Note: Consult these guidelines in conjnction with the Degree Programs


PhD Dissertation Prospectus

Oral examination, approval, and submission

The dissertation prospectus for the PhD in musicology must be examined by the musicology faculty. The faculty and student will join in an oral examination at which the latter will be expected to answer questions and discuss any aspect of the project. The meeting will normally last slightly under an hour and take place during the time scheduled for Musicology Area meetings; therefore no special room or time need be arranged. The major advisor, through communication with the chair, will make an appointment for the examination on behalf of the candidate. As with a faculty meeting, all members of the musicology area are expected to attend, as there is a common investment in the quality of dissertations associated with our faculty and our university.

The prospectus must be presented at this oral examination no later than two semesters (not counting summer) after passing the comprehensive examination.

In this document, "musicology" is taken to include any emphasis in ethnomusicology, historical musicology, or theory and analysis. In the case of this last area, members of the Theory faculty will, of course, also be invited to attend the examination.


The student should take the following steps:

  1. Discuss the prospectus with your major advisor. Consult other members of the faculty whose expertise intersects with your topic.
  2. Put the prospectus in writing (see below), indicating the scope of your topic, the approach to it that you wish to take, and the major bibliographical sources that you will use. Recommended length for the prospectus, not counting the bibliography, is about 1500 to 3000 words. This is a flexible guideline. Submit a draft of the prospectus to your advisor and continue refining it until the advisor deems it acceptable for distribution to the musicology faculty.
  3. After the oral examination, write a summary of the meeting. Note strengths and weaknesses that were discussed. It is vital to list specific critiques or objections and who made them. The student will return this signed summary to the advisor, who may distribute it to the faculty if so desired.
  4. Complete any recommended revisions and resubmit the prospectus to your dissertation committee. The dissertation committee (which may already have been formed, or which may be formed now) is a distinct group. It is this group which approves the prospectus after the faculty discussion described above. Every dissertation committee has at least one external member (i.e., faculty outside the College of Music) and may have two. One external member must be from the Boulder campus. External members of the committee should now be invited to comment on the prospectus if they have not already done so. External members need not come to any meetings except for the final defense but are welcome at all earlier meetings.

All members of the dissertation committee, including external members, must receive a copy of the prospectus, which is subject to further revision at this stage. Approval of the prospectus by the committee does not require another meeting. Discussions may be conducted with individual members in any appropriate manner, so long as the major advisor receives a final version that has incorporated revisions, answered concerns, and is deemed acceptable.

Once work on the dissertation begins, the prospectus is a document of the past, "dead" in some sense, though some students have found it a useful starting point for writing an introduction or first chapter.

Description of the Document

The precise format is open, but the prospectus should cover the following areas:

  1. Working title
  2. Abstract of the project (500 words or fewer), including a provisional justification of its significance and relation to existing work in the field, some indication of methodologies informing this work, whether historical, documentary, ethnographic, theoretical, experimental, analytical, critical, cross-disciplinary, etc.
  3. Prospectus
    • Propose the topic and scope of your dissertation; unfold the reasons for undertaking the research and your aims; identify research problems (unanswered questions) and their relation to the current state of the field. Give the reader some idea of the sorts of evidence you intend to use to make your arguments. Include a summary of existing scholarship in the field (and closely related fields, as applicable), and be as clear as possible about what prior research will be most important in relation to your proposed topic.
    • Detail as closely as is possible, at this stage, your plans for proceeding: general methodological premises (starting point); anticipated stages of research; anticipated structure of dissertation; structure of the underlying argument (as far as this applies); order in which material will be presented. To the extent that results and conclusions remain contingent on findings of research, try to set out the nature of these contingencies, and the nature and variety of possible or foreseen results. If possible, include an outline of proposed sections, chapters, and subheadings for the dissertation.
  4. Bibliography (annotated or not, at the advisor's direction)

In preparing the prospectus, students are encouraged to think in terms of a proposal for a grant or fellowship. The aim should be to convince a knowledgeable reader of the fundamental interest and importance of the topic, the candidate’s qualifications to pursue the project and to carry it out successfully within a reasonable period of time, and reasons why this work, if successful, will be favorably regarded by the interested community of readers, listeners, and researchers.

At any point after approval of the prospectus, musicologists may wish to register their topic with Doctoral Dissertations in Musicology. (Forms may be completed online at It is acceptable, however, to wait until the dissertation is completed to register it.

4 Feb. 2008
Approved 17 March 2008