Courses of Study 2020-2021 
    Dec 03, 2021  
Courses of Study 2020-2021 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Doctor of Musical Arts

In the College of Arts and Sciences .

Doctor of Musical Arts in Composition


The Composition program, administered through the Graduate School , combines private lessons and group seminars, with an emphasis on the development of the student’s personal approach to composition, while attaining the highest possible technical mastery. The D.M.A. at Cornell blends scholarship with artistic work. Like some Ph.D. programs, we require a foreign language and a thesis dealing with a historical or theoretical topic (not with the candidate’s own music), and we expect that all composers will do some seminar work in academic subjects. 

In addition to seminar work and lessons, students will be required to present a public concert of their work comprising at least 30 minutes of music in various media composed during their study at Cornell. As part of the D.M.A. thesis, students are required to complete a single composition or a portfolio totaling at least twenty minutes’ duration. If a single twenty-minute work is submitted, it must be scored for “large forces”; if a portfolio is submitted, it should cover a range of forces and genres, but again at least one work should be for large forces.

Program Requirements

The programs and activities in music at Cornell are rich and varied. Only certain aspects of the formal requirements are described here. For other details, and for information about anything else, you should ask your Special Committee Chair, the DGS, other professors, and fellow students. The flexible, decentralized Special Committee system means that, ultimately, the shape of your program and what you get out of it depend primarily on you.

1. Special Committee. The Special Committee of a doctoral candidate comprises three or four professors who are members of the Graduate Faculty. Each of the three regular members of your Committee must represent a particular “concentration,” as defined in the legislation of the Graduate School. In music, these are composition, performance, performance practice, ethnomusicology, historical musicology, and theory of music.

2. Residence. The normal minimum residence requirement for the D.M.A. is eight “residence units.” A residence unit is defined as satisfactory full-time study for one semester, with appropriate progress towards the degree. 

3. Languages. The minimum Field requirement for composers is reading knowledge of one foreign language. Although German and French are still the most frequent choices, doctoral composers have also used Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Polish because their dissertations demanded those languages.

4. Courses and Independent Work. There are no formal requirements about stated courses, numbers of courses, or credit hours. You and your Committee decide on your courses and other activities each term. Ideally, each semester’s decisions fit into your long-range program, whose goals become increasingly clear from term to term.

While there are no formal course requirements, certain general expectations do exist. You will be expected to take Composition (MUSIC 7111 ) every semester. Whatever your stated minors, most Special Committees will expect you to do some work in theory, musicology, computer and electroacoustic music, and possibly ethnomusicology. In the Composition program, Committees often expect students to take a minimum number of courses in music, perhaps six or eight, numbered 4000 or above (excluding composition, ensembles, and performance lessons); these might also include courses in a minor subject outside the Field of Music. For most students except those who have had substantially the same courses in master’s programs elsewhere, these are likely to include the following graduate courses:

  • Music 6101 (Analytical Technique)
  • Music 6201 (Introduction to Bibliography and Research)
  • Music 6420 (Techniques for Computer Music)
  • Music 6421 (Electroacoustic Composition)
  • Music 7411 (Sound Sculpture)
  • Music 7101 (Topics in Tonal Analysis)
  • Music 7102 (Topics in Post-Tonal Theory and Analysis)
  • Music 7121 (Advanced Orchestral Technique)
  • Music 7206 (Seminar in Music of the Twentieth Century)

In addition, those students who need them may be asked to take the following upper-level undergraduate courses:

  • Music 4101 (Counterpoint)
  • Music 4121 (Conducting)

In addition to formal work in music theory, Committees usually expect at least one formal seminar in musicology (or ethnomusicology), for several reasons: to create opportunities to explore the interconnections among subjects and the relationships between scholarship and creative work; to strengthen academic credentials with a view to winning a college teaching position; and to provide practice in those modes of academic thinking and writing necessary to complete a successful doctoral dissertation.

5. Admission-to-Candidacy Examination (A Exam). D.M.A. candidates must pass a general examination in composition, theory, and twentieth century music. 

6. D.M.A. recital. Usually after the A Exam and before the B exam, you must present a public concert comprising at least 30 minutes of music in various media composed during your study at Cornell.

7. Thesis. Part I of the thesis is a composition or compositions totaling at least twenty minutes’ duration. If a single twenty-minute work is submitted, it must be scored for “large forces”; if a portfolio is submitted, it should cover a range of forces and genres, but again at least one work should be for large forces. Part II consists of scholarly writing on some aspect of music (analytical, theoretical, critical, or historical).

8. Final Examination (thesis defense). This examination is oral, based on complete and polished versions of your D.M.A. composition portfolio and essay(s), in their final form save for minor corrections arising during the exam itself. 

Visit the Graduate Program in Composition page on the Department of Music’s website for more details.

Doctor of Musical Arts in Performance Practice


Offering the D.M.A. in Performance Practice through the Graduate School , the Keyboard Studies program at Cornell is a specialized advanced degree designed for professional caliber performers who wish to combine the performance of specific repertories with research, teaching, and writing about those repertories. Focused on keyboard music of the 17th-21st centuries, the program is highly competitive, admitting only one new student each year to study with performers on the professorial faculty. Keyboard music is divided into areas of specialization, such as 17th–18th-century keyboard performance (fortepiano, organ, harpsichord, clavichord), 19th–20th-century performance practices (fortepiano, organ, and modern piano) and 21st-century keyboard practice (digital technologies and new media). Although there are curricular requirements, the program is flexible and is developed individually in consultation with the student’s Special Committee. Students may combine their study in the Field of Music (historical musicology, ethnomusicology, theory, composition, and performance practice) with work in other fields at Cornell.

Requirements for the Degree

1. Special Committee. A graduate student’s program is supervised by a Special Committee, comprising three or four professors selected by the student. The Committee is largely responsible for setting the student’s requirements and evaluating his or her progress. The professor who teaches the student’s primary instrument will ordinarily be the Chair (or Co-Chair) of the Committee; at least one minor member must be a musicologist.

2. Residence. Normally eight semesters of full-time study at Cornell. (In exceptional cases, this may be reduced to seven semesters.) The first two terms of residence must be consecutive and fall within a single academic year. With the permission of the Special Committee, the remainder of the residence requirement may be fulfilled in non-consecutive semesters; this permits the alternation of on-campus study with the pursuit of a performing career. The final two semesters of residence ordinarily follow completion of the Admission-to-Candidacy (“A”) Examination.

3. Language. [Field requirement.] The minimum is reading proficiency in one foreign language, usually but not always German, French, or Italian. Special Committees may require additional languages if appropriate for individual students.  The language requirement may be modified by petition to the Field of Music. It must be satisfied before the Admission-to-Candidacy Examination may be attempted.

4. Required Academic Activities.

a) Intensive study of the major instrument each semester.

b) At least one full-length concert (or equivalent as determined by the committee) each semester in residence with program notes prepared for each recital and reviewed by the committee.

c) Satisfactory completion of at least six seminars numbered 6000 and above in Composition, Theory, Musicology, or Ethnomusicology. With the permission of the Special Committee, formal independent study may be substituted for one seminar. Music 6201 (Introduction to Bibliography and Research) is a required course, as well as the performance practicum course, Music 7211, offered every other year. Likewise, it is reasonable to expect that seminars in other departments will be of interest to D.M.A. students, as they are to students for the D.M.A. in composition and the Ph.D. in musicology.  At least four music seminars must be completed before the Admission-to-Candidacy Examination may be attempted.

d) A portfolio (of at least two) performances done both on and off campus from the student’s first academic year, to be submitted for review by the Graduate Field in early September of the second year.

e) Submission of a revised seminar paper from the student’s first academic year, to be submitted for review by the Graduate Field in early September of the second year.

5. Lecture-recital. A presentation of approximately one hour, combining performance of one or more works or movements with a formal lecture interpreting them in a manner relevant to the student’s historical period or repertory. The lecture-recital is ordinarily given during the fourth semester of residence and is viewed as a way of focusing the D.M.A thesis subject; it will usually be completed before the Admission-to-Candidacy Examination is attempted. In the semester in which the lecture-recital is delivered, the candidate need not give another recital.

6. Admission-to-Candidacy Examination. The Admission-to-Candidacy Examination (“A” exam) is in two parts: (a) a written exam comprising questions relevant to the proposed D.M.A thesis topic and (b) an oral/performance exam addressing issues of performance practice in different repertories.

7. D.M.A. recital. A full-length, formal recital with appropriate written program notes demonstrating research activities and writing skills in the student’s historical period or repertory. It should be given during the final semester of residence.  Without being pedantic or overly schematic, this recital should have a theme, or even, represent a kind of musical argument, one that should be reflected on in the program notes and be touched on in a few (no more than five minutes) spoken words at the concert itself.

8. Thesis. Following the Admission-to-Candidacy Examination, the student writes a thesis on some aspect of performance practice. It is ordinarily directed by the chair of the committee in conjunction with the minor members; the Special Committee should therefore have at least one member representing musicology.

9. Thesis defense. Candidates need not be in residence as full-time students when the examination is taken. The defense is a formal meeting with the student’s Special Committee to discuss the dissertation. Students are expected to submit a complete draft of the thesis - including an abstract not to exceed 600 words - to all members of their committee at least four weeks before their defense, unless otherwise specified by the Committee. This examination is oral, based on a complete and polished version of the thesis, though the committee will typically ask for some revisions, corrections, and the like. 

Also to be supplied by the candidate at the thesis defense is a portfolio containing all of the recitals (with program notes) that the candidate performed during the period of residency. The nature, scope, and intention of these programs can also serve as a topic of questioning and debate during the exam.

Visit the Graduate Program in Performance Practice page on the Department of Music’s website for more details.