Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive exams are taken in the second half of May or the second half of November.


  • End of your first year: Outline schedule to prepare for exams, define history exam topics with your supervisor. 
  • Start of your third year: Consult with the Area to define works to present in the Oral. 
  • Semester before comprehensives: 
    • Notify the Composition Area of:
      1. The topics for the History of Music research papers as well as the accompanying bibliography (between 10 to 20 entries);
      2. The proposal of the four works for the oral exam by:
        • March 1 for November exams  
        • October 1 for May exams
      3. Notify [at] of your intent to take the exams next semester.  At the same time, students notify the Composition Area Chair and the Music Graduate Studies Office of eligibility for exemptions from certain exams by:
        • May 1 for November exams
        • November 1 for May exams

        The following exams can be waived (see written exams): Harmony; Counterpoint; Orchestration I and II.

      4. The Composition Area will normally review and approve the topics for the History of Music research papers by:
        • April 1 for November exams
        • November 1 for May exams
      5.  Supervisors submit committee membership list to [at] by:
        • May 15 for November exams
        • November 15 for May exams

Written Exams

Analysis I and II
Orchestration I and II (upon request of the student, the orchestration exams can be written anytime in the month preceding the exam period).  This information should be submitted to the Music Graduate Studies at the same time as applying for the exams.

Exam 1. History of Music (Monday):

Three research papers on proposed topics (ca. 5-10 pages; 1500-2500 words, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12pt) demonstrating detailed knowledge of a proposed topic from the history of Western music.

  • Paper 1: Western Music prior to 1900.

  • Papers 2-3: Western Music since 1900.

Those papers, of good literate style, will demonstrate the research ability of the student. The papers must be submitted one week prior to the exam period.

Exam 2. Harmony and Counterpoint (Tuesday): Two three-hour sessions

  • Harmony: Part I: Completion of a given passage of not more than four instrumental parts in 18th or 19th-century style. May be waived if the student has completed MUCO-242, Tonal Composition1b, or the equivalent, at the discretion of the Composition Area Committee.
  • Counterpoint: Part 2: Completion of a given passage of up to four vocal parts in 16th-century style. May be waived if the student has completed MUTH-302, Modal Counterpoint 2, or the equivalent, at the discretion of the Composition Area Committee.

Exam 3. Analysis Parts I & II. (Wednesday): Two three-hour sessions

  • Part 1:  Identifications, with written stylistic justifications, of possible composer(s) and/or period of composition for 10 listening examples spanning the history of Western Music from the Medieval period to the present.
  • Part 2: Written analysis of an excerpt of a given score.  Piano is available during this exam.

Exam 4. Orchestration Parts I & II: Take-home examination (typically Friday - Monday, 9am)

  • Part 1: Orchestration of a given full score.
  • Part 2: Piano reduction of a given full score, retaining essential stylistic and timbral characteristics of the original. Exam is emailed from, and returned to, the Music Graduate Studies Office.

Exams may be waived if the student has completed MUCO-460, Orchestration 3, or the equivalent, at the discretion of the Composition Area Committee.

Oral Exam

  • When: The week following the written examinations.
  • Duration: Two to three hours.
  • Part 1: Four 20-minute presentations - one for each of four works - each followed by a 10-minute question/answer period, demonstrating a wide knowledge of repertoire, history, compositional practices, theory and aesthetics of 20th/21st century music.
  • Part 2: A short question and answer session following the presentation of the four works, based upon on the essay questions and written examinations.


Begin preparing as early as possible, using placement exam results to determine where to put special effort.

Preparation should include:

  • Weekly meetings with supervisors 
  • Writing sample questions and answers
  • Completing sample orchestrations and exercises
  • Defending mock questions
  • Responding to listening examples, etc.
  • Collaborating with other area students who have completed, or are preparing for, their comprehensives.


  • Three full-time staff members from the student's area of specialization.
  • One member from a different area within the Department.
  • The Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in Music, or appointed representative, serves as Chair.



Keys to Success

"Starting early...being curious...allowing yourself the freedom to reflect deeply"
-Elinor Frey, DMus '12