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 examinations 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 and an oral exam

Part One: Music History and Music Theory Exams Top

The written exams in music theory and musicology are offered twice per year, typically in the fall and spring quarters. The specific dates are available from Graduate Services early in each academic year. A sample exam for each of the sections is available from Graduate Services. The student must pass both components of Part One before scheduling the exams in Part Two.

Music History Qualifying Exam

The DMA qualifying examination 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 musicology course (Musicology 400), students should pursue further coursework (especially Musicology 350-355) 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

Incoming DMA students will receive advising for their theory requirements during Wildcat Welcome. A representative of the theory faculty will review each student’s prior transcripts along with the results of the Theory Diagnostic Exam, and will offer theory coursework recommendations for each student that will prepare them for the third year qualifying examination.


DMA students will have the option to waive the theory qualifying examination through coursework. The theory faculty will approve a list of graduate-level courses annually, which cover competencies from the exam. Students who successfully complete three of the five courses during their coursework will be exempted from taking the theory qualifying examination. Students must receive a grade of “B” or higher in each of the three courses to achieve the exemption. All theory courses taken for this purpose will count as music studies electives, and units earned will be countered towards the total requirements of the DMA degree.

Students who do not fulfill the exemption requirements by the end of their coursework residency must take the theory qualifying examination in the first year of continuation.

For 2021-22, the approved courses eligible for the exemption are:

  • MUS_THRY 316 16th Century Counterpoint (fall)
  • MUS_THRY 435 Late Brahms Piano Works (fall)
  • MUS_THRY 318 18th Century Counterpoint (winter)
  • MUS_THRY 435 Theory of Melody (winter)
  • MUS_THRY 421 Classical Form (spring)
  • MUS_THRY 422 Rhythm and Meter II (spring)

Study Guide

The DMA qualifying examination in music theory tests knowledge of musical scores and styles from an analytical perspective. The questions normally require some essay answers and some writing directly on copies of musical scores. As with the music history examination, students are urged to review a variety of scores and anthologies of Western art music from its earliest days to the present. In addition, consult books that deal with music analysis, including:

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 three 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 marking 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.
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Part Two: Performance Area and Oral Exams Top

Upon successful completion of the theory and musicology qualifying exams (Part One), the student must schedule Part Two, the performance area exam and oral exam.

Before the student can schedule their oral exam, they must submit a prospectus to their committee. To achieve candidacy, Part Two must be completed by spring quarter of the fourth year.

Performance Area Qualifying Exam

The nature of this comprehensive exam is determined by each program, so the DMA student should seek advice about preparation and scheduling from the Major Advisor or Program Assistant Director. DMA students should be prepared to discuss their responses to this exam at the oral exam.

Prospectus Brief for Oral Exam

In close proximity after taking the performance area exam (within 10 days), the oral exam must take place. before the oral exam can take place, a prospectus brief must be submitted to the committee at least one week before the oral exam. A prospectus (i.e. a proposal) must be submitted to, and approved by, the student’s Advisory Committee before the student may begin any actual writing. Because the proposed research is discussed at the oral exam, submission of the prospectus brief is a prerequisite to scheduling the oral exam.

NOTE: Students are reminded that faculty members are not expected or likely to be available to read any briefs or documents during the summer months.

The prospectus brief must clearly outline the purpose and goals of the intended research and also outline how the document will be organized. A substantive bibliography must be attached. This listing of primary and secondary sources should be presented in standard bibliographic form. Sample prospectus briefs are available upon request. Your committee may request a sample chapter or more of your written work if necessary.

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

Prospectus Brief

Oral Exam 

All three* members of the Advisory Committee must attend the oral exam, which is typically 90 minutes long.

*If the DMA student selects the Lecture Recital/Coursework option, the Advisory Committee is comprised of only two members from their program.

At the oral exam, the student should expect two things:

  1. Answer questions about what was written on the performance exam. This session may include opportunities for the student to display comprehensive understanding and knowledge of music, as well as specifics in the major area.
  2. Discuss, with all two/three committee members, the proposal for research. The DMA student must have provided each member a refined proposal and bibliography before the oral exam, so they have time to read it thoughtfully. The Advisory Committee will provide guidance on how to revise, adjust or proceed with writing the Final Document.

When the oral exam has been passed, the signed DMA Qualifying Examination Report Form must be submitted to the Assistant Director of Graduate Services and Financial Aid. If all or part of either the written or oral portion proves unsatisfactory, a student may ask to be re-examined after a reasonable review period. If any part of the second qualifying exam is unsuccessful, the student may be dismissed from the degree program.

DMA Qualifying Examination Report Form

Filing for Candidacy

The Committee’s approval of the prospectus brief and bibliography is documented via a completed and signed DMA Qualifying Examination Report Form. This signed form must be submitted by the student to the Assistant Director of Graduate Services and Financial Aid to be placed in the student’s permanent file. Upon confirmation of completion of all required coursework and qualifying exams (Part One and Part Two), the student will be admitted to candidacy and may begin work on the Final Project.