DMA Qualifying Examinations

The qualifying examinations tests the knowledge and musicianship that the DMA student has developed over the entire course of their musical career, from the bachelor’s degree to the end of doctoral coursework.

Qualifying Exams are separated into two parts. Part One consists of written examinations in Music Theory and Music History. Part Two consists of a written examination in the performance area of study, submission of the prospectus brief, and an oral exam.

Students must pass both components of Part One of the Qualifying Exams before attempting Part Two. Students must pass Part Two of the Qualifying Exams by the spring quarter of the fourth year of registration to achieve candidacy.

Part One: Music History and Music Theory Exams Top

The written exams in Music Theory and Music History are offered twice per year, typically fall and spring quarters. Specific dates are available from Graduate Services early in the academic year. A sample exam for each of the sections is available from Graduate Services.

Music History Qualifying Exam

The DMA Qualifying Exam in Music History tests knowledge of musical style and historical contexts in the Western tradition from the later Middle Ages (ca. 1250) to the present. In addition to the required MUSICOL 400 Graduate Review of Music History course, students should pursue further coursework in historical periods where their preparation is weak. For purposes of review, students are advised to study a high-caliber textbook (Taruskin Oxford History of Western Music; Grout/Palisca/Burkholder History of Western Music), and either a wide variety of scores or a collection such as the Norton Anthology of Western Music.

The examination includes four types of essay questions:

  1. Short responses demonstrating command of historical facts; knowledge about genres, standard repertoire, and major composers; and understanding of historically appropriate terminology.

  2. Longer essays requiring synthesis of a broader range of information and ideas across multiple historical periods, and demonstrating skills of written organization and argument.

  3. Listening identifications, requiring students to respond to audio examples with attributions by period, genre, style, and possible composers, and to justify these responses with description and analysis of key musical details.

  4. Score identifications, requiring responses similar to those in item #3 above, on the basis of score excerpts.

Students should be familiar with musical repertories and practices that are diversified by the following categories:

Music Theory Qualifying Exam

The DMA Qualifying Exam in Music Theory tests knowledge of musical scores and styles from an analytical perspective. Questions combine essay answers and score analysis. Students should review a variety of scores and anthologies of Western art music from its earliest days to the present. Suggested sources are below.

Caplin, W. Analyzing Classical Form, Oxford University Press, 2013    
Gauldin, R. Practical Approach To 18th Century Counterpoint, Waveland Press, 2013
Harrison, D. Harmonic Function in Chromatic Music, University of Chicago Press, 2010
Schubert, P and Neidhofer, C. Baroque Counterpoint, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006
Straus, J. Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory, W.W. Norton and Company, 2016


Review Topics

Basic Concepts of Tone and Notation of Pitch 
Pitch contour 
Interval construction 
Clefs, including common C clefs 
Key signatures 
Scales (major and minor), pentatonic, chromatic 
Tone Duration 
Note value 
Meter, tempo 
Compound meter, mixed meters 
Melodic rhythm 
Irregular beat divisions 
Harmonic Concept 
Chord constructions 
Triadic function 
Harmonic cadences 
Passing tones and pedal point 
Figures bass symbols 
Key change 
Key digression 
Monophony, homophony, and counterpoint 
Orchestration, transposing instruments, and score realization 
Basics of Form 
Phrases and phrase structure 
Motives and motivic use in form 
Part Forms 
Two and three part forms 
Contrapuntal Forms 
Canon, motet, madrigal, chorale prelude 
Twentieth-Century Theory 
Atonality and serial compositions 
Notational conventions 
Large-Scale Forms and Multi-Movement 
Dance suite 
Sonata allegro 
Music Theory in Helping Define Musical Style 
(see also the music history topics in preceding section) 
Styles of Western Art Music 
Popular music 
Musics of other cultures

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Sample Qualifying Exam Questions and Essay Topics

  • For each of the scores provided, identify the period in which it was most likely written, the type of composition, and a possible composer. Please make note of stylistic features that support your identification.
  • Describe the works from the standpoint of structural features (i.e., form, tonality, harmony, and other musical features). Make appropriate analytical markings in the score that support your points. 
  • Using your personal performance repertoire, choose two works of substantial length (minimum 15 minutes of performance time) from contrasting style periods and describe the works theoretically. Describe how this knowledge helps in the performance of these works. 

A sample exam for each of the sections is available from Graduate Services.

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DMA students may waive the Music Theory Qualifying Exam by successfully completing three approved Music Theory courses over the two years of coursework, earning a B or higher in each course. The approved Music Theory courses for the waiver change each year. The courses count as Music Studies Electives, count toward the Music Theory Cognate, and at the 400 level or above, count toward the extra coursework required for the Extra Coursework Final Project.
Students who do not waive the Music Theory Qualifying Exam must attempt the exam in the first year of continuation.

For 2023-2024, the approved courses eligible for the Music Theory wavier are:

  • MUS_THRY 316 16th C Counterpoint, fall quarter
    MUS THRY 325/425 Style and Phrase, fall quarter
    MUS_THRY 335/435 19th C Analysis, fall quarter
  • MUS_THRY 318 18th C Counterpoint, winter quarter
    MUS THRY 355 Analysis of Post Tonal Music, winter quarter
  • MUS_THRY 321/421 Classical Form, spring quarter
    MUS_THRY 422 Rhythm and Meter, spring quarter

Part Two: Performance Area and Oral Exams Top

Upon successful completion of the Music Theory and Music History Qualifying Exams (Part One), students may schedule Part Two, the Written Performance Area Exam and Oral Exam.

Students must submit a Prospectus Brief to their committee prior to scheduling the Oral Exam.

Written Performance Area Exam

The nature of this comprehensive exam is determined by each program and faculty member. Students should seek advice about preparation and scheduling from the applied lessons professor or program coordinator. Students should be prepared to discuss their responses to this exam at the Oral Exam.

Prospectus Brief for Oral Exam

The Prospectus Brief (i.e., proposal) outlines the purpose and goals of the intended research for the Final Project document, and specifies how the document is going to be organized. A substantive bibliography must be attached, and the listing of primary and secondary sources should be presented in standard bibliographic form.

Sample Prospectus Briefs are available upon request from Graduate Services. 

Students must submit the Prospectus Brief and receive committee approval at the Oral Exam before any writing or research may begin.

A typical prospectus brief is several pages in length and contains the following:

Oral Exam 

The Oral Exam must occur within 10 days of the Written Performance Area Exam. Students must submit the Prospectus Brief one week before the Oral Exam. All members of the committee must attend the Oral Exam, which is typically 90 minutes long.

At the Oral Exam, students should expect to – 

  • Discuss and answer questions on their responses on the Written Performance Area Exam. This section provides the student opportunities to display comprehensive understanding and knowledge of music, as well as specifics in the major area. 
  • Discuss the proposal for research with the committee based on the submitted Prospectus Brief. The committee provides guidance on how to revise, adjust, or proceed with writing the Final Project document. 

If all or part of either the Written Performance Area Exam or the Oral Exam proves unsatisfactory, the student may ask to be re-examined after a reasonable review period. If any part of the second Qualifying Exam attempt is unsuccessful, the student may be dismissed from the program.

Part Two Qualifying Exam Completion 

Students should submit the fully completed DMA Qualifying Examination Report form to Graduate Services after they pass the Written Performance Area Exam and Oral Exam.

DMA Qualifying Examination Report Form