Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive exams are taken in May or November. The teaching demonstration (oral exam) takes place 4-6 weeks prior: March or April for May exams / September or October for November exams.


  • End of your first semester: Initial selection of 10 topics with your supervisor.
  • Second semester: Cursory review of literature around topics in preparation for bibliography selection.
  • Semester before comprehensives: 
    • Submit 10 final topics to the Area Chair by:
      • April 1 for November exams
      • October 1 for May exams
    • Compile final bibliography primarily in consultation with your supervisor and obtain Area approval of your topics.  10-12 items per topic: articles/book chapters, plus 1-2 books that interest you and reflect topic's broad issues. Exam committee approves by:
      • May 1 for November exams
      • November 1 for May exams
    • Notify [at] (Graduate Studies) 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 and proposed date for teaching practicum to [at] (Graduate Studies) by:
      • May 15 for November exams
      • November 15 for May exams

Written Exams

1. Music Theory (Monday or Tuesday): Two-three hour exams

  • Answer 6 of 8 one-hour essay questions related to 8 of 10 prepared topics chosen by the student and based on reading lists. 3 essays completed in the morning, 3 in the afternoon.
  • Topics focus primarily on recent research and must range beyond your research specialization area.

2. Music History, score identification (typically end of week): Four hours

  • Brief essay identifying historical style, genre, and possible composer(s) for 10 of 12 score excerpts covering the history of Western Music from the Middle Ages to present. A piano is available.

3. Music Analysis: 3 analytical essays submitted one month prior to the written exam period

  • Three analytical essays (15-20 pages of text, double spaced; examples, charts, tables may be added) on three works (or movements) from different style periods chosen in collaboration with your advisor. Emphasize original analytical work.  May include references to secondary literature where appropriate.

Oral Exam

Part 1: Teaching Demonstration

  • When: Four to six weeks before written exams: September-October for November exams, March-April for May exams. Committee determines date and class to be taught in consultation with Graduate Studies.
  • Scope: Using a job-interview teaching demonstration model, teach a regularly scheduled class of upper-level theory (300-level plus). The topic is an individual work or movement. You select course materials.
  • Class participants: Class members prepare the work in advance to enable discussion.
  • Preparation: Class, specific topic/materials to cover (chosen by class instructor with committee) are assigned one week ahead.  On teaching day, distribute detailed lesson plan and handouts to committee.
  • Follow up: The committee meets with you after the demonstration (discussion and questions).

Part 2: Discussion of Written Answers

  • When: One week after the exam.
  • Duration: Two to three hours.
  • Scope: Opportunity to elaborate, correct and enhance written exam answers and address the field's larger, problematic issues. Speak without notes. A clean copy of the exam answers is provided.


Meet regularly with your supervisor(s) to understand the process and fully explore bibliographic readings.

Preparation should include:

  • Writing sample questions and answers
  • Preparing a mock presentation
  • Preparing sample listening quizzes
  • Defending a mock question provided by your supervisor
  • Collaborating with other Area students who have completed, or are preparing for, their comprehensives.


  • Three full-time staff members from the candidate's area of specialization
  • One member from a different area within the Department, typically Musicology
  • The Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in Music, or an appointed representative, serves as Chair.


MYCOURSES 1 exam bibliography


Keys to Success"Listen to music from as many different periods and styles as you can...Listening is one of the best ways to get to know music...[and it makes] the preparation more enjoyable.  Make summaries of summaries of summaries."
-Cecilia Taher, Ph.D. student