Comprehensive Exams

The comprehensive exams in the Musicology area has three main components: Part I, taken either in August in PhD 2 or in May in PhD 3; Part II, taken in May in PhD 3; and an Oral exam, which typically takes place one week after Part II is completed.


  • End of your first year: Develop a schedule with your supervisor, including a strategy for selecting topics.
  • Seven months before the exam period (either January 1 or October 1): Candidates must announce their intent to take the exams to their supervisor(s) and [at]
  • Six months before the exam, the candidate chooses twenty pieces from a master list of repertory created by the Area (see List of Repertory) and send to your supervisor(s).
  • Six months before the exam, the candidate, in collaboration with the Area, chooses eight fairly broad topics pertaining to the history of music. In consultation with your committee, compile a comprehensive bibliography of a least 15-25 items Five months before the exam, the candidates submits the bibliography for final approval to the committee

    If Part I is deferred to May PhD 3 after a commitment to take the exam in August PhD 2 has been made, a new list of 20 pieces must be declared.

Written Exams

Part I
Assigned repertory.

Part I consists of two sections:

Section A: The candidate is placed in a room and writes a short essay about each of two pieces chosen by the exam committee from the group of twenty that the candidate has selected. Scores of the pieces will be supplied (showing the title). In the case of longer works (for example song cycles or opera acts) only a part of the piece will be presented. Three hours will be allotted for completion of this section.

This essay will situate the excerpt within its generic context. It should discuss significant style features and support its arguments by reference to analytic detail. Parameters to be covered (where applicable) include texture, harmony, melodic character, form, instrumentation. The answer should indicate the ways in which the piece is or is not representative of its composer, genre, and period (where applicable).

Section B: the candidate writes a more extended essay at home about another piece from the chosen group that is selected by the examination committee at the time of the exam. As with section A, for longer works only a part of the piece will be presented. The piece that is chosen from the group should be from the candidate’s area of interest broadly defined (medieval-renaissance-seventeenth century; eighteenth-nineteenth centuries; post-1900; jazz and popular music repertories). A weekend will be given to complete the work.

The essay will discuss the significant structural features (pitch relations, motivic/thematic content, texture, overall formal and phrase-structural organization). It should demonstrate original insight and focus primarily on the piece's unique style features. It may enter into dialogue with published analyses, though this is by no means compulsory.

Students will receive written feedback about their answers in both sections of Part I, copied to the Music Graduate Studies Office.

Part II

Take-home essays.

Eight fairly broad topics pertaining to the history of music are chosen by the student in collaboration with the Area at least six months before the exam. Topics will aim for broad chronological coverage from the Middle Ages to the present day. One topic will be a broader critical or theoretical issue, not necessarily specific to a single period. The exam will consist of two sessions, each consisting of four questions (one per topic). The candidate answers 3 out of 4 questions in each session. Questions will be emailed to the candidate and answers should be sent back in three hours for each session. An oral exam on the questions for which a written answer has been supplied will follow after seven days.

Questions are based on student bibliographies. Candidates should demonstrate thorough knowledge and critical evaluation of the selected literature, familiarity with the relevant repertoire, and awareness of the discipline's scholarly traditions, current debates and research trends.

The goal is to synthesize ideas about, and approaches to, the repertoire, making connections or highlighting disagreements within the scholarly literature, and displaying appreciation for how the music works. Essays must go beyond merely reviewing what others have said. Candidates should take a stand or make an authoritative statement, drawing on knowledge acquired.

Candidates should insure that answers respond directly to the question asked and go beyond plugging in information on the topic deemed important in advance of the exam.

The oral exam will provide candidates the opportunity to elaborate and enhance their written answers, as well as to address the field’s larger, problematic issues. Candidates will not have notes at the oral exam, but a clean copy of the exam answers will be provided.

Oral Exam

  • When:  The oral exam must take place no earlier than seven calendar days after the last component.
  • Duration: Two to three hours.
  • Scope: The oral exam will provide candidates the opportunity to elaborate and enhance their written answers, as well as to address the field’s larger, problematic issues. Candidates will not have notes at the oral exam, but a clean copy of the exam answers will be provided.


Meet on a regular basis with your supervisor(s) and other members of the area to understand the process and fully explore bibliographic readings.

Preparation should include:

  • Writing sample questions and answers
  • Preparing a mock presentation
  • Defending a mock question provided by the supervisor
  • Collaborating with other Area students who have completed, or are preparing for, their comprehensives.
  • Three full-time staff members from the candidate's area of specialization
  • One member from a different area within the Department
  • The Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in Music, or an appointed representative, serves as Chair.