M.M. Music History Competency Examination

Format and Study Tips

All Master of Music students entering NEC are required to pass the Graduate Music History Competency Examination in partial fulfillment of their degree requirements. (Graduate Diploma and D.M.A. students do not take the exam.)

The exam will be administered on campus August 26–28, during Orientation week.

The exam is designed to test basic music history competency on the level of an Undergraduate Music History Survey course. Students who do not pass the exam in August must take the one-semester Remedial Music History Survey for zero credit in the Fall semester of 2014.


Before the test

  • The test will be scheduled during Orientation week. The testing dates and times are: Tuesday, 8/26, 9-11:30am; Wednesday, 8/27, 9-11:30am; and Thursday, 8/28, 9-11:30am. Students will be assigned to one of these times in advance. (Your test time will be included in your Orientation Packet.)
  • The test will take place in the Computer Lab and in the Music Technology room in the basement of the St. Botolph building.
  • Students need to bring a photo ID to the exam.
  • The test can be taken one time only. There will be no make-up dates for this test.

During the test

  • Students will have 1 hour (60 minutes) to complete the test.
  • During the test, students can pause the test and resume at any time and also skip questions and return to them later.
  • No outside material or devices will be allowed (books, notes, cell phones, iPads, laptops, flash-drives).
  • Hard-copy dictionaries only may be used (electronic dictionaries will not be allowed), subject to inspection by proctors.

Exam format

  • The exam will be a computer-based test, with multiple-choice questions (4 answer choices per question, with only one correct choice).
  • Students must score 60% or better in order to pass.
  • Students may choose between 2 tests:
    Test A: (Classical repertoire 90%; Jazz/World music 10%)
    Test B (Jazz/World music 75%; Classical repertoire 25%)
  • Both tests will have questions from the following seven categories of repertoire: five from the Western classical tradition (Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, 19th century, 20th century) and two categories from outside of the Western classical tradition (Jazz and World Music). The difference between the tests is just in the way that these categories are proportioned, making Test A focused more on the classical music repertoire and Test B on Jazz and World music.
  • Students are free to choose which test they want to take irrespective of their major.
  • Students may take only one of the offered tests (Test A OR Test B).

After the test: results

  • Results will be known immediately upon completion of the test.
  • Students who fail the test will be required to take the Graduate Music History Remedial Survey (zero credit).

Preparing for the Exam: Study tips and materials

1. Questions on these tests are drawn from the following sources … If you are familiar with the information in these basic texts, you should be well prepared to pass the exam.

The basic study source for the Western classical repertoire (Medieval through 20th century) is

Donald J. Grout. A History of Western Music. 8th ed., J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca. New York: Norton, 2009

A “standard.” The narrative of A History of Western Music naturally focuses on the musical works, styles, genres, and ideas that have proven most influential, enduring, and significant—but it also encompasses a wide range of music, from religious to secular, from serious to humorous, from art music to popular music, and from Europe to the Americas. Hardcover. 986 pages.

For Jazz

i) Lewis Porter and Michael Ullman. Jazz: From Its Origins to the Present. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993.

A balanced and detailed narrative of jazz history, from its beginnings to the present. 493 pages.

ii) Mark C. Gridley. Jazz Styles: History and Analysis. 9th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2006.

A concise account of stylistic developments in jazz, with emphasis on bebop and later styles. Aimed at a general audience, not just musicians. 447 pages.

For World Music

To limit the scope of this exam, the world music section has been restricted to five general cultural areas of traditional music on three continents: West Africa (mainly Ghana and Gambia), India (mainly South India), Indonesia (mainly Bali), Japan, and the Middle East (mainly Egypt and Turkey). Use the relevant chapters in the following source as a guideline for the kinds of questions to expect in the World Music section.

Jeff Todd Titon, et al. Worlds of Music: An Introduction to the Music of the World's Peoples, Shorter Version (with CD-ROM) [Paperback]

2. Focus on the following issues for each of the Western music historical periods:

  • the preferred instruments and ensembles (vocal and instrumental)
  • the characteristic genres and forms
  • the defining features of the various genres and forms
  • representative works
  • representative composers and their approximate dates (early, mid, late century)
  • characteristic traits of individual composers’ styles
  • the principal lines of stylistic development
  • the chronology of events/composers/important works in the period
  • the definition of terms peculiar to the period

3. Keep in mind that this is a music history exam. Familiarity with the sound and sight of the music is essential to understanding historical developments in musical style.

4. Examples of question formats (NOTE: These are just sample questions, and not the ones that will be at the exam):

example 1) Modal notation is associated with:
a) Aquitanian polyphony;
b) rhythmicized chant;
c) Notre Dame organum;
d) 14th-century motet

example 2) L'Orfeo, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, and L'incoronazione di Poppea are operas composed by:
a) Handel;
b) Lully;
c) Monteverdi;
d) Pergolesi

example 3) Rondo forms in the Classical period are most often found in:
a) first movements;
a) slow movements;
c) scherzos;
d) final movements

example 4) Among the operas Verdi composed are:
a) Nabucco, Il Trovatore, and Il barbiere di Siviglia;
b) La Traviata, La Bohème, and La forza del destino;
c) Rigoletto, Aïda, and Otello;
d) Parsifal, Don Carlos, and Macbeth

example 5) Which composer cannot be grouped with the others on the basis of his style:
a) Terry Riley;
b) Steve Reich;
c) George Crumb;
d) La Monte Young;
e) Philip Glass

example 6) Typical instruments of the Japanese gagaku ensemble include:
a) sho, ryuteki, hichiriki;
b) shamisen, koto, shakuhachi;
c) sitar, sarod, tabla

example 7) An important trumpet influence on Dizzy Gillespie in the 1930s was:
a) Miles Davis;
b) Roy Eldridge;
c) Red Nichols;
d) Bunk Johnson