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Ph.D. Qualifying Exams

Students cannot take the qualifying exams unless they have successfully addressed deficiencies from the Graduate Placement Exams.

Timing: Exams will be administered once a year, during the week that precedes the beginning of classes in the fall; the area coordinator will announce the exact dates by no later than 1 August.

Format: The written components will consist of a two-hour score-identification exam and three two-hour essays, thus eight hours of written exams altogether. All exams must be handwritten; accommodation will be made for special needs. A ninety-minute oral exam administered by the full area faculty will follow several days later.

Score Identification: Students will be asked to discuss in detail features of style, form, and genre in six out of ten musical examples and identify the likely time of composition as precisely as possible. Five of the ten examples will be from before and the other five from after 1750. Students must choose three from before and three from after 1750 to identify and discuss.

Essay Questions: In the spring before they are to take the exams, students, in consultation with area faculty members, will select three topics to study over the summer and will compile a bibliography for each. Each topic must concern a body of musical works from a different period of music history: pre-1600, 1600–1800, and 1800–present. After consulting with musicology faculty members, students are to submit their topics to the area by no later than 1 April. Each of the proposed topics must consist of a title, a repertory list, and a bibliography. Topics must be approved by the end of the spring semester.

One purpose of this structure is to focus students’ preparation for the exams; another is to allow them to continue the kind of work that they should already have begun in their seminars and thus to further their development as professionals. Preparing for these exams models the way that musicologists work: this is how we develop projects that turn into articles and books.

Of the three questions on the exam, one is likely to require working with one or more scores; another is likely to be a question concerning methodology raised by one of the topics. All three questions will require close engagement with ideas expressed in items on the bibliographies.

The musicology faculty as a whole must approve all exam questions. Do not assume that a particular faculty member will write a question because of the courses that he or she teaches.

Oral Examination: The oral exam centers on the student’s essays. Students should consider the oral exam an opportunity not only to expand upon, clarify, or revise their written responses but also to demonstrate their intellectual flexibility, familiarity with the topics and bibliographies, and potential as a teacher and participant in scholarly conversation. Like the written exams, the oral exam should continue a process that has already begun in the seminars.

Grading: Area faculty will grade each of the four components on a pass/fail basis. The written and oral portions of each essay question will be graded together; thus a student cannot pass the written essay question but fail the oral defense of that question, or vice-versa.

Students who fail one of the four components of the qualifying exams must re-take and pass it by the end of the fall semester. For the score identification portion, the re-take consists of a new set of scores. For any of the essay portions, the re-take consists of another two-hour exam on a new essay question regarding the same topic—approved by the area faculty—and a half-hour oral exam administered by at least three musicology professors. A student who fails two or more components must retake those parts of the exam the following fall. Students who fail any part of the exams twice will be subject to dismissal from the program.


The following proficiencies must be demonstrated before submitting a dissertation proposal: knowledge of two foreign languages, research and writing skills, and adequate mastery of a minor or related field. These proficiencies will not be tested when students are taking the qualifying exams; the only other time limitation is that they be demonstrated before the student submits a dissertation proposal.

Proficiency in two languages, German and a second language subject to the approval of the musicology area is required. Language exams will be prepared and graded by at least two musicology faculty members, and will be administered once every semester as the need arises. Students who desire to be examined in a language during a given semester must inform the area coordinator by midterm of the previous long semester.

The examinations in any language will consist of two parts, both of which will require students to work with excerpts from texts that have to do with music. Students must write their answers by hand and may use whatever dictionaries they find appropriate. Part 1 will require students to translate a short excerpt from an older document, possibly from a musical treatise, dictionary, or encyclopedia, and almost certainly printed using archaic fonts. Part 2 will require students to read and understand a longer excerpt from a recent document, most likely a scholarly article; rather than translating the excerpt, students will have to answer questions that test their comprehension of it. Students will receive the documents one at a time and will be allowed one and a half hours to complete each part.

Parts 1 and 2 will be graded separately on a pass/fail basis; it is therefore possible to pass one part but fail the other. Students may retake language examinations as many times as desired without penalty. If a student passes one part of the examination in a given language but fails the other part, he or she need only retake the failed part.

To show proficiency in research, the student will submit a revised seminar paper to be read and approved by the area faculty.

To complete a doctorate in musicology, students must demonstrate proficiency in a related or minor field. Requirements for demonstrating proficiency and the administering of any examination will fall under the auspices of the related or minor field area.

Dissertation Phase

After passing the qualifying exams and demonstrating the required proficiencies, students will start working on their dissertation proposals while finishing course work. Once they have finished course work, students will be admitted to candidacy. The student will request a member from the musicology area to serve as major professor, register for one semester of dissertation hours with that professor, and put together a dissertation committee. This committee will include three to five faculty members (including two historical musicologists and one representative of the student’s minor/related field).

In communication with the major professor and the committee, the student will select a dissertation topic, write a dissertation proposal and submit it to the Graduate Academic Degrees Committee for approval. Specific guidelines for this process are available online on this webpage.

If the major professor deems it necessary, the student may be required to define a broader area of study that sufficiently contextualizes the topic. In this case, the student will compile a bibliography on the broader area and schedule a one-hour oral exam. The student’s committee will oversee the exam, during which the student will answer questions on the literature in his/her area as represented by the bibliography.

Last revised 29 March 2013