Thesis Criteria

In this section: Thesis criteria and deadlines.  For writing tips, visit Student Resources.

The DMus Composition thesis is a research-creation project involving the composition of an original musical composition of major dimensions that demonstrates a high level of creative thinking and technical mastery. The thesis document consists of:

  • The score of the composition (the musical work);
  • A written analysis.

The analysis explains the aesthetic and technical basis of the work through a discussion of its generative processes/strategies, form, structure materials, etc. which situates the originality of the work in the context of previous works.

The work and its approach are defended in an oral examination.

Below you will find thesis information for music students.  For more comprehensive guidelines, visit McGill's GPS website

Thesis Evaluation Criteria

The thesis document will be reviewed by an expert from outside the University, and a Schulich School of Music faculty member in discipline expertise.

Each of the following criteria are ranked on the following scale, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Satisfactory, Fail:

  1. Originality and creativity of aesthetic viewpoint/composition
  2. Awareness of and alertness to significance of past compositional achievements and related research/aesthetic viewpoints
  3. Diligence, care, technical mastery in the realization of the composition
  4. Potential of composition to assume a place in repertoire; usefulness of analytical text to other musicians
  5. Analytical thinking skills and powers of discrimination in supporting written text; connection between composition and analysis
  6. Quality of presentation in composition and written text (coherence, lucidity, grammar, style, freedom from typographical-notational errors)

Dissertation Committee

The committee consists of a minimum of two professors - your supervisor and one other.

Thesis Proposal Submission Timeline

Submit your thesis proposal form (PhD_D_MusPropForm.pdf) to the Area for approval by:

  • November 1st, for review by the Graduate Subcommittee (MRGSC) on December 1st.
    • By November 15: The Area Chair submits it to Graduate Studies for inclusion in the MRGSC meeting.
  • March 1st, for review by the Graduate Subcommittee (MRGSC) on April 1st.
    • By March 15: The Area Chair submits it to Graduate Studies for inclusion in the MRGSC meeting.

Tips for Submitting an Effective Project Description

The project description should include:

  1. Title of the compositional work
  2. Duration
  3. Instrumentation
  4. Short introduction contextualizing the work
  5. Description of inspirational or conceptual ideas shaping the work
  6. Discussion of form as a reflection of guiding ideas
  7. Relevant pitch, rhythmic and/or other formal elements
  8. Orchestration considerations as relevant

The proposal should be written with the thought of providing an initial outline or structure for the analysis of the work that will be the basis of the written document.    The sections on form, pitch, rhythm, orchestration and other formal elements may be assisted by small illustrations; each must be legible and accompanied by an appropriate title.  References to the author’s and others compositional works, past and present, should be used to establish the originality of the work and the unique contribution it will make to the discipline.

Thesis Submission Timeline

Graduation date

Initial submission

Thesis evaluation semester

Final submission deadline


December 15


April 15

Fall (October, November)

April 15


August 15

Winter (no convocation)

August 15


 December 15

Initial Submission Steps

Your supervisor may find some useful tips for selecting examiners on the Graduate Supervision website.

  • Two weeks before initial submission:
    • Print the checklist from the McGill Graduate Studies website.
    • Make a thesis submission appointment with [at] (Graduate Studies).
  • One week before initial submission:

Confirm that your supervisor has ensured availability of examiner and received confirmation (via email) duly indicated on the form that they do not have conflict of interest on each of the indicated points.

  • Bring 7 hard copies of the dissertation, plus completed nomination of examiners form, waiver, original ethics, and all permission to use materials forms to the appointment.  If available, please provide information on link or MP3 file if an an audio performance exists as examiners are often appreciative of the opportunity to hear the work.
  • With the approval of the Associate Dean, submit your thesis to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Office. The oral defence will be scheduled in 4-8 weeks.

Final Submission Steps

  1. Review the examiner's comments with your supervisor and make revisions if required. Consult the Associate Dean (Graduate Studies) and the GPS website if the thesis has not been passed.
  2. Submit online as per instructions by the date in the above table.
  3. Notify your supervisor that this has been completed. Your supervisor will review and issue the final confirmation.
  4. Check out the convocation website for further details, and prepare to celebrate!

Keys for a Successful Oral Defense

Many helpful hints about content, developing the right mindset, and practice can be found on the Graduate Supervision website. ProDeans, who oversee the defenses, remind us that they come hoping to hear some music!