USC Composers — happenings in the USC Music Composition department


FAQ about Composition MM/DMA Curricula, Exams, and Requirements:

Below is additional Composition-specific information about the MM and DMA programs that may not be present in the Catalogue. For a complete overview of the requirements of each program, be sure to read your program’s information in the USC Catalogue. Here are links to each: MM and DMA



You are required to have a jury each semester you are enrolled in private lessons, except in the semester in which you give your MM/DMA recital. In the ~20-minute jury (generally held on the Monday after classes end), you will present your semester’s work to the Composition faculty. Bring multiple copies of each score you would like to share and audio, if available.

Degree Recitals

All graduate students must give one culminating recital with 45-60 minutes of music you have composed during your time enrolled in the MM/DMA program.


Important requirements for First-Year DMA Composers:

First, please read the program description in the USC Catalogue HERE. This tells you about your curriculum, academic and elective fields, and exams. The information below mostly provides specifics not included in the catalogue.

Academic and Elective Fields
The DMA curricula is comprised of work in your Major Field (composition), Academic Field (Theory and Analysis, Music Teaching and Learning, Musicology, etc.), and two elective fields (performance, conducting, orchestration, jazz, electronic music, arts leadership, etc., even something outside of Thornton). You will select your Academic and Elective fields during your first year (*please note that you must have an advisor in each field and cannot have the same advisor for multiple fields). You need to seek out faculty and ask them to serve as your Advisor – try not to leave this to the last minute! Please note that some fields have an application/audition/exam required for admission. 

Graduate Committee Interview (GCI)
In your second semester, you will have your Graduate Committee Interview (GCI). At your GCI, a panel of faculty will evaluate your progress in the program and finalize two very critical components for your continuation in the program: (1) your DMA Guidance Committee; and (2) the curriculum for your academic field and elective fields.

Here is a rough second-semester timeline leading up to your GCI (note: dates below may change slightly from year to year – Job Springer will keep you informed of the exact deadlines):

·        February 1: application deadline for all academic fields and some elective fields. Students must submit these applications to Job Springer, who will then distribute them to the appropriate faculty for review. The fields that require applications are: Arts Leadership (elective field only), Choral Music, Collegiate Teaching (elective field only), Theory & Analysis, Music Teaching & Learning, Musicology, Sacred Music.

·        Throughout the month of February: students will be contacting faculty to discuss possible fields of study, finalize field curricula, and gather necessary signatures for the dossier they must submit for evaluation at their GCI.

·        February 15: deadline for faculty to submit to Job Springer all academic and elective field decisions for the fields requiring an application (listed above).

·        March 1: GCI dossier deadline. Students must submit all required materials to Job Springer by this date. This includes all required forms with all required faculty signatures for their major field, academic field, and both elective fields.

·        Throughout April: GCI interviews take place.

If students do not submit all required materials with all required faculty signatures to Job Springer by March 1, they will not be permitted to go forward with their GCI in April.

DMA Comprehensive Exam

The Catalogue has extensive information about this. The info below is just a synopsis:

Taken after you have completed your coursework and capstone projects for your fields of concentration, this is a two-hour exam designed to assess your mastery of your fields of concentration and your readiness for professional activity in the field. A significant portion of the time will be devoted to discussing your culminating projects in your various fields of concentration. Your Major Field Advisor in Composition, a second Composition faculty member, and your Academic Field Advisor must be present (sometimes Elective Field advisors attend, too, but their presence is not required).

Six Pieces Oral Exam

Before your DMA Comprehensive Exam, composers also take the Six Pieces exam. For this two-hour exam, you will choose six pieces to study and present to the Composition faculty. You should choose these pieces at least a semester before your exam and have them approved by the Chair of Composition and your Major Field Advisor.

Your goal should be to become an expert on your pieces (and related works and composers, as relevant) so that you can present an in-depth, analytical lecture on each of them. You will present these works to a panel comprised of the Composition faculty, who will ask questions.

Though you select the specific works you will focus on, they must check off the following boxes:

One work for each of the following ensembles:

1. Chamber or Solo
2. Solo with ensemble
3. Orchestral
4. Choral
5. Opera
6. Free Choice (any medium, any era)

One work from each of the following eras:
1. 1350-1600
2. 1600-1750
3. 1750 – 1880
4. 1880 – 1945
5. 1945-present
6. Free Choice (any medium, any era)

Note: you can, of course, mix and match the ensembles and eras however you like.

DMA Dissertation

The dissertation for your major field (Composition) consists of one significant musical composition written during your time in the program. While there are no specific requirements regarding the duration or medium of your dissertation piece, they tend to be large-scale works and you must have both your major field advisor and the department chair approve the work as dissertation-appropriate.

* Info about the Academic Field in Analysis

Most Academic and Elective fields are beyond this page’s purview, but given that the Academic Field in Analysis is almost exclusively advised by Composition faculty and many composers take it, some helpful information about it is included below. (Note: many composers choose the Academic Field in Analysis, but you certainly don’t have to.)

You will take courses (8-10 units in total) from a selection of the following:

MUCO 533ab (2 units each) – Contemporary Approaches to Tonal Analysis

MUCO 539ab (2 units each) – Analysis of Post-Tonal Music (Pitch-based and Non-Pitch-Based)

MUCO 572 (2 units each) – Special Topics in Contemporary Music (recent topics have included Spectral Music, Genre in Contemporary Music, 20th Century String Quartets, Timbre)

MUCO 573 (2 units) – Special Topics in Counterpoint (e.g., 20th/21st-century Counterpoint)

MUCO 574 (2 units) – Special Topics in Tonal Analysis

MUCO 633a (2 units) – Writing about Analysis

* The MUCO 57x classes change topics from semester to semester, and you can take a total of two of these (including multiple 572s) that can count toward your academic field curriculum. Because the topics rotate, they usually aren’t set more than a semester in advance.

** MUCO 501 Tonal Analysis and MUCO 502 Post-Tonal Analysis are part of your Basic DMA curriculum, and do not count toward your Academic Field. 

Capstone Project in the Academic Field in Theory and Analysis
Additionally, the Academic Field in Theory & Analysis has a robust capstone project.  A capstone project is what needs to be submitted and/or completed during your Comprehensive Exam semester after all of the coursework has already been completed for your fields. The capstone for the Academic Field in Theory and Analysis is in addition to all of the coursework you complete above, and specifically includes BOTH:

1. A detailed paper (40-50 pages) to be submitted to Job Springer and to your faculty advisor. You will work on this paper in consultation with your faculty advisor, who must approve the topic.

2.  The three-hour Academic Field Exam in Theory and Analysis proctored by Job Springer. See below for more information on this.

DMA Academic Field Exam in Theory and Analysis
Focuses on material covered in the two foundational courses every DMA student takes (or substitutes): MUCO 501 and MUCO 502 (basic Tonal and Post-Tonal Analysis). It will not focus on courses taken during the rest of your DMA Analysis curriculum (e.g., MUCO 572). There are no specific guidelines for the exam, though familiarity with the books associated with those MUCO 501/502 classes is a useful way to prepare (Green, Form in Tonal Music; Straus, Post-Tonal Theory; Cook, A Guide to Musical Analysis).

The test itself consists of two pieces, one pre-1900 and one post-1900, about which mostly specific harmonic, motivic, structural, etc. questions will be asked. Three hours are allotted for the exam.


MM Composition Comprehensive Review and Portfolio

In the Comprehensive Review (done at the end of your final semester), you will share your Portfolio (i.e., a selection of compositions completed during your MM) with the Composition faculty and relate it to music of the 20th/21st century (and earlier, as appropriate). The faculty will ask questions about your work, aspects of your MM course of study, or works from the repertoire. No particular preparation is needed for the review beyond being able to discuss what your music is about and reminding yourself of the coursework you took during your MM.

It is up to you to decide which compositions comprise your Portfolio, though you should assemble it in consultation with your Composition instructor.