Thesis Criteria

In this section: Thesis criteria and deadlines.  For writing tips, visit Student Resources.

The DMus Composition thesis is a research-creation project involving the composition of an original musical composition of major dimensions that demonstrates a high level of creative thinking and technical mastery. The thesis document consists of:

  • The score of the composition (the musical work);
  • A written analysis.

The analysis explains the aesthetic and technical basis of the work through a discussion of its generative processes/strategies, form, structure materials, etc. which situates the originality of the work in the context of previous works.

The work and its approach are defended in an oral examination.

Below you will find thesis information for music students.  For more comprehensive guidelines, visit McGill's GPS website

Thesis Evaluation Criteria

The thesis document will be reviewed by an expert from outside the University, and a Schulich School of Music faculty member in discipline expertise.

Each of the following criteria are ranked on the following scale, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Satisfactory, Fail:

  1. Originality and creativity of aesthetic viewpoint/composition
  2. Awareness of and alertness to significance of past compositional achievements and related research/aesthetic viewpoints
  3. Diligence, care, technical mastery in the realization of the composition
  4. Potential of composition to assume a place in repertoire; usefulness of analytical text to other musicians
  5. Analytical thinking skills and powers of discrimination in supporting written text; connection between composition and analysis
  6. Quality of presentation in composition and written text (coherence, lucidity, grammar, style, freedom from typographical-notational errors)

Dissertation Committee

The committee consists of a minimum of two professors - your supervisor and one other.

Thesis Proposal Submission Deadline

  • The proposal is first approved by the Supervisor, then submitted to the Composition Area Committee for further feedback and/or final approval (the Area Chair will distribute the proposal to all faculty members of the Composition Area Committee).
  • The proposal must be submitted to the Composition Area Chair by:
    • October 1 for evaluation during the Fall Term
    • April 1 for evaluation during the Winter Term.

Thesis Proposal Format

A complete D.Mus. Composition thesis proposal consists of:

  • a completed thesis proposal form (PDF icon PhD/D.Mus. Dissertation Proposal Form)
  • a short project description (two to three pages, twelve-point font, single-spaced)
  • a bibliography (one page single-spaced).  

The project description must include:

1. The title of the composition

2. The composition’s duration

3. The composition’s instrumentation

4. An overview of the composition’s related musical/extra-musical concepts

5. Discussion of the planned treatment of pitch, rhythm, orchestration, text (if applicable), electronics (if applicable), and form

6. Diagrams and musical examples (wherever helpful)

The proposal should provide an initial outline or structure for the analysis of the composition that will serve as the basis of the written document.

The sections on form, pitch, rhythm, orchestration and other formal elements may be accompanied by concise illustrations; each illustration must be legible and accompanied by an appropriate title.

References to the candidate’s compositions, past and present, as well as those of other composers, should be included.

Original features of the composition should be indicated and there should be some indication as to the contribution it will make to the discipline.

Evaluation of the Proposal

The members of the Composition Area will vote on one of the following three outcomes, to be determined by a simple majority:

  • Pass (with no revisions): indicates that the Area Chair may sign and forward the thesis proposal and the proposal form to Graduate Studies Office.
  • Provisional Pass (with minor revisions): indicates that the candidate must revise the proposal based on feedback provided by the Composition Area Committee.
    • The revised proposal will be approved by both the Area Chair and the candidate’s Supervisor.
      Once they are satisfied with the revision, the Area Chair will sign and forward the thesis proposal and the thesis proposal form to Graduate Studies Office.
  • Fail (major revisions required): indicates that major revisions are needed and that a new proposal must be submitted to the Composition Area Chair within one month.

Thesis Submission Timeline

Graduation date

Initial submission

Thesis evaluation semester

Final submission deadline


December 15


April 15

Fall (October, November)

April 15


August 15

Winter (no convocation)

August 15


 December 15

Initial Submission Steps

Your supervisor may find some useful tips for selecting examiners on the Graduate Supervision website.

  • At least two months before initial submission:

Students must submit their “Intent to Submit Thesis” through myThesis.

You will be asked to provide your thesis title, abstract, length of thesis and date of submission.
You will also be asked to nominate examiners (please discuss the examiners with your supervisor(s) prior to submitting the names). Once this is submitted, the request will be sent to your supervisor(s) and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in Music for approval. Then an invitation to the examiner will be sent through myThesis for the examiner to accept or decline. This whole approval process must be completed prior to your submission date.

Doctoral students can access myThesis through the GPS website. Detailed guidelines and an instructional video are available on this page.

Verify MyProgress to ensure that all components of the program are complete or components of the program are marked as “Complete” or “In Progress”.

  • Day of submission:

Submit your thesis through the submission page on myThesis on the date submitted in your “Intent to Submit Thesis” form. Your supervisor(s) and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in Music will be advised of your submission and they will be asked to approve it.

Final Submission Steps

  1. Review the examiner's comments with your supervisor and make revisions if required. Consult the Associate Dean (Graduate Studies) and the GPS website if the thesis has not been passed.
  2. Submit online as per instructions by the date in the above table.
  3. Notify your supervisor that this has been completed. Your supervisor will review and issue the final confirmation.
  4. Check out the convocation website for further details, and prepare to celebrate!

Keys for a Successful Oral Defense

Many helpful hints about content, developing the right mindset, and practice can be found on the Graduate Supervision website. ProDeans, who oversee the defenses, remind us that they come hoping to hear some music!

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