Music Theory


Doctoral Minor Field Exam

Students must pass both a written and an oral qualifying exam to satisfy the minor field  requirements in music theory. The written minor field examination allows students to demonstrate their understanding of the course content and their ability to apply that understanding in appropriate ways. The exam, which lasts four hours, is normally given on the Saturday at the end of the third week of class each semester (including summer session II; official dates are posted here). Students must sign up for the exam by the posted deadline.

Students are examined on three of the four courses taken for the minor. Students may select any three courses from their minor for the exam, so long as at least one of the courses is an analysis course (typically T545, T551, T555, or T556). Descriptions of the typical content and scope of the questions for the most commonly examined courses are given below. These should be treated only as a guide. The music theory faculty will normally not provide any further information about the content or scope of the exam questions.

 A student who does not pass one or more of the three portions of the written qualifying exam must retake the entire exam.

T545 Introductory Analysis of Music Literature

The examination question covering T545 typically involves two musical excerpts or short pieces, drawn from the following three style eras:

  • Baroque (e.g., an aria, sinfonia, fugue, or subset of variations by Bach or Handel),

  • Classical (e.g., a sonata-form exposition by Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven),

  • Romantic (e.g., a Lied or character piece by Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, or Brahms; possibly the first movement of a sonata, or an excerpt from a larger instrumental work)

The questions will typically be divided among:

  • Labeling, identification, formal analysis

  • Keys, cadences, dominant prolongations, significant progressions (especially linear or chromatic)

  • Thematic structure: subject/answer/countersubject; first theme/transition/second theme; etc.

  • Phrase structure: antecedent/consequent; Satz; period; double period

  • Form: be able to construct a schematic line diagram of an excerpt (with measure numbers) showing keys, cadences, themes, and formal sections

  • Contrapuntal and/or developmental procedures or processes: invertible counterpoint, stretto, augmentation, diminution, melodic inversion, etc.

  • Short essay question(s): You may be given a choice of questions to answer. You will be expected to write intelligently about significant or unusual features in the excerpt/work, explaining how they function formally and/or expressively. Questions might address topics, unusual tonal events, deeper motivic relationships, developing variation, text-painting (for songs), possible continuations based on implications or expectations related to harmony and genre, and expressive meaning (for instrumental works). In addition, questions might ask you to compare/contrast the expressive/stylistic or compositional treatment of specific aspects of the examples. For example, compare/contrast the compositional treatment of tonal-harmonic, rhythmic-metric, or formal organization in the music examples.

  • Suggest a (possible) composer, type of piece, and/or 25-year time span of composition. What aspects of the music support your choices?

T551 Analytical Techniques for Tonal Music

The examination question covering T551 asks you to demonstrate your ability to analyze tonal music from multiple analytic perspectives. You may be asked to do such things as demonstrate more "traditional" analytic skills (i.e., to use Roman-numeral, figured-bass, and cadence, and form labels to describe the formal organization of a piece); interpret and describe a given small voice-leading reduction (a Schenker graph) of a passage or provide a simple voice-leading sketch of a passage; or describe rhythmic-metric features in the piece (such as any phrase expansions, and the use of hypermeter and/or metrical irregularity and the relationship of hypermeter to grouping structure as described by Lerdahl and Jackendoff). A typical question contains two excerpts of music, each followed by a series of questions and tasks.

T555 Schenkerian Analysis

The examination question covering T555 usually consists of two parts: (a) a Schenkerian analysis in graphic form will be given together with the score and you will be asked to explain, discuss and critique that analysis; and (b) a brief piece or excerpt will be given and you will be asked to asked to analyze in graphic form as fully as possible. While familiarity with specifically Schenkerian concepts and methodology is clearly essential, you should also be prepared to highlight any aspects of the music, such as form, rhythm, motive, orchestration, expression, etc., that bear on its interpretation.

T556 Analysis of Music Since 1900

The T556 questions include detailed score analysis, typically of two to four music examples of music from ca. 1900-present. Questions may be specified in relation to the examples, or the candidate may be allowed to choose which examples and which parameters to discuss. Questions may be focused on pitch procedures (serial or pitch-class set analysis, tonal implications, harmonic language, etc.) or on other parameters such as rhythm, texture and form. Other types of questions may be stylistic (including suggesting a possible composer and date) and bibliographic (listing specific published sources which would provide information about the analytical issues or the composer/compositional style suggested by the example).

T565 Counterpoint: Variable Topics

The examination question covering T565 usually consists of two parts: (a) relatively brief exercises in two- and three-voice writing and (b) analysis of a contrapuntal composition or an excerpt therefrom. Because a piano will not be available and because of time limitations, students taking this examination should expect to add parts to given material and/or perform specific tasks (e.g., modulate, cadence, answer a fugue subject) rather than compose longer excerpts or pieces.

T591 Teaching of Music Theory

Examination questions covering T591 require familiarity with the range of text materials available to theory teachers. The student should be prepared to make comprehensive comparisons among representative texts dealing with fundamentals, musical skills, written theory (concepts), counterpoint, music since 1900, anthologies, etc., identifying authors and titles as well as discussing content. Pedagogical issues, curriculum planning, and classroom presentation are possible areas for further questions, and musical examples might be included around which pedagogical questions might be framed.

Other courses

For courses not listed here, address any questions to the instructor of the course.