Ph.D. Qualifying Exams

When Students Should Take the Qualifying Exams
Ph.D. students are required to take the Qualifying Examinations not later than the third long semester after they have completed all coursework and tool examinations for the degree. 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.

Sample Essays from Past Exams

Here is a sample series of qualifying exam questions / answers written recently by David Huff, Devin Iler, and Ben Graf. Read these documents as a way of orienting yourselves in preparation for upcoming qualifying examinations. You should see these materials as loose guides only and not as perfect, ideal essays. You should also in no way prepare any of the specific areas addressed in the questions; these will (within the given parameters of each portion of the exam) change from semester to semester. Also, in case there are any discrepancies between the form and content of these materials and guidelines that are printed on this website, the guidelines that are printed on this website will govern the qualifying exams that you will take.

Click here to view/download the questions from past exams (PDF - 6MB)

Fall 2018 - Dates

Sign up on Dr. Lavacek's office (Room 212)

October 22-26 - exact dates TBA:

1.1 Analysis before 1750 9:30 to 12:30
1.2 Analysis after 1750 2:30 to 5:30

2.1 repertoire 9:30 to 12:30
2.2 foreign language 2:30 to 5:30

3.1 history of theory 8 to 10
3.2 pedagogy 11 to 1
3.3 terms 2-4

All exams will be given in the Green Room. For information, email Justin Lavacek at All materials will be provided, monitored, collected and printed out by Dr. Lavacek in MU 212.

Students may use their own computers for the exam with internet access as appropriate. Students will bring new, empty flash drives to the exam and give them after each exam to Dr. Lavacek who will copy, save, and print out the exams. All work must contain page numbers and must be double-spaced.

All material to be graded must be written in the prose of students’ answers and all musical examples must be written on clean, 8 ½ by 11 staff paper (no holes or punches of any sort and no fragments of torn paper will be accepted).

The examination consists of three written components (Analysis, History and Methodology). Each component includes 6 hours of examinations subdivided into smaller parts as given below. Each part 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 sub-section of the three component examinations may be taken a maximum of three times.

Two essays (3 hours each).
The student is to write two analytical essays, one on a work composed before 1750, the other on a work written after 1750. For each essay the student chooses one of two complete pieces provided. A piano will be provided, but no recordings.

The student may engage any analytical approaches deemed appropriate and pertinent. Each of the two 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.

Two essays (3 hours each).
2.1 Repertoire essay: 8 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 Language document essay. Two excerpts from theoretical texts in a foreign language are provided. The student chooses one and writes an essay on the content and context of the text.

Three essays (2 hours each).
3.1 History of Theory: 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.

3.2 Theory Pedagogy: 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.

3.3 A list of fifteen terms will be given. The student will select five of them in order to describe and contextualize their meanings.

Related or minor fields
Please contact your related-field advisor for requirements, dates and rules of the respective exam.