Musicology Department

Graduate Entrance Examinations in Music History and Literature

The new Graduate Entrance Examination in Music History & Literature (starting summer 2015)

Graduate students entering the IU Jacobs School of Music take the Graduate Entrance Examination in Music History & Literature. The exam evaluates their preparation for graduate-level course work at IU. Students have have two opportunities to take the exam, before their first and second semesters of enrollment.

Students who pass the exam are ready to take graduate music history courses. Students who do not pass the exam must take MUS-M 501 Proseminar in Music History (3 cr.) and earn a grade of C or better before taking graduate music history courses.

The exam is graded on a scale of 1 to 5. A grade of 4 or 5 is passing; a grade of 1, 2 or 3 is not passing. Students who earn a grade of 3 on a first attempt can consider retaking the exam in their second opportunity. Students who earn a grade of 1 or 2 should strongly consider taking M501 as soon as their schedule allows.

The music history exam reflects the course requirements of the basic one-year undergraduate survey of music history and literature at IU, M401-M402 (4-4 cr.). This survey is preceded by a 15 credit-hour prerequisite in music theory, literature, and structure, which means that the IU undergraduate takes the survey during his or her junior or senior years.  The course at IU is probably taught at a higher level than that of similar courses taught at other schools during a student's freshman or sophomore years.

The exam includes two kinds of questions.

1. The music history portion covers music from Antiquity to the present. This part of the exam exam is multiple-choice, so the general strategy for such exams applies: answer every question, choosing the best answer among the possibilities given. The answers may all be plausible, so pick carefully; make sure you read all of the answers. 

All of the questions on this part of the exam are based on musical excerpts that you listen to or see in score.  So focus in your studying on being able to place pieces of music in their historical context.  For instance, rather than ask you to give Robert Schumann’s birth and death dates, the exam might show you a page from a Schumann piano piece and then ask a series of questions, one of which might be to identify the composer and another of which might be to give a likely date of composition.  In the former case, you might be asked to choose among Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Liszt, and Brahms; in the latter, between 1790-1810, 1810-1830, 1830-1850, 1850-1870, and 1870-1890.  Obviously, knowing Schumann’s birth and death dates will help, but the point is to be able to apply your knowledge to real pieces of music, and being able to distinguish the styles of music from different generations and composers is most important.

Study with those types of question in mind.  Review for this part of the exam might best be accomplished by reviewing your texts, listening lists, class notes, anthologies of scores and audio recordings, and study notes from the music history and literature courses you have taken.  You are not expected to go out and learn new material.  However, the music that appears on the exam is not taken from any particular anthology or textbook; it is intended to test your ability to recognize styles and procedures rather than individual works.  So it would be helpful to look not only at the anthologies or listening lists for the courses you took, but also at other historical anthologies of music.

2. The skills portion of the exam covers the critical reading of historical documents and modern scholarly literature; approaches to research; and the use of research and reference tools.

In this part of the exam you might be asked to read excerpts from primary documents of music history and from modern writings about music history and to answer questions about them. It may ask questions about research problems, references and resources, and generally how you would find musical information or would go about investigating various kinds of musical problems.

This part of the exam consists of open-ended questions that you will be asked to answer in sentences and short paragraphs.

This portion of the exam asks you to draw on your skills in critical reading and research; it will be more difficult to review in a short time than the music history portion.  You could spend some time with selected source readings of the kind you may have used in music history courses and ask yourself questions about the author's point of view, perspective, values, and views of music. You could also remind yourself of research questions you have pursued and how you answered them: how you located information on composers, repertory, instruments, performance practice, terms and other sorts of questions that have come up in your musical studies. Think about what makes a useful and reliable reference source and how you chose the ones you used.

Click here for the next scheduled exam date.