Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition

Department of Composition

Designed for students seeking the highest degree in the field, the DMA is a rigorous three-year course of study culminating in a doctoral dissertation.

Program Requirements


The awarding of the doctoral degree is based upon demonstrable skill and proficiency in the major and cognate fields, not upon completion of a specified number of credit hours. Many variations on the usual pattern of elections will be acceptable, especially in those cases in which the student pursues independent study or works on special projects or research. After consultation with the advisor, the student should undertake various course elections that will help them to prepare for the general preliminary examinations.

Foreign Language

To meet the language requirement for the doctoral program in Composition, the student must demonstrate reading proficiency in any spoken and written non-synthetic language other than English at the basic level. In recognition of the fact that composition research is conducted internationally, and that students who originate from non-English-speaking countries are likely to pursue performance contacts, work, and research in their native language, demonstrated fluency in that native language is deemed to be sufficient to satisfy the language requirement.


At least 18 hours of work must be in Composition:

  • Composition 891 & 892: Doctoral Studies in Composition (4 or 6 hrs each, repeated for a total of up to 12 hrs)
  • Composition 850: Advanced Seminar in Composition (1 hr)
  • Composition 515: Introduction to Electronic Music (2 hrs)
  • Composition 516: Seminar in Electronic Music (2 hrs)
  • Composition 526: Advanced Studies in Electronic Music (2-4 hrs)
  • Composition 990: Dissertation/Precandidate (1-8 hrs),
  • Composition 995: Dissertation/Candidate (8 hrs)
Musicology & Music Theory
  • Musicology 503: Bibliography of Music (3 hrs)
  • Composers will also elect a variety of courses dealing with music theory and the various periods of music history. Such courses constitute essential preparation for the preliminary examinations. Fifteen hours of course work or five courses totaling a minimum of twelve hours must be completed in musicology and music theory, including one musicology course at the 600-level.
New Student Review

All new students admitted to the doctoral program in Composition will be reviewed by the Department at the end of their first year. They must have satisfied at least one of the language requirements by that time and must give evidence in their scores and course work of the ability to continue effective doctoral work in the major and related fields through the dissertation

Major Field Requirement

Before being admitted to candidacy each student must submit to his or her advisor the scores of the works completed during the student’s doctoral studies. Recordings of performances should also be submitted when possible. These works may be in any form and for any combination of performers. They should total approximately sixty minutes of playing time.

Cognate Field

Each doctoral student in composition must elect work in a cognate field. The cognate may be any related field of special interest to the student, such as performance or a field of the Humanities. The cognate requirement may be satisfied through course work elections or through a combination of recitals, projects, papers, and course work approved by the composition advisor and an advisor in the cognate field. Performance is recommended if the student has already arrived at a high level of proficiency. Studies in nonmusical fields should relate to the student’s interests as a composer and musician. They should provide broad knowledge, insight, and awareness of the relationships between music and other relevant disciplines.

Residency Requirement

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

Requirements for Candidacy


Every doctoral student in the SMTD 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, or Theatre.

Preliminary Examinations Prior to Candidacy
  • Music History General Preliminary Examination (or the coursework alternative)
  • Music Theory General Preliminary Examination
  • General Oral Preliminary Examination
  • Major Field Examination

These cover not only the student’s field of specialization and the cognate fields, but also the broad general field of music and the relationships between music and other disciplines. These examinations are not necessarily based upon the specific individual courses taken by the student, although course work will be exceedingly helpful in preparing for the exams. They are intended to explore the student’s breadth of knowledge, ability to acquire information independently, and maturity of judgment.

During the first year, each doctoral student is given a list of 60 to 75 works from which to choose or be assigned ten works on which to be examined at the general oral preliminary examination. These works should be studied both analytically and historically. The oral preliminary examination will be based on these scores.

The major field examination consists of a review by the Composition Department of the scores and recordings submitted in fulfillment of the major field requirement. Scores will be accepted or rejected by the Department on the basis of their maturity and originality

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 Requirement

The dissertation in Composition will consist of a score of major proportions in which the candidate finds ample opportunity to demonstrate strength of imagination and maturity of craft and musical language. The composition may be for an ensemble other than symphony orchestra, provided that the candidate has previously submitted scores that convince the Composition Department of their secure command of the orchestral medium. The writing of the student’s dissertation composition will be supervised by their dissertation committee.

Final Oral Examination

A comprehensive oral examination on the candidate’s dissertation and field of specialization will be conducted by the dissertation committee following completion of the dissertation.


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.

Audition & Interview Dates

For requirement details, please see the Degree Requirements and Term-by-Term Layout for Current Students.

How To Apply

Academic Eligibility

Applicants to the Doctoral of Musical Arts in Composition must have completed a master’s of music degree or equivalent to be eligible for admission.

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 “Apply Now” below to read more detailed information about the application requirements and procedures.

Apply Now

Please send inquiries regarding the SMTD application process to To learn more about SMTD, sign up for an Information Session.


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