Graduate Theory and History Placement Exam Information

Graduate Theory and History Placement Exam Information

Basic competence in music history and theory is a prerequisite for all graduate degree programs in music. Entering graduate students are required to take advisory exams in both areas prior to arrival; placements will be determined by interpreting the exam results in light of a student's educational background and the degree program for which she or he is enrolled. Remedial courses cannot be used to meet degree requirements within any of the graduate programs. It is the responsibility of the student to see that deficiencies are remedied swiftly so as not to impede their progress toward the degree.

About the Advisory Exams:

Who must take them?
Advisory exams are required of all entering graduate students in music, including those enrolling directly in Ph.D or Advanced Certificate programs with the following exceptions:

  1. Students who have completed a previous music degree (undergraduate or graduate) within our department in the last five years are exempt from both exams.
  2. Music Business students are exempt from both exams.

When are they given?
Students are generally required to take both exams prior to their first semester of study. Postponement of the history exam by one semester will be granted and is recommended for all international students who have not yet passed their English Proficiency Test. Other postponements may be granted in extraordinary circumstances by the Theory Director upon the recommendation of a student's Program Director. The theory and history exams are given throughout each summer and in the week prior to the beginning of the second semester (usually the second week of January). Information about the exact dates, times, and locations for each year may be found at the Graduate Theory and History Placement Exams upcoming test dates page.

What is the format and content of the exams?
In music theory and aural skills, students must demonstrate mastery of fundamentals as well as proficiency in part writing, directed analysis of tonal music, and various kinds of dictation (melodic, rhythmic, harmonic). The exam lasts approximately two and a half hours. In music history, students must demonstrate knowledge of the major historical periods, styles, composers and genres throughout the history of Western art music as well as a familiarity with the broad spectrum of music in the twentieth (and twenty-first) century. It consists of a written part and a listening part, lasting in total approximately two and a half hours. The written part involves matching, multiple choice, and short answer. The listening part similarly involves simple identification (via multiple choice) of the periods and composers of prominent works.

How can students prepare for them?
Students can review successfully in a variety of ways. Students with good preparation in their undergraduate programs might review materials and texts from their undergraduate courses. Also recommended are any of the major comprehensive texts in either area. In particular, we recommend the sources below.

For theory, either of the following:

  • Laitz, Steven and Christopher Bartlette. Graduate Review of Tonal Theory: A Recasting of Common Practice Harmony, Form and Counterpoint. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  • Aldwell, Edward and Carl Schachter. Harmony and Voice Leading, 3rd ed. (New York: Schirmer, 2002)

For music history, both of the following:

  • Burkholder, J. Peter, Grout, Donald J. and Claude Palisca. A History of Western Music, 8th ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010).
  • Burkholder, J. Peter, and Claude Palisca. Norton Anthology of Western Music, 6th ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010)

The students may also find helpful the following music history review aid:

  • Poultney, David. Studying Music History: Learning, Reasoning, and Writing about Music History and Literature, 2nd ed. (Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1995)

Do students need to sign up for the exams in advance?

May students take the exam more than once?

May students take remedial courses instead of the exam, or in preparation for them?

About the Remediation:

How is remediation handled?
On the basis of the exam results, some students are exempted from all remedial requirements. Many students, however, may be required to take one or more courses in music theory, aural comprehension, and/or music history. The Directory of Music Theory will assign specific course requirements for those students in need of remediation. These requirements must be satisfied prior to graduation.

May students write papers or do other independent projects instead of taking the required remedial courses?

Who might I speak with for further information?
Professor Sarah Marlowe, Director of Music Theory
Professor Panayotis Mavromatis (on sabbatical 2019–2020 academic year)