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Conservatoire Research Degrees - PhD

Currently viewing course to start in 2024/25 Entry.

A PhD at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire will help you create opportunities to develop research skills that support performance, composition or a scholarly career....

  • School Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
  • Faculty Faculty of Arts, Design and Media

This course is:

Open to International Students


A PhD at Royal 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.  

This course is open to International students.

What's covered in this course?

A PhD enables you to follow a programme of self-directed, independent study, supported by experienced supervisors who are themselves experts in their area.

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. 

Why Choose Us?

  • Royal Birmingham Conservatoire has a thriving research community, with particular specialisms in composition, music technology, musicology, performance and performing arts.
  • Regardless of your specialism, you will benefit from access to top-level performers and a brand-new, £57 million building with state-of-the-art recording facilities, concert venues and practice rooms.
  • We have close links with the city’s musical and theatrical organisations such as the CBSO, BCMG, The Rep Theatre, Midlands Arts Centre and The Royal Shakespeare Company.
  • Music students are eligible to audition for our ensembles, and in addition both Music and Performing Arts students can take part in a full range of our practical activities and lectures.
  • Our programme offers the flexibility to present your research in a range of formats, depending on the nature of your research, whether it be fully text-based (80,000 words) or practical (composition, performance or scholarly edition) with a written element. 

Open Day

Join us on campus where you'll be able to explore our facilities and accommodation in person, and chat to staff and students from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

Next Open Day: Thursday 7 December 2023

Book now

Research Interests

PhD Research Interests

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:


(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:

  • Experimental and Conceptual approaches to existing genres,
  • Interdisciplinary and Cross-disciplinary work,
  • Jazz composition,
  • Electronic Composition and Composition involving live electronics (Dr Simon Hall, Professor Lamberto Coccioli)

We particularly welcome applications in the following areas:

  • French Music, notably Charpentier, Lully, Rameau, Joseph Bologne and Chevalier de Saint-Georges as well as Messiaen, Dutilleux and other 20th-century figures (within our French Music Research Hub) (Professor Christopher Dingle, Dr Shirley Thompson, Professor Graham Sadler)
  • 17th-and 18th-century Music: with a particular focus on performance practice and critical editing, including Italian and French Classical Baroque, English music in the 18th-century, late 18th-century German music (as part of our Forum for Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Music) (Dr Carrie Churnside, Dr Shirley Thompson, Professor Graham Sadler, Professor Jamie Savan, Dr Martin Perkins, Dr Siân Derry, Professor Christopher Dingle)
  • Late Medieval Music, Theory and Critical Editing (Dr Adam Whittaker)
  • Music Critics and Criticism (Professor Christopher Dingle)
  • Performance Practices of the Renaissance and Early Baroque (Professor Jamie Savan)
  • Jazz Studies (in collaboration with Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research) (Professor Tony Whyton)
  • Beethoven and early 19th-century piano music (Dr Siân Derry)
Music Education and Pedagogy

(Dr Adam Whittaker)

We welcome applications from students with a wide range of interests in music education and pedagogy, including:

  • Instrumental/vocal teaching practices and training
  • Music education in UK and international contexts, including schools and universities
  • Historic music pedagogies
  • Participant and practitioner-led research
Music Technology

(Dr Simon Hall, Professor Lamberto Coccioli)

As part of the Integra Lab, we welcome applications in:

  • Electronic Music Composition and Performance
  • Musician-centred Interaction Design
  • Music and Audio Software Development
Music Performance as Research
  • Proposals in historical performance practice and/or contemporary practice (including jazz) are particularly welcome.
Performing Arts

(Professor Aleksandar Dundjerovic, Dr Polly Hudson, Dr Paola Botham, Dr Gareth Somers)

  • The contemporary actor training
  • Interdisciplinary and multimedia performance pedagogy
  • Theatre making and devising
  • Digital theatre and multimedia practices
  • Dance performance
  • Embodiment studies
  • Eco-somatics and ecological performance practices
  • Applied theatre and performance
  • Contemporary drama
  • Theatre, activism and politics
  • Spatial Dramaturgies

Fees & How to Apply

Please select your student status to view fees and apply
  • UK Student
  • International Student

UK students

Annual and modular tuition fees shown are applicable to the first year of study. The University reserves the right to increase fees for subsequent years of study in line with increases in inflation (capped at 5%) or to reflect changes in Government funding policies or changes agreed by Parliament. View fees for continuing students.

Award: PhD

Starting: Sep 2024

  • Mode
  • Duration
  • Fees
  • Full Time
  • 3-4 years
  • TBC
  • Part Time
  • 4-7 years
  • TBC

Award: PhD

Starting: Feb 2025

  • Mode
  • Duration
  • Fees
  • Full Time
  • 3-4 years
  • TBC
  • Part Time
  • 4-7 years
  • TBC

International students

Annual and modular tuition fees shown are applicable to the first year of study. The University reserves the right to increase fees for subsequent years of study in line with increases in inflation (capped at 5%) or to reflect changes in Government funding policies or changes agreed by Parliament. View fees for continuing students.

Award: PhD

Starting: Sep 2024

  • Mode
  • Duration
  • Fees
  • Full Time
  • 3-4 years
  • £14,675 in 2024/25
  • Part Time
  • 4-7 years
  • £7,338 in 2024/25

Award: PhD

Starting: Feb 2025

  • Mode
  • Duration
  • Fees
  • Full Time
  • 3-4 years
  • £14,675 in 2024/25
  • Part Time
  • 4-7 years
  • £7,338 in 2024/25

If you’re unable to use our online application form for any reason, please email 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.

 Please note that the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media is currently unable to accept applications for PhD study by Distance Learning. We apologise for any inconvenience this might cause.

Entry Requirements

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.

English Language Requirements

Please refer to our English Language Requirements.

Interview and Audition Requirements

Musicology (including performance-related topics)

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.

Research proposal guidance

Your research proposal in the full application should address the following areas:

The Working Title of Proposal
Context of the Research

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.

Research Question(s)

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.

Resources Required

Indicate here if you require any specialist resources (e.g. access to studios, performers, specialist software, etc.)

Potential application and impact of your research

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.

Additional costs

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.

Course in Depth

A day in the life of a PhD student

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 in the video above.

The PhD journey

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).

Modes of study

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.

Full-time PhD Research: three to four years
  • As a full-time PhD research student you will undertake much of your research on campus using the facilities at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
  • You will be expected to complete your research and submit your work for examination within 36-43 months.
Part-time PhD Research: four to seven years
  • You would chose part-time PhD research if you opt to study whilst in employment or if full-time study is impractical.
  • You will be encouraged to use the campus facilities when you can and may often work from home.
  • You will be expected to complete your research and submit your work for examination within 48-72 months.

Examples of classroom activities

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.


The value of a PhD to employability

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.

Graduate Jobs

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 Midlands4Cities Doctoral Training Partnership have the opportunity to undertake industry placements as part of their research. For more information visit the Midlands4Cities website.

For those students not funded by Midlands4Cities, 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.


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:

Facilities & Staff

RBC concert hall

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 state-of-the-art music facility includes five public performance venues – a 440-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 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 able to 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.

Our staff

Dr Carrie Churnside

Senior Lecturer in Music & Research Degrees Coordinator

Carrie Churnside is a Senior Lecturer in Music and Research Degrees Coordinator. She is also Director of the Forum for Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Music, and Chair of the Programme Committee for the 19th Biennial International Conference on Baroque Music.

More about Carrie

Deborah Mawer

Emeritus Professor of Music

Deborah Mawer is Research Professor of Music and Associate Director of Research at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire; across 2016-19 she led a large AHRC-funded project, entitled ‘Accenting the Classics: Durand’s Édition classique (c. 1915 - 25) as a French Prism on the Musical Past’. She joined the Conservatoire in 2013, having previously...

More about Deborah