Music Theory

MA / PhD in Theory (2006 – Archived Handbook)

ARCHIVED VERSION: December 2006-May 2011

For the current version, click here.

This handbook is designed to guide students in the MA/Ph.D. theory program. Following some introductory information, the student is taken progressively through the program from entrance to graduation. Some additional topics of concern are included in the final section. Should questions arise that are not addressed in the handbook, students should consult their academic adviser, the Chair of the Theory Department, or the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in that order. In case of any disparity, the official Eastman Bulletin and Supplement supersedes the statements in this handbook.




First Year

Second Year

Third Year




All students accepted in the MA/Ph.D. theory program are required to take proficiency examinations in music theory and music history upon entering Eastman to determine placement. These exams are scheduled the week before classes in the fall. The academic adviser will inform the student of the results at the initial advising session. Failure on all or part of the exams will necessitate enrollment in the appropriate remedial course(s): TH 117/118 (Theory, Analysis, Musicianship Review), MHS 119 (Historical Survey). One (or more) graduate survey courses in music history may also be recommended, from MHS 421-426. One 4xx-level music history survey course may count as an elective at the Master’s level, but no credit is given for additional 42x-level MHS courses, TH 117/118, or MHS 119.

Remediation is not covered by graduate awards, which are merit-based. The following courses are not covered and are the student’s responsibility: TH 117/118, MHS 119, MHS 480, and MHS 42x level classes (one MHS 42x level class is covered at the Master’s level).


The Council on Graduate Studies of the University of Rochester has established the principle of continuous registration for graduate students. Beginning with the first semester of study in a degree program, graduate students must be enrolled continuously (with the possible exception of summer sessions) until the degree is completed.

Before classes begin, entering students will meet with their MA/Ph.D. academic adviser to discuss the results of their placement exams and to register for appropriate courses. One week (usually in November and April) is set aside to pre-register for the following semester. Although students will sign up for appointments during this period, they should feel free to consult with the MA/Ph.D. academic adviser on any matters pertaining to their programs.

Full-time enrollment is twelve or more credits per semester; for students holding a Graduate Award full-time enrollment is no less than nine credits per semester. At least two consecutive terms of course work must be completed in full-time residence, with an accrued credit total of 18-24 hours. The student must be enrolled on a continuing basis while fulfilling the requirements for the degree, even if the dissertation is completed in absentia (see under Dissertation). ESM 985 (Inactive Status) is required for graduate students who, for extraordinary reasons, must temporarily delay progress on their program of study. Usually, though not always, this means that the student is not in residence at Eastman. If the program is allowed to lapse for two or more years, the student must apply to the Theory Department and Graduate Research Committee for reinstatement. The time limit to the degree from the date of entry into the MA/Ph.D. program is
six years for those students with a prior Master’s degree and seven years for those with a prior Bachelor’s degree. All
requests for extensions of time must be addressed to the Graduate Research Committee.

For information on grading procedures, incomplete grades, and course audits, see the appropriate topics under Graduate Policy and Curricula in the Supplement to the Eastman Bulletin.


The general administration of the MA/Ph.D. degree at the University of Rochester is through the University Council on Graduate Studies and the office of the University Dean of Graduate Studies, located on the University’s River Campus. The University Dean is assisted by seven Associate Deans of Graduate Studies – one in each of the University’s colleges or schools. The office of Eastman’s Associate Dean of Graduate Studies is Rm. 103a in the Main Building of the School; the Administrator of Graduate Studies office is Rm. 103 of the Main Building. Available on the shelves outside this office is the School’s official Graduate Calendar, listing deadlines for various events critical to the doctoral student’s degree program. Outside the graduate office are guidelines for submitting programs of study and dissertation proposals, as well as many other helpful forms concerning language exams and forms for 999, 995, 985, etc. The Associate Dean of Graduate Studies also chairs the Graduate Research Committee, the Eastman faculty group that reviews and approves all doctoral programs of study, reviews departmentally-approved dissertation proposals, and extensions of time submitted by MA/Ph.D. students. See the Graduate Studies web site.


Student’s entering with a Master’s Degree in Music Theory are granted 30 credits toward the total credit hours of 90 in the MA/Ph.D. program. Students should submit an official transcript and other supporting documentation (such as papers, projects, assignments, a syllabus, etc.) for the courses in question to the appropriate department chair for evaluation. If the department chair approves graduate credit or credits for transfer, written approval should be forwarded to the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies along with the student’s academic transcript for final review. Consult the Academic Policy Handbook section 05.04 for further requirements (including the following: the course must be taken within five years, a grade of B or higher, and the credits allotted cannot be above what the other degree requires). In some cases, credit for courses above the 30 hours allowed for the Master’s degree may be granted. Not more than 6 hours of additional transfer credit are normally permitted.



In the MA/Ph.D. program in Theory the total number of hours is 90, as mandated by the University of Rochester. Up to 30 (or when approved, 36) hours of credit are allowed from a prior Master’s Degree. For students entering without a Master’s Degree, NASM guidelines require that students take 9-10 credit hours of music courses outside the Theory Department. The Theory Department supports these guidelines, and recommends them for all students, whether entering with or without a Master’s Degree. The Theory Colloquium (TH 591) may be elected for 1 credit a semester, to a maximum of 2 credits over the degree. Students may enroll for up to six hours of applied music study per degree (that is, 6 for the masters, and 6 for the doctorate) for a maximum of 12 credits that can count toward the 90 hours required for the degree. See the Dean of Academic Affairs for studio assignment; it is necessary to audition in order to be assigned an applied teacher. The dissertation carries 18 hours of credit, the remaining 42 hours (above the 30 hours in the Masters) are distributed among the Core Curriculum (see below) and elective courses.

In the third year for students entering with a Bachelor’s Degree and the second year for students entering with a Master’s Degree, the student, upon consultation with the academic adviser, should draw up a formal Program of Study (sample forms are available outside the Graduate Studies Office, Rm. 103) and submit it to the Graduate Research Committee for approval; consult the Graduate Calendar for the Committee agenda items deadline. Once approved, any further changes in the program must be resubmitted to the Committee. The minimum time for completing the course work is two years. The program of study must be approved and the language requirements (see below) satisfied before students may take the Theory Comprehensive Exams.


For the MA/Ph.D. in music theory, a reading knowledge of two foreign languages is required. In all cases, proficiency in German must be demonstrated by the end of the first year. Students must either pass the German exam on arrival or complete German 112G with a B+ or better grade at Eastman. The second language should be chosen with the student’s planned area of research in mind and must be completed by the end of the second year. In many cases the second language is French. In rare cases, a student’s dissertation committee may petition the Theory Department to require fewer or more languages.

The German exam for theory graduate students is designed to ascertain that students are able to comprehend a German scholarly text with the help of a dictionary. One year of college German (or the equivalent) is in most cases the absolute minimum preparation for passing the test (most successful students have two years experience). It is not recommended that students attempt this test without any previous German knowledge.

Students sign up for the test in the office of the Administrator for Graduate Studies, Cindy McCamman. Previous exams are available in this office for students to study. Students are given 2 hrs. for each of the two parts on the date scheduled: part I at 9:00 am and part 2 at 1:00 pm. Students may take the exam twice before being required to enroll in a language course. Students requiring remediation will be placed in appropriate courses by their program advisors in consultation with the foreign language examiners. If students pass the second semester of a sophomore-level language course with a B+ or higher, their language requirement is fulfilled.

The exam consists of two parts:

1) A one page musical text, often a page from a scholarly journal article.

2) A one page general text from a literary source.

Students are allowed to use a dictionary. The translation into English should be clear and grammatically correct.

Further questions regarding the test and how to prepare for it may be directed to Professor Steingrover by email ( or phone (274-1616).

NOTE: Eastman languages classes are considered remedial and students are responsible for these classes.


The MA/Ph.D. program includes a series of introductory courses covering the broad range of research in music theory; these lead to more focused pro-seminars, and then to seminars and finally independent studies. The student thereby gradually obtains the skills necessary to carry out independent research, the goal of the MA/Ph.D. The Department strongly encourages individual research initiatives, especially those that cross traditional disciplinary boundaries.

Upon entering ESM, students will be assigned an Academic Advisor in year 1 and year 2 to advise on the first two years of courses. By the fall semester of their third year, students, in consultation with their Academic Advisor and the Chair of the Theory Department, should form a dissertation committee to direct their research. Each committee consists of a Research Advisor, a second reader from the Theory Department, and one reader from outside the Department. Typically the student chooses a Research Advisor first and the rest of the committee follows as the dissertation topic forms. The
committee, which may change depending on the direction of research, works closely with the students throughout their graduate study.

The Legal Committee: A legal dissertation committee consists of: at least two full-time faculty members with assistant professor rank or higher from the Theory department, and one full-time faculty member with assistant professor rank or higher from “outside” the candidate’s department. It is best that the legal committee be established early on, before the completion and acceptance of the dissertation proposal, in order for the student to reap the benefits of early feedback from the entire committee.

The Outside Reader: The advisor must notify the Graduate Office as soon as the outside reader of the dissertation committee has been designated, and/or when any changes are made to the dissertation committee after the dissertation proposal has been approved by the department. The advisor is responsible for contacting the outside reader and securing that individual’s consent to serve on the committee. If the outside reader comes from outside the Eastman/UR community, the department chair must make a written request to the Graduate Office for that reader to serve on the student’s committee; a bio of the outside reader should be included with the request. The Associate Dean of Graduate Studies then seeks permission from the University Dean of Graduate Studies to include this outside reader on the student’s dissertation committee.

Departments are responsible for paying travel and lodging expenses for an outside-UR reader traveling to Eastman for the final defense. The department is also responsible for an ESM faculty member serving on the committee who is on a leave of absence (LOA), and who agrees to travel back to Eastman for the defense; in cases where the ESM faculty member on a LOA is unable to serve on the committee she/he meets with the departmental chair and a substitute is arranged.

Former ESM/UR Faculty: Any faculty member who is a former full-time member of the faculty at ESM/UR can serve on a committee without special permission. However, if more than one year has elapsed since the faculty member left ESM/UR, that person can continue on the committee, but cannot be counted as one of the required, current, full-time members of the ESM/UR faculty to make the committee legal. If this person was a member of the student’s department, then another faculty member from the student’s department would need to be appointed.


The initial year of study consists of at least three of the following six core courses (normally four credits each):

TH 441: Computer Applications in Music Research (3 credits).

TH 511: Introduction to the Theory and Analysis of Tonal Music

TH 513: Introduction to the Theory and Analysis of Twentieth-Century Music

TH 521: Pedagogy of Music Theory

TH 523: What is Music Theory?

TH 524: Introduction to the History of Music Theory

Should the student already have the equivalent of one (or more) of these courses in a prior Master’s degree, it is possible that introductory course requirement may be waived and the student has the option to fulfill these credit hours with other coursework in consultation with the advisor.

In addition to these courses, the student will take any remedial courses required, or courses related exams (Keyboard Skills TH 475, for instance), performance interests, and courses such as Counterpoint (TH 451-452), Acoustics (TH 412), or Advanced Harmony and Composition (TH 480). It is recommended that students take at least one course each year outside the Theory Department; students are required to take one Music History / Musicology class within the first two years of study.


At the conclusion of the first year of study, the student’s record and progress will be evaluated by the Department. Those who do not meet the standards of the degree will be discouraged from continuing further in the program.


During the second year, students will complete the remaining courses from the six core courses (see the First Year of Study). Upon consultation with their advisors, students will also take a range of pro-seminars and seminars in Music Theory, as well as classes in other departments or from outside Eastman. Students entering with a Master’s Degree will ordinarily accrue 72 credits during the second year, and may fill out their second semester with Dissertation credits (Th 995).


At the conclusion of the second year of study, or possibly the first year for students entering with a Master’s Degree, students take the Comprehensive Exam: Part I, Practicum (CEPP). The exam committee could be the student’s research committee if it has formed; otherwise it will consist of two-three members of the Theory Department and one member of the Musicology Department. The exam is designed to test musical skills and general knowledge. The exam consists of two parts: a prepared section of written work and an oral / skills section. For the prepared section, students will be given materials to complete over a weekend, such as counterpoint, harmony, or compositional exercises. For the oral / skills section, students will present their prepared materials, and also be required to demonstrate skills and analysis, and to answer questions in a discussion format. The exam will include questions of a historical nature.

Following the exam, the student’s committee will review and evaluate the student’s performance and decide on a pass or fail grade. Students who fail the exam will be permitted one retake no later than the Spring semester of the third year. Students failing the exam twice will not be permitted to continue in the program. Students who have completed the requirements outlined below will be awarded a Master’s Degree at this point.

Students who successfully complete the CEPP and who have completed at least 30 hours of credit, maintained at least a B+ grade average, taken at least 9-10 credits of music courses outside the Department, and passed the foreign language requirements are eligible for the Master of Arts degree. Students will prepare their materials and present to their advisor, who confers with the the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in the awarding of the degree. If the requirements are not met, the Master’s Degree may be conferred at a later point in the student’s course of study. It is the student’s responsibility to go to the Registrars Office and fill out a Degree Application Form. The form can also be accessed on the Eastman website, under the registrar’s homepage, under forms.


By the end of the second year students will normally have accrued 42-48 hours of credit (entering without a Master’s Degree) consisting of the Core Curriculum requirements and other recommended courses. During the third year,
students will form their committees (if they haven’t done so by this point), concentrate on specialized courses, and pursue independent studies directed toward the dissertation. The remaining hours may consist of free electives or applied music study (up to 6 hours for the Doctorate). Students will also begin preparation for the Theory Ph.D. Comprehensive exam Part II, and start writing the dissertation proposal.


The Theory Comprehensive Examination, Part II consists of written and oral portions. The exam is administered late in the spring semester. Students should inform their advisor and the Chair of the Theory Department by the end of the previous term if they intend to take the exam.

The written part of the exam is administered on a consecutive Monday – Wednesday – Friday. The first day consists of terms and essays. The second will focus on the analysis of a given composition. The format of the last day will be decided by the student’s committee.

Students who fail the written exam will not be allowed to go on to the oral exam. Students may retake the written portion in a year’s time. Students who fail the written exam twice will not be permitted to continue in the program.

The oral exam is normally scheduled within two weeks of the written exam. The oral exam committee is the student’s research committee. The oral exam (of about two hours duration) may probe deeper into questions on the prior written
exam, explore new issues, or possibly focus on preliminary research for the dissertation.

Students who fail the oral exam may retake this portion within a year’s time. Students who fail the oral exam twice will not be permitted to continue in the program.

Once the oral exam is passed, the student officially becomes a Candidate for the Ph.D. degree. The oral exam must be successfully completed at least six months before the final public defense of the dissertation.


Upon successful completion of coursework and exams, the Candidate works with the committee on the dissertation proposal. At this stage the committee will normally consist of two members of the department, pending the appointment of a reader from outside the department (see ‘The Committee System’).The proposal, about 15-20 pages, should state the subject of the dissertation, cite and critique prior research in that area, and present a methodology with examples. A tentative table of contents, a bibliography, and 200-word abstract must be included.

After the committee approves the proposal, the Department Chair may circulate it to at least one further, anonymous member of the Theory faculty whose expertise is outside the candidate’s area of research. The proposal may then require additional revision. After this final revision (if required), the proposal is resubmitted to the Department Chair, who signs it as approved by the Theory Department. Once the department has officially approved the proposal, a copy of the approved proposal must be registered in Eastman’s Graduate Office; in addition, the student must register the topic with Music Theory Online and Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology—Online.


Ideally the student should complete the dissertation in 1 to 1 1/2 years, preferably in residence; the dissertation carries 18 hours credit. The student should consult the official handbook, The Preparation of Doctoral Theses (available from the University of Rochester Graduate Studies web site or from the Eastman Graduate Studies Office), in order to insure that proper formal procedures are followed. Once students have completed the 18 dissertation credits (TH 595), they will enroll in either TH 999 (Dissertation Continuation in Residence) or TH 995 (Dissertation Continuation in absentia). or 985 (Inactive Status – Leave of Absence).

The following chronology and definitions will aid students in the process of submitting the dissertation.

Fair copies are in final-draft form, i.e., typed and easily readable by the reading committee.

Final copies incorporate revisions recommended by the reading committee. This is the copy upon which the dissertation defense is based.

Permanent copies incorporate any additional corrections or changes required as a result of the dissertation defense. These include one corrected and unbound paper copy of the dissertation, and one complete copy in digital/electronic format.

Students will generally work with their committee in preparation of the Fair copy of the dissertation. See the Graduate Calendar for Fair Copy deadlines.

At the beginning of the academic year in which students wish to graduate, they must inform the Chair of the Theory Department and the Graduate Studies Office of their intention to submit the dissertation for reading. Students are responsible for confirming that all prior requirements for the degree have been satisfied: any incompletes, language(s) satisfied, DMA and theory comprehensive exams passed, continuation of enrollment (paid for), and/or the need to request from the Graduate Research Committee an extension of time (see above). Students may check their transcripts through the registrar web site.

The student will submit Fair Copies of the dissertation to each member of the Committee. The Theory Department deadline is December 1st for the May degree-conferral; for other degree conferral dates, Fair Copy should be sent to the
committee at least four months prior to the Graduate Office deadline. See the Graduate Calendar for exact dates.

The Committee will return its remarks and suggestions to the student for necessary revisions.

One Final Copy of the dissertation is submitted to the Graduate Studies Office. The Final copy deadlines are usually early November, early March, and early June. This copy must be complete in every respect, including the required “front” material, such as a C.V., Acknowledgements, Abstract, etc. The Graduate Studies Office sets a date for the dissertation defense and requests an official transcript from the Registrar. The Final Copy dissertation, names of the Defense Committee, the date of the defense, and the transcript are sent by the Graduate Studies Office to the University Dean of Graduate Studies on the River Campus. The University Dean appoints a Chair for the Defense Committee who will preside over the defense, part of which may be given publicly.

If the defense is acceptable, any remaining corrections will be made in consultation with and to the satisfaction of the dissertation adviser. Permanent copies (one printed and unbound, one digital/electronic) of the dissertation are then submitted to the University Dean of Graduate Studies Office on the River Campus. At this point, the Graduate Office will advise students regarding the registration of their dissertations with ProQuest and UR Research. See the Graduate Calendar for deadlines.

The University Dean of Graduate Studies recommends to the University Council on Graduate Studies that the student’s name be placed on the list of candidates for the degree submitted to the University Board of Trustees. The degree is officially conferred by the trustees of the University of Rochester either at the October, March, or May meetings.

Formal awarding of diplomas occurs only at the annual University Commencement ceremonies in May. On request to the Eastman School Registrar, candidates unable to attend the Commencement Ceremonies may receive their diplomas by mail. Students should file a degree application card in the Registrar’s office as soon as they know their degree-conferral date (October, March, or May).



Most students entering the MA/Ph.D. program in theory at Eastman receive a graduate award (teaching or departmental assistantship, and/or research stipend) or a fellowship (e.g., the UR Sproull Fellowship). The financial arrangements for these graduate awards are handled by the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and vary from student to student. The awards / fellowships are generally available for the normal degree program duration. Early in the spring semester, students must register their intentions to apply for an assistantship with the Chair. Students are normally notified of the nature and tuition/stipend of their assistantship by early May. Students with graduate awards are required to register for at least 9 hours of course work per semester.

Teaching assistantships involve the direct responsibility for teaching a theory or aural skills class (usually freshman, sophomore, or junior levels) under the close supervision of a faculty member. Some aural skills TAs are also given supervisory duties. Teaching assistants also assist faculty with admission and placement testing during orientation week. TA’s may be required to come early for the Fall Semester for a training session. It is strongly recommended that incoming students take th521 in the first semester if there is no previous teaching experience.

In addition to the fellowships noted above, theory students may apply or be nominated for a number of awards and prizes administered by the department or the Eastman School, as well as for University-wide awards:

    • Alfred Mann Dissertation Award, for an unusually distinguished completed dissertation in Musicology or Music Theory. The award is given in alternate years to a student in the Musicology and Music Theory departments. Dissertations filed in the previous two years are thus considered during each cycle of the award process.


    • Teaching Assistant Prize, for distinguished teaching in undergraduate courses by Eastman graduate students. Graduate students in all departments are eligible in this school-wide competition; nominations from the theory department are made by the chair in consultation with the faculty. Faculty teaching assistants are eligible only if they are teaching in both semesters: nominations are based on teaching evaluations from the fall semester, and then finalists are observed in the classroom during the spring semester.


  • Edward Peck Curtis Teaching Prize, for distinguished teaching in undergraduate courses by graduate students. Graduate students from all departments are eligible in this University-wide competition; Eastman theory students have received this prize in past years.


The graduate theory students, in conjunction with the Eastman School, publish an annual refereed theory journal entitled Intégral. It has featured a wide range of topics by acknowledged scholars in the field. For further information, consult the current student editor.


Graduate theory students plan and present a series of bi-weekly symposia throughout the year. These colloquia deal with topics and issues of current theoretical and related interest. The symposia include occasional presentations by faculty members, but student presentations on research in progress are central to the discussion. Eastman scholarship is complemented by an annual lecture series providing a forum to eminent visiting scholars.


Students are encouraged to attend regional and/or national theory conferences to keep abreast of recent developments and to make contacts with eminent scholars. The Graduate Student Association and/or the Professional Development Committee may reimburse a certain percentage of the costs incurred to attend conferences.

Last updated: December, 2006