Doctor of Musical Arts in Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation

Department of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation

Designed for students seeking the highest degree in the field, the DMA is a rigorous three-year course of study that combines improvisation, composition, and wide-ranging academic inquiry.

Program Requirements


Completion of the program normally requires six terms of full-time study beyond the master’s degree. Students are expected to attain candidacy effective at the beginning of the sixth term. The minimum requirements include the following:

Musicology & Music Theory
  • MUSPERF 891 Music Performance, (2-6 hrs), elected each term in residence as a precandidate.
  • MUSICOL 503, Bibliography of Music (3 hrs): this course is considered necessary as preparation for graduate work in music and for the written and oral examinations prior to candidacy, and should be elected in the first term of enrollment as a pre-candidate.
  • A minimum of fifteen hours of graduate work in musicology and music theory or at least five courses totaling a minimum of twelve hours are required prior to taking the preliminary examinations. Recommended course elections will be based on a placement examination in music theory and an interview with musicology faculty during the initial registration period.
  • Additional coursework as prescribed by the student’s advisor. Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation coursework may include improvisation offerings (JAZZ 566, 567, 570, 571, 572, 576, 577); jazz composition (JAZZ 568, 578), arranging (JAZZ 569, 579), and ensembles (JAZZ 560, 562, 567).
  • JAZZ 781 Doctoral seminar in Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation
  • JAZZ 581 Jazz Pedagogy
  • JAZZ 995, Dissertation/Candidate (8 hrs), elected each term in residence as a candidate, or at least one term

Students will elect coursework, which may involve that outside of music, related to a cognate area in preparation for the written component of the dissertation. Possible themes that are timely in the field and conducive to new perspectives include jazz and contemporary improvisation pedagogy, music education, diversity studies, ethnomusicology, improvisation and creativity across fields, cognition, and consciousness. Other themes will be considered in consultation with the advisor.

Cognate requirements may be satisfied in three ways:

  1. By completing 4 credit hours of cognate coursework in approved graduate-level courses with a grade of B- or better (certain graduate programs may have additional cognate requirements).
  2. By using coursework within the same graduate program but in a subfield different from the student’s own. A course in a student’s program that is cross-listed as a course in another program may satisfy the cognate requirement. In this case, the graduate program should notify the Rackham Office of Academic Records and Dissertations (OARD).
  3. By completing graduate coursework at another institution that meets the expectation of the cognate requirement, without transferring the credit to the transcript. This coursework must be completed no more than 5 years before admission to the current Rackham doctoral program. The student must provide Rackham OARD with an official transcript, and the graduate program should notify Rackham OARD that the coursework fulfills the cognate requirement. These courses do not apply toward the minimum credit hours required for the degree and do not appear on the University transcript.

Residency Requirement

At least one academic year of full-time residency is required.

Requirements for candidacy


Every doctoral student in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance must satisfy the pedagogy requirement during the first two terms of enrollment. A list of courses that satisfy this requirement may be found in the Handbook for Rackham Students in Music, Dance & Theatre.

Preliminary Examinations Prior to Candidacy
  • Musicology General Preliminary Examination (or the coursework alternative)
  • Music Theory General Preliminary Examination
  • Performance Preliminary Examination in the field of specialization
  • Comprehensive Oral Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examinations required for admission to candidacy are taken after the student has satisfied the residence and pedagogy requirements; has completed most of the course work; and is prepared to concentrate his or her efforts on the dissertation recitals. At least two courses in musicology, including MUSICOL 503, must be completed prior to taking the preliminary examination in that field, and at least two courses in music theory must be completed prior to taking the preliminary examination in theory. During the examination in performance the applicant must satisfy a jury that he or she has achieved the requisite musical competence to undertake the preparation of the public programs to be presented as part of a written dissertation. Both the performance and comprehensive oral preliminary examinations are administered by a committee from the Department of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation. Candidacy will be conferred upon completion of these requirements and examinations. A dissertation committee must have been appointed by the time candidacy is achieved,

Dissertation requirements

The dissertation consists of three primary components. One includes two public recitals that will demonstrate the improvisatory expertise of the candidate across a substantive stylistic range, as well as feature his or her original compositions and arrangements. These admission-free performances will typically take place in one of the university’s concert halls and will be open to students, faculty, staff and community members. At least one large ensemble (e.g. jazz orchestra or equivalent) composition is expected on one of the recitals. The piece will be performed by either an existing ensemble in the Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation department’s or School of Music Theatre and Dance, or a group that candidates put together and rehearse themselves. Second is the completion of a professional quality recording that showcases the candidate’s artistic growth. The recording will typically be done in the state-of-the art recording facilities at the Duderstadt Center, which are available to students for no charge, or could be done in a suitable alternative facility. Third is a journal length (7- 9,000 words) written paper that indicates grasp of existing literature and originality and maturity of thought. To be prepared in peer-reviewable format, the aim—though not a requirement—is to submit the essay for consideration for publication in one among a number of journals that publish articles related to the jazz and contemporary improvisation area (e.g. Jazz Research Journal, Journal of Music Theory, Black Music Journal, Perspectives on New Music, Bulletin for Research in Music Education, etc.)

Final Oral Exam

A final oral examination, typically involving round-table discussion and query, concerned primarily with the field of specialization will be conducted by the dissertation committee after all of the other requirements have been completed.

Audition & Interview Dates

How To Apply

Academic Eligibility

Successful applicants to the DMA in Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation program will have attained a master’s degree and demonstrate high levels of proficiency in jazz and contemporary improvisation, with many also complementing this with strong composition, arranging, and world music skills and related intellectual interests. Students will audition on a principal instrument, submit a portfolio of compositions, and other supporting materials (e.g. writing samples) as may be unique to their backgrounds.

Applicants must:

  • Apply to U-M via the Rackham Graduate School Application by December 1
  • Submit an SMTD Artistic Profile by December 1
  • Send official transcripts from all previous schools to the Rackham Graduate School

Click the button below to read more detailed information about the application requirements and procedures.

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Andrew Bishop Chair, saxophone
Michael Gould drums
Robert Hurst bass
Andy Milne piano
Ellen Rowepiano
Edward W. Sarath
Dennis Wilson trombone

Associated Faculty
Marion Hayden bass
Mark Kirschenmann Creative Arts Orchestra
William Lucas trumpet
Miles Okazaki guitar
Brad Phillips
Martha Travers