University of North Texas

College of Music | Graduate Studies

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. Submitting a DMA Topic Proposal

4. The Optional DMA Topic Pre-Proposal

5. Required Sections for all DMA Topic Proposals

6. General Information

7. Selected Resources


1. General Definition of the DMA Document

The DMA dissertation consists of all required recitals plus the written document. The 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 field of performance. Before submitting a DMA Topic Proposal, the student should: a) complete sufficient work on the project to define a topic b) articulate a purpose and a provisional argument c) identify the scholarly field(s) and research methods most appropriate to the project d) have familiarity with the relevant bibliography. Consult with members of your Advisory Committee before submission to the Graduate Performance Degree Committee.
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
• Scientific method as it applies to performance, including music and medicine


2. General Definition of the DMA Topic Proposal

The Graduate Performance Degree Committee is charged with ensuring that all doctoral documents reflect basic standards of musicianship, scholarly relevance, and academic responsibility. To that end, the purpose of the DMA Topic Proposal is to enable the Graduate Performance Degree Committee to evaluate the feasibility and scholarly significance of the proposed project. Successful Topic Proposals will explain the topic with which the project is concerned, present a cogent argument, demonstrate the project’s contribution to existing scholarship, identify the evidence and methods that will be used to support the argument, and 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 section. 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. 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: biographical information regarding composers; harmonic, motivic, or formal analyses of music; 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 as well as sample questions.


3. Submitting a DMA Topic Proposal

Students should circulate their Topic Proposals multiple times to all members of the 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 Blackboard Learn. The student must also submit a hard copy of the Topic Proposal Submission Form to the Graduate Studies Office. Proposals are due by noon one week prior to the GPDC meeting. 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 the each academic review will be different; there is no prescribed path. (Note: the GPDC will continue to provide a 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.


4. The Optional DMA Topic Pre-Proposal

The optional 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. Pre-proposal submissions are to be uploaded electronically via the College of Music Graduate Studies Organization, which is accessible on Blackboard Learn. The student must also submit a hard copy of the Pre-Proposal Submission Form to the Graduate Studies Office. Topic pre-proposals are due two weeks before the Graduate Performance Degree Committee meeting in long semesters. The GPDC meets the fourth Monday of each month during long semesters.


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 in Graduate Studies Office). 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).
  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: This section must establish the context within which the current project fits, define the topic of the project, and make a strong case for the importance of the topic. 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. All doctoral documents include a section, often as part of the Introduction, regarding the state of research pertaining to the topic. The purpose of this section in both the doctoral document and the Topic Proposal is to identify the salient available literature on a given subject and to appraise that literature in order to justify the need for the current study. Research included should represent a variety of bibliographic formats, including (but not limited to): books, essays, articles in journals and periodicals, scores and recordings, editions both practical and scholarly, and articles in detailed scholarly dictionaries such as the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 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 as well 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. • 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. Students planning to conduct interviews as part of their research must provide evidence of contact with each interviewee as well as sample questions. 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. Any topic involving human subjects must have IRB approval. Further information can be found on the IRB website.
  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 literature relevant to and significant to the topic at hand. 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 source referred to in the Topic Proposal must be cited in the bibliography as well.

6. General Information

Topic Proposal Format, Length and Style Students should consult the file of successful Topic Proposals in the College of Music Graduate Studies Office, for templates and other relevant information before beginning the Topic Proposal. The Proposal should be submitted in double spaced, 12-point, Times New Roman 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 (not including musical examples). 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).

Guidelines for submitting Critical Editions
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 underlie 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 submitting a document in the area of Historical Musicology
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 spaces). 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 submitting 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


7. Selected Resources

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.