Undergraduate Preparation for Graduate Study in Music

  • PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40373199


Critical Observations Concerning the Preparation of Candidates for the Ph.D. in Musicology or Theory


The college preparation I would like to see in students entering Ph.D. programs in our graduate schools I can sum up in one word: diversity.

Our field has grown to the point where colleges are no longer seeking Ph.D.'s to teach music but to teach some area within music. This, to be sure, is more true of musicology than of theory. But even in theory, faculty vacancies are being increasingly defined in terms of work either in history of theory, analytical theory, what I call practical theory (harmony, counterpoint, etc.), or what I call creative theory, that is theory of contemporary composition. The ground for these directions is usually laid before graduate school.

Let me give some negative examples. Someone who comes into graduate school without Latin or Greek will obviously make a poor candidate for a specialty in ancient and medieval theory. Similarly whoever has to begin German in his first graduate year had better stay away from 19th century music as a specialty. Someone who has never handled an instrument other than the piano will be a poor prospect for the history of instruments or of performance practices. One who has not touched mathematics since high school may have some difficulty with computer-aided research or electronic music, because the literature in these fields requires considerable sophistication in mathematics and sometimes in electronic theory.

These, as I promised, were negative examples. Make them positive and they may add up to a desirable graduate class. One student presents a minor or major in classical languages, another a strong background in German literature, another in science and mathematics, another in sociology, Far Eastern languages, English poetry, or dramatics.

It is assumed, of course, that all of these desirable candidates for graduate school will be musicians of one kind or another. One will have played every wind instrument he could get his hands or mouth on; another will be an accomplished harpsichordist and perhaps a harpsichord builder; another will be a concert violinist. Some will be able to read complicated scores at the piano while others will barely get through a four-part chorale at sight. This diversity we should not only tolerate but cultivate.

Someone will say there ought to be minimum standards of accomplishment in certain of these areas. I don't believe we can enforce these without sacrificing the flexibility that will give us a class of potential committed specialists. Even if we were to set a minimum standard, what fair and convenient test could determine whether it is met?

At best, tests can only measure ability on a certain day of a student's senior year. They are no measure of potential, which is what a graduate school is interested in. We would like to appraise the potential for growth in sight reading, thorough-bass playing, analytical powers, musical sensitivity, language learning, research technique, and fluency and elegance in spoken and written English.

We who work in the arts are well aware of the inequities of examinations like the college boards, and the limitations imposed by rigid entrance requirements such as colleges have foisted upon the secondary schools. We have often talked in this society of the lack of recognition given to high school courses in music by college admissions officers. We have similarly deplored the lack of coverage of the arts in college board examinations. Any tight prescription for what colleges should furnish graduate school candidates, and any formula for graduate entrance examinations to test for the presence of these qualifications would be subjecting the colleges to the same kind of myopic leadership.

What, then, shall we ask of college music departments, only one of whose functions—and usually not the principal one—is preparing candidates for Ph.D. programs in music?

What I would ask of them, I shall outline in six points:

  1. A solid grounding in musical composition. There is no better way of gaining insight into the decision-making that goes into composition than to be faced with it oneself.
  2. Training in historically oriented musical analysis. To learn some 19th or 20th century method of analysis is not enough, nor is it enough to pick apart a few pieces as some composers like to do, ignoring the premises and conventions that limited the original creator. Every work is born within a complex of limiting conditions that history teaches us to recognize. A truly valid analysis takes these into account.
  3. Ample opportunities to follow interests outside of music or specialized interests within music. A program that channels every student into the same maze of courses, which are intended to fulfill every requirement for advanced study, does not give the individual student the kind of head-start he should have in some branch of music that he could follow up as a graduate student.
  4. Experience in musical performance aiming at a high artistic level. This experience can be in solo performance, chamber music, or even in larger ensembles, so long as the goal is refined, deeply thought-out interpretation.
  5. Frequent exercise in writing papers that require tight organization and clear communication. Somewhere in his undergraduate career, perhaps in the writing of an honors thesis, the prospective graduate student should have had a chance to present for criticism more than one draft of a large piece of writing, of which several revisions have undergone careful polishing and editing.
  6. Opportunities for informal but disciplined discussion of musical problems. Most graduate teaching takes place in seminar-style groups. Unless in college the student has overcome his reticence or overeagerness to speak his mind and to defend his views before his peers, he may not be prepared to participate in and profit fully from a seminar situation.

Whether students turned out from such a curriculum should be encouraged to go into advanced musicological or theoretical studies cannot be determined from examinations. Such students are also very difficult to compare one to another. Only a careful study of the individual merits of a dossier that includes the transcripts, letters from instructors, perhaps tapes of performances, and examples of written work can, under these circumstances, be the basis for decision about admission to a graduate program. Certain students will already have embarked on paths that can be pursued only in certain university departments. Occasionally a department should be honest enough to admit that an applicant would be better off elsewhere. We ought to have diversity of graduate departments as well as of students.

Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut



Thirty-four years ago today, likewise on the Festival of the Holy Innocents, the Music Teachers Association was holding a meeting at Milwaukee. In the course of that meeting the late Professor Otto Kinkeldey of Cornell University read a paper entitled "Undergraduate Preparation for Graduate Work in Music". This paper was marked by such insight and by such prescience that it might have served with almost no changes for the present occasion. In fact I seriously considered using it for that purpose, but was deterred by two considerations. First, it would have been dishonest; and second, somebody might have found out. (I suppose it was the second consideration that chiefly deterred me.) At any rate Professor Kinkeldey, at a time when graduate study in musicology was practically nonexistent in our universities, saw or foresaw the necessary requirements for such study from the point of view of undergraduate preparation in a way that can hardly be bettered. In what I have to say this morning, I shall make use of the same outline structure that he did.

His first consideration was with respect to musical performance. Here I think is one of the basic requisites for any field of music and especially for anyone who expects to become a teacher. In the first place, experience in musical performance under exacting standards is necessary for anyone who wishes to understand what music really is. Up to within the past few years we have never known any kind of music that was not mediated to us through a performer. The training of muscles and nerves, the sharp awareness of music as something that happens in time is, it seems to me, almost a necessary physical basis for any sort of real knowledge about music. Moreover, the ability to play the piano and to read score is practically indispensable for small classroom teaching.

The second basic requirement is a knowledge of music theory, including harmony, counterpoint and analysis. This is a matter that may be taken so much for granted that there is no necessity for me to dilate upon the subject. I would only say that the analysis should be of a kind that is capable of dealing with music as process and not as a series of static moments. A perfectly tone-deaf person could easily learn to write Roman and Arabic numerals under chords but it takes a musician to analyze what happens in the terms of the process, the succession of chords and tones in a piece of music. It should perhaps also be emphasized that analysis must be capable of dealing with music both before and after the period of common practice. This is another way of saying that analysis needs to be historically oriented: one does not try to analyze Perot in or Dufay by the same methods that are appropriate to Schubert, and the music of most recent times requires still different analytical techniques.

As to the study of music history in the undergraduate years, I think there may be two opinions. For a student who is not going on to a professional career in musicology, I suppose a course in general music history and perhaps a course or two in specialized history of particular periods is a good idea. On the other hand, for students who are going on to professional work in historical musicology the courses in music history at the undergraduate level might be omitted. I do not think that such a course would do any harm if it were properly taught and if it left the student with nothing important to unlearn; but if it came to a choice between a course in music history and one, let us say, in general history or literature or the history of art, I suspect that for the future professional musicologist the latter kind of course might be more useful. This brings me to the final main consideration: the necessity for a good general education. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems as though the majority of music majors are in that field because they are not bright enough to major in anything else. They have drifted into music because they were talented to some degree and because through their high school and undergraduate years they have had success in exploiting that talent. It hardly needs saying that musical talent alone is no qualification for a professional career either as a composer or musicologist—nor, for that matter, as a performer either. For the musicologist it is of basic importance that the undergraduate years should be concerned with general education. I mean, specifically, the kind of general education that includes a sound reading knowledge of at least two foreign languages, preferably French and German, as well as at least a beginning in Latin and Italian. Moreover, the time is about at hand when our younger colleagues must add one of the Slavic languages to their repertoire, probably Russian.

In addition to language training the undergraduate preparation ought to include work in history, literature and (though this should be too obvious to need saying) the writing of English. As far as preparation for professional work in musicology is concerned, I would rather have a student who had majored as an undergraduate in some field which gave him a good general education and a good grasp of the fundamental languages than a music major who might be well stuffed with the facts of music history but at the same time be seriously deficient in his general educational background.

In naming these things as prerequisites for graduate professional training in musicology I do not mean to suggest that everyone should come with identical preparation. There would be no use advocating this because it is not possible, and besides it is not desirable. Everyone in this field has his own particular interests, strengths, and talents and these are the things he should be encouraged to develop. We constantly hear that ours is an age of specialization, which is of course as true in musicology as in any other field. We have not yet quite arrived at the point where workers in, let us say, medieval musicology, cannot understand what their colleagues in 20th-century theory are talking about, but we are rapidly approaching such a point and there is no stopping the trend toward specialization. Nevertheless, I should like to make a plea for what I call the generalist. The further specialization proceeds in any field, the more it becomes necessary that there should be some scholars who are able to relate their specialities one to another and who are interested in problems common to the entire discipline and its relations to other disciplines. Of course there is no such thing as a standard curriculum for producing a generalist; normally he will be trained as a specialist in some field and ordinarily will make his reputation initially as a specialist. From that point on it is a matter of individual preference and interest whether he will continue with one or more specialities or go in the direction that I have called generalism. This is not a direction I would recommend for very many people, but a few in each generation are needed and it must be said that their task becomes more difficult with each generation that passes.

Cornell University
Ithaca, New York


Critical Observations Concerning the Preparation of Candidates for Doctoral Degrees in Performance

The following description of the Doctor of Musical Arts or Doctor of Music Degree appears frequently in catalogues of Schools of Music:

The Doctor of Musical Arts has come to be the accepted terminal professional degree in music. The Ph.D. in musicology is for the research scholar in music. The D.M.A. bears approximately the same relationship to the Ph.D. in Music as the M.D. does to a Ph.D. in Biochemistry.

Valuable as this analogy may be for a general understanding of the degree, or as a device to persuade reluctant university administrators to accept the degree, it may provide some difficulties if carried to an extreme. I can think of at least three ways in which such a comparison can be misleading.

First, we note that the "practical" part of the M.D. comes logically at the end of the student's training after he has laid a broad foundation in liberal arts and courses in medicine. If we attempted something similar in music, the results would probably be disastrous. Imagine giving the music student a liberal arts undergraduate program, and then a Masters degree emphasizing theory or musicology and then finally on the doctoral level putting a violin in his hands and saying, "Now you know all you need to know—play."

It is obvious to us, but unfortunately sometimes less obvious to others, that practical studies in applied music must occupy a significant portion of all music study, especially at the undergraduate level if the expected maturation of musical skill is to be accomplished.

There is a second difference between the doctorates in music and medicine. In medicine the student usually progresses from undergraduate study to graduate study without interruption. In music it is not only common, but, I think, highly advisable to have an intervening period of professional activity between the undergraduate degree and graduate study.

For a third difference we may note that many college freshmen begin their baccalaureate training with the goal of entering graduate medical school clearly in their minds (or at least in their parent's minds). Their undergraduate course of study is designed to provide the best possible preparation for graduate work. This is not generally true of music students. Many of them do not seriously contemplate formal training past the bachelor's degree, or at most the master's degree.

To a large extent this attitude is shared by music school faculties. Undergraduate degrees in music have been designed more to place the graduating student in the public schools, symphony orchestras, or on the concert or opera stage, than they have to prepare him for doctoral study.

This is natural in view of the relatively recent establishment of doctoral programs in music performance. And yet when we consider that some doctoral programs are over fifteen years old it does seem appropriate to consider the effectiveness of undergraduate preparation for graduate study in music performance.

As a framework for discussion of this topic I sought to extract a composite curriculum for the doctoral degree in performance from the bulletins of the various schools offering this degree. In general the curriculum divides into 3 major areas with several subjects under each area.

1. Performance Major
  Applied music study
  Chamber music, accompanying or score reading, large ensemble
  Recitalssolo, chamber, concerto, opera, etc., and lecture-recitals
  Pedagogy and related courses in music education
  Related applied music (especially piano for the non-pianists)
  Literature of the major instrument or voice
  Performance practice
  Thesis document, etc.
2. Other Music Courses
  Music history and literature
3. Liberal Arts Courses
  Social Sciences
  Natural Sciences
  Foreign Language

I shall not discuss this latter category because there is such wide variety here. The same institution sometimes requires 2 languages in the doctoral program, but offers little space in the curriculum for them on the undergraduate level.

In terms of credit hours, baccalaureate degrees devote anywhere from one-tenth to one-third of the total program to private instruction and practice of the major applied music medium. Is this training adequate? The answer can only be that this depends upon the student, the teacher and, to a large extent, upon the effectiveness of pre-collegiate study (especially in instrumental music).

The problem does not lie in the undergraduate curriculum but in individual differences. Not all those who can complete a baccalaureate degree in performance are qualified to embark on a master's degree. Certainly not all those who complete a master's degree have the technical and musical requirements to proceed to the doctor's degree.

One change, however, that could be made is in the attitude toward applied music grading. This is almost invariably too high, and leads the student to overestimate his chances for success in graduate study. We may account for this tendency to overgrade by citing the teacher's lack of objectivity or (more charitably) by pointing out that the one-to-one teacher-pupil ratio in applied music is likely to produce superior quality as compared to other forms of instruction. In any case it is unfortunate that applied music grades are not more judiciously given, so that they could serve as better indicators of possible success or failure in graduate study.

One other point could be made in connection with applied music study on all levels. Seldom is the student given the challenge of working out a piece or a whole program on his own. This would be a marvelous opportunity for the student in his senior year to integrate all he has learned about the technique of performance from his applied music study, the structure of music from his theoretical study, and the style and tradition of the music from his study of music history and literature. After working out the composition he could present it for a panel of faculty members and receive their comments and criticisms. It is encouraging to note that some steps in this direction are being taken by some schools. Individual study such as this may meet with strong opposition from those steeped in the mystique of the maestro-student relationship, but it would seem to represent the logical outcome and justification of the uniquely American pattern of integrating conservatory and university studies.

Turning to other aspects of the major study we can observe that in such areas as chamber music, accompanying, secondary piano study, pedagogy and the literature of the instrument there is enormous variety on both the undergraduate level and the doctoral level. Some of these disciplines appear on the undergraduate program, but not on the doctoral program at the same institution and vice-versa, so that it is hard to make valid generalizations or criticisms. It does seem apparent, however, that there is some lack of worthwhile material for instructional purposes in the study of literature, particularly for the orchestral instruments. Piano and vocal literature have received more careful attention in works by reliable scholars. What is perhaps needed is a sharing of research and publications in the study of applied music literature for orchestral instruments among the several schools offering doctoral programs.

But it is this very research and the subsequent writing of a paper covering the results that is one of the chief problems which faces the doctoral student in performance. Here is one of the major weaknesses of the undergraduate program in terms of preparation for graduate study. Too often the undergraduate music major has no opportunity for instruction and experience in research other than the perfunctory performance of pseudo-experiments in an introductory laboratory psychology class. Too often his only extended writing is in the freshman composition class.

It is not always satisfactory to remedy these deficiencies with research methods courses on the graduate level. What the student needs is the opportunity to conduct and report research on carefully selected and supervised projects, and this opportunity should be provided for him in his senior year. Through direct personal experience on a small scale project he can prepare himself to undertake a meaningful study as part of his doctoral program. Undergraduate advisors should do all they can to encourage those outstanding students who give promise of becoming doctoral candidates to avail themselves of all opportunities in music or other fields, to gain experience in conducting research and writing extended papers.

In other music subjects, such as music history and literature and music theory, it seems obvious that undergraduate preparation for doctoral study is not wholly successful, for the bulletin of every school offering a doctorate lists graduate review or deficiency courses in these areas for students who fail to achieve satisfactory scores on entrance examinations. But before those of us who teach undergraduate courses in music theory or literature beat our breasts and cry "mea culpa," it might be well to examine the nature of these entrance examinations which are making groveling know-nothings out of the students who were once such shining lights in our classes.

To look at these entrance examinations in depth and detail would be a conference session in itself—indeed I would propose it as a possible topic. Superficially, however, a survey of these bulletins which describes their entrance examinations shows a great deal of variety. Some consist of essay topics, others of specific, objective questions, multiple-choice, true-false, etc. Some tests are given before the student enters, others during the orientation period, and others during the student's first year. Other differences are not obvious from the bulletins but are nevertheless to be surmised as, for example, the degree to which an entrance test reflects the particular terminology, concepts, and attitudes of a department.

Thus we can say that part of the problem lies in the tests themselves; part of the problem lies in the timing of the tests; and part of the problem lies in the fact that some students come to graduate studies many years after completing their undergraduate studies. These factors account for part but not all of the problem. There is a need for raising the standards and coverage of undergraduate courses in music history and literature and music theory. I am not proposing changes in texts or methods, but rather suggesting that music should follow the example of other disciplines in raising the level of achievement expected before entering college music studies. Work in skills and materials below that level could still be offered but as remedial materials not counting toward the baccalaureate degree. Many schools have taken steps in this direction, and it seems possible for music departments to go even further in demanding that certain skills and materials are pre-requisite to major college study in music just as foreign language, science, and mathematics departments have done in their areas.

Is this possible in today's high schools, which are still reeling from the jolt of Sputnik? I think it is. A recent NEA study of music and art in the high schools in the five year period following the start of the space age showed conclusively that in every aspect, from number and types of classes to numbers of students and teachers, music and art instruction in the public schools has increased and improved. Furthermore, modern educational methods such as programmed texts and audio-visual aids make it possible to offer this instruction economically and efficiently even if it is intended for relatively small groups of students in the high school.

With the additional time thus gained, instruction in music theory and literature on the undergraduate level could be increased to the point where it could not only better prepare future graduate students, but could also be more effective for those students for whom the bachelor's degree is a terminal degree. Increasingly too, as the graduates of our doctoral programs assume positions in undergraduate instruction we can hope for a more effective living demonstration for our undergraduate students of the relevance of the study of theory and literature and of other academic subjects to the study of performance, for this is the foundation and the strength of the American pattern of education in music today.

Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana

Read 1501 times

Last modified on Wednesday, 14/11/2018

Go to top