Diagnostic Examination

Diagnostic Examination: Composition & Musicology

The Diagnostic Exam is advisory and is administered to all entering students once a year during exam week at the end of the fall semester. This exam is intended to ascertain the student’s musicianship skills and identify areas needing remedial work. This information helps the faculty prepare students for careers in music teaching and research. All students must take the entire exam once. Each portion of the exam is graded on a Pass/Fail basis. Students who fail any part of the exam have the option to retake the failed sections the following year. Depending on the result, the student may be advised to take remedial actions, e.g., no-credit participation in an undergraduate course or private tutoring by a faculty member. Retakes are strongly encouraged but not mandatory.

The Diagnostic Exam consists of seven parts, listed with suggested textbooks that you may wish to consult:

1. Realization at the keyboard of figured bass, recitatives, and jazz-standard lead sheets.

2. Score reading at the keyboard; typical passages include the slow movements of string quartets and symphonies.

3. Singing; students are encouraged, but not required, to use solfège.

For parts 1, 2, and 3 (keyboard, score reading, and singing): Music for these parts is given to students at the beginning of semester 1.  The student receives ten exercises for each category that should be prepared in advance for the exam at the end of the semester. During the exam, the student chooses one exercise from each category, the committee chooses one from each category, and the committee reserves the option to have the student sightread an exercise from each category.

4. Analysis of a common-practice tonal piece given to you one week in advance of the exam (consult chapters 8, 14, 15, 17, 19 in Stein, ed., Engaging Music; William Caplin, Classical Form; Burstein and Straus, A Concise Introduction to Tonal Music). Students will discuss the piece with the members of the exam committee on the day of the exam. Topics to prepare for discussion include formal design, harmonic function and syntax, and dissonance treatment.  
5. Aural identification of intervals and chords; melodic and rhythmic dictation.  

6. Harmonization of a simple melody, e.g., a chorale tune (consult Aldwell and Schachter, Harmony and Voice Leading; Salzer and Schachter, Counterpoint in Composition, Chapter 8). Students may check their work at the keyboard during the exam.


7. Identification and historical placement by prose commentary of 10 score and recording excerpts. Demonstrate your understanding of the piece in its historical context, based on discussion of style and other features of the score or recording. Include suggestions about the identity of the composer, the type of composition, and an approximate date (consult, for example, Fuller, The European Musical Heritage: 800-1750; Burkholder, Norton Anthology of Western Music; Morgan, Anthology of Twentieth Century Music, Martin and Waters, Jazz: The First 100 Years; Covach and Flory, What’s That Sound: An Introduction to Rock and Its History).

Parts 5, 6, and 7 are administered the day of the exam. The harmonized melody and prose commentary on the ten excerpts must be turned in to the DGSA by 5:00 pm on the day of the exam.




Diagnostic Examination: Ethnomusicology

The Diagnostic Exam in Ethnomusicology has two components: an aural skills test administered during exam week in the Fall of Year 1, and an online test administered before classes start in the Fall of Year 2.  Students will receive materials to prepare for the aural skills test at the beginning of the Fall semester of Year 1.  The Ethnomusicology faculty will send students a link to the online test with instructions shortly before classes begin in the Fall of Year 2. Students at that time can access the exam and upload their responses within the allowed time frame.

Aural Skills (end of Fall semester in Year 1)

  • Aural identification of intervals and chords
  • Sight singing at a level of difficulty expected in an advanced undergraduate class 

The music for singing (ten examples) will be distributed at the beginning of the Fall semester, allowing students to prepare before the exam at the end of the semester.  During the exam, the student selects one example to sing, and the faculty select another.  Students are encouraged but not required to use solfège syllables.

Online Exam (before start of classes in Fall semester of Year 2)

  • Identification of sounds of production (recording and processing) from recorded examples
  • Identification and discussion of 8 out of 10 excerpts of “iconic” styles from around the world, by prose commentary, demonstrating an understanding of the style in its historical, geopolitical, social, or generic context, based on discussion of stylistic features of the track
  • Transcription of a short piece

For incoming students with majors other than music: a short proficient performance on any instrument in any style.  This is scheduled separately by the Ethnomusicology faculty.

Ethnomusicology students take aural skills test together with students in Musicology and Composition. The online test is administered separately by Ethnomusicology faculty.