Graduate Study in Composition

The Doctor of Musical Arts degree is awarded by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. The DMA normally takes five years to complete. One can apply for and enter into the DMA program directly, with an MA degree from another institution and some transfer credit received for coursework. Degree requirements can be found here. For queries about the program, please contact the Chair of the Composition Area.

Composition lessons and seminar

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.

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 by visiting composers also take place during the time of this combined meeting.

  • 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 Francois, 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.

Other requirements and procedures

Columbia's graduate program in music follows a "rule of three" when assessing language capability. All students are required to demonstrate competence in reading and translating two languages other than their native tongue. One language is required for the MA degree and a second for the DMA degree. Students who are not native English speakers must pass English as their second foreign language unless exempted by a high TOEFL score.  Please see the Language Exam page of the Graduate Handbook for further information.

Unless exempted, composers in the DMA program must fulfill the MA requirements of two semesters of music theory (including anything from fugue-writing to a seminar on contemporary pitch or rhythmic organization), two semesters of computer music, and a two-semester analysis course, "Music Since 1900."

For electives, students are encouraged to take courses not only in music but also in other disciplines, such as historical musicology or ethnomusicology within the Department, or philosophy, literature, psychology, or computer science.

In their third or fourth year, students take two qualifying analysis exams: an oral presentation on a tonal piece to a committee of three faculty and an hour-long presentation on a contemporary work to the composition seminar.

After completing formal lessons, students work informally with the composition faculty.Prior to beginning the dissertation, students submit to the composition faculty, for review, a portfolio of compositions written during their time in the composition program.

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

The dissertation

  • A sponsor and committee are established for the dissertation, which comprises two parts: a major composition, and a short accompanying essay.
  • The essay may be about the piece or about some other topic approved by the committee.
  • The doctoral defense committee consists of three members of the composition faculty and two professionals not at Columbia (typically composers, conductors, or performers).

The music theory connection

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

The Computer Music Center

  • The Computer Music Center (CMC) is a major center for computer music in the United States, and computer music forms an integral part of the graduate composition program.
  • Seth Cluett is the acting Director of the Computer Music Center, and can be reached at sc4340 [at] 
  • Also on the CMC staff is Terry Pender, who teaches studio and recording technique as well as interactive performance.

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 Merkin Hall next to Lincoln Center, the Tenri Cultural Center,  and Miller Theatre on the Columbia campus. These concerts are organized by Columbia Composers, a student-run organization.
  • Performers for Columbia Composers concerts are New York free-lance professionals and 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 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 many students coming from abroad. Several students have participated in the Cursus at IRCAM or have been employed by IRCAM, and student attendance 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. Composers from Columbia have also won national and international composition awards, distinguished commissions, and performances by renowned orchestras and opera companies. Composers doing sound installation/video work have exhibited in major museums and galleries throughout the world.



  • Applications, including supporting materials, are to be submitted to the Admissions Office of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, not to the Music Department.
  • Applications are generally due in mid-December for admission the following September.  For further information on applying, please begin by visiting the Admissions section of the Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) website. 
  • The primary criterion in judging applications is the talent and achievement shown by the music submitted. We seek composers with skill and imagination.
  • Applicants are requested to submit up to three work samples, each consisting of a professionally prepared score and/or alternative form of documentation of compositional process, and including a recording of the full work.  Online submission of these materials through the GSAS web application portal is strongly preferred. If the materials cannot be uploaded, please contact the Department for guidance on where to send materials by mail. 

  • Students with a strong interest in computer music are encouraged to provide examples of their technological work along with the application.
  • Other important criteria in the evaluation process include the quality of the personal statement and the accompanying essay, recommendations, and GRE scores.
  • Foreign applicants for whom English is not a native language must take the TOEFL test.
  • All applicants must take the GRE.
  • Interviews are not required of applicants. Visits are welcome; visiting confers no advantage on any applicant. The weekly group composition seminar at 3:10-5 pm on Wednesdays is an especially good time to meet students and faculty.
  • Applicants wishing to visit the campus should contact either the Chair of the Composition Area or individual faculty members to set up an appointment.  By custom, we do not examine scores or audio materials during visits; we can, however, answer questions about the program in greater detail than can be obtained by other means.


  • Columbia offers one of the top graduate (doctoral) programs in composition in the United States.  Admission to the program is extremely competitive; on average, we award three fellowships per year (split between the MA and DMA levels), from an application pool numbering in the hundreds.
  • Students on fellowship receive full tuition, health benefits, and an annual stipend, for a period of four years (if they enter with the MA) or five years (if not), provided that they maintain adequate progress toward the doctorate. We do not admit unfunded students.  
  • After the first year they become teaching assistants for courses such as Music Humanities (Columbia College's core-curriculum introductory music course), ear training, the undergraduate theory sequence, undergraduate composition, and computer music.
  • All full-time graduate students have access to Columbia housing, which provides good apartments in the vicinity at below-market rents.


  • The Music Department office and most faculty offices are on the sixth floor of Dodge Hall at Columbia's Morningside Campus.
  • The Music Library is on the seventh floor of Dodge.
  • The Computer Music Center is on the third floor of Prentis Hall, on 125th Street just west of Broadway. A smaller CMC facility is on the eighth floor of Dodge.
  • To visit the Music Department, take the #1 subway to 116th & Broadway. Dodge Hall is to the left of Columbia's main gate. Enter the campus, take the steps twice up to the left, and enter Dodge from the north side. Take the elevator to the sixth floor.