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Final Comprehensive Examination Guidelines - Master of Music - Voice Performance

Final Comprehensive Examination Guidelines - Master of Music - Voice Performance

All MM students are advised to read and consult the College of Music Handbook throughout the course of their program. The student has sole responsibility for understanding and abiding by policy and procedures contained therein:


Students completing the Master of Music in Voice Performance must pass a final comprehensive oral examination. Students must take this exam after the completion of the MM Recital and are responsible for scheduling the time and location for this exam.

The examination committee typically consists of the major professor (usually the student’s voice instructor), the related field professor, and another faculty member from the Division of Vocal Studies.

Students planning to graduate in the same semester in which the oral exam will be attempted are advised to note the deadline by which all requirements must be completed for that semester in order to avoid a delay in graduation.

The exam may be taken no more than three times. Failing and retaking the exam may delay graduation; a third failure will result in failing the program.

The student will be expected to be able to communicate in English well enough to pass the oral exam.

In order to pass this examination, students must demonstrate an appropriate level of knowledge related to all areas such as:

  • Standard solo vocal literature. This includes the historical development and representative repertoire for Art Song/Song Cycle (including the German Lied, French mélodie, British and American song, as well as other national song literature) and Solo Cantata.
  • Opera.  Representative repertoire should include any opera roles performed, but not be limited to works appropriate to the student’s voice type.
  • Oratorio and other large concert works.  Representative repertoire should include any roles performed, but not be limited to works appropriate to the student’s voice type.
  • Significant poets and librettists for the various genres.
  • Music from their Master of Music recital, in addition to a comprehensive knowledge of vocal repertoire.
  • Reference materials and resources for translation, libretto synopsis and selection of repertoire.
  • The basics of vocal technique, as well as basic anatomy and physiology of the larynx, respiratory system, articulatory system, etc.; significant writers and theories on the topic of vocal pedagogy.
  • Notable professional singers, both past and present, with their specific voice type.
  • Competency in IPA and lyric diction in the major sung languages (English, French, German, Italian). A working knowledge of reference books/online sources in all 4 languages.
  • A review of technical work to date will also be part of the exam.

Students will also be responsible for information pertaining to the related field and should consult with their related field professors for specific guidelines for preparation.

During the exam, a student may ask the committee members for clarification of questions posed; one clarification request per question is allowed, after which the student will either attempt an answer or ask for a new question (in which case the previous question will be considered failed).

Below are some sample topics and questions to aid in your preparation for the oral exam.

  1. What are your goals as a singer? In which ways do you hope to see your skills evolve in the immediate future? What are your dream pieces or programs? Why? What are some tools and materials you can use to market yourself as a young professional? In your opinion, what is needed to establish a successful career as a singer? Where to you feel yourself to be in that path? Are there skills/traits/connections/knowledge that you feel you need to address in order to move more fully into the professional world? If so, what can you do to cultivate them?
  2. In your opinion, what are the most essential elements of a healthy vocal technique? What have you done to develop these in your own singing? How would you address them in teaching a student?
  3. Discuss vocal categories (Fach).
  4. How do you go about selecting repertoire for yourself? For a student? What have you done over the course of your degree to become familiar with repertoire (both repertoire you sing and repertoire for other voice types)? What could you do after completing your studies? What references could you consult? How do you program a recital?
  5. What steps do you go through to learn/memorize a piece of music? How would you help a student to improve these skills, or increase efficiency?
  6. Discuss your process to reach a committed interpretation of a piece of solo vocal repertoire. What steps are involved? What resources do you turn to?
  7. Does the repertoire to be learned influence how you approach the music or how you prepare it? If so, how? Does knowledge of the background of a piece influence your interpretation of it (i.e. how much and what kind of research is necessary)?
  8. As a singer, what are the most important keyboard skills for you to have? Why? Do you have them? What can you do to “grow” them if you’re not where you want to be?
  9. "Vocal coach" and "rehearsal pianist" are two of the many hats collaborative pianists wear. What differentiates these roles (skills, attitude, etc.), and in which situations would you work with either one? Who are some of the major collaborative pianists specializing in vocal repertoire? Where would you find them, if you wanted to coach with them? What are some basic rules of “how-to-treat-your-pianist etiquette” which you would instill in a student?
  10. What are some ways that technology can be successfully used in your career?
  11. What is the importance of language skills? What are the essential languages to be familiar with, and what constitutes basic familiarity as opposed to fluency? Discuss articulation and inflection in the major sung languages. How does lyric diction differ from spoken language in these languages? What characteristics are found in the lyric pronunciation of all these languages, and what characteristics are unique to each? Which reference sources would you consult if you had a question regarding pronunciation? How does understanding poetry and its syllabification and meters aid in creating authentic linguistic flow in recitation?
  12. Is it really necessary to understand every word literally in any sung piece? Is it more important in certain vocal genres than in others? What are the different types of translation you can use to aid in your understanding of a text? Are there reference books or other sources that can aid in this understanding? (Give examples.) What are ways a translation can be incorporated into a performance (recital, concert or operatic)?
  13. Discuss the fundamental differences in philosophy between Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionist and Contemporary music. How do these differences manifest themselves in solo vocal music? How do composers in each area write for the voice? What demands (musical, technical, dramatic) are inherent in the repertoire?
  14. What are some of the basic reference books on art song (history, performer’s guides, etc.), both in general, or for the repertory of a particular language/country?
  15. Trace the evolution of Lieder (cycles and songs) from Viennese classical composers to R. Strauss, giving examples. Be able to discuss form (and larger forms), style, involvement of the piano (or other accompanimental partners), word painting, themes of poetry, etc.
  16. Compare the song cycles and styles of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Mahler and Strauss.
  17. Why are Debussy's songs considered innovative? How do they compare to Fauré, Duparc or Ravel? Be prepared to discuss specific sets as examples.
  18. What are some major works in contemporary American art song? Name some contemporary composers writing significant works today? 
  19. Construct several art song programs for yourself (traditional, chamber music, theme by nationality, time period, etc.). What are some ways to “modernize” the traditional song recital?
  20. What are the skills needed in preparing an opera or opera excerpt? How do these compare to skills needed in preparing a song? Are there preparation skills unique to opera?
  21. Give an overview of operatic history and literature from Monteverdi through contemporary works of (Glass, Previn, Heggie, etc.). What are some of the major roles for your voice?
  22. The operas of Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini contain some of the most commonly studied arias. What are some of these arias? Discuss time periods, plots, musical style, or other pertinent factors. What other operas (by these composers or others) feature arias that are standard repertoire for your voice/fach?
  23. Give an overview of major concert literature for your voice. Include choices from oratorios, cantatas, orchestral songs and concert arias.
  24. Discuss ways musical theater and other popular song forms can be used in studio and recital.
  25. Discuss major aria forms and structures and how these differ through the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th/21st centuries. What are some examples from the literature of these types of arias?
  26. Trace the development of the Italian and German solo cantata.  Cite examples of well-known works.