Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) Document Guidelines

I. Introduction: General Definition of the DMA Document

The DMA document is generally developed in conjunction with a lecture-recital, which is presented publicly by the candidate. The recital portion demonstrates your advanced level of musicianship; the written document demonstrates your ability to conduct specialized research and make an important contribution to scholarship on performance. Successful documents will define a clear and focused topic and articulate supportable arguments regarding that topic.

Prior to submitting a DMA topic proposal, you should:

  • complete sufficient work on the project to clearly define a topic
  • articulate a purpose and a provisional argument
  • identify the appropriate scholarly field and research methodology
  • be familiar with the relevant sources on the topic

Consult with each of the members of your advisory committee about your topic; they will each need to approve the proposal before you can formally begin your document. Your completed document must conform to the established guidelines found at KU Libraries: Thesis and Dissertation Formatting and will be either:

  • a lecture-recital based on a submitted critical essay of at least 25-30 pages
  • a submitted thesis document of at least 55-60 pages

Based on the format that you have selected for your doctoral document, research foci may include, but are not limited to:

  • transcription and critical analysis
  • interviews
  • historical musicology
  • music pedagogy
  • music theory and analysis
  • quantitative and qualitative methods as they apply to performance (e.g., music and medicine, behavioral studies, etc.)

II. The DMA Topic Proposal

A. General definition

Your graduate advisory committee is charged with ensuring that all doctoral documents reflect high standards of musicianship, scholarly relevance, and academic excellence. To that end, the purpose of the DMA topic proposal is to enable the committee to evaluate the feasibility and scholarly significance of the proposed project. A successful proposal will explain the topic with which the project is concerned, present a cogent argument, demonstrate the project’s contribution to existing scholarship, identify sources of available evidence, and indicate the methods that will be used to support your argument.

The document will also display the author’s competence with English prose, style, and organization. The sections required in all DMA topic proposals ensure that these goals are met; see below for detailed descriptions of each. In general, it is essential that the topic and the argument be clearly defined and that everything included in any section of the topic proposal be explicitly related to the topic. Any historical or analytical material in the proposal must be supportable by evidence. Students planning to conduct interviews as part of their research must provide evidence of contact with each intended interviewee, as well as a list of sample questions.

B. Topic Proposal Format, Length, and Style

Students should consult examples of successful topic proposals on the School of Music website. [Samples will be provided on the website.]The proposal should be submitted in double-spaced 12-point New Roman font with standard (1”) margins. Citation throughout the proposal should be footnotes or endnotes, according to the guidelines in the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed., which is can be found at KU Libraries: Articles & Databases.. Any source referenced in the topic proposal must be cited in the body of the proposal itself, as well as in the bibliography. All musical examples or imported images should be reproduced in high-quality scans (300 dpi or higher).

The topic proposal as a whole should consist of 2-3 pages; do not exceed 5 pages. The topic proposal should demonstrate your familiarity with and capability of producing scholarly prose in English. Grammar, spelling, and syntax should be free from error, and its overall structure should be clear and easy to follow. It is highly recommended that you read your proposal out loud to yourself or to another person. For detailed accounts of effective prose style, consider Oliver Strunk and E. B. White, The Elements of Musical Style; Richard J. Wingell, Writing About Music: An Introductory Guide, and Richard J. Wingell and Sylvia Herzog, Introduction to Research In Music.

C. Required Sections for all DMA Topic Proposals

1. Research approval form (.pdf)  (also available on the Academic Services page of the School of Music website)

2. Introduction/description of the project

In this section, you will define the purpose of your project. This is usually posed as a problem to be solved, a question to be answered, or an anomaly to be explained. It should culminate in a thesis statement: the argument that you will pursue in your document, even if it is still provisional. The statement of purpose should be justified by the significance of your topic and the current state of research.

3. Survey of Related Research 

In order to convincingly argue that a given topic is significant, a new approach is necessary, or new evidence should be presented, you must include a summary of previous research on your topic. All doctoral documents include a section of this nature, usually as part of the introduction. The purpose of this section, in both the topic proposal and final document, is to identify the relevant available literature on the subject and to evaluate it in order to justify the need for a new study. The research included should represent a variety of formats, including (but not limited to) books, essays, journal articles, scores and recordings, practical and scholarly editions, and articles in detailed scholarly dictionaries such as the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Grove Music Online). Note: textbooks, general encyclopedias like the Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia articles, and the like are NOT acceptable sources for a doctoral document. Do not claim that nothing has been written about a given topic. Even if a particular musical work or problem has largely escaped scholarly attention, describe the sources that do exist: biographies, scores and drafts, recordings, etc. Also, include in this section how your document will complement existing research on the subject.

4. Procedures and Methodologies

In this section, explain in detail how you will undertake your research. The methods described must support the statement of purpose; that is, they must demonstrate the potential for solving the problem, resolving the issue, answering the question, or explaining the anomaly that is the focus of the topic proposal. The methodology chosen must reflect the concerns of the scholarly field(s) appropriate to the project.

Some projects may require a combination of research methods.

  • Critical editions or transcriptions require descriptions of the source materials used and an account of the methods used in critical decision making.
  • Historical musicological research requires an account of the primary and secondary documents that will be used, and an explanation of the interpretive methods that will be applied to that evidence.
  • Music pedagogy or other research involving experimental methods requires a comprehensive account of the proposed experiments or solutions
  • Theoretical or analytic projects should identify the pieces to be analyzed and identify appropriate analytical methods for that music; in addition, the analytical methods used must be demonstrated by means of specific examples, including musical excerpts.
  • Performance guides must identify the technical or musical challenges posed by the chosen repertoire and present pedagogical or practical methods to solve these problems.

a. Outline the procedures you will follow in your research. Include score or recording analysis, archival study, research trips, interviews, etc.

b. State any specific skills you will need in order to accomplish your research, e.g., knowledge of another language, theoretical techniques, analytical methods, etc.

c. Explain how you will synthesize the material into a coherent thesis

d. Students planning to conduct interviews as part of their research must provide a list of interviewees you have contacted, as well as sample questions.

5. Outline

You must also include a provisional outline of your document. This should be as detailed as possible, particularly if the theoretical analysis is included (“Analysis of Movement Four” is not sufficiently specific). It is highly recommended that the topic proposal also include a brief prose description of the content of each chapter.

6. Bibliography

In your bibliography, include all literature relevant and significant to your topic. Citations to scholarly literature, relevant editions, and/or primary source materials are required, even if you do not intend to quote them directly in your paper. Tertiary sources, such as textbooks, general encyclopedias like the Encyclopedia Britannica or Grove Music Online, Wikipedia articles, and the like are NOT acceptable sources.

You should be in regular contact with the chair and members of your graduate advisory committee while writing both your proposal and your document. You don’t need to do this alone!

D. Formatting and document submission

Information for proper formatting for your document and final submission to ProQuest is found on the Graduate Studies website: KU Graduate Studies: Electronic Thesis and Dissertation. Additional specific formatting information is found at the KU Library website: KU Libraries: Thesis and Dissertation Formatting.


KU ScholarWorks is the University repository for all KU theses, dissertations, faculty publications, and DMA documents. Recent DMA document submissions can be found here:
KU ScholarWorks: Music Dissertations and Theses

Exemplary DMA documents:
The World Within the World: The Fusion of Western Formal Structures with Turkmen Dutar
Form in Turkmen Piano Music

Tuylieva, Maya (University of Kansas, 2013-05-31)

The development of Turkmen piano music is unique and has not been widely studied outside of Turkmenistan. This paper will concentrate on some formal and modal materials of traditional Turkmen instrumental music. A Portrayal of Art Music in Colombia through Four Works for Bassoon

Southern, Lia (University of Kansas, 2013-05-31)

The lecture recital focuses on pieces for bassoon composed by four well-known, contemporary Colombian composers: Blas Emilio Atehortúa, Jorge Pinzón, Pedro Sarmiento, and Johann Hasler.