Music Theory

Dissertation Proposal Guidelines

Cook Music Library
General Information and Procedures

The information below is specific to dissertation topic proposals in the music theory department. The Music Graduate Office offers additional information.

Dissertation topics may develop from a number of areas, including research done in doctoral seminars and independent research. As ideas for the topic are developed, you should discuss these with one or more faculty members who will provide feedback and help sharpen the focus of your proposal. You should ask one faculty member to serve as research director for your dissertation and chair of your research committee. This is the person you will work with most closely during the proposal, research, and writing stages. In addition to the director, the research committee normally includes two other faculty from the theory department and one from an appropriate outside department (often, but not necessarily, musicology).

The topic proposal is normally submitted after the written qualifying exams are completed, but may be submitted earlier. In any case, an approved topic proposal is required before the oral exams may be scheduled with the graduate office. Dissertation topics for students in the theory department are approved by the full departmental faculty. After the proposed research director and the other proposed members of the research committee have agreed that the proposal is ready for consideration by the department, the student should contact the department chair to schedule a meeting with the departmental faculty at which the student will present the proposal. At least one week before the meeting, the student should provide copies of the proposal for each faculty member. Some faculty may accept electronic copies in .pdf format, while others may expect printed copies supplied by the student. In the meeting, after a short opening presentation by the student, the faculty will ask questions, which may involve any aspect of the proposal but most frequently deal with the methodology, scope, and organization of the proposed dissertation.

The proposed research director will normally report the department's decision to the student within a day after the meeting. After the proposal has been approved by the department, the student will also need to submit a one- to two-page summary to the Music Graduate Office.

Proposal Format

There is no particular required format for proposals, but all of the following information should be included:

  • Name, degree
  • Research committee desired
  • Title of the proposed dissertation
  • Short abstract of the proposed dissertation
  • General discussion of the problem: Why is this an important topic? (suggested length 1–2 pages)
  • Review of the literature, sufficient to demonstrate that you are familiar with prior research, that the topic is sufficiently original, and how your proposed research will fit into the body of prior work (suggested length 2–4 pages)
  • Outline of the proposed dissertation (usually a chapter-by-chapter breakdown)
  • Discussion of the methodology to be used, possibly with brief examples as appropriate
  • Possible conclusions
  • Bibliography

Students are encouraged to be concise, and to limit proposals to about 10–15 pages, excluding the bibliography and any graphic examples. Complete analyses or extensive details are not required, but you should include enough to show that you have seriously considered methodological questions and have formulated an approach to the problem.