Composition Department


Information about preparing for the MM Comprehensive Exam

Rev. 9/95, 8/96

The Master of Music Comprehensive Examination in Composition A comprehensive examination must be passed by all School of Music M.M. students prior to graduation. The following paragraphs will give you some information about the exam for M.M. composition majors, when it should be taken, and suggestions for preparation.

Design of the Examination

The Comprehensive Examination in composition is a written two-hour examination consisting of (a) substantial excerpts from several 20th-century works and/or (b) essay or short-answer questions related to the history of 20th-century composers and their music. The titles and composers of the musical excerpts may or may not be identified; the specific design of the examination will change every semester. You may be asked to supply information such as the following: analysis (questions may relate to pitch and/or harmonic structure, form, etc.), historical information (approximate dates for the given composition, its place in the composers output, etc.), broad information about the composer (musical influences, titles of other important works, stylistic characteristics of the composers music, etc.), the relationship of the given work to works in the same genre or style by other composers, etc. Essay and short-answer questions may be concerned with the identification of general stylistic trends in 20th-century music, the identification of composers and works representing those trends, etc. Some questions may be broad and others specific; you will be given wide latitude in responding, but you will be expected to include precise and detailed information when called for. The exam is designed and will be graded by the composition faculty; the grade is Pass/Fail.

Scheduling the Examination

The Composition Department recommends that M.M. students not take the exam during their first year of studies, but wait until their second year. The exam will be offered both in the Fall and Spring semesters, generally during the ninth or tenth week. The exam will not be offered during the summer; students planning an August graduation should take the exam during either the previous Fall or Spring semester. M.M. students who are in residence only in the summer and are not in Bloomington during the regular academic year may take the examination with a proctor off-campus during the Fall or Spring semester, but not during the summer; arrangements should be made well in advance with the chair of the Composition Department.

Policy for Retaking the Examination

Students who take the exam during a Fall or Spring semester prior to the one in which they plan to graduate, and who fail the exam, will be given an opportunity to re-take the exam the following Fall or Spring semester. Students who take the exam during the semester in which they plan to graduate will be given the opportunity to re-take the exam that same semester, after a lapse of several weeks. The policy in all School of Music departments is that the exam may be taken only twice; students who fail the exam a second time may be considered for dismissal from further degree consideration.

Suggestions for Preparation

The Composition Department recommends a review of major 20th-century musical literature (including orchestral, vocal, solo, chamber and operatic works). Students might find historical and analytical surveys helpful (such as Glen Watkins: Soundings; Robert P. Morgan: Twentieth-Century Music; William Austin: Music in the 20th Century; Richard P. DeLone [et al.]: Aspects of 20th-Century Music; Elliott Schwartz and Daniel Godfrey: Music Since 1945; Bryan R. Simms: Music of the Twentieth Century; and similar texts). Students should also review the analyses of 20th-century music they have done in the past, and should review techniques and terminology pertinent to 20th-century music (forms, harmony, various 20th-century approaches to pitch structure [including serial techniques], etc.).