Sample Master’s Qualifying Exam Questions

[NB: you would not be necessarily be expected to command this information at the beginning of your Master’s degree study, but if, as a matriculating student, you find yourself unable to answer a majority of the questions completely, you should consider remedial and/or review work in advance of your exit examinations.]

Please be prepared to discuss each of the following topics in a well-organized response, citing relevant works, composers, and cultural/contextual factors. Please be as specific as possible, cite specific compositions or other primary sources as your evidence, and plan for a logical response focusing on the most important factors to be completed within the available time period.


  • Select at least three significant pedagogical or theoretical works and discuss their impact upon and reflection of compositional developments between a1400-1600CE.
  • Discuss the development of polyphonic secular song in the 15th century, citing at least 3 pieces as examples


  • Discuss considerations of form, harmony, and dramatic technique in Baroque opera from Monteverdi through Handel
  • Discuss, using at least 3 examples, trends in sacred choral composition of the Baroque from Giovanni Gabrieli through Handel.


  • Describe, analyze, and contrast Mozart's Viennese operas in the buffa tradition.
  • Discuss the development of symphonic style from Mozart through Beethoven.
  • Discuss the development of the string quartet from Haydn through Beethoven.

Romantic/19th century:

  • Offer a definition, examples, and discussion of the phenomenon of "nationalism" in late-19th and early-20th century composition. Please cite at least five different composers' works from at least three different geographical origins, and be sure to cite political or philosophical motives for these works.
  • Use at least three significant compositions to explore the development of the symphonic tradition from Beethoven through Brahms. Include considerations of form, harmonic language, thematic/motivic implications, and the contrast of "programmatic" versus "absolute" idioms.
  • Discuss the philosophy, motivations, and development of impressionism (with definition) in works of Satie, Ravel, and Debussy.

20th Century:

  • Citing orchestral compositions from Wagner through John Adams, discuss changes in form, harmonic language, and orchestration (and other factors where relevant).
  • Discuss the development of American modernist/experimentalist musical styles in works of Ives, Copland, Gershwin, Still, Seeger (or others)
  • Discuss at least three new sources (instruments, texts, social/cultural/contextual influences, other) from outside the world of composition for musical ideas pursued by composers in the 20th century. Cite relevant composers, works, or other specific examples.


  • Discuss the origin, repertoire, and stylistic evolution of American hymnody, including examples of pieces, composers, and (crucially) the social-economic factors which shaped the development of the genre.
  • Discuss the concepts, biographical, social, and philosophical influences shaping the music of Charles Ives.
  • Survey the major schools, composers, and compositional trends in 19th and early-20th century American popular song, from Stephen Foster through George Gershwin.

Music Research and Bibliography