Boston University's Online Doctor of Musical Arts in Music Education

Photo by James Stamler on Unsplash

This year, I began Boston University’s online program for a Doctor of Musical Arts in Music Education. This came as a result of our move to Virginia for my wife’s position as an Assistant Professor of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at the University of Virginia. I previously taught for 5 years at Centennial High School in Ankeny, Iowa and 3 years at West High School in Waterloo, Iowa. I hold a Bachelors of Music Education from Iowa State University and a Masters of Music Education from VanderCook College of Music.

Boston’s program involves two years of coursework, a one-week residency, and a dissertation. Each semester is divided up into two 7-week terms. I mocked up the program of studies in Apple’s Numbers for my Fall 2018 cohort. Courses in red are the recommended sequence. Courses in blue (or purple if they were also recommended) are what I have taken or plan on taking. I apologize if the image is difficult to read, but Squarespace makes it difficult to create colored text or stylized tables in HTML and CSS.


Two of the four electives have to be in Music Theory (MT) or Music History (MH). As you can see, there is a rotation of both core and elective courses that repeats. Course descriptions are available on the program’s website. Similar to VanderCook’s MECA program, Boston also offers week-long summer courses on campus. The Rock Band Performance & Pedagogy class (ME538) is an example of such a course.

For our qualifying examination, we develop a 5000-8000 word research prospectus after our one-week residency, similar (I believe) to our research proposal from Unit 2 of Introduction to Music Education Research. From the Graduate Student Handbook:

The major purpose of the residency is to review and reinforce key aspects of reading and writing research. Students leave the residency with the rubrics used to evaluate the examination. When a student submits the Qualifying Exam, two faculty members will grade it using the rubrics. If the exam is passed, the student is assigned to a dissertation supervisor. (pp. 13-14).

The language is unclear in the Graduate Student Handbook, but the BU Bulletin makes it appear that we also take qualifying exams in music theory and musicology.

When I first entered the program, my research interest was in effective practice (think Hattie or Marzano) in large ensembles. As my learning progressed through the Philosophy & History course, reading Timeless Learning, and conversations with progressive educators like Nick Covington and the Human Restoration Project, I am more interested in researching the intersection of music education and maker-centered learning, as I wrote about in my research proposal for the Introduction to Music Education Research course. I am excited to look in to how schools like Albemarle Tech and Albemarle Labs incorporate music into their maker experiences. I am also curious about projects like Building Beats and the NYU Music Experience Design Lab as external maker spaces.

After a successful defense of my dissertation, I will receive a Doctor of Musical Arts degree. Why a DMA instead of a Doctor of Philosophy? Here was the explanation we got in Week 2 of our Philosophy & History course:

The PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy degree is the traditional academic doctoral degree, usually intended to be theoretical in nature. It is often distinguished from "professional" doctorates such as the Ed.D. (doctor of education), M.D. (doctor of medicine), or, in music, the D.M.A. (doctor of musical arts), which is supposed to represent of blend of theory and practice. [Boston University's DMA in music education is something of a hybrid; it is largely indistinguishable from a PhD in content, but the College of Fine Arts at BU is not authorized to grant PhD degrees.] In practice, there are PhD degrees that are more "practical" or professional in nature and professional degrees that are more theoretical in nature.


Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.