Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive exams are taken in May or November.


  • First year: First Doctoral Committee Annual Progress meeting.  Identify three possible exam topics.
  • Second year: Second Doctoral Committee Annual Progress meeting.  Present three final topics for approval, along with preliminary bibliography for at least two of them.  
  • Semester before comprehensives:
    • Notify [at] of your intent to take the exams next semester, and email them your completed bibliography, by:
      • May 1 for November exams  
      • November 1 for May exams
    • ​Afterwards, submit bibliography to the committee for final approval and comments.
    • ​One month before exams, the committee Chair requests 2 or more questions per topic from each member based on your bibliography.  Chair then compiles draft exam with 10 questions and submits to your D.Mus. Dissertation Committee for final approval.

Written Exam

5 essay questions chosen from a list of 10, with at least 1 from each of 3 topic areas based on your bibliographic readings.  Remaining 2 questions are chosen from 2 different topics.  Take-home exam, completed over one week.  Questions are emailed on Monday, 9am and answers submitted no later than 4pm the following Friday.

  • Topics 1 and 2: General topic areas ensuring a broad knowledge of repertoire, performance traditions, pedagogy, etc. for your given instrument.
  • Topic 3: "Special-field" topic, involving a relatively short time period, set of performance practice issues, or innovative artistic practices/research tied to specific repertoire. It usually defines the context for your lecture-recital topic. For a list of examples, see My Courses.

Oral Exam

  • When: Approximately one week after the written examination.
  • Duration: Two to three hours.
  • Scope: Opportunity to elaborate, correct and enhance essay answers through committee questions. You may also be asked about the other 5 exam questions or related topics, to assess breadth of domain-specific knowledge. Remember to relate issues and repertoire for your own instrument to art music more generally.


Begin preparing as early as possible, using placement exam results to determine where to put special effort. Work primarily with your Music Research advisor and studio teachers, but also consult widely with exam committee members.  Choose topics that interest you and fit your career aspirations.

Preparation of bibliography:

  • Compile draft bibliographies of 30-35 items for each topic.
  • Work with Research and committee members to identify thematic issues or "narrative" categories central to your interests and unique to each bibliography.  Subdivide your final bibliography into those categories.
  • Bibliographies should reflect a range of current and historical scholarship, with primary and secondary sources as relevant. Scores and recordings may be included where relevant as a primary research resource.

General preparation should include:

  • Summarizing and synthesizing important themes, issues, and debates in literature
  • Identifying and learning key or representative repertoire, including preparation of examples
  • Writing historical narratives
  • Writing sample questions and answers
  • Selecting relevant musical examples and describing how and why they are important
  • Preparing mock presentations and defending mock questions
  • Responding to listening examples
  • Collaborating with Research, committee members and the D.Mus. Colloquium team along with other Area students who have completed, or are preparing for, their comprehensives.


  • The Advisory Committee is determined in your first semester.
  • The Chair is selected by the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in Music, or Graduate Program Director.


Additional Resources: MYCOURSES exams link 


Keys to Success

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