The Department of Music offers a graduate degree in Composition. The DMA normally takes five years to complete. One can apply for and enter into the DMA program with an appropriate bachelor's or master's degree.

Composition Lessons & Seminars

Students take individual composition lessons weekly for three years. Usually they are encouraged to change teachers after a year's study, so as to benefit from the faculty's diverse orientations. After completing three years of formal lessons, students work informally with the composition faculty.

In addition to lessons, sections meet together in a weekly two-hour seminar to hear one another's music and to engage aesthetic, technical, and professional issues. Colloquia with visiting composers also take place during the time of this combined meeting.

Other Requirements & Procedures

In addition to the composition lessons, during the first two years of the DMA program, composers must fulfill the MA requirements which include courses in music theory (including anything from fugue-writing to a seminar on contemporary pitch or rhythmic organization to music cognition), computer music and Music Since 1900. The Degree Requirements & Timeline page provides detailed information for the Composition DMA.

First-year students may receive transfer credit for graduate courses taken at other institutions that are considered equivalent in academic level and content to graduate courses offered by the Department of Music, and that can be submitted in partial fulfillment of specific academic requirements for the degree (undergraduate courses cannot be considered for transfer credit).

Students are required to take multiple exams. The Graduate Program Exams page provides detailed information on required exams.

Students are encouraged to take advantage of courses in the Department of Music's programs in Ethnomusicology, Historical Musicology and Music Theory, as well as other University courses in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. In addition, students may take courses at other area universities via the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium.

For more information on degree requirements see the website of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. 

The Dissertation

A Faculty Advisor and committee are established for the dissertation, which is comprised of two parts: (1) a composition or portfolio of works, and (2) a scholarly essay of around 8,000 to 12,000 words, which may be about the piece(s), or some other topic agreed upon by the candidate and the Faculty Advisor. The doctoral defense committee consists of three members of the composition faculty and two outside examiners to be chosen in consultation with the student. Examiners must have doctoral degrees.

The Music Theory Connection

In contrast to many other American graduate programs in music, composition and theory are closely interwoven at Columbia University.

The Computer Music Center

The Computer Music Center (CMC), directed by Seth Cluett, is a major center for computer music in the United States, and computer music forms an integral part of the graduate composition program. CMC faculty and staff teach courses in programming, interactivity, recording, intermedia, and sound art topics. The CMC is closely intertwined with the MFA Sound Art Program, directed by Professor Miya Masaoka, an interdepartmental program offered in association with the Visual Arts MFA Program, the Department of Music, and the CMC. 

Performance Opportunities

The most important performance outlet for student composers is a series of chamber music concerts presented in venues around New York City, including the DiMenna Center for Classical MusicISSUE Project RoomSymphony SpaceAbrons Art Center, and the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies on the Columbia campus. These concerts are organized by Columbia Composers, a student-run organization. Recent Columbia Composers concerts have featured major New York-based professional ensembles, including TAK EnsembleJACK QuartetTalea EnsembleYarn/WireInternational Contemporary EnsembleEkmelesMivos QuartetWet Inkcounter)inductionEnsemble Either/Or, and Argento, as well as our own students. Sometimes performing groups are brought in from other cities. More broadly, music performance at Columbia exists within the context of New York City, with its incomparably rich musical life. Many former students have had works performed by these and other New York professional ensembles, and some have formed performing groups that take their place within New York's lively contemporary music scene.

Visibility of the Composition Program

The program has an international face, with students coming from around the world. A number of students have participated in the Cursus at IRCAM, and student participation at European and other international festivals and seminars is common. Exchanges and funded opportunities take place with institutions in Japan and Europe. The program has a strong success rate in placing former students in academic positions. Moreover, composers from Columbia have garnered distinguished commissions, performances by renowned orchestras and opera companies, and major national and international awards. Both former students and active graduate students have won Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships, the Rome Prize, the Gaudeamus Prize, and others. Composers doing sound installation/video work have exhibited in major museums and galleries throughout the world.

  • 2020-2021 Guests:
    Eliot Britton, Courtney Bryan, Hugo Morales Murguia, Raven Chacon, Leila Adu-Gilmore, Lisa Streich, Georgia Spiropoulos, Andile Khumalo, Tomoko Hojo, Kazuya Ishigami, Pauchi Sasaki, Tyshawn Sorey (and Zeynep Toraman with the Harvard student exchange)

  • 2018-2019 Guests:
    Ruben Seroussi, Thomas Schafer, Judith Shatin, Tyondai Braxton, Mendi and Keith Obadike, Bryn Harrison, Yvette Janine Jackson, Kristin Norderval, Sandeep Bhagwati, Christopher Swithinbank, Yumi Saiki, Nirmali Fenn, Daniel Kidane, Jennie C. Jones, Thomas Larcher
  • 2017-2018 Guests:
    Amnon Wolman, Marcos Balter, Dafna Naphtali, Richard Causton, Tanya Kalmanovitch, Zeena Parkins, Magda Mayas, Du Yun, Max Murray, Huck Hodge. Raphael Cendo, Tokuhide Niimi, Ann Cleare, Frederic Rzewski
  • 2016-2017 Guests:
    Philippe Leroux, Jeffrey Holmes, Nils Schweckendiek, Miller Puckette, Patricia Alessandrini, Missy Mazzoli, Lei Liang, Liza Lim, Kenji Sakai, Clara Iannotta, Ilan Volkov, Tania Leon, Michael Harrison
  • 2015-2016 Guests:
    Simon Steen-Andersen, Oscar Edelstein, Jay Schwartz, Diego Romero Mascaró, Aaron Cassidy, Elizabeth Hoffman, Roger Reynolds, Lucie Vitkova, Diego Espinosa, Annie Gosfield, Misato Mochizuki, Iancu Dumitrescu, Heiner Goebbels, Francesca Verunelli
  • 2014-2015 Guests:
    Matthias Lošek, Sean Griffin, Charles Gaines, Marcela Rodriguez, Alvin Curran, Chaya Czernowin, Chou Wen-Chung, Petr Kotik, Rand Steiger, Keeril Makan, Weiya Hao, Franck Bedrossian, Michio Kitazume, Yoichi Sugiyama, Jean-Charles François, Stefano Gervasoni, Kaija Saariaho, Augusta Read Thomas, Jay Schwartz, Anna Clyne, Klaus Lang
  • 2013-2014 Guests:
    Thomas Buckner, Giacomo Manzoni, Cindy Cox, Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Mark Applebaum, Roger Reynolds, Unsuk Chin, Jean-Baptiste Barrière, Oscar Bianchi, others.
  • 2012-2013 Guests:
    Ondrej Adamek, Steven Takasugi, Jaroslaw Kapuscinski, Chris Paul Harman, Christian Wolff, Richard Carrick, Mesias Maiguashca, Tomiko Kohjiba, Enno Poppe, Julio Estrada, David Fulmer, Rebecca Saunders, Betsy Jolas, Oliver Knussen, others.
  • 2011-2012 Guests:
    Hans Thomalla, Karin Rehnqvist,Akiko Yamane,Jummei Suzuki, others.
  • 2010-2011 Guests:
    Kaija Saariaho, Matthias Pintscher, Ken Ueno, Miller Puckette, Hans Abrahamsen, Julia Wolfe, Norio Fukushi, Kikuko Massumoto, Unsuk Chin, Marcelo Toledo, Benjamin Patterson, Chaya Czernowin, Aaron Einbond.
  • 2009-2010 Guests:
    Beat Furrer, Cia Toscanini, Magnus Lindberg, Hitomi Kaneko, Lou Karchin, Pierluigi Billone, Yasuko Yamaguchi, Mauro Lanza, Bernhard Lang, Toshio Hosokawa, Evan Parker, Ed Campion, Paul Chihara.
  • 2008-2009 Guests:
    Georg Friedrich Haas, Elena Mendoza, Kumiko Omura, Joshua Fineberg, Allain Gaussin, Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Martin Matalon, Reiko Füting, Stefano Gervasoni, Marc-André Dalbavie
  • 2007-2008 Guests:
    Helmut Lachenmann, Robert Sirota, Yumi Saiki, Stefan Streich, Morris Rosenzweig, Masakazu Natsuda, Georgia Spiropoulos, Simha Arom, Gérard Assayag, Daedalus String Quartet, Peter Ablinger, Vijay Iyer.
  • 2006-2007 Guests:
    Noel Zahler, Wu Wei, Hanspeter Kyburz, Petr Kotik, Olga Neuwirth, Joji Yuasa, Julian Anderson, Nils Vigeland, Hans Tutschku, Roger Reynolds.