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Start preparing for placement exams

For  M.Mus., D.Mus., and PhD Program applicants.

All students beginning graduate studies in Composition are required to take placement examinations in order to determine that their academic preparation in Music is sufficient. On the basis of the results of these examinations, incoming students may be required to take certain remedial courses in Music History, Analysis, Counterpoint, Orchestration and – depending on their background – other undergraduate courses as well. All of these then form an additional part of the students’ program of study. Note that students who have not previously studied electronic music may be asked to take one or more courses in the Digital Composition Studios.

Students who are notified of their acceptance into graduate studies in Music are encouraged to prepare for the placement examinations by perusing the following general descriptions of the examinations. The placement exams will be sent to you approximately one month after this date. You will have three weeks to complete and return them. You are not required to have an invigilator, but are expected to write these examinations unaided, without the use of textbooks and within the allocated time for each question. A list of books useful in preparation for the examinations can be found in the Supplemental Reading List below.

General descriptions

COMPOSITION [Total duration of COMPOSITION examinations: 8-9 hours]

Music Theory

Part 1 Form and Analysis [2 hours]:

A: The 19th-century analysis exam [1 hour] is an analysis of a large-scale form (usually one movement of a sonata), with discussion of its normative and non-normative aspects as defined in Part IV of Caplin,
Classical Form, and its motivic materials, as well as identification of chromatic harmonies as presented in Chs. 26-31 of Aldwell/Schachter/Cadwallader, Harmony and Voice Leading or a similar theory textbook (applied chords, extended and altered chords, Neapolitan sixth chords, and augmented sixth chords). The chapters include relevant exercises.

Example questions:

Johannes Brahms, Sonata for clarinet and piano in F minor, op. 120 no. 1, mvt. 1
[click link to download]

I. Keys, cadences, harmony. Annotate the following two passages: mm. 1-24 and 77-89 in the score, using the symbols you are used to. Label all keys, cadences and clearly indicate any modulations.

II. Form. Answer the following questions pertaining to the form.

1. In what measure does the main theme end? Why?

2. What are the boundaries of the transition?

3. In what measure does the subordinate theme group begin? Why?

4. To what extent does the tonal organization of the subordinate theme group conform to Classical norms (i.e., the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven)?

5. What is unusual about the tonal organization of the subordinate theme group in relation to Classical norms?

6. In what measure does the recapitulation begin? Why?

7. To what extent does the tonal organization of the recapitulation conform to Classical norms?

8. What is unusual about the tonal organization of the recapitulation in relation to Classical norms?

B:  The post-tonal analysis exam [1 hour] is a consideration of the pitch structures in a work, using set theory or twelve-tone theory where appropriate, discussion of motivic relationships, and structural shifts in rhythm, texture, register and timbre. Chs. 1, 3, 7 and 10 of Roig-Francoli, Understanding Post-Tonal Music are recommended for study and include sample questions.

Example questions:
Charles Ives, “The Cage”  [click link to download]

1. Analyze the pitch structures within the work, their potential for combinatorial and complement relationships, and the realization of such relationships, and/or lack thereof.

2. Discuss the phrase structure, rhythmic organization, texture within the piano part, relationship of piano and vocal parts, and use of register.

3. How do the musical elements discussed above relate to the title or text of the song?

4. Comment on which aspects of this song are typical of Ives’ compositional oeuvre, and which are not.

Part 2: Harmony and Counterpoint [2-3 hours]

A: The exam involves the addition of three voices to a given melody, in a classical to mid-/late-nineteenth century style, for a total of ca 16-40 measures.

Example question:

Add parts for Violin II, Viola and Cello to the part for Violin I in the following passage for string quartet.

The tempo is moderate.

Some portions are already completed and suggest some voice leading and harmonic progressions; integrate them in your work. Try to capture the "light character" of the music.

Alternation between pizz and arco play an important role. Write all articulations and dynamics precisely.

DOWNLOAD the full template (pdf and notation program file) : [Composition Placement Exam Sample: PDF icon Harmony Placement EXAM ]


Students may complete one of either the modal or tonal counterpoint questions (B1 or B2).

B1: Modal counterpoint - an exercise in three voice modal counterpoint on a cantus firmus (given: CF and opening motivic material):

Example question:

Continue the following in three voices for 16-20 measures.

B2: Tonal counterpoint – an exercise including the completion of a short two-part keyboard invention, based on given material.

Example question:

Write the first 16-20 measures of a two-part keyboard invention in the style of J. S. Bach on the basis of the following material. Your exercise should include at least one point of imitation and one sequential episode.

Part 3 Orchestration [2 hours]

Orchestrate the following passage for up to piccolo, 2 flutes, 3 oboes (3. doubling E.h.), 3 clarinets (3. doubling, 3 bassoons (2. doubling cbsn.), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 perc (no timpani), harp, strings

You do NOT have to use all instruments. Use those you consider appropriate. Be sure to write specifically which instrument plays:
• for ex. flute 1= "1." on flutes staff / • for ex. bassoon 2= "2." on bassoons staff

DOWNLOAD the full template (pdf and notation program file) : [Composition Placement Exam Sample: PDF icon Orchestration Placement EXAM ]


1. Consider the "light, dancing" character of the music.

2.  Pay special attention to articulation and phrasing (slurring).

3.  "Orchestrate" the dynamics with orchestral reinforcement.

•For ex.: crescendo from m. 7 to 9 and in several steps from m.13 to 20.

•For ex.: m. 11 and following could well spread "wider" over the orchestral range than m. 1 and


4.  Make good use of orchestral doublings (for timbral variation and reinforcement).

5.  The pedal markings in the piano score suggest a more sustained orchestral texture and

some resonance effect (some sustained notes, chords, etc.).

6.  Even if this excerpt is very short, consider it as a full movement with light passages as

well as "tutti" passages. (Obviously there is an overall tutti at m. 20).

7.  Try to create a "global orchestral sonority" (as opposed to simply a few soloists dialoguing).

History [2 hours]

A.Write an essay on a topic to be chosen from a list of questions, to test knowledge of significant compositions, composers, historical trends, etc., from 1600 to the present. Topics build on answers to questions found at the end of chapters in texts such as Grout, Burkholder and Palisca’s A History of Western Music. Also consult the Supplemental Reading List.

Example questions:

1. Discuss the interaction of drama and musical form in the operas of Richard Wagner.

2. Discuss approaches to sonata form in the 18th century; include examples from the literature for orchestra and for piano and/or chamber music.

3.Identify the principal compositional features that characterize 20th-century neoclassicism, and identify particular compositions that best exemplify the artistic approach.

4. Discuss the music and compositional approaches of Kaija Saariaho. Your answer should make mention of at least three different works in three different genres (including at least one mixed-media work).

5. The French school of spectral composition originated in the 1970s with the founding of L’Itinéraire, a collective of composers based in Paris. Describe the goals and motivations for the development of spectral music and give an overview of its techniques and approaches. Mention at least three pieces by at least two different composers from this period and show how they exemplify the characteristics of spectral music.

6. The French school of spectral composition originated in the 1970s with the founding of L’Itinéraire, a collective of composers based in Paris. Describe the goals and motivations for the development of spectral music and give an overview of its techniques and approaches. Mention at least three pieces by at least two different composers from this period and show how they exemplify the characteristics of spectral music.

7. Many composers have openly adopted a “post-modern” attitude from the 1970’s onward. Several Canadian composers have made eloquent musical statements in that respect. Name a few and briefly present some of their works.

8. In 1987 Kyle Gann interviewed Pierre Boulez about the music of Conlon Nancarrow. Do you consider Boulez’s statement legitimate?: “For me it was interesting because the rhytmical strucure is really very well thought out. Unfortunately, the pitch vocabulary does not follow.”

B. Identification of musical excerpts (scores or audio recordings will be provided) to test knowledge of historical and stylistic trends.

Briefly discuss the following excerpts. Suggest a composer, a genre, a specific tradition and, if possible, a date of composition, giving reasons for your answer. Where possible, indicate the probable form or approach to form in the excerpt.


1. A passage from Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps.

2. A passage from a Beethoven symphony.

3. A motet by Josquin des Prez.

4. .A passage from Ligeti’s Kammerkonzert

5. A passage from Berg’s Wozzeck

6. A pasage from Frank Zappa’s Two Hundred Motels or Sinister Footwear.

7. A passage from Munir Bashir’s Arabic Maqam renditions on the Ud

8. A passage from Thomas Adès’ Asyla

9. A passage from Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland

10. A passage from Tristan Murail’s Gondwana

Supplemental reading list


Modal Counterpoint:
Peter Schubert. Modal Counterpoint, Renaissance Style. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Tonal Counterpoint:
Peter Schubert and Christoph Neidhöfer. Baroque Counterpoint. Prentice Hall, 2006.

Music History:

Donald Grout and Claude Palisca. A History of Western Music, sixth edition. New York: Norton, 2001;


Claude Palisca Norton Anthology of Western Music, fourth edition. New York: Norton, 2001.

(Other editions are also fine).

Morgan, Robert P. Twentieth-Century Music: A History of Musical Style in Modern Europe and America. Norton, 1991.

Taruskin, Richard, Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press, 2018.

Eliott Antokoletz, A history of Twentieth-Century Music in a Theoretic-Analytical Context. Routledge, 2014.

Ton De Leeuw, Music of the Twentieth Century, Amsterdam University Press, 2005.

Griffiths, Paul. Modern Music and After. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Rutherford-Johnson, Tim. Music after the Fall. University of California Press, 2017

19th-Century Analysis:

E. Aldwell, C. Schachter, and A. Cadwallader, Harmony and Voice Leading, 4th ed. chaps. 28-33

S. Kostka, D. Payne, and B. Almen, Tonal Harmony, 7th ed., chapters 21-25

William Caplin. Analyzing Classical Form. New York: Oxford University Press, May 2013.

Post-tonal Analysis:

Joel Lester. Analytic Approaches to Twentieth-Century Music. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989.

Joseph N. Straus. Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2004.

Kostka, Stefan. Material and Techniques of Twentieth-century Music. Pearson, Prentice Hall, 2006.

Miguel Roig-Francoli. Understanding Post-Tonal Music. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.



Orientation and advising takes place at the beginning of the Fall semester.

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