Puneet Varma (Editor)

Doctor of Musical Arts

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Doctor of Musical Arts

The Doctor of Musical Arts degree (D.M.A.) is a doctoral academic degree in music. The D.M.A. combines advanced studies in an applied area of specialization (usually music performance, music composition, conducting, or music education) with graduate-level academic study in subjects such as music history, music theory, or music pedagogy. The D.M.A. degree usually takes about three to four years of full-time study to complete (in addition to the masters and bachelor's degrees), preparing students to be professional performers, conductors, and composers. As a terminal degree, the D.M.A. 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 D.M.A. program.



The degree is also abbreviated as DMA (without periods), D.Mus.A. or A.Mus.D.. For the related degree Doctor of Music, the abbreviation is D.M. or D.Mus. For the related degree Doctor of Arts, the abbreviation D.A. is used.


The D.M.A. 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 (D.M. or D.Mus.) or Doctor of Arts (D.A.) or Doctor in Musical Studies (Ph.D.) instead of D.M.A. The D.M.A. degree was pioneered by Howard Hanson and the National Association of Schools of Music, who approved the first D.M.A. programs in 1952. Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, and the Eastman School of Music became the first to offer the D.M.A. Boston University offered its first D.M.A. program in 1955. In 2005, Boston University also expanded into online music education by launching the first online doctoral degree in music, a D.M.A. program (along with a Master of Music program) in music education.

A large number of U.S. institutions offer the D.M.A. degree in the 2010s. 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 D.M.A. or Ph.D. Also, music education Ph.D. programs may include performance-oriented tracks. In composition, one may study for either the D.M.A. or the Ph.D., depending on the institution. The Ph.D. is the standard doctorate in music theory, musicology, music therapy, and ethnomusicology.

Sacred music

A related program is the Doctor of Sacred Music (D.S.M.), also Sacrae Musica Doctor (S.M.D.), 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 (D.C.M.). Only one U.S. institution, Claremont Graduate University still offers the D.C.M. degree, in addition to the more typical D.M.A. The vast majority of U.S. seminaries have closed their music doctorate programs, but some still offer a Master of Arts or Master of Sacred Music degree. A program offered at Perkins School of Theology is the Doctor of Pastoral Music (D.P.M.). While more theology-based and a part of the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) program, admission to the degree requires applicants to hold a Master of Music (M.Mus.), Master of Sacred Music (M.S.M.), Master of Church Music (M.C.M.), M.A. in Church Music or equivalent 48 semester hour degree recognized by the National Association of Schools of Music.


D.M.A. 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 D.M.A. programs, all of the different D.M.A. streams (e.g., performance, composition, conducting) take a common core of music theory and music history courses. Many D.M.A. 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 D.M.A. 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 D.M.A. in Baroque violin might do a sub-specialization in Baroque music history or Baroque-era dance.

Some institutions permit D.M.A. 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 D.M.A. 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 D.M.A. 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 D.M.A. programs, most D.M.A. 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. D.M.A. students can teach in an area related to their D.M.A. program, or, if they have multiple skill areas (e.g., a person with an M.Mus. in piano performance who is doing a D.M.A. in composition), they may teach in another area.

Admission requirements

To be admitted to a D.M.A. degree program, most institutions require a master's degree, such as a M.Mus. degree or an M.A. degree in music or an equivalent course of study, usually with a grade average of "B+" or higher. D.M.A. 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 D.M.A. 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 history

After World War II, there had been 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 U.S. Armed Forces. The G.I. 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. The national launch of DMA by institutions meeting criteria was 1953.

  • Eastman School of Music (the DMA degree was approved by the State of New York Board of Regents in 1953)
  • Boston University
  • University of Southern California
  • The Dean of the University of Rochester Eastman School of Music, Howard Harold 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.

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

    Early Doctor of Musical Arts conferred

  • 1954: Mathias "Matt" Higgins Doran, DMA (born 1921), University of Southern California
  • 1955: Will Gay Bottje, DMA (born 1925), Eastman School of Music – some sources attribute Bottje as having been the first in the nation to earn the degree
  • August 1955: Edward F. Gilday, Jr., DMA, Boston University
  • 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
  • References

    Doctor of Musical Arts Wikipedia