Many music students elect to do the Creative Performance (Option C on your Thesis Proposal Guidelines sheet).

Here are a few tips to help you avoid the most common mistakes:

  • Where many music students get into trouble is that they come up with a wonderful Project, but not a Thesis. Here are examples of music projects that are not theses: “I want to do my senior recital and give a lecture about the life and times of Bach.” Or “I want to make a rock music video.” What all of these ideas have in common is that they could be a part of a thesis, but at this point they are just projects. Why? Because there is no underlying thesis statement there to explore/test/prove. What are you addressing with the artistic material you choose and why? What research will aid you in communicating your concept to the audience? A successful paper always has a strong thesis: successful artistic creations do as well. (And as you know, this is not just an intellectual exercise, but a process that professional artists employ all the time.)
  • To help each of the aforementioned Projects develop into Theses, start by asking yourself a question: what new angle am I exploring about Bach that will impact the way I play his work? Why have I selected this particular rock song and what sort of visual research will assist me in supporting my thesis statement? These questions provide only a beginning to the thesis proposal development. The process of developing and writing a proposal takes a long time.
  • Another question you may have: Does my Creative Thesis need to include anything written? The answer is yes. At a minimum you will need to write an assessment paper as described on the Guidelines sheet. There is no page requirement for your final thesis: please write until you have said or explained the pertinent parts of your thesis. Your thesis advisor and reader will be very helpful in this regard.
  • The best way to have a successful proposal? Thoroughly address EVERYTHING that is listed under “C. Creative Performance or Production Thesis” on the “Proposal Guidelines” sheet available from the Honors Office or online at
  • Still have questions? Talk with your thesis advisor. Talk with the JCA Honors Board chair. Talk with any of the other members of the JCA Honors Board (the people who will be reviewing your proposal). Your advisor can tell you who the current members of the board are.

The purpose of departmental honors is to reward students for exceptional achievement within their major. Departmental honors are awarded at graduation. A student need not complete the University Honors Program in order to be awarded departmental honors in his or her major. Students are nominated for departmental honors by the head of the department of their academic major or, in some cases, by the dean of their college. The criteria for departmental honors are as follows:

Honors: A 3.6 GPA in the academic major.

High Honors: A 3.7 GPA in the academic major and EITHER the satisfactory completion of an Honors Thesis OR the successful completion of a Comprehensive Examination in the major subject.

Highest Honors: A 3.8 GPA in the academic major and BOTH the satisfactory completion of an Honors Thesis AND the successful completion of a Comprehensive Examination in the major subject.

Students who write a thesis for departmental honors are subject to the same procedures as students who write a thesis for the Honors Program. Here is a summary of the process; all students are encouraged to visit the Honors Program website for further information.

Each thesis writer selects a faculty member to serve as mentor. Students will be wise to allow four semesters and the intervening summer for the entire process. The first of those semesters (usually Fall of the junior year) may be spent in speaking with faculty members, exploring options, and beginning to narrow down on a topic or project. Honors students will take their departmental honors course during this semester; non-honors program students are strongly encouraged to take this class as well.

In the second semester, the student will work with the thesis advisor to develop the thesis proposal. For Honors students, this will mean taking HN397 or 398. The thesis proposal is due the Friday before Spring Break of the junior year. A student may submit the thesis proposal during the fall semester (mid-September) of the senior year if he/she is off-campus during the spring semester of the junior year (studying abroad, for example).

During the summer and both semesters of the final year, students will be doing their research and working steadily on their projects. We highly recommend scheduling regular meetings with your thesis advisor and keeping to a calendar of intermediate deadlines as the surest way to complete the thesis.

The thesis is due in March of your final year. You can register for the Honors Thesis course in your major (ME, MH or MT 499; 3 credit hours) if you want or need the hours; the course is not a requirement. You can register for the thesis course in the Fall semester and take an incomplete, or register in the Spring.

In the semester prior to graduation, music students who qualify for departmental honors (meaning they have the appropriate GPA in the major) are invited to take the departmental honors examination. The exam consists of three sections: music theory, music history, and a section specific to the student’s major area (performance, music education, etc.). Students use a “blue book” (which is provided) for their answers. The exam lasts approximately three hours (one hour per section).  A student must pass all 3 sections in order to graduate with departmental honors.

  • Preparation suggestions:
    • For the music theory portion: Typically, on the honors exam you get to choose 3 out of 4 sections to complete. You have to answer each chosen section satisfactorily in order to pass. Each section involves answering questions related to a specific score.
      • You should review: Contrapuntal procedures, Sonata form, Rondo form, Tonal analysis (including chromatic chords such as N, +6, mode mixture, altered dominants, etc.), Contemporary/atonal analysis.
      • Your textbook from Theory 3 and 4 would be a good source to use for reviewing all these things. You will not have to do any 12-tone analysis or any set theory with the contemporary score.
    • For the music history portion: Review all class notes, tests, and especially the examples in the 2 volumes of your score anthologies in order to answer questions such as these (samples): What place in society and in broad streams of thought does the composition have–the Enlightenment, the Catholic Counter-Reformation, reaction to great cataclysm such as war, etc? What are its salient style traits? What does it say about the composer? Why did its time consider it “expressive”? Expressive of what?
      • The period from the late Baroque until the present is the focus for this exam.