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School of Music

Music Diagnostic Exam

Various Music Diagnostic Exams are required of all new students after full admission but before registering for any classes.

Music History and Music Theory Diagnostic Exams (required for ALL MM, MME, MAT, DMA and PhD degrees):

  • December 8-10, 2023 (online) / Registration Deadline 12/4/23 at noon
  • May 3-5, 2024 (online) / Registration Deadline 4/30/24 at noon
  • 2024 (online) / TBA

Piano Literature Diagnostic Exam (required for ALL Piano Performance and Piano Pedagogy degrees - MM, DMA and Certificate):

  • January 4, 2024 (in person at 9:00 a.m.) / Registration Deadline 1/2/24 at noon
  • May 6-10, 2024 (via email, by appointment) / Deadline to register and schedule appointments 5/2/24 at 5:00 p.m.
  • 2024 (in person) / TBA

Diction Diagnostic Exam (required for ALL Voice Performance, Opera Theater and Choral Conducting degrees - MM, DMA and Certificate):

  • January 7, 2024 (in person at 3:00-5:00 p.m.) / Registration Deadline 1/4/24 at noon
  • 2024 (in person) / TBA

Register here for all or parts of the exam.
You must have a network ID, USC ID and USC email to register.  


The music history portion consists of one essay, an aural styles examination, and objective questions that deal with terms, names, dates, general music bibliography and major works of all Western music literature from the Middle Ages to the present. The latest edition of the following books are suggested as basic study materials: Grout/Palisca/Burkholder, “A History of Western Music;” Miller, “History of Music;” “The New Harvard Dictionary of Music.”

The music theory portion of the examination has two sections: aural analysis and tonal analysis and form. Click on the link for additional information about preparing for the exam. 

Choral Conducting, Opera Theater and Voice majors will have a Diction Proficiency Exam comprised of a written and oral exam.

Piano Performance and Piano Pedagogy majors tests general knowledge of the standard body of piano performance literature (Baroque through Contemporary), more detailed knowledge of genres, stylistic trends and basic terminology. Score identification of standard works from the piano repertoire is also tested.

Students are advised to prepare carefully for all portions of the examination since the results are used to determine whether they will be required to take certain courses. Any student who changes areas after admission to a particular graduate degree program will be required to complete parts of the Diagnostic Examination applicable to the new area. All requirements resulting from the examination must be completed as stipulated by the School of Music. 

Full-time study

Nine to 12 semester hours of course work (six to nine for graduate assistants) constitute a full graduate load during a regular session; six semester hours of work during a five-week summer session constitute a full load. Any graduate student wanting to use university facilities (e.g., to present a recital or to use a university library) or consult on research or recital work must be officially enrolled in appropriate courses.

Student responsibility

Although students are expected to avail themselves of faculty advisement, it is the responsibility of each student to know and follow all graduate guidelines and regulations. Any exception to graduate regulations or degree requirements must be approved in writing by the music graduate director.

Dismissal from a graduate program

Upon the recommendation of the area faculty and with the approval of the music graduate committee, a music graduate student may be dismissed either from a graduate program or from degree candidacy if the student’s work in the major area is not meeting the minimal expectations of the School of Music. The music graduate director will inform the student in writing of the decision and enumerate the reasons for dismissal. The student may appeal the dismissal to the music graduate committee.


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