Thesis Criteria

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

The Ph.D. thesis in Composition involves both the creation of an original large-scale work and research that increases our understanding of music and musical processes. The thesis document consists of the research report and the score of the composition (the musical work).

  • The research report is considered the primary document and is understood to make an original contribution to knowledge; 
  • The composition may be the outcome or application of research findings or the study of compositional strategies, processes, and tools that generates new understanding of music perception and musical understanding. It is evaluated for the way in which in supports the report and for its technical and artistic mastery.

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. Evidence of originality and creativity;
  2. Resourcefulness, alertness to significance of findings;
  3. Diligence, care, technical skill in the research;
  4. Usefulness of the results to other workers in the field; value as a contribution to knowledge;
  5. Grasp of subject, powers of criticism and general adequacy in review of previous work;
  6. Quality of presentation (coherence, lucidity, grammar, style, freedom from typographical errors).

Dissertation Committee

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

Thesis Proposal Submission Deadline

Submit your completed (PDF icon PhD/D.Mus. Dissertation Proposal Form)

  • The proposal is first approved by the Supervisor, then submitted to the Composition Area Committee.
    Within one week, committee members may then offer feedback and suggestions to the Supervisor and to the Composition Area Chair. The candidate may be required to revise the proposal based on this feedback.
  • Once the Supervisor and Composition Area Chair are satisfied with the revision, the Supervisor will schedule a Thesis Proposal Presentation.
  • The proposal must be submitted to the Composition Area Committee by:
    • October 1 for evaluation during the Fall Term
    • April 1 for evaluation during the Winter Term

Thesis Proposal Format

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

  • a project description (four to five pages, twelve-point font, single-spaced)
  • a bibliography (two pages, twelve-point font, single-spaced)

Tips for Submitting an Effective Project Description

An Effective Description of the Project:

  • exhibits a concise title framing the research and its compositional applications
  • contains an opening impact statement explicating the context(s) of the research and its compositional applications
  • employs language understandable to the non-specialist
  • succinctly states what you are going to research (goals and objectives)
  • indicates how one is to do this (methodology)
  • indicates why it is worth doing (originality, contribution to knowledge)
  • indicates how results, be they framed as tools or findings, will be applied to or take form in the composition (outcomes)

The proposal develops a clear vision of the theoretical or conceptual framework that will guide the work by:

  • citing sources that have inspired the work
  • comparing the proposed research to past and current scholarly work
  • identifying a gap that your work will fill
  • explicating the methodological choices and compositional outcomes/processes that they will engender to explain how the combination of research/composition makes an original contribution to knowledge
  • describing the compositional process and by briefly detailing the title, instrumentation, form, structuring materials, and orchestration principles that are relevant

Thesis Proposal Presentation

The Thesis Proposal Presentation will be evaluated by a committee consisting of the Supervisor, Co-Supervisor, and other members of the Composition Area Committee.

The Thesis Proposal Presentation will consist of:

  • A brief presentation by the candidate providing an overview of the proposal’s contents (maximum 15 minutes)
  • A discussion period in which the candidate will respond to questions from the committee (approximately 5 minutes)

Candidates are advised to respect the fifteen-minute time limit for the presentation.
Since all committee members will have read the submitted proposal in advance, the presentation should be used as an opportunity to go into greater detail to provide additional context and/or to discuss examples that demonstrates the proposed methodology.

Evaluation of the Proposal

The Committee will deliberate to reach a consensus on one of the following three outcomes:

  • Pass (with no revisions): indicates that the Area Chair may sign and forward the thesis proposal and the thesis 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 one month before initial submission:

Download the Nomination of Examiners Form (Doctoral) from the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website. Discuss with your supervisor(s) who should be the internal and external examiners.

  • One week before initial submission:

Confirm that your supervisor(s) has ensured availability of examiner and received confirmation (via email) duly indicated on the form that they do not have a conflict of interest on each of the indicated points.

  • Day of submission before noon (earlier, if possible):

Submit a PDF of your final thesis and completed, signed Nomination of Examiners Form to the [at] (Music Graduate Studies Office) by email. The signed form will be returned to you.

  • Day of submission before 4:00 pm (earlier if possible):

Bring seven (7) hard copies of the thesis, bound and labelled, with the completed, signed Nomination of Examiners Form to the Music Graduate Studies Office, Room A726A.
Labels must have the student’s name, thesis title, degree and copy number. Students will be required to submit two (2) hard copies to the Thesis Office after having obtained the signature of the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in Music. It will typically take 6-10 weeks to receive your examination results.

  • With the approval of the Associate Dean, submit two hard copies to the Thesis Office. The oral defense will be scheduled in 4-8 weeks.

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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