Jul 15, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 [ARCHIVED CATALOGUE]

Composition (DMA)

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The DMA in Composition consists of the following areas of study: the basic DMA curriculum, course work in the major, an academic field and two elective fields.

Degree Prerequisites

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


Admission to Thornton programs is granted through the USC admission process. Applicants are screened by appropriate faculty selection committees. Specific entrance requirements are reviewed on an annual basis and published online at music.usc.edu.

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 field. For courses in academic and elective fields, the minimum passing grade is C.

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 Thornton School department in which the subject is taught, pending approval by the dean of the Thornton School. Transfer credit petitions must be filed with the Thornton doctoral adviser during the first semester in residence. Transfer work must have been completed within 10 years of admission to the DMA program to be applied toward that degree.

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 (6 units or more per semester) must be in residence at USC.

Time Schedule

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.

Music Graduate Entrance Exams

All students entering a graduate-level degree program (MA, MM, DMA and PhD) at USC Thornton, who have not previously completed a degree at USC Thornton, must take a series of entrance exams in core music subjects. These exams are called Music Graduate Entrance Exams (MGEEs). Information regarding which exams are required for specific majors is available from the Thornton Student Affairs office. Also see the USC Thornton School of Music  Admission to Graduate Standing section of this catalogue for specific policies relating to these exams.

Foreign Language

An academic reading knowledge of a language other than English is required of all Thornton doctoral students. This requirement can be met in any of the following ways:

  • Completion of a prior degree, as verified on an official transcript, from an accredited institution of higher education at which the primary language of instruction is a language other than English.
  • Completion of at least three semesters of college-level language instruction in a language other than English, as verified on an official transcript, at an accredited institution of higher education.
  • Completion of one or more USC language course(s) (in a language other than English) as approved by the Thornton School.
  • Earning a passing score on a written examination (in a language other than English) as approved by the Thornton School.

Departments within the Thornton School may require additional language skills. All language requirements must be fulfilled before entering the third semester in the program. Students who have engaged in extensive study of one or more languages other than English that does not meet this requirement as described above may request an exception.

Course Requirements

Each student is required to complete four areas of concentration: the major field, an academic field and two elective fields.

Required courses for each major curriculum are listed in the description of major programs below. Required courses for any academic or elective field are determined for their respective fields by the faculty advisers on a student’s DMA guidance committee.

A minimum of 65 graduate units beyond the bachelor’s degree are required to complete a DMA 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.

Academic and Elective Fields

For the academic field students must choose one from Musicology, Theory and Analysis, Music Teaching and Learning, Choral Music or Sacred Music. For the elective fields students will choose two fields from among 50 possible areas, including Composition, Performance, Early Music, Jazz Studies, Music Teaching and Learning, Choral Music, Sacred Music, Conducting, Pedagogy, Electroacoustic Media, Music Industry, as well as areas outside of music. The fields comprise courses that are determined by the department in which they are administered. Eight to 10 units are taken in the academic field. Six to 8 units are taken in each elective field. The academic field may not duplicate a major or an elective field. No more than two of the four fields of concentration may be under the guidance of the same department within the Thornton School of Music, and at least one of the elective fields must culminate in a substantial written paper or examination. Students must apply to their chosen fields. Admission to academic and elective fields is determined by the appropriate department, prior to the Graduate Committee Interview. Individualized programs of study will be created in each field in consultation with a faculty adviser in each area.

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 meet with the Graduate Advisory Committee of the Thornton School of Music to discuss their progress in the program and their goals for the future. In preparation for this interview, students must prepare a dossier according to specific instructions available from the Thornton doctoral adviser. The committee determines the student’s continuation in the program, and approves both the student’s individualized curriculum (including all fields of concentration) and the members of his or her DMA guidance committee.

DMA Guidance Committee

The DMA guidance committee is composed of at least five members: two faculty members 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 full-time faculty of rank in the Thornton School. The composition of the DMA Guidance Committee is proposed and approved as part of the Graduate Committee Interview.

The guidance committee administers the written and oral parts of the comprehensive examination. The committee continues to serve until the comprehensive examination has been passed, the dissertation topic approved (if applicable) and the student is admitted to candidacy (if applicable). For students in curricula that require recitals, the two major field advisers serve as the recital committee and are responsible for determining the approved format, content, scheduling and presentation of these performances for credit toward the requirements of the degree.

Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination for the DMA is administered by the student’s guidance committee. This examination consists of written and oral components and is designed to assess the student’s mastery of his or her fields of concentration and readiness for professional independence as a performer, composer, teacher, researcher and/or scholar. The student must obtain permission from the guidance committee to take the comprehensive examination and schedule it at least two months in advance to ensure the committee’s availability. The examination must be taken after completion of all required course work for all fields of concentration, except (in some cases) a limited number of the required units of Individual Instruction in the major field. 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 comprehensive examination. Up to two required recitals may be presented after the comprehensive examination. The dissertation (if required) must be written after the comprehensive examination. Comprehensive examinations will not be scheduled during summer sessions except under extraordinary circumstances and only with the written approval of members of the guidance committee. All portions of the examination must be completed within one month.

The comprehensive examination is comprised of a substantial culminative work for each field of concentration, as well as an oral examination with the student’s guidance committee. The culminative work for each field may be a written examination, paper, project or recital, as appropriate for the particular field. For the academic field and at least one elective field, this culminative requirement must be a substantial written examination or paper. Following the successful completion of all culminative requirements and the approval of each by the corresponding faculty adviser, the student will sit for a two-hour oral examination with the guidance committee. This oral examination covers in greater depth the topics discussed in the written examinations and other requirements for the fields of concentration. The oral examination may also cover new material as determined by the guidance committee.

The two major field advisers and the academic field adviser must be present at the oral examination and render a judgment on the acceptability of the comprehensive examinations as a whole. It is highly preferable that the faculty advisers for the two elective fields participate in the oral examination with the other members of the guidance committee. If, however, there are challenges with scheduling or other issues that are reasonably unresolvable, the participation of the faculty advisers for elective fields is not required for the oral examination if they feel that the candidate has demonstrated knowledge and mastery of material that is 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 committee. A student must pass both the written and oral portions to pass the comprehensive examination. A pass on the examination cannot be made contingent upon any form of additional work.

If a student fails the comprehensive examination, the guidance 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 oral examination. A student may not take the comprehensive examination more than twice.

The comprehensive examination serves as the qualifying examination for programs that require a dissertation.

Admission to Candidacy

For the DMA in Composition, admission to candidacy occurs after the student has passed the comprehensive examination, upon formal action of the dean of the Thornton School. The dissertation must be completed after admission to candidacy.

Doctoral Dissertation

A dissertation based on original investigation and/or creative work is required of candidates in Composition, Music Teaching and Learning and Choral Music. The dissertation must reveal scholarly ability, technical mastery, capacity for independent research and originality in creative thought.

Dissertation Committee

After the guidance committee recommends admission to candidacy and approves the dissertation topic, the committee is reduced to three members. This smaller committee shall be the dissertation committee and will guide the student through the completion of the dissertation. Additional members may be added at the discretion of the chair of the committee if the topic requires special expertise.

Registration for Dissertation

The student must register in 794 Dissertation each semester after admission to candidacy until degree requirements (including the dissertation) are completed. Registration for 794 in no less than two regular 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 report this in writing to the Thornton doctoral adviser before the beginning of that semester. As part of that report, the candidate must also petition for a formal leave of absence. During a leave of absence the candidate will not be entitled to assistance from his or her dissertation committee or to the use of university services and facilities. A leave of absence will be granted only under exceptional circumstances.

Format for Theses and Dissertations

All dissertations submitted for requirements for graduate degrees must conform to university regulations in format and method of preparation. See the USC Graduate School’s guidelines for Theses and Dissertations .

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.

Defense of the Dissertation

After meeting all requirements including the comprehensive examination, the candidate must defend the dissertation. This defense takes place in order for the committee to determine whether the dissertation should be approved or rejected. 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 rejection. The recommendation must be unanimous in order for the dissertation to be approved.

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, along with a typed copy of the dissertation abstract, must be filed with the doctoral adviser of the Thornton School of Music.

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 in the USC Graduate School by the Graduate School’s submission date and times. Approval of format and acceptance by the Graduate School must be presented to the doctoral adviser of the Thornton School of Music at least one week before the end of the semester.

Curriculum Requirements for Composition Major

Basic DMA Curriculum (20 units) - Required for All DMA Candidates


Courses with similar content taken for graduate credit at 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.

Individual Instruction, Ensembles and Performance Classes (8 units)

Program Intensive Courses (8 units)

Electives to Fulfill the Academic Field and Two Elective Fields (25 units)

Comprehensive Examinations (0 units)

Examinations that include the major area, one academic field and two elective fields.

Graduate Recital (0 units)

Total units: 65

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