer-in-residence with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) whilst studying here, and current student Patrick Giguère has had a piece commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), following his success in the Panufnik Scheme.
Birmingham City University is a vibrant and multicultural university in the heart of a modern and diverse city. We welcome many international students every year – there are currently students from more than 80 countries among our student community.
The University is conveniently placed, with Birmingham International Airport nearby and first-rate transport connections to London and the rest of the UK.
Our international pages contain a wealth of information for international students who are considering applying to study here, including:
International students who have a serious interest in studying with us but who perhaps cannot meet the direct entry requirements, academic or English, or who have been out of education for some time, can enter Birmingham City University International College (BCUIC) and begin their degree studies.
BCUIC is part of the global Navitas Group, an internationally recognised education provider, and the partnership allows students to access the University’s facilities and services and move seamlessly through to achieving a Bachelor’s degree from Birmingham City University.
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s £57 million music building opened in September 2017, and is located on Birmingham City University’s City Centre Campus in the Eastside ‘learning quarter’ of the city.
This brand new music facility include five public performance venues – a 500 seat Concert Hall, 150 seat Recital Hall, Organ Studio, Eastside Jazz Club and the experimental black box performance venue known as The Lab. As well as these stunning performance venues, we have nearly 100 practice spaces; including 70 small practice rooms and larger ensemble rooms and workshops.
Our new home is the first conservatoire built in the digital age, and as such it has been vital to ensure that the technical infrastructure installed is on par with any advanced commercial facility. We have seven recording studios, a mastering suite, a distance learning hub, and all of our performance venues feature high specification audio-visual equipment that enables interconnectivity and advanced functionality throughout the building.
These impressive modern facilities guarantee that we are excel in our unique dual purpose of providing the highest standard of music education deserved by our students, as well as meeting our role as a concert and performance venue for the people of Birmingham; taking our place in the vibrant cultural landscape of the UK’s second city.
Professor Deborah Mawer is the Director of Research for Birmingham Conservatoire, whilst Dr Carrie Churnside is Research Degrees Coordinator. To see a full list of staff and active research interests, please visit the Research Interests tab.
Deborah Mawer is the Director of Research for Birmingham Conservatoire and the Birmingham School of Acting. She joined the Conservatoire in 2013. She is also an international research specialist on twentieth-century French music, especially Ravel, Les Six and Jolivet, as well as in music-dance and classical-jazz interactions.
As an Editorial Board member for The British Journal of Music Education, and former Senior Academic Adviser for PALATINE, Deborah’s long-standing interested in education and pedagogy saw her awarded an individual National Teaching Fellowship. She has written and released a number of books and monographs, has written in scholarly journals and presented at many international conferences. She is also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
She has broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4 (with Robert Winston), is in demand for pre-performance talks, including at Glyndebourne and Music in the Round (2012), and has produced CD essays for Deutsche Grammophon and Hyperion.