After you Apply: Next Steps

Once you have submitted your application to the Music Theory M.A. program, an acknowledgement will be sent to the email address you have included in your application.

Track your application status

  • You can track the status of your application online using uApply.
  • If you have questions about your application, contact the admissions office through the uApply communication tool. We will also contact you through uApply if we need more information from you.
  • If you are unable to get in touch with us through uApply, contact us by email or telephone.

Waiting for news?

After we have reviewed of everyone's applications, we send out decision notifications. You will likely hear from us between mid-February and April 15th.

  • We make every effort to notify all applicants as soon as we can.  In return, we ask for the courtesy of a response, usually within three weeks of receiving an official acceptance. A prompt response from you allows us to make decisions about candidates on our waiting list.
  • First round scholarship offers are typically made within three weeks of receiving an official acceptance; subsequent rounds are offered as they become available.  Deadline to accept the offers are final.

Already accepted? Start preparing for placement exams

These exams will determine whether your academic preparation for the Music Theory M.A. program is sufficient. Depending on the exam results, you may be required to take certain remedial courses in Music Theory or other undergraduate preparatory courses.  All of these courses form an additional part of your program of study.

About one month after you accept our offer of admission, placement exam descriptions will be sent to you. You will have three weeks to complete and return them. You are not required to have an invigilator, but you are expected to write these examinations without assistance (internet, text books) and within the allocated time for each question.

You can start preparing now by following these general descriptions:

Sample questions

I. History (2 hours)

A. Write one essay to be chosen from a list of topics, 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. 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 19th century; include examples from the literature for orchestra and for piano and/or chamber music.
  3. Discuss the interaction of text and form in the Lieder of Clara Wieck Schumann.
  4. Discuss the origins, evolution and main characteristics of the music of a post-tonal composer of your choice; cite specific examples whenever possible.
  5. Compare Haydn and Mozart as innovators.

B. Identification of musical excerpts (scores will be provided) to test knowledge of historical and stylistic trends. Example question:

  • Briefly discuss the following excerpts.  Suggest a composer, genre and date of composition for each, giving reasons for your answer.  Where possible, indicate the probable form or approach to form in the excerpt, and identify where in the form the excerpt comes. 
    1. A passage from Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps.
    2. A passage from a Beethoven symphony.
    3. A motet by Josquin.
    4. A passage from a tenor aria from Verdi’s Aida.

II. 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 question:

  • Johannes Brahms, Sonata for clarinet and piano in F minor, op. 120 no. 1, mvt. 1 (view PDF file):
    1. Keys, cadences, harmony: Annotate the score, using the symbols you are used to, of the following two passages: mm. 1-24 and 77-89. Label all cadences and clearly indicate any modulations. 
    2. 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 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 question:

  • Charles Ives, “The Cage” (view PDF file):
    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.

III. Counterpoint (2 hours)

Parts A and B (description and examples): PDF icon music_theory_graduate_placement_exam_samples_counterpoint_2016.pdf

IV. Musicianship (15 minutes).

The musicianship placement exam is scheduled directly with the Music Theory Area Chair in September. 

Parts A and B (description and examples): PDF icon music_theory_graduate_placement_exam_samples_musicianship_2016.pdf

Supplemental reading list

16th-Century Analysis:  

  • Mark Everist, ed.  Music Before 1600.  Models of Musical Analysis.  Oxford: Blackwell, 1992. 

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., chaps. 21-25 
  • William Caplin.  Analyzing Classical Form.  New York: Oxford University Press, May 2013. 

20th-Century 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.
  • Miguel Roig-Francoli.  Understanding Post-Tonal Music. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 

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). 


As a new student at McGill University, you may have a lot of questions on the resources available on campus to support your academic and personal success. You can contact our Graduate Studies staff anytime. Orientation and advising takes place at the beginning of the Fall semester.

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