Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive Exams are taken in May or November.


  • End of your first year: Define a schedule for preparing various parts of the exam with your supervisor.
  • End of your second year: Submit your special research area to the Area Chair.
  • Start of your third year: Consult with the Area to define works to present in the Oral.  Pick one work yourself.
  • Semester before comprehensives: 
    • Notify [at] of your intent to take the exams next semester by:
      • May 1 for November exams  
      • November 1 for May exams
    • Supervisors submit committee membership list to [at] by:
      • May 15 for November exams
      • November 15 for May exams

Written Exams

Exam 1. Special Field Examination (Monday): One four-hour session

  • A topic related to the dissertation research chosen by the student in consultation with the Area Committee. 
  • Two of three essay questions based on a survey of key issues in that field. Demonstrate substantial understanding of musical works, secondary literature, source problems and research tools.

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

  • Part I: Completion of a given passage of not more than four instrumental parts in 19th-century style.
  • Part 2: Completion of a given passage of up to four vocal parts in 16th-century style. May be waived if you have completed MUTH-302, Modal Counterpoint 2.

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

  • Part 1: Identification, with stylistic justification, of possible composer(s) and/or period of composition for 10 listening examples spanning the history of Western Music from Renaissance 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.

Oral Exam

  • When: The week following the written examinations.
  • Duration: Two to three hours.
  • Part 1: 20 minute presentations of 4 works with 10 minute question/answer sessions, demonstrating wide knowledge of repertoire, history, compositional practices, theory and aesthetics of the 20/21st centuries.
  • Part 2: A short question and answer period based on the written examinations.


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

Preparation should include:

  • Weekly meetings with supervisors
  • Writing sample questions and answers
  • Completing sample orchestrations and exercises
  • Preparing and 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 an appointed representative, serves as Chair.



Keys to Success"Think the big picture,...make a game plan months in advance so that you focus your preparation,...stay healthy,...stay active in whatever way works for you..."
-Jason Noble, Ph.D. student