DMA Topic Proposal Guidelines and Materials

Table of Contents

1. General Definition of the DMA Document

2. General Definition of the DMA Topic Proposal

3. The Required DMA Topic Pre-Proposal

4. Submitting a DMA Topic Proposal

5. Required Sections for all DMA Topic Proposals

6. General Information

7. Internal Resources

8. Selected Resources

Your DMA final project involves three mandatory documents: a Pre-Proposal, a Topic Proposal, and a final written document. 

The Graduate Performance Degree Committee (GPDC) is charged with ensuring that all doctoral documents reflect the highest standards of musicianship, scholarly relevance, and academic responsibility.  As part of its regular duties, the committee reviews and approves the first two documents. The student's doctoral advisory committee reviews and approves the final document, which is then submitted to the director of graduate studies and the Toulouse Graduate School.

The purpose of the Pre-Proposal is to enable the Graduate Performance Degree Committee to evaluate the feasibility of a topic chosen by the student.

The purpose of the DMA Topic Proposal is to enable the Graduate Performance Degree Committee to evaluate the methodology and scholarly significance of the proposed project.

1. The DMA Dissertation

The DMA dissertation is a series of credits encompassing all required recitals (MUGC 6951-MUGC 6954) plus the written document. The final written document will represent original specialized research and an advanced level of musicianship. Successful documents will define a clear and focused topic and articulate an original and supportable argument regarding that topic. The document will be conceived as a scholarly contribution to the chosen field. Before submitting a DMA Topic Proposal, the student should: 

1. Complete sufficient work on the project to define a topic

2. Articulate a purpose and supporting reasons

3. Submit a Pre-Proposal to the Graduate Performance Degree Committee (see guidelines below)

4. Complete the Copyright module in Canvas at

5. Write the Topic Proposal in consultation with the Advisory Committee (see guidelines below)

6. Submit the Proposal to the Graduate Performance Degree Committee

There are three possible formats for the final paper:
• Lecture/recital performance based on a submitted critical essay of no less than 6,250 words 
• Lecture presentation based on a submitted critical essay of no less than 10,000 words 
• A submitted thesis document of no less than 25,000 words 

Based on the format that you have selected for your doctoral document, one or more of these research methodologies may be appropriate:
• Critical edition or transcription with introduction and critical commentary
• Historical musicology
• Music pedagogy
• Music theory and analysis
• Performance guide
• Entrepreneurship
• Scientific method as it applies to performance, including music and medicine
• Other

Important information

Fair use of copyrighted materials: if your project uses copyrighted materials, it is your task to request the required permissions.  This is the case, for example if you wish to use extended musical examples taken from a piece published after 1923.

Helpful Resources

UNT's guidelines on fair use (UNT Library)

Copyright Quick Reference Guide (UNT Library)

Exceptions & Defenses to Copyright Infringement (CLEAR)

Our resident campus expert in this area is the Head of the Music Library, Susannah Cleveland.  You can reach out to her with any questions at

Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval: Students planning to conduct interviews as part of their research must obtain the required approval for their projects from the Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects (IRB) before proceeding with the interviews.  See Guidelines for Interviewing for more information on interviewing human subjects. Any topic involving human subjects must have IRB approval. The first step toward this process for College of Music students is to fill out the Proposed Human Subjects Research Assessment form. Further information can be found on the IRB website.

The Proposed Human Subjects Research Assessment form should be filed in between Pre-Proposal and Proposal submission. Most Proposals no longer require full IRB approval beyond this form.  However, it is the responsibility of the student and their Advisory Committee to determine what IRB permissions are required for a particular project. Dissertations requesting interviews are most often exempt after this form is filed. Projects of a statistical nature or those involving classroom observations, surveys or long range studies with human subjects will need full IRB approval. Your Topic Proposal must include proof of IRB approval in progress and other interview-related materials.

2. The Required DMA Pre-Proposal

The required Topic Pre-Proposal is a one-page, single-spaced document that includes: 1) the proposal title and topic; 2) a one-paragraph purpose statement; and 3) a minimum one-paragraph rationale statement about the project. Commitee members must receive a student's pre-proposal at least one week prior to the submission date.  Two weeks is preferable to respect the time constraints of faculty members.  Pre-proposal submissions are to be uploaded electronically via the College of Music Graduate Studies Organization, which is accessible on Canvas. The student must submit a signed electronic Pre-Proposal Submission Form to the Graduate Studies Organization on Canvas. Topic pre-proposals are due at 12:00pm (noon) on the third Monday of each month before the Graduate Performance Degree Committee meeting during long semesters. The GPDC reviews Pre-Proposals on the fourth Monday of each month during long semesters.  Students will be informed of the Committee's decision within one week of the GPDC meeting.

3. The Required DMA Topic Proposal

Successful Topic Proposals outline the final DMA document, presenting a cogent argument, demonstrating the project’s contribution to existing scholarship, identifying the evidence and methods that will be used to support the argument, and displaying 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 section. 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. Since irrelevant evidence or methodology weakens a Topic Proposal, the following items should be omitted unless they pertain directly to the central argument of the project: excessive biographical information regarding composers, and summaries of music history during a given period. Since the intended reader of the Topic Proposal is a scholar or expert, avoid the style or content of program notes. Students planning to conduct interviews as part of their research must provide evidence of contact with each interviewee (such as email correspondence agreeing to the interview) as well as sample questions.

4. Submitting a DMA Topic Proposal

Students should circulate their Topic Proposals multiple times to all members of their Advisory Committee before submission to the Graduate Performance Degree Committee. Topic Proposals are to be uploaded electronically via the College of Music Graduate Studies Organization, which is accessible on Canvas. The student must also electronically submit the Topic Proposal Submission Form to the Graduate Studies Office. Proposals and Topic Proposal Submission Forms are due by 12:00pm (noon) on the third Monday prior to the GPDC meeting during long semesters. The GPDC meets on the fourth Monday of the month during long semesters. The GPDC will not consider Topic Proposals during the summer. DMA students will be allowed three submissions of the Topic Proposal. If a student's proposal is not accepted by the GPDC the third time, the student will be required to begin an academic review process with the director of graduate studies, the major professor and the chair of the GPDC. The goal of this academic review is to create a course of action that will allow the student to successfully move forward in the process. The outcome of each academic review will be different; there is no prescribed path. (Note: the GPDC offers a Topic Proposal workshop every semester on how to successfully create a doctoral document topic proposal.) A topic proposal may be submitted before the qualifying examinations have been passed.

5. Required Sections for all DMA Topic Proposals

The following six sections are required in all DMA Topic Proposals. Please review the examples available in the Graduate Studies Office which defines the sections required for the proposal. The sections on “Significance and State of Research” and “Purpose” may occasionally be reordered or combined, as long as the central goals of each section are met.

  1. Title Page: The title page should follow the correct form for documents submitted to the University of North Texas (see samples below in 7. Internal Resources). The title should describe the scope and methodology of the project in as few words as possible. Determine the key concepts and methods of the study before attempting to form a title (e.g. manuscript, analysis, statistical, survey, edition, etc) and include all committee member names on the title page.
  2. Purpose: The purpose is usually posed as a problem to be solved, an issue to be resolved, a question to be answered, or an anomaly to be explained. It should culminate in a statement of your argument, even if that argument is still provisional. The statement of purpose should be justified by the Significance and State of Research.
  3. Significance and State of Research: Significance and State of Research can be combined into a single section or separated into two sections. The Significance section must establish the context for the project and define the topic of the project.  Additionally, this section should also present any background information necessary for understanding the project. The State of Research section consists of a systematic literature review. This section is a common feature of all doctoral proposals and documents.  In order to argue convincingly that a given topic is significant, that a new approach is necessary, or that new evidence should be brought to bear, one must include a summary of previous research. The purpose of this section in both the Topic Proposal and doctoral document is to identify the salient literature on a given subject and to appraise it so as to justify the need for the current study. Research included should represent a variety of bibliographic formats, including (but not limited to): articles in journals and periodicals, scholarly books, scores, recordings, and editions both practical and scholarly. Under certain circumstances, articles in scholarly encyclopedias such the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians could also be included.  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, the methods and findings of scholarship addressing related works or problems are relevant to the inquiry and should be addressed in this section.
  4. Method: This section explains in detail how the research will be undertaken. The methods described must support the statement of purpose; that is, they must display the potential of 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 methods and contribute to multiple fields. • Critical editions or transcriptions require descriptions of the source materials used and an account of the methods used in critical decision making. • Historical musicology research requires an account of the primary documents or other sources that will be used as evidence and an explanation of the interpretive method(s) that will be applied to that evidence. • Music pedagogy or other research involving experimental methods requires a comprehensive account of the proposed experiment(s). • Theoretical or analytic projects must identify what music will be analyzed and identify appropriate analytical method(s) for that music; in addition, the analytical method(s) 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 an account of the methods used to solve the problems. For more details, please see the Guidelines for Performance Guides later in this document. •  Research involving experimental methods requires a comprehensive account of the proposed experiment(s). Topics requiring scientific research should demonstrate competence with the statistical and/or scientific methods to be used. In addition, include an account of the experiment to be conducted. You must obtain the necessary approval from the Institutional Review Board for the Protection of Human Subjects (IRB) before conducting these interviews. See Guidelines for Interviewing for more information on interviewing human subjects. As a rule, interviews should not be used in lieu of source, analytical, or experimental research. Final project(s) primarily based on interviews will be approved on a case-by-case basis, upon successful demonstration of the project's need for source interviews. Students planning to conduct interviews as part of their research must add the following items to their proposals: • Proof of submission of the Proposed Human Subjects Research Assessment form for IRB approval; • Evidence of contact with each interviewee; • Sample interview questions.
  5. Tentative Chapter Headings: This portion of the proposal should consist of chapter numbers and their proposed titles in the form of an outline similar to a table of contents. The outline should be as detailed as possible, particularly when theoretical analysis is included (“Analysis of Movement Four” is not sufficiently specific). It is highly recommended that the Topic Proposal also include a prose description of the content of each chapter.
  6. Bibliography: The goal of the bibliography is to include all of the relevant literature significant to the topic at hand, regardless of whether the items are cited in the project. The organization of the bibliography evolves from its length: extensive bibliographies frequently divide their entries into categories (books, articles, scores, etc.), while shorter bibliographies do not. Citations to textbooks or shorthand reference works (such as Grout/Palisca/Burkholder’s A History of Western Music or Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians) are not appropriate, but citations to scholarly literature, relevant editions, and/or primary source material are required. Depending upon the nature and scope of the project, a discography may also be relevant. Any literature referred to in the Topic Proposal must be cited in the bibliography as well.

6. General Information

Topic Proposal Format, Length, and Style

The Proposal should be submitted in double spaced, 12-point, Times New Roman or similar font with standard margins. Citation throughout the Proposal should comprise footnotes or endnotes presented according to the guidelines provided in Turabian or Wingell and Herzog (see Selected Resources, below). Any source referred to 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 10-15 single-sided pages (excluding bibliography, musical examples, pictures and appendices.) Do not exceed 15 pages. The Topic Proposal should demonstrate your familiarity with and capability of producing scholarly prose in English. Its tone should be impersonal and unbiased. Its grammar and syntax should be free from error, and its overall structure should be clear and easy to follow. A highly recommended method of editing is to read the Proposal aloud to yourself or to another person. For detailed accounts of effective prose style, consider Strunk and White, Wingell, and Wingell and Herzog (see Selected Resources, below).

Important: • In order to avoid plagiarism, make sure to include a source citation for every borrowed idea and every piece of information that you use; • Footnotes and bibliographic entries must be formatted according to Turabian "N" and "B" guidelines, including line spacing, paragraph identation, and separation.

Guidelines for Critical Editions and Transcriptions
Critical editions are editions of music that take into account all known primary sources of the piece in question. They include a critical report in which all editorial decisions are explained and documented in a way that users of the edition can reconstruct the editorial process and form their own opinion on the editor’s choices. Critical editions should also feature an introduction in which the sources are introduced and evaluated and the piece is discussed in the context of its time and evaluated for its historical importance. Critical editions should be clearly distinguished from performance editions, which serve a different purpose and use a different methodology. DMA candidates electing to undertake a critical edition for their document should make sure to meet the following criteria:
• Be thoroughly familiar with the methodology of critical editing, and be able to distinguish between different types of editions (critical edition, study edition, performance edition, etc.). Study secondary literature on editing, and examine existing critical editions as examples for method and mode of presentation.
• Have a clear and well-argued reason for the need of a critical edition of the piece in question. Reasons might include the discovery of hitherto unknown sources, or the historical importance of the piece paired with the fact that no satisfactory edition of the piece exists (be aware that the mere unavailability of an edition on the internet or in UNT’s library does not suffice as a reason).
• Have access to all primary sources needed for a critical edition; and be aware of any potential copyright problems that may arise with music written after ca. 1880 (attention: the composer’s consent may not be sufficient).
• Incorporate elements of performing editions only in certain, well-argued cases (for instance, if discussing historical performance practice and having found primary sources pertaining directly to performance practice of the piece in question). Proposals should reflect thorough consideration of all these points.

Recommended literature:
Grier, James. The Critical Editing of Music: History, Method, and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Recommended sample editions:
Monteverdi, Claudio. Vespro della Beata Vergine. Edited by Hendrik Schulze and others. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2013.
Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel. Works. Issued in cooperation with the Bach-Archiv Leipzig, the Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig, and Harvard University. Los Altos, CA: Packard Humanities Institute, 2005- (all available volumes).

Recommended classes: MUMH 5010; MUMH 5030; MUMH classes (seminars) that specifically teach editorial practice (may be offered from time to time on the 5000- and 6000-levels).

Guidelines for Historical Musicology Projects
Historical musicology is the study of music in its historical contexts. Methods used include source critique, musical analysis, iconography, organology, semiotics, and hermeneutics. Special interests may include sociology of music, aesthetics, gender theory, performance practice, history of ideas, or anthropology/cultural theory. Research in historical musicology involves a thorough study of both primary and secondary sources, often from widely different areas. Primary sources include scores and parts, images, recordings, textual sources such as librettos, letters, reports, reviews, financial accounts, treatises or biographies, musical instruments, and performance venues.) In order to maintain a professional, scientific, and fair discourse, it is of particular importance to meticulously reference all the material used whenever possible; texts must be extensively footnoted and include a detailed bibliography. DMA candidates electing to undertake a project in the area of Historical Musicology for their document should make sure to meet the following criteria:
• Have an original and relevant thesis, as well as a strategy and methodology for effectively proving or disproving the thesis.
• Be thoroughly familiar with the methodology to be used.
• Be aware of the scope of the project in terms of source material and source availability.
• Make sure to understand related issues discussed in the field by thoroughly reviewing recent secondary literature. Proposals should reflect thorough consideration of all these points.

Recommended literature:
Cook, Nicholas. “What is musicology?” BBC Magazine 7 (1999), 31-33.
Sampsel, Laurie J. Music Research. A Handbook. Second Edition. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Recommended classes: MUMH 5010; MUMH 5020; MUMH 5030; any 6000-level MUMH seminar.

Guidelines for Music Theory and Analysis Projects
Music Theory and Analysis projects are used when a work or collection of works presents a challenging analytical or interpretive problem that requires careful score analysis.  Proposals for analytical dissertations must identify the pieces, the analytical question, and the analytical method that will be used. Possible methods include, among others, formal analysis, voice-leading reduction (i.e., Schenkerian analysis), motivic relationships, set-class analysis, cues for post-1900 pitch centricity, analysis of pitch collections, metric and hypermetric analysis, or some combination of these. The proposal must contain specific examples of analysis, with accompanying musical excerpts.

Appropriate topics for Performance Guides include, but are not limited to:
• Comparison of selected works
• Discussion of the influence of one composer on another, as uncovered through score study
• Exploration of the style of a lesser-known composer or work, as uncovered through an appropriate analytical method
• Discussion of the style of a contemporary composer, as uncovered through score study and an appropriate analytical method
• Exploration of the relationship between analysis and performance

Recommended classes: MUTH 5355, MUTH 5360, MUTH 5370 (Analytical Techniques I - III), MUTH 5375 (Analytical Techniques for Popular Music), MUTH 5510 (Form Analysis), MUTH 6680 (Theory Proseminar), MUTH 5380 (Schenkerian Analysis), MUTH 6660, MUTH 6670 (History of Music Theory I-II, and MUTH 6700, MUTH 6710 (Analytical Systems I-II).

Guidelines for Performance Guides
Performance Guides explore cases in which genuine complexities arise in the relationship between musical notation and the moment of performance. They merge score study with contextual investigation of musical styles and performance practices in order to aid contemporary performers in the thoughtful and informed presentation of a musical work. Program notes do not constitute a performance guide.

Appropriate topics for Performance Guides include:
• Transcription of notation of earlier centuries into modern notation for modern instruments
• Performance of compositions that borrow from non-Western or vernacular performance styles, or that call for realization on Western instruments of sounds, timbres, or styles typical of non-Western instruments
• Explanation of how non-traditional notation in works of recent decades is to be performed
• In the case of aleatoric music, or other music requiring improvisation, explaining how to assess the musical effectiveness of one or more realizations
• Notation of improvisatory techniques used by masters of a performance idiom, so that the improvisatory character might be realized by a contemporary performer. This might include Baroque improvisation, ragas, etc. for which recordings exist but no musical notation has been published
• Discussion of simplifications of scores requiring extreme virtuosity
• Discussion of various existing manuscripts of a composition, or of the relative merits of various editions

Guidelines for Music Pedagogy Projects: Teaching Guides and Teaching Methodologies
Teaching Guides consist in the analysis of a work or repertory for the purpose of teaching it to students. This type of project could include a theoretical model for teaching and a standard for ascertaining difficulty level that is appropriate to the instrument. You should provide a clear methodology for how you will undertake this work, and how it differs from existing work. Teaching Methodologies consist in the analysis of a teaching method or of a pedagogical approach to a topic, conducted through interviews, observations, or surveys. For these projects, IRB approval may be required.

Guidelines for Performing Arts Health Projects
Performing Arts Health (PAH) is a broad discipline that considers the health and wellbeing of individuals involved with the performing arts. For students pursuing the DMA degree, PAH dissertaton proposals are primarily focused on an applied topic related to the physical, auditory, vocal, and/or the mental health of people involved with learning and performing music.  Topics are wide-ranging and likely to involve biopsychosocial, developmental, and prevention-oriented perspectives.  The scholarship of integration is typically deployed in order to draw upon various theories and research methodologies from the social and behavioral sciences, health-related disciplines, education, and STEM fields. DMA candidates electing to undertake a dissertation project in the area of Performing Arts Health should meet the following criteria:
• Have a rationale that is based on previously published research that justifies the current need and direction of an original idea.
• Understand the scope of a project in terms of required resources, resource availability, required training and responsibilities for conducting research with human subjects, and related timelines.
• Have an established working relationship with appropriate faculty members that are committed to serving as dissertation committee advisors. It is most likely that students writing a doctoral project in PAH will have completed the Performing Arts Health related field.

Recommended classes: Completed related field in Performing Arts Health; MUPH 5000, MUPH 5012, MUPH 5014, MUPH 5016, MUPH 6010

Guidelines for Music and Entrepreneurship Projects
DMA Projects in the field of entrepreneurship will explore topics related to music entrepreneurship, arts administration and management, business, communication, networking, leadership, marketing, and additional subjects relevant to music careers.

Recommended classes: Completed DMA related field in Music Entrepreneurship; MUCE 5000 (Music Business and Entrepreneurship), MUCE 5010 (Seminar in Music Entrepreneurship), MUCE 5020 (Seminar in Performing Arts Management), MUCE 5030 (Practicum in Music Entrepreneurship/Performing Arts Management). This course is offered for variable credit, which will allow students to fulfill the requirement over as many as three semester).

7. Internal Resources

DMA Style Guides

Samples of Approved Topic Proposals

  1. Iron Sharpens Iron: Duets for Two Women in the Teaching/Instruction of Undergraduate Women
  2. A Performance Edition of the Alessandro Rolla Concerto in F, Op 4
  3. The Evolution of Ella Fitzgerald's Syllabic Choice in Scat Syllables: A Critical Analysis of Her Decca Recordings
  4. Pieces of 9/11: Memories from Houston by Jake Heggie
  5. Jean Sibelius's Compositional Style 1899/1903: A Comparative Analysis of The Orchestral and Piano Versions of Finlandia
  6. The Influence of Adolf von Henselt on Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Comparative Analysis of Henselt's Piano Concerto Op. 16 and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto Op. 18
  7. An Analysis of Dave Holland's Improvisational Constructs and Their Pedagogical Applications in Avant-Garde Performance
  8. Utilizing Standard Violin Orchestral Excerpts as a Pedagogical Tool: A New Analytical Study Guide with Functional Exercises for Each Excerpt
  9. A Concept-Based Pedagogy Approach to Selected Unaccompanied Clarinet Repertoire
  10. Pedagogical Wealth in the Clarinet Quartets of Yvonne Desportes
  11. Beyond the Binary: Gender and Cross-Cultural Identify in the Life and Choral Works of Reena Esmail

Topic Proposal Workshop Video

Office of Research Consulting

DMA Proposal Assessment Criteria

8. Selected Literature

Bolker, Joan. Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1998.

Comer, Denise K. and G. Garett, It's Just a Dissertation!: The Irreverent Guide to Transforming Your Dissertation from Daunting…to Doable…to Done. Southlake, TX: Fountainhead Press, 2014.

Graff, Gerald and C. Birkenstein. "They Say/I Say": The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing, 3rd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

Harris, Joseph. Rewriting: How to do Things with Texts. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2006. 

Holoman, D. Kern. Writing About Music: A Style Sheet from the Editors of 19th-Century Music. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Ogden, Evelyn Hunt. Completing Your Doctoral Dissertation or Master’s Thesis in Two Semesters or Less. Lancaster: Technomic Publishing Company, 1993.

Sampsel, Laurie J. Music Research. A Handbook. Second Edition. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Strunk, William, and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

Turabian, Kate. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers. Rev. Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams, and University of Chicago Press editorial staff. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Wingell, Richard. Writing About Music: An Introductory Guide. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002. (4th ed., 2009).

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.