University of Southern California

Thornton School of Music

Graduate Degrees

Doctor of Musical Arts

Degree Prerequisites

DMA applicants must complete the appropriate master of music degree program or its equivalent.


Refer to School of Music Graduate Degrees, Admission Requirements.

Graduate Record Examinations

Scores from the General Test of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) are required for application and admission to the Doctor of Musical Arts degree. Test scores on the GRE that are more than five years old at the time of application are not accepted.

Graduate Committee Interview

Before the completion of 16 units beyond the master’s degree and before permission to present the second doctoral recital is requested, doctoral students must submit a detailed curriculum vitae to the Graduate Committee of the School of Music summarizing their background and objectives. The student will be evaluated on musicianship and general academic qualifications, teaching experience and the validity and quality of creative, literary or performance projects submitted. The committee determines the student’s continuation in the program, proposed areas of concentration and the qualifying exam committee members.

Course Requirements

Each student is required to prepare four areas of concentration: the major field, an academic field (chosen from among musicology, theory and analysis, music education, choral music or sacred music), and elective areas selected in consultation with an adviser from two of the following: theory or compositional skills (composition, counterpoint, orchestration, band arranging or choral arranging); performance, early music or jazz studies; music education; sacred or choral music; conducting; performance pedagogy; electroacoustic media; a field outside of music. The academic field may not duplicate a major or an elective field. Admission to elective and academic fields must be approved by the department concerned, prior to the Graduate Committee interview.

The elective and academic fields are supported by courses that are determined by the department in which these fields are administered. Six to 8 units are taken in elective fields; 8 to 10 units in the academic field. No more than two of the four fields may be under the guidance of the same department within the School of Music, and at least one of the elective fields must result in a written examination as part of the qualifying examinations.

Required courses for each major curriculum are listed subsequently in this catalogue. Special requirements in any of the four areas of concentration (if any) are determined by the qualifying exam committee member responsible for that area.

A minimum of 65 graduate units beyond the bachelor’s degree are required to complete the degree. Fifty-five or more units must be in music, 12 of these beyond the master’s level must be in the major. At least 40 of these must be at the 500 level or higher. All course work earned under these requirements for a doctoral degree is considered to be obsolete after 10 years from the date of completion of such work and may not be used to fulfill degree requirements.

Residence Requirement

A minimum of two years of full-time study beyond the Master of Music degree is required for the Doctor of Musical Arts. At least one year of full-time study beyond the master’s degree (8 units or more per semester) must be in residence at USC.

Grade Point Average Requirements

A minimum grade point average of 3.0 (A = 4.0) is required for all graduate course units in music. A grade of B or higher is required for all courses in the major.

Transfer Credit

The Degree Progress Department in the Office of Academic Records and Registrar determines whether course work taken elsewhere is available for transfer credit. A maximum of 30 units of transfer credit may be applied toward a doctoral degree in music. Whether such credit is applicable toward a specific requirement in a major or minor field is determined by the chair of the department in the School of Music in which the subject is taught, pending approval by the dean of the Thornton School of Music. Transfer credit petitions must be filed with the appropriate faculty chair and the chair’s decision made no later than the end of the first year in either the master’s or doctoral program. Transfer work must have been completed within 10 years of admission to the DMA program to be applied toward that degree.

Foreign Language

A reading knowledge of French, German, Italian or Spanish is required of all students. Departments within the Thornton School may require additional language skills. All language requirements must be fulfilled one semester before the qualifying examination at the latest.

Qualifying Exam Committee

The qualifying exam committee is composed of at least five members: two faculty from the major department, one of whom will serve as chair, and a faculty member from each of the three other areas of concentration. At least three members of a committee must be drawn from tenured and tenure-track faculty.

The committee administers the written and oral parts of the qualifying examination. The committee continues to serve until the qualifying examination has been passed, the dissertation topic approved (if applicable) and the student is admitted to candidacy. For students in curricula which require recitals, the qualifying exam committee serves as the recital committee and is responsible for the format, content, scheduling, and approval of the required performances.

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination for the DMA is administered by the student’s qualifying exam committee. It is comprehensive, partly written and partly oral, and designed in part to test the student’s fitness for independence as a performer, composer, teacher, researcher and/or scholar. The student must obtain permission from the qualifying exam committee to take the qualifying examination and schedule it at least two months in advance to ensure the committee’s availability. The examination may be taken either during the final semester of course work (except dissertation or individual instruction) or within two semesters immediately after, provided that all members of the qualifying exam committee are available to administer it. In degree programs that require the presentation of four major recitals, at least two major recitals must be presented prior to the administration of the qualifying examination. Qualifying examinations will not be scheduled during summer sessions except under extraordinary circumstances and only with the written approval of all qualifying exam committee members. All portions of the examination must be completed within one month.

Written examinations are prepared and read by the qualifying exam committee. All of the student’s areas of concentration, except performance, conducting and composition, will be covered in a written examination or comparable project. The examination in performance, conducting or composition normally is a public recital, evaluated by appropriate members of the qualifying exam committee. If the written examinations, comparable project(s), or recital(s) are judged to be satisfactory, an oral examination is then given. This examination covers in depth topics discussed in the written examinations and/or new material.

The two representatives of the department and the academic minor representative must be present at the oral examination and render a judgment on the acceptability of the qualifying examinations as a whole. The representatives of the two elective fields, at their discretion, may take part in the oral examination, especially if they feel that the project, recital or written examination passed by the candidate for their field should be explored further. Their presence is not required if they feel that the candidate has demonstrated knowledge and accomplishments appropriate for an elective field in their disciplines. The examinations will be reported as passing if there is no more than one dissenting vote on the qualifying exam committee. A student must pass both the written and oral examinations to pass the qualifying examination. A pass on the examination cannot be made contingent upon any form of additional work.

If a student fails the qualifying examination, the qualifying exam committee may permit the student to repeat it once at a mutually satisfactory time within a period of not less than six months nor more than one year from the date of the first examination. A student may not take the qualifying examination more than twice.

Admission to Candidacy

Admission to candidacy occurs after the student has passed the qualifying examination, upon formal action of the dean of the Thornton School. The dissertation or one final recital must be completed after admission to candidacy.

Doctoral Dissertation

A dissertation based on original investigation is required of candidates in composition, music education and choral music. The dissertation must reveal scholarly ability, technical mastery, capacity for independent research and originality in creative thought.

Dissertation Committee

After the qualifying exam committee recommends admission to candidacy and approves the dissertation, it is reduced to three members. This smaller committee guides the student through the completion of the final project. Additional members may be added at the discretion of the chair of the committee if the topic requires special expertise.


The student must register in 794 Dissertation each semester after admission to candidacy until degree requirements are completed. Registration for the dissertation in no less than two regular term semesters following admission to candidacy entitles the candidate to supervision by the dissertation committee. If the dissertation is not completed and accepted within two semesters, the candidate must register for 794 each semester thereafter until the document has been accepted. No more than 8 units of credit in 794 may be accumulated regardless of the number of semesters the candidate may be required to register.

A candidate who must withdraw temporarily from registration in 794 for a semester must formally report this before the beginning of that semester to the Office of Doctoral Programs, Thornton School of Music, requesting by petition a leave of absence. During a leave of absence the candidate will not be entitled to assistance from the qualifying exam committee or to the use of university facilities. Leave will be granted only under exceptional circumstances.

Format for Theses and Dissertations

All theses and dissertations submitted for requirements for graduate degrees must conform to university regulations in format and method of preparation. See Theses and Dissertations.

Defense of the Dissertation

After meeting all requirements including the qualifying examination, the candidate must defend the dissertation. This defense occurs to determine for the committee that the candidate has attained the stage of scholarly advancement and power of investigation demanded for recommendation to the doctorate. While this oral defense is open to the general university community, only the members of the dissertation committee have the authority to recommend its acceptance or denial. The recommendation must be unanimous.

At least seven weeks before the scheduled date of the defense of the dissertation, written approval by all members of the candidate’s dissertation committee must be filed with the dean of the Thornton School of Music. The typed copy for the abstract of the dissertation is due at this time.

A candidate may defend the dissertation on the basis of an approved preliminary copy. If the defense is satisfactory and the committee is satisfied with the manuscript as presented, the committee then signs the Approval to Submit Defended and Final Copy of the Doctoral Work form. If additional work is required, the form is left unsigned until the work has been approved.

The final electronic PDF copy of the dissertation, together with signed signature sheet and approval forms, must be presented to the Thesis Editor, the Graduate School, GFS 315, by the Graduate School’s submission date and times. Approval of format and acceptance by the Graduate School must be presented to the dean of the Thornton School of Music at least one week before the end of the semester.

Abstract of Dissertation

Since the abstract of the dissertation is published in Dissertation Abstracts International, it should be written with care and be representative of the final draft of the dissertation.

Time Schedule

The DMA is established on the assumption that a well-qualified student can complete it in three years of full-time work. If the student pursues part-time graduate study, or if the field of graduate work is not that of undergraduate study, more time may be required.

The time limit for completing the Doctor of Musical Arts degree is eight years. For students who earned an applicable master’s degree within five years prior to admission to the doctoral program, the time limit for completing the Doctor of Musical Arts degree is six years. Progress is measured from the beginning of the first course at USC applied toward the degree. Extensions will be granted by petition to the Thornton School for only the most compelling reasons.

Basic DMA Curriculum

required for all DMA candidates Units
MUCD 441* (2), MUCD 443 (2) 4
MUCO 501 (2), MUCO 502 (2) 4
MUED 505 2
MUHL 570 2
MUHL electives numbered 500 through 695 6
Ensemble 2
*Choral music majors are exempt from taking MUCD 441.

Courses with similar content taken for graduate credit in another accredited institution may be substituted, subject to departmental approval. Master’s degree credit for ensemble taken at USC may fulfill this requirement, subject to departmental approval.

Choral Music Major

A keyboard proficiency test will be given by the choral faculty during the student’s first semester in residence to determine if additional study in keyboard is required.

Curriculum Requirements Units
Basic DMA curriculum** 20
MUCM 440* (2), MUCM 541* (2), MUCM 542* (2), MUCM 641 (2), MUCM 794ab (2-2) 12
MSCR 571 2
MUCO 441 (2) 2
MUCD 541 (4), MUCD 641 (2), MUCD 653 (2) 8
Ensemble (500 level; choral music majors must participate in a choral ensemble each semester if enrolled for 4 or more units) 2
Electives 19
Conduct two principal choral concerts (at least one of which will include instrumental ensemble) 0
*May be taken as part of the master’s degree.

**Choral music majors are not required to take MUCD 441.

Composition Major

Curriculum Requirements Units
Basic DMA curriculum 20
MUCO 536 (2), MUCO 592 (4), MUCO 636 (2), MUCO 637 (4), MUCO 737 (4), MUCO 794ab (4) 20
Electives 25
Graduate recital 0

Jazz Studies Major

Curriculum Requirements Units
Basic DMA curriculum 20
MUEN 532 4
MUJZ 443 (2), MUJZ 545 (2), MUJZ 547 (4), MUJZ 653 (8),MUJZ 688 (4) 20
Electives 21
Two recitals of original compositions and arrangements written while in the DMA program 0
Lecture-recital in conjunction with an appropriate research project 0

Music Education Major

Curriculum Requirements Units
Basic DMA curriculum* 20
MUED 500 (3), MUED 605 (3), MUED 606 (3), MUED 607 (3), MUED 790 (1), MUED 791 (3), MUED 794ab (4) 20
Two courses from: MUED 501 (3), MUED 502 (3), MUED 503 (3),MUED 504 (3) 6
One course from: MUED 792 (3), MUED 793 (3) 3
Electives 16
*MUED 500 may be taken as a substitute for MUHL 570 in the basic DMA curriculum.

Performance Major

It is the objective of the performance curriculum to combine high standards of performance with intellectual accomplishments appropriate to a university degree. Candidates electing this major must present at least four major public appearances: two solo recitals and two other appropriate appearances. The exact format, content and scheduling of the four appearances are the responsibility of the candidate’s qualifying exam committee.

Curriculum Requirements Units
Basic DMA curriculum 20
Individual instruction 653 (take organ, string instrument, vocal arts, wind instrument or percussion for a maximum of 12 units) 12
Electives 33
Two solo recitals and two other appropriate performances 0

String and wind instrument and percussion majors must participate in a large ensemble each semester if enrolled in four or more units.

Performance Major — Piano

Curriculum Requirements Units
Basic DMA curriculum 20
MPKS 653 (12), MPKS 520 (6) 18
Electives 27
Four graduate recitals: two solo recitals, one chamber recital, and one lecture-recital 0

Performance Major — Keyboard Collaborative Arts

Curriculum Requirements Units
Basic DMA curriculum 20
MPKS 481 (2), MPKS 560 (2), MPKS 561 (2), MPKS 653 (12) 18
Electives 27
Four doctoral level recitals; one with voice(s), one with instrument(s), one lecture recital, and other recital as approved 0

The exact format, content and scheduling of the four graduate recitals are the responsibility of the candidate’s major professor.

Performance Major — Early Music

Curriculum Requirements Units
Basic DMA curriculum* 20
MPEM 653 (8); MPEM 650 (4) 12
MUHL 572 (2), MUHL 589 (2), MUHL 591 (2) 6
MUEN 650 4
Electives 23
Four graduate recitals: two as soloist and ensemble director, one lecture-recital, and one recital of the student’s choice 0
*Must include MUHL 574 and MUHL 575.

Performance Major — Classical Guitar

Curriculum Requirements Units
Basic DMA curriculum 20
MPGU 653 (12), MPGU 427 (3) 15
MPKS 481 2
Electives 28
Two solo recitals and two other appropriate performances 0

Performance Major — Studio Guitar

Curriculum Requirements Units
Basic DMA curriculum 20
MPGU 558 (4), MPGU 653 (12) 16
MUEN 526 (4) 4
Electives 25
Four doctoral recitals, one of which must be a lecture recital in conjunction with an appropriate research project 0

Sacred Music Major

Proficiency tests in both keyboard and voice will be given by the choral and sacred music faculty during the student’s first semester in residence to determine if additional study in either area is required.

curriculum requirements units
Basic D.M.A. Curriculum 20
MSCR 474 or MPVA 439**** 2
MSCR 571*** (2), MSCR 572*** (2) 4
MSCR 790 or Mxxx-501 4
MSCR 794ab Dissertation/Final Project 4
MUEN xxx Ensemble* 2
Choose 4 units from the following:
MSCR 473, MSCR 475 or MUHL 588 4
Electives to fulfill the academic field and two elective fields** 25
Lecture/Recital 0
Total required for degree: 65
*Sacred music majors must participate in a choral ensemble chosen from MUEN 508, MUEN 510, MUEN 511, or MUEN 512 each semester if enrolled for 4 or more units.

**Requires one elective field in a performance area.

***If these courses have already been taken toward a Master of Music degree at USC, then 500-level MUHL courses or 500-level MUCO analysis courses should be substituted, on consultation with the Sacred Music faculty.

****MPVA 439 has a prerequisite of MPVA 438. Waiver of MPVA 438 will be determined by the department, pending students’ knowledge and background in vocal pedagogy.