Thesis Criteria

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

The Ph.D. thesis in Composition involves both the creation of an original large-scale work and research that increases our understanding of music and musical processes. The thesis document consists of the research report and the score of the composition (the musical work).

  • The research report is considered the primary document and is understood to make an original contribution to knowledge; 
  • The composition may be the outcome or application of research findings or the study of compositional strategies, processes, and tools that generates new understanding of music perception and musical understanding. It is evaluated for the way in which in supports the report and for its technical and artistic mastery.

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. Evidence of originality and creativity;
  2. Resourcefulness, alertness to significance of findings;
  3. Diligence, care, technical skill in the research;
  4. Usefulness of the results to other workers in the field; value as a contribution to knowledge;
  5. Grasp of subject, powers of criticism and general adequacy in review of previous work;
  6. Quality of presentation (coherence, lucidity, grammar, style, freedom from typographical 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

An Effective Description of the Project:

  1. Has A Concise Title Framing the Research and its Compositional Applications
  2. Opening Impact Explicating the Context(s) of the Research and its Compositional Applications
  3. Uses language understandable to the non-specialist;
  4. Concisely states what you are going to research (goals and objectives);
  5. How you are going to do it; (methodology)
  6. Why it is worth doing (originality, contribution to knowledge); and
  7. How the results, be they framed as tools or findings, will be applied to or take form in the composition (outcomes)

The proposal develops a clear vision of the theoretical or conceptual framework that will guide the work by:

  • Citing sources that have inspired the work;
  • comparing the proposed research to past and current work, scholarly; and
  • identifying a gap that your work will fill; and
  • explicating the methodological choices and compositional outcomes/processes that they will engender to explain how the combination of research/composition makes an original contribution to knowledge. 
  • The description of the compositional process should also briefly detail title, instrumentation, form, structuring materials, and orchestration principles as relevant.

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!