Graduate Handbook: Music Theory

Music Theory

The graduate programs in music theory at the University of North Texas provide advanced instruction in the diverse sub-disciplines currently found in the profession and thus prepare you for a career as college or university theory professor. The curriculum includes: studies in analytical techniques covering the entire history of Western musical practice as well as specialized methodologies such as Schenkerian studies with a strong emphasis on counterpoint, history of music theory, and music theory pedagogy. During your period of study, you are mentored and encouraged to present scholarly papers at local, national, and international conferences and to submit essays to scholarly journals in the field of music theory. The culmination of graduate study in music theory at UNT is a master's thesis (or 2-paper option to be discussed below) or doctoral dissertation.

MA (Concentration in Music Theory)

Course Requirements

  Common Core (15 hours)
MUMH 5010 - Introduction to Research in Music
MUTH 5680 - Proseminar in Music Theory
MUGC 5950 - Master's Thesis (6 hours) or
MUGC 5930 - Research Problem in Lieu of Thesis (6 hours)
3 hours selected from:
MUET 5230 - World Music Analysis
MUTH 5360 - Analytical Techniques II (1700–1900)
MUTH 5375 - Analytical Techniques for Popular Music
  Concentration in Music Theory (21 hours)
MUTH 5080 - Pedagogy of Theory
MUTH 5355 - Analytical Techniques I (Ars Antiqua–1700)
MUTH 5370 - Analytical Techniques III (Post 1900)
6 hours selected from:
MUET 5230 - World Music Analysis
MUTH 5375 - Analytical Techniques for Popular Music
MUTH 5400 - Invertible Counterpoint and Fugue
MUTH 5470 - Advanced Schenkerian Analysis
MUTH 5550 - Professional Writing in Music Theory
Non-MUTH electives (6 hours)

Language Requirement

You must pass an examination testing reading knowledge of one foreign language prior to applying for graduation. The choice of language, other than German or French, must be approved by the music theory area. The examination may be satisfied by passing a language exam administered by the faculty of the MHTE Division. Contact the area coordinator for more information.

Master's Thesis

Before submitting their proposal, graduate students in music theory should consult the Thesis and Dissertation Guidelines for information concerning formatting, content, stylistic suggestions, and submission requirements. Before the degree is granted, the candidate must pass a final oral examination (thesis defense) covering the thesis and, if applicable, the field of concentration. The examination may be taken no more than three times.

Two-Paper Option

As an alternative to the thesis requirement in music theory, graduate students may write two research essays. If you choose the two-paper option, you must enroll in MUGC 5930 for two semesters. The Master's Two-Paper Option Proposal Form must be completed and submitted to the Division Chair for approval to begin the process. Each essay must have a different advisor, and will be evaluated by a committee of three faculty members: the advisor of paper #1, who will also serve as the instructor of record and Committee Chair; the advisor of paper #2, and a third faculty member. One essay must be a revised and extended research paper generated in a 5000- or 6000-level music theory class. The other paper may either be from a graduate class or be an independent project. Both papers must be on substantially different topics in the field of music theory. The committee evaluates both essays, determines what revisions or expansions are needed, and determines when they are ready to be defended, at which time the papers are either approved, approved with revisions, or not approved.

PhD (Concentration in Music Theory)

The Doctor of Philosophy degree with a concentration in music theory requires a minimum of ninety semester hours beyond the bachelor's degree. A maximum of thirty hours may be transferred from other institutions at the discretion of the area coordinator. Under special circumstances, students may be admitted to the program after completing a bachelor's in music theory. A master's degree from an accredited institution usually is accepted for the first thirty hours. The minimum residence requirement consists of two consecutive long terms/semesters (fall and the following spring, or spring and the following fall) with a minimum load of nine hours in each term or three consecutive long semesters with a minimum of six graduate hours in each term. 

The Doctor of Philosophy degree cannot be earned by routine work alone, regardless of accuracy or amount. The degree will be conferred, rather, on the basis of mastery of the field of music as a whole and the proven ability to plan and carry out an original investigation in music theory with distinction. This curriculum provides opportunities for you to engage in study that will prepare you for professional careers in theoretical research and teaching. You are required to engage in considerable research activity in the seminar environment, as well as to develop the pedagogical, communicative, and technological skills necessary to communicate results of that research.

Course Requirements

Common Core (36 hours)
3 hours of MUMH 6XXX
3 hours of MUET 6XXX
MUTH 6680 - Proseminar in Music Theory 
MUGC 6950 - Doctoral Dissertation (12 hours)
Related/Minor Field (12 hours)
Electives (3 hours)
Must also have completed Master’s core requirement (15 hours)
Concentration in Music Theory (24 hours)
MUTH 6660 - History of Music Theory I
MUTH 6670 - History of Music Theory II
MUTH 6680 - Proseminar in Music Theory
MUTH 6700 - Analytical Systems I (1700–1900)
MUTH 6710 - Analytical Systems II (Post 1900)
MUET 5230 - World Music Analysis
Electives, 6 hours

Language Requirement

You must demonstrate proficiency in two languages other than English. One of these languages must be German. The language requirements must be satisfied before you take your qualifying examinations. Credits earned taking foreign languages do not count towards your degree.

Qualifying Exams

When and How Students Should Take the Qualifying Exams
Qualifying examinations are administered during orientation week before the fall and spring semesters. Be prepared to spend three full days on the written examination. Ph.D. students are required to take the Qualifying Examinations no later than the third long semester after they have completed all coursework and language requirements have been satisfied. Any portions of the Qualifying Examination that are not passed must be retaken in the subsequent long semester. If upon a second try there are still portions that have not been passed, they must be retaken in the following long semester. Students may take any portion of the exam no more than three times.

Tentative exam schedule:

DAY 1: assignments 1.1, 1.2

DAY 2: 1.3, 2.1

DAY 3: 2.2, 2.3

The next exam will be offered during the orientation week before the Fall 2021 semester.

For sign-up, and more information, contact the area coordinator. All materials will be provided, monitored, and collected by the area coordinator.

Students may use their own computers for all exams. They should also have staff paper and scratch paper at hand. The main text, saved as a WORD-file, must contain page numbers and must be double-spaced. Students who write any examples or figures on staff paper they provide themselves should be sure to make clear reference to them in their prose. Any score analysis should be similarly labeled and referenced if it is intended to be considered in the grade.  

Click here to view/download sample questions from past exams.


The examination consists of six assignments in two categories (Analysis, and History and Methodology). Each assignment will be accompanied by specific questions or instructions. All parts of the qualifying examination will be graded by members of the theory faculty. The grade of “pass” or “fail” will be given as a single grade for each of the three components. An added oral examination may be assigned by the graders for borderline grades on any or all components. Each assignment within the two categories may be taken a maximum of three times.

  1. Analysis. Three analytical essays (three hours each).

1.1 Analytical essay on a work composed before 1750. The candidate chooses one out of two examples.

1.2 Analytical essay on a work written between 1750-1900. The candidate chooses one out of two examples.

1.3 Analytical essay on a work written after 1900. The candidate chooses one out of three examples. The examples represent different structural domains: non-post-tonal/serial, post-tonal/serial, and popular music style.

The student may engage in analytical approaches deemed appropriate and pertinent for the chosen example. Each of the three essays should demonstrate the student’s understanding of the complete work or movement by addressing various issues in relating the component parts to the whole. Prompts may be provided; the candidate will address these prompts within the context of the piece as a whole. A score and a piano will be available. A recording will be provided only if the example and/or the methodology require it.

  1. History and Methodology. Three essays

2.1 Repertoire essay (three hours): eight score excerpts from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and modern periods (complete shorter pieces, and/or an entire formal section of a larger piece) are provided. The student is to select four of these score excerpts. For each of them, the student is to identify and describe specific features of the score excerpt that may be regarded either as characteristic “signature” gestures of an individual composer or as evidence of a given musical style. Finally, drawing upon these cited features, the student is to surmise a probable date when the work was composed and a possible composer.

2.2 History of Theory (two hours). The student writes an essay on a given topic/problem/issue in the history of music theory. Some possible topics could be: a theoretical concept, theoretical problems in a specific historical period, the writings of a specific theorist, or specific theoretical terminology.

2.3 Theory Pedagogy (Two hours). The student is to write an essay on a given topic in theory pedagogy. The topic may be related to a pedagogical concept or a case study of a specific teaching situation.

Admission to Candidacy

To be accepted into doctoral candidacy in music theory, you must have completed the following:

  • all course work, including review and leveling courses and a related or minor field of twelve hours
  • the language requirement
  • all qualifying examinations with a grade of "pass"


The culmination of the doctoral work is a dissertation of appropriate scope, quality and originality. The dissertation proposal will be presented to GADCom after successful completion of the qualifying examination. Upon admission to candidacy, the student must maintain continuous dissertation enrollment (MUGC 6950) each long term/semester until the dissertation has been completed and accepted by relevant administrators of the College of Music and Toulouse Graduate School. Registration in at least one summer session is required if you are using university facilities and/or faculty time during that summer session. The final copies of the dissertation must be placed in the hands of your major professor at least two weeks before the scheduled oral examination in any given term/semester. The oral examination will be scheduled after the dissertation has been completed and accepted by your major professor, and before the last day for filing dissertations in the office of the graduate dean, as announced in the academic calendar.

Dissertation Defense

You will defend your completed dissertation before the doctoral committee and any other interested faculty, students, and members of the academic community. The successful defense is indicated by the signatures of all members of the doctoral committee on the Oral Defense Form.

Related Field in Music Theory (MM)

The related field in music theory requires nine credit hours. Courses used to fulfill major-field requirements may not be used to fulfill the related-field requirements.

9 hours
selected from:
MUTH 5080 - Pedagogy of Theory
MUTH 5355 - Analytical Techniques I (Ars Antiqua–1700)
MUTH 5360 - Analytical Techniques II (1700–1900)
MUTH 5370 - Analytical Techniques III (Post 1900)
MUTH 5400 - Invertible Counterpoint and Fugue
MUTH 5470 - Advanced Schenkerian Analysis

Related Field in Music Theory (DMA or PhD)


Doctoral students wishing to select music theory as related field must submit a formal application. Applications will be reviewed during long semesters only and will consist of three items:

  • a cover letter including contact information
  • an analysis paper that the student wrote for a past music theory class (not necessarily at UNT)
  • a personal statement (300-500 words) addressing theoretical/analytical interests and goals

These materials must be sent to the area coordinator. Area faculty will then evaluate the application and issue a formal decision of acceptance or rejection. Only once a formal acceptance is officially communicated to the student will he or she be admitted to the related field in music theory.

Course Requirements

The related field in music theory requires twelve credit hours. Courses used to fulfill major-field requirements may not be used to fulfill the related-field requirements.

12 hours
selected from
MUTH 5080 - Pedagogy of Theory
MUTH 5355 - Analytical Techniques I (Ars Antiqua–1700)
MUTH 5360 - Analytical Techniques II (1700–1900)
MUTH 5370 - Analytical Techniques III (Post 1900)
MUTH 5400 - Invertible Counterpoint and Fugue
MUTH 6680 - Proseminar in Music Theory

Related-Field Exam

The related-field professor will select two pieces representative of the standard repertoire. The pieces may involve original notation; they may be in full score (symphonic movements of moderate length).

The student will write an analytical essay on one of these pieces and should begin with a clear thesis, in which he or she indicates the purpose and the analytical approach of the essay. The essay should continue by addressing (at least briefly) salient large-scale issues of form and structure.

The student may then decide whether to write about large-scale matters, or whether to narrow down their discussion to particularly rich passages. The essay’s analytical discourse must be supported by precise evidence in the form of musical examples, diagrams, and/or sketches. If relevant to the work, the student might address extra musical elements such as word-painting, poetic ideas, narrativity, rhetoric, and aesthetics, being careful to ground such elements firmly in the immediate details of the work at hand. A conclusion should provide a clear overview of the results and significance of the essay’s thesis.