After studying composition privately with Ernst Toch (1945–50), Hood completed the AB in music (1951) and the MA in composition (1952) at UCLA. He took the doctorate on a Fulbright fellowship at the University of Amsterdam with Jaap Kunst with a dissertation on the Javanese modal system (1954). During the same year he became an instructor at UCLA, where he initiated the first formal programme in ethnomusicology. Following fieldwork in Indonesia on a Ford Fellowship (1956–8), Hood returned to UCLA and was appointed assistant professor (1956), associate professor (1959) and full professor (1962); he also founded the Institute of Ethnomusicology in 1961.
Hood was the first scholar to offer training in the performance of non-Western music (in Javanese and Balinese gamelan). His emphasis on performance participation or ‘bi-musicality" as an essential aspect of research is a major contribution to the field