Comprehensive Exams

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

Deadlines

  • 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. 
  • Semester before comprehensives:
    • Notify the Composition Area of:
      1. The topic for the History of Music research papers as well as the accompanying bibliography (between 10 to 20 entries);
      2. The four-page proposal for the Special Field exam (double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 point) as well as the accompanying bibliography (between 80 to 100 entries);
      3. The proposal of the four works for the oral exam by:
        • March 1 for November exams  
        • October 1 for May exams
    • Notify graduatestudies.music [at] mcgill.ca 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.

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

Written Exams

History
Special Field
Analysis I and II
Harmony
Counterpoint
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

  • One research paper (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 prior to 1900.

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

Exam 2. Special Field Examination

  • One research paper (ca. 20-25 pages/5000-6500 words, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12pt) related to key issues pertinent to the research field chosen by the student for his/her thesis work in consultation with the Composition Area Committee.

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

Exam 3. Harmony and Counterpoint (Tuesday): Two three-hour sessions

  • Harmony: 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: 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: 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 piano 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.

Preparation

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.

Committee

  • 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.

Resources

 

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