Doctor of Musical Arts in Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation

Application deadlines are specific to degree programs. See our Graduate Admissions page for a list of all deadlines.

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. Pedagogy combines the finest in traditional jazz training with the systematic study of jazz’s eclectic offshoots, along with innovative, interdisciplinary options which are at the cutting edge of pedagogical thought.


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
  • Jazz Ensembles
  • Jazz Pedagogy

Final Project:

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. At least one large ensemble (e.g. jazz orchestra or equivalent) composition is expected on one of the recitals. Second is the completion of a professional quality recording that showcases the candidate’s artistic growth. Third is a journal length (7- 9,000 words) written paper that indicates grasp of existing literature and originality and maturity of thought. Please see the Program Requirement Details for additional dissertation recital parameters.

Silent Advisor

Degree requirements and term-by-term layout for current students.


Nearly all DMA students receive full-tuition fellowships. Most also receive health benefits and a stipend attached to a Graduate Student Assistantship, which can vary in proportion to the appointment fraction and the duties associated with it. In addition to the funding packages offered by the SMTD, Rackham students are also eligible to apply for a wide range of fellowships to fund research, travel, and performance.

Residency Requirement

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


Andrew Bishop

Chair of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation and Professor of Music
Department Chair

Mark Kirschenmann

Lecturer of Jazz & Contemporary Improvisation and Lecturer in the Residential College

Ellen Rowe

Chair of Conducting and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Music

Performance Opportunities

From large ensembles in celebrated concert halls to chamber groups in intimate recital spaces, performance opportunities across all disciplines abound, with nearly 900 student performances each academic year. Whether your focus is on early, classical, or contemporary music, whether your passion is for jazz, electronic, or world music, there is an ensemble—or in many cases, multiple ensembles—to suit your interests, including specific opportunities for percussion, piano, and organ & carillon. For students in theatre & drama, musical theatre, dance, and opera, opportunities abound in both professionally produced and student-run presentations.

Jazz Ensemble

Jazz Ensemble

Ellen Rowe, director

The University of Michigan Jazz Ensemble is the most competitive of the University’s jazz ensembles. Open by audition only, most seats are filled by majors within the Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation. The ensemble meets twice a week for two hours, performs several times a semester on campus and off.

Jazz Lab

Jazz Lab Ensemble

Dennis Wilson, director

Designed to rehearse, perform, and examine the repertoire of the jazz big band, the Jazz Lab Ensemble explores classic, historically significant repertoire as well as new arrangements and/or compositions. Occasionally non-traditional jazz instruments are used to highlight and expand the diversity of the ensemble. This is also a class that is intended to develop the necessary skills of section lead playing, rehearsal techniques, jazz phrasing and styles. A wide selection of materials is used to attain these goals including the music of classic big bands such as the Thad Jones Orchestra, Count Basie Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie Band, Oliver Nelson, Duke Pearson and Duke Ellington Orchestra. The ensemble periodically rehearses and performs the music of student arrangers as well. Each year the ensemble performs with guest artists, and student composers are given the opportunity to help compose and arrange a unique selection for the guests.

Chamber Jazz

Small Jazz Ensembles

Small Jazz Ensembles is a course devoted to small group jazz performance. Offered in both the fall and winter terms, students are divided into approximately 6 ensembles, ranging in size from trios to septets.

Creative Arts Orchestra

Creative Arts Orchestra

This is a unique, largely improvisation-based group that invites interaction with other performance fields such as dance, theatre, and music technology.