Thesis Criteria

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

The thesis is original scholarship and makes a distinct contribution to knowledge. It shows familiarity with previous work in the field, and demonstrates the ability to plan and carry out research, organize findings, and defend the approach and conclusions in a scholarly manner. It is succinct and reflects the standards of the discipline, recognizing the value of music and music research beyond the “academia”.

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 (external examiner), and a Schulich School of Music faculty member in discipline expertise (internal examiner).

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.

Format of Dissertation Proposal

A complete dissertation proposal consists of the following elements:

  • Summary, defining and situating topic, explaining goals/objectives, explaining methodology (up to 3 single-spaced pages of text, plus up to 2 additional pages of musical examples and/or figures).
  • Bibliography (up to 2 pages)
  • Completed  (PDF icon PhD/D.Mus. Dissertation Proposal Form)

The primary readerships of the proposal are faculty members in the Music Theory area and (if applicable) any co-supervisor outside the Music Theory area.

Thesis Proposal Submission Deadline

After the proposal has been approved by the candidate’s supervisor (or co-supervisors, if applicable), it should be submitted to the Music Theory Area Chair by:

  • November 1 for approval during the Fall Term
  • March 1 for approval during the Winter Term

The Area Chair will schedule a proposal presentation as soon as possible at a meeting of the Music Theory Area.
The Area Chair will distribute the proposal to all members of the Music Theory Area at least one week in advance.

Thesis Proposal Presentation

  • The candidate’s presentation will take place at a meeting of the Music Theory Area.
  • A quorum of 50% of faculty members in the Music Theory Area (not counting faculty members currently on leave or serving in administrative positions) will be required to evaluate the presentation.
  • The candidate or any faculty member may participate via teleconference.
  • Any faculty member participating via teleconference will be considered to be present for the purpose of meeting the quorum, and will retain voting rights.
  • The candidate’s supervisor will normally be present at the presentation. If the candidate has a co-supervisor outside the Music Theory Area, that co-supervisor will be invited to the presentation and will have voting rights.

The proposal presentation will include the following components:

  • An oral presentation by the candidate providing an overview of the topic (maximum of 10 minutes)
  • A brief period in which the candidate will respond to questions from the faculty (approximately 5–10 minutes)

Candidates are advised to respect the ten-minute guideline for the brief presentation.
Since all faculty members will have read the submitted proposal in advance, the presentation should be used as an opportunity to go into greater detail and to provide additional context.
The candidate may elect to have the proposal presentation be open to the Schulich School of Music community.

Evaluation of the Proposal and Presentation

Faculty members in the Music Theory Area (and any co-supervisor outside the Music Theory Area, if relevant) who are present at the proposal presentation (in person or via teleconference) 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 the Dissertation Proposal Form, and the proposal and the proposal form will be forwarded to Graduate Studies Office.
  • Provisional Pass (with minor revisions): indicates that the candidate must revise the proposal based on feedback provided at the proposal presentation.
    • The revised proposal will be approved by both the Area Chair and the candidate’s supervisor(s).
      Once they are satisfied with the revisions, the Area Chair will sign the Dissertation Proposal Form, and the revised proposal and the proposal form will be forwarded to Graduate Studies Office.
  • Fail: indicates that major revisions are needed. Once those revisions are complete, a new proposal presentation must be scheduled.

Once the proposal has been forwarded to the Music Graduate Studies Office, it is considered to be approved.

For Ph.D. proposals only, it will be standard practice for Graduate Studies to circulate the approved proposals to the Graduate Music Research Sub-Committee members, so that further comments and suggestions may be offered to the candidate.

Thesis Submission Timeline

Graduation date Initial submission Thesis evaluation semester Final submission deadline
May/June December 15 Winter April 15
Fall (October, November) April 15 Summer August 15
Winter (no convocation) August 15 Fall  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(s) 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!

Colleagues' Tips for Surviving the Thesis Journey

  1. Begin using a bibliography software tool such as endnotes or Zotero at the beginning of your research process.
  2. Decide if you are doing a chapter- or manuscript based thesis early. Know the elements comprising the final document and review periodically in light of the evaluation criteria. 
  3. Take time for fun, nourishment and living life—each day, each week, each month!
  4. Assemble all software packages that your work will require at the outset (e.g., statistical or other analytical tools, notational, word processing, bibliography, illustration tools, etc.). Write a short “test” document and apply the McGill software package formatting to understand style implications and any potential challenges for your work (e.g., margins, fonts, headings, etc.). 
  5. Review the Schulich School of Music Style Guide pertaining to style manuals and music.
  6. Attend a concert, a movie, or some other live cultural event at least once a week.
  7. Keep a file tracking the style choices you make from the very beginning.
  8. Assemble musical examples, figures, and illustrations in a separate file, even in preliminary sketch form, keeping an overall tracking record that details what each requires for final thesis inclusion (e.g., formatting, copyright release and permissions, etc.). Check and update the tracking file periodically. Use the talents of others to format musical examples as a major time-saver and to facilitate proof-reading.
  9. Consider copyright practicalities at the outset. Collect written permission to use materials as soon as possible.
  10. Attend the thesis defenses and lecture-recitals of your colleagues – enjoy in particular the wine!
  11. Develop a schedule with your supervisors and other dissertation committee members. Think of each marker – not as a deadline, but as a checking in moment, a reporting that always involves some element of writing even if it involves only two lines of summary that will eventually become the basis for determining the “header” of an outline, the first line under the header, or a working hypothesis. This way, the research and the writing can become inter-connected and benefit from the clarity of thought and direction that each provides the other. For other helpful hints on how to develop the schedule as you define your topic, see here. Recognize that any step involving human interactions will require more time than anticipated. Plan well ahead when organizing trips to archives, festivals, research labs, etc.
  12. Share the results of your work in a variety of formal and informal settings throughout its evolution, giving at least one presentation a year. The more people you share with, academic and non-academic, musical, non-musical, the clearer the expression becomes!
  13. Draw on the resources of the whole Schulich School of Music Team and beyond: become long and lasting friends with the Library Faculty, attend grant writing sessions for funding tips, the labs of other supervisors, and call upon the expertise of Prof. Lena Weman, the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in Music, and Helene Drouin, Graduate Studies for questions small or large, research or procedural, or if you are merely feeling the pressure and angst of this and that. Writing assistance may also be obtained through Graphos.
  14. For other helpful hints, see the Graduate Supervision website. Know that usually you are not the most effective proof-reader, that it takes much longer than you ever imagined, and that at least once, the computer, the electricity, the plumbing or some other critical disaster will occur at the most inopportune moment.
  15. And did we say, take time for fun, nourishment and living life—each day, each week, each month!

Other Resources

Tools for writing and research (including the Schulich School of Music Style Sheet)

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