Doctor of Musical Arts

The Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) is a doctoral academic degree in music. The DMA combines advanced studies in an applied area of specialization (usually music performance, music composition, or conducting) with graduate-level academic study in subjects such as music history, music theory, or music pedagogy. The DMA degree usually takes about three to four years of full-time study to complete (in addition to the master's and bachelor's degrees), preparing students to be professional performers, conductors, and composers. As a terminal degree, the DMA qualifies its recipient to work in university, college, and conservatory teaching/research positions. Students seeking doctoral training in musicology or music theory typically enter a Ph.D. program, rather than a DMA program.

A graduate student from the University of Southern California receiving his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 2011.


The degree is also abbreviated as DMusA or AMusD. For the related degree Doctor of Music, the abbreviation is DM or DMus. For the related degree Doctor of Arts, the abbreviation DA is used.



The DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) and DME (Doctor of Music Education) is widely available in the concentrations of performance (sometimes with a specialization in instrumental or voice pedagogy and/or music literature), composition, conducting, and music education. Some universities awarding doctoral degrees in these areas use the title Doctor of Music (DM or DMus) or Doctor of Arts (DA)[1] or Doctor in Musical Studies (Ph.D.) instead of DMA. The DMA degree was pioneered by Howard Hanson and the National Association of Schools of Music, who approved the first DMA programs in 1952. Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, and the Eastman School of Music became the first to offer the DMA.[2] Boston University offered its first DMA program in 1955. In 2005, Boston University also expanded into online music education by launching the first online doctoral degree in music, a DMA program (along with a Master of Music program) in music education.[3]

A large number of US institutions offer the DMA degree. The Ph.D. is generally considered to be more research oriented, while other doctorates may place more emphasis on practical applications and/or include a performance component. Such distinctions among degree types are not always so clear-cut, however. For instance, most programs include traditional research training and culminate in a written dissertation, regardless of degree designation. The music education degree can be a DMA or Ph.D., each comprising similar research-oriented programs. Also, music education Ph.D. programs may include performance-oriented tracks.[4] In composition, one may study for either the DMA or the PhD, depending on the institution. The Ph.D. is the standard doctorate in music theory, musicology, music therapy, and ethnomusicology.

Sacred musicEdit

A related program is the Doctor of Sacred Music (DSM), also Sacrae Musica Doctor (SMD), which tends to be awarded by seminaries or university music schools that focus on church music, choral conducting and organ performance. In the past, some seminaries titled the degree Doctor of Church Music (DCM). Only one US institution, Claremont Graduate University[5] still offers the DCM degree, in addition to the more typical DMA. The vast majority of US seminaries have closed their music doctorate programs, but some still offer a Master of Arts or Master of Sacred Music degree. A new program offered at Perkins School of Theology is the Doctor of Pastoral Music (DPM).[6] While more theology-based and housed within the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) program, admission to the degree requires applicants to hold a Master of Music (MMus), Master of Sacred Music (MSM), Master of Church Music (MCM), MA in church music or equivalent 48-semester-hour degree recognized by the National Association of Schools of Music.


DMA students typically complete applied studies, such as lessons or mentoring with a professor or instructor, and take courses within their area of specialization. In many DMA programs, all of the different DMA streams (e.g., performance, composition, conducting) take a common core of music theory and music history courses. Many DMA programs require students to pass a comprehensive exam on their area of specialization and on subjects such as music history and music theory. The last stage of the DMA degree is usually the completion of a thesis, dissertation, or research project and the performance of recitals, usually including at least one lecture-recital.

Some programs additionally require a sub-specialization in a cognate area within music, such as music history or performance practice, which contributes to their area of specialization. For example, a student doing a DMA in Baroque violin might do a sub-specialization in Baroque music history or Baroque-era dance.

Some institutions permit DMA students to do a sub-specialization in a field outside music that contributes to their professional and academic goals. For example, a student completing a DMA in piano pedagogy may be able to do a sub-specialization in the university's department of psychology (e.g., on the psychology of learning and memory); a student completing a DMA in electronic composition may be permitted to do a sub-specialization in the department of computer engineering (e.g., in computer programming).

While teaching experience is not an official part of most DMA programs, most DMA candidates will have the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant or lecturer for undergraduate students during their degree, either as a requirement of their scholarship/assistantship package or as a part-time employee of the university. DMA students can teach in an area related to their DMA program, or, if they have multiple skill areas (e.g., a person with an MMus in piano performance who is doing a DMA in composition), they may teach in another area.

Admission requirementsEdit

To be admitted to a DMA degree program, most institutions require a master's degree, such as a MMus degree or an MA degree in music or an equivalent course of study, usually with a grade average of "B+" or higher. DMA programs in performance usually require applicants to prepare solo literature that is the equivalent of a graduate recital—i.e. several advanced pieces from a wide range of styles—in addition to orchestral excerpts. Admission to doctoral programs in conducting often require a video recording of live rehearsals and performances as a pre-screening element. Composition programs usually require the submission of a portfolio of compositions, including scores and recordings of live performances. Programs in music education generally require two or more years of public school (or similar) teaching experience, and may further require an example of scholarly writing.

Newly admitted DMA students are usually required to pass a series of diagnostic tests in music history, theory, and sometimes ear-training to confirm thorough command of essential musical principles gained in prior study. Advanced courses in these areas are not permitted until the tests are passed and/or remedial coursework in deficient area(s) is completed. Often, the knowledge of a second language – one of languages of major influence in music history (such as German, French, Italian, Spanish, or Russian) – is required to complete the degree. The graduate admissions branch of many US universities require applicants to complete the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), a standardized test of abstract thinking skills in the areas of math, vocabulary, and analytical writing. While the outcome of the GRE test may affect an applicant's eligibility for some university-wide scholarships, it does not always affect admission to the music program of the university.

Brief historyEdit

After World War II, there was a sharp rise in music education at the university level. As was the case with many occupations, the music world was experiencing an unprecedented number of discharged musicians from the US Armed Forces. The GI Bill was an impetus for many opting for college, causing a spike in demand for college professors, across all disciplines, and a spike in enrollment. In music education, universities had an opportunity to employ formidable musicians, but many, including those of international rank, lacked a terminal academic degree that would put them on equal footing with professors. Post–World War II also a period of rise the quality of comprehensive music education at universities. The nation's renowned conservatories, such as Juilliard and Curtis, at the time, saw no need for the degree – yet many alumni of those institutions, and many top musicians with no degree were the very people being sought by universities offering degrees in music and music education.

In 1952, after six years of deliberation, the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) approved thirty-two schools for graduate degrees for graduate work "in one or more of the fields into which graduate music study has been divided." The NASM was, and still is, the only accrediting agency for music schools recognized by the American Council on Education. In 1952, 143 music schools had already established standards for undergraduate degrees.[7] The national launch of DMA by institutions meeting criteria was 1953.[8]

The Director of the University of Rochester Eastman School of Music, Howard Hanson (1896–1981), who had been awarded an honorary doctorate in 1925, was one of several high-profile advocates of creating a performance oriented doctors degree. Hanson was the Chair of the NASM and Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) "Graduate Commission."[9] This commission recommended that the terminal performance doctoral degree be established.[10] This recommendation included that schools desiring to offer this degree seek the Graduate Commission's approval.[11]

In 1953, he published a proposal for a Doctor of Musical Arts degree, which was roundly criticized by Paul Henry Lang, professor of musicology at Columbia University.[12]

Early Doctor of Musical Arts degrees conferred

Non-NASM institutions

The alumni of Music conservatories in the United States also seek positions at universities. The conservatories that are not affiliated with the National Association of Schools of Music began offering DMAs in the late 1960s.

  • 1971: Margaret Hee-Leng Tan, Juilliard – she is the first woman to earn a DMA from Juilliard; Juilliard added the degree in 1969, the year it moved to Lincoln Center


  1. ^ The University of Mississippi – Department of Music
  2. ^ Marvin Latimer, "The Nation's First D.M.A. in Choral Music," Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, 32.1 (October 2010)
  3. ^ As of November 2006
  4. ^ "Florida State University – Conducting Degrees". Archived from the original on 25 March 2014. Retrieved 31 March 2014.
  5. ^ "Claremont Graduate University – Doctor of Church Music". Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  6. ^ Perkins School of Theology – Doctor of Ministry Program
  7. ^ "NTSTC One of 32 Colleges for Graduate Study in Music", The Dallas Morning News, December 31, 1942, Sec I, p. 6
  8. ^ Taubman, Howard (1953-10-25). "A MATTER OF DEGREE; Eastman School Sets Up Doctorate for Musicians". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  9. ^ Latimer, Marvin E. (2010). "The Nation's First D.M.A. in Choral Music: History, Structure, and Pedagogical Implications". Journal of Historical Research in Music Education. 32 (1): 19–36. doi:10.1177/153660061003200103. ISSN 1536-6006. JSTOR 20789877.
  10. ^ Latimer, Marvin E. (2010). "The Nation's First D.M.A. in Choral Music: History, Structure, and Pedagogical Implications". Journal of Historical Research in Music Education. 32 (1): 19–36. doi:10.1177/153660061003200103. ISSN 1536-6006. JSTOR 20789877.
  11. ^ Glidden, Robert (1982). "The D.M.A.: An Historical Perspective". Proceedings of the 57th Annual Meeting of the National Association of Schools of Music: 159.
  12. ^ "New Degrees to Musicians – Dissenters Claim Title Not Necessary", Omaha World-Herald, November 15, 1953, p. 9F
  13. ^ Howard Hanson: In Theory and Practice, by Allen Laurence Cohen, p. 14, Praeger (2004) OCLC 52559264 ISBN 9780313321351