All DMA students must take qualifying exams. These substantive exams represent a significant milestone within the doctoral degree and help to determine a student’s readiness for moving forward with the final project. Consequently, students should be well-prepared for these exams. After successfully completing these exams, students can apply for Doctoral Candidacy and defend the dissertation proposal or doctoral essay proposal.

Doctoral qualifying exams are given in Musicology, Music Theory, and Psychology of Music. Please check with your advisor to determine which exams you are required to take. 

When Can I Take the Exam?

Fall Semester Year Spring Semester Year
October 24-25 2013 March 20-21 2014
December 4-5 2014 March 26-27 2015
October 22-23 2015 March 24-25 2016

Exam Schedule:

Thursday, December 4   8:00am – 12:00pm    Psychology of Music Exam
Friday, December 5        8:00am –  12:00pm   Music Theory Exam
Friday, December 5          1:00pm – 5:00pm    Musicology Exam

All required qualifying examinations must be successfully completed by the end of the third semester of full-time doctoral study, or the completion of 30 credit hours of doctoral study.  Students must complete the qualifying examinations before they can apply for Doctoral Candidacy and before they can defend the dissertation proposal or doctoral essay proposal.  Please note that proposal defenses can only be scheduled in the semester following successful exam completion.  Proposal defenses cannot be scheduled in the same semester as exam completion.  Students are strongly encouraged to pay careful attention to this timeline so that they can graduate on time. 

If a student fails a qualifying exam (or a portion of the exam), s/he can re-take the exam in the subsequent semester.  A student who fails a qualifying examination (or portion of the exam) for a second time will be dismissed from his/her respective degree program.

How do I register for the exam?

Students must register for exams two weeks (e.g., 14 days) prior to the exam date by sending an email to: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).  The email should include the student’s full name and should identify the examinations the student intends to take.  Information on exam location will be given at the time of registration. 

How do I prepare for the exam?
Please refer to the following study guides that will get you started.

Study Guide for the Doctoral Qualifying Exam in Musicology:

The Musicology Qualifying Exam is a three and a half hour examination that assesses students’ broad knowledge of the field. It includes questions in four specific content areas: 1) music history and literature, 2) score identification, and 3) bibliography.  You will be asked to answer all sections of this exam in a bluebook.  Recommended study materials include:

Bonds, Mark Evan.  A History of Music in Western Culture, 3rd ed.  Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall:  Prentice Hall, 2010.  This book includes companion score anthologies and CDs.  More information appears on the publisher’s website:

Burkholder, J. Peter, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca.  A History of Western Music, 8th ed. New York: W.W. Norton, New York:  W.W. Norton, 2009. This book includes companion score anthologies and listening materials). Online study resources are also available, as well as a paper study guide that students have found valuable.  More information appears on the publisher’s website:

Hanning, Barbara Russano.  Concise History of Western Music, 4th ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 2009. This book also includes companion score anthologies and listening materials. Online study resources are also available, as well as a paper study guide that students have found valuable. More information appears on the publisher’s website:

The Qualifying Exam will include the following content areas:

Students will be asked to give a clear and logical description of each of the six major periods of music history (Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th - 21st Centuries). Students should be prepared to discuss the musical style of each period, as well as include significant reference to the major composers, genres, and compositions of each. Students should plan to devote a minimum of two sides of a large bluebook to each period.

Although it is not necessary to use complete sentences for this part of the exam, you must express your thoughts clearly.

Students will be asked to identify the most important musical features of 6 to 10 unknown score excerpts. Based on the information provided, identify the likely genre, composer, period, and approximate date of the composition. 

Students preparing for this part of the exam are encouraged to study with their classmates, so they can take turns asking each other unknown score identifications.

3. BIBLIOGRAPHY (30 minutes)
Students will be asked 15 short-answer questions related to the major online and print reference sources in music. Helpful study guides include class notes from a music bibliography course at UM or from a previous university. Students should also consult with the new Weeks Music Subject Guide webpage, the URL for which is:

At minimum, a working knowledge of the major sources listed on this page is expected.

Study Guide for the Doctoral Qualifying Exam in Music Theory:

The Doctoral Qualifying Exam in Music Theory exam is divided into two parts, as follows:

Part I
1. Traditional, harmonic analysis with emphasis on chromaticism.
2. Formal structure with emphasis on large formal structures, such as the rondo and sonata forms.

Part II
Analysis of 3-4 short pieces with emphasis on 20th century literature.

Study Guide for Doctoral Qualifying Exam in Psychology of Music:

This examination consists of open-ended essay questions that are designed to allow the student to demonstrate understanding of psychology of music content in ways that are meaningful to the student. There is not one single answer to the questions–it is how you answer the question that is important. Your responses should show that you have knowledge of the concepts involved and how they can be applied.

A primary resource for your study efforts should be your notes from the course: MED 562 Psychology of Music

This study guide is simply a guide. It does not define and explain the concepts covered in music psychology. It does provide a description of the material upon which you will be tested with some sample questions for your consideration.

Content That Could Be Covered:

Music as a Socio-Cultural Phenomenon
Why Music?
Merriam’s Functions of Music
Kaplan’s Social Functions of the Arts
Gaston’s Fundamental Considerations of People in Relation to Music
What Makes Some Sounds Music
Origins of Music
Music in Society and Culture
Functional Music
Stimulative and Sedative Music
Differential Responses to Stimulative and Sedative Music
Music in Ceremonies
Commercial Music
Background Music
Music in the workplace
Music in the marketplace
Music in Advertising
Music as Entertainment
Music for Enhancing Narration
Therapeutic Uses of Music
Music to Facilitate Nonmusical Learning
Music as a Reward

Psychoacoustic Principles of Music
Production of Musical Sounds
Transmission of Musical Sounds
Reception of Musical Sounds
From Air to Inner Ear
From Inner Ear to Brain
Pitch Phenomena
Frequency-Pitch Relationship
Pitch Processing of Single Pure Tones
Pitch Processing of Combined Pure Tones
Pitch Processing of Complex Tones
Combinations Tones
Apparent pitch
Apparent size
Absolute Pitch
Pitch Measurement
Loudness Phenomena
Intensity-Loudness Relationship
Volume and Density
Annoyance and Noisiness
Measurement of Loudness
Stimulus measures
Response measures
The Power Law
Loudness Summation
Dangers to Hearing
Timbre Phenomena
Waveform-Timbre Relationship
Influences within Waveform
Tone Source Recognition
Measurement of Timbre

Psychology of Rhythm
Functions of Rhythm in Music
Rhythmic Structure in Music
Cognitive Bases of Rhythmic Behavior
Movement and Perception
Tempo Perception
Meter Perception
Rhythm Groups
Expressive Timing
Development of Rhythmic Behaviors
Developmental Research
Experimental Research
Teaching Practices for Rhythmic Development
Evaluation of Rhythmic Behaviors

Psychological Basis of Melody and Harmony
Structural characteristics of melody
Perceptual organization of melody
Structural characteristics of harmony
Perceptual organization of harmony
Scales and Modes
Functions of Scales
Scale Tuning Systems
Major and Minor Modes
Hierarchical Perceptual Structures
Empirical Studies of Perception and Memory
Expectations and Information Theory
Pitch-Related Behaviors
Receptive behaviors
Production behaviors
Development of Melodic and Harmonic Behaviors
Evaluating Melodies and Harmonies
What is “Good” Melody?
What is “Acceptable” Harmony?
Psychology of Performance, Improvisation, and Composition
Performance as Psychomotor Behavior
Performance Expertise
Performance Anxiety
A Theoretical Perspective
Compositional Approaches of Selected Composers
Composition Theory

Musical Affect
Other Definitions
Types of Affective Response
Approaches to Studying Affective Responses to Music
Physiological Measures
Adjective Descriptors
Philosophical Inquiry
Psychological Aesthetics
Meaning in Music
Variables Contributing to Musical Meaning

Musical Preference
What is “Good” Music
Existing Musical Preferences
Surveys and Classical Music Preferences
Popular Music
Influences on Musical Preferences
Altering Musical Preferences

Musical Ability
Selected Influences on Musical Ability
Auditory Acuity
Musical Home
Physical Features
Gender and Race
Summary of Influences on Musical Ability
Normal Musical Development and Learning
Behavioral-associationist theories
Cognitive-organizational theories
Musical Development Across Age-Based Stages
Musical Abnormalities
Measurement and Prediction of Musical Ability and Learning
Some Approaches
Importance of Nonmusical Variables
What Should We Measure?
Practical Suggestions Regarding Music Education

Recommended study materials include:

Cuddy, L. L., & Upitis, R. (1992). Aural perception. In R. Colwell (Ed.), Handbook of research on music teaching and learning. New York: Schirmer Books.

Hargreaves, D. J., & Zimmerman, M. P. (1992). Developmental theories of music learning. In R. Colwell (Ed.), Handbook of research on music teaching and learning. New York:  Schirmer Books.

Hodges, D. E. (Ed.) (1996).  Handbook of music psychology (2nd ed.). San Antonio: Institute for Music Research, Univ. of Texas at San Antonio.

Miller, R. F. (1992). Affective response.  In R. Colwell (Ed.)  Handbook of research on music teaching and learning.  NY:  Schirmer Books.

Radocy, R. E., & Boyle, J. D. (1997) Psychological foundations of musical behavior (3rd ed.). Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.

Sample Test Items:

1. The tempered scale has various characteristics that made possible the concept of equal temperament. This temperament has led us to the development of music, as we know it today. However, violinists often maintain that their intervals are much more accurate than those of the piano. State your position on the scalular system that should be followed by orchestras and support your position based on your knowledge of scales, intervals, and pitch.

2. Empirical aesthetics utilizes quantitative assessments of subject’s reactions to music to determine the affective impact music has on the subjects. Identify two approaches for the measurement of affect fully describing each. Then, give your opinion as to the efficacy of each approach. Make certain that your provide support for your opinions.

3. What is the musical significance of rhythm? Indicate the psychological organization that must ensue for the listener to perceive rhythm.

4. Describe the energy transitions that occur from vibrating source to the generation of neural signals in the cochlea of a physically “normal” listener.

5. Describe the physical/neural foundations of consonance and dissonance. Include in your discussion the concept of “in tune” and the pedagogical ramifications of these physical/neural foundations.

6. Music theorists have long argued over the most effective system to use in sight-singing classes: “fixed do” or “moveable do.” Using your knowledge of perception and learning gleaned from music psychology, identify the system that should be employed when teaching college-age undergraduates. Support your contention.

Next Steps

How do I apply for Doctoral Candidacy?

After successfully completing these exams, students can apply for Doctoral Candidacy.  Students must be admitted to candidacy before defending the doctoral essay proposal or the dissertation proposal.  The Application for Admission to Candidacy can be found on the Graduate School website at:

Submit the completed form to the Graduate Studies Office in the Frost School of Music, located in Gusman Hall.  The Associate Dean of Graduate Studies will review the application and then forward it on to the Graduate School for final approval.