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Office Location
East Studio Building 120 (JS 120)
205 S. Jordan Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405

Mailing Address
1201 E. 3rd Street
Bloomington, IN 47405

Hours: 8 am–12 pm, 1–5 pm
Phone: 812-855-1738Phone

E-mail: musgrad [at] indiana [dot] edu

musicdgs [at] indiana [dot] edu (Eric Isaacson), Director 
serbes [at] indiana [dot] edu (Sara Erbes), Advisor
anmiller [at] indiana [dot] edu (Angie Miller), Recorder
musgrad [at] indiana [dot] edu (Laurie Staring), Secretary
musdoc [at] indiana [dot] edu (Janis Cooper Parker), Doctoral Clerk

More Information

Doctor of Music in Piano—Piano Essay Topic Proposal

General information

Doctoral degrees require a final project or dissertation after qualifying examinations. The topic proposal process happens much earlier.

DM students in Piano propose and write an essay of ca. 8,000-10,000 words (30-40 pages). It is guided and read by a three person Research Committee (ordinarily made up of the major-field members of a student's Advisory Committee, with the student's teacher serving as chair and research director). The research committee nomination is part of the topic proposal process. 

Piano students enroll in 1 credit of M621 Doctoral Piano Essay at some point before graduation.

The topic proposal must be approved before a student may schedule a written major-field qualifying examination.

There are different guidelines for the Dissertation in Composition, Doctoral Final Project, and PhD/DME Dissertation topic proposals.

Step 1: Write the topic proposal

In consultation with the prospective research director (normally the student’s teacher), the student identifies a topic. This can be any topic appropriate to the degree for which the student has the preparation to do advanced work.  The student drafts a proposal in consultation with a prospective research director and (when appropriate) with other prospective members of the research committee and fills out the DM piano essay topic proposal form. The topic proposal form is a Word document with boxes that the student is expected to fill out as directed.

The research committee consists of three faculty members from the piano department (ordinarily the same faculty members who serve on the Advisory Committee). One member, usually the student's teacher, serves as chair and research director. This is the committee member who works most closely with the student on research and the preparation of the essay.

Step 2: Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval (if needed)

If your research involves work with human subjects (including surveys or interviews) your research protocol must be approved by the University's Institutional Review Board before you submit your topic proposal. Information on IRB approval process can be found here and in the topic proposal form.

If your research does not involve human subjects, you may skip this step.

Step 3: Topic Submission and Approval

When the proposed research director approves the topic proposal, the research director submits the completed proposal to the doctoral clerk in the Music Graduate Office ( as an email attachment.

The Music Graduate Office will circulate the proposal to the other prospective members of the research committee for their approval. The committee is asked to respond to the graduate office within two weeks (not including breaks). After their approval, the director of graduate studies formally appoints an appropriate committee and gives final approval.

Topic Proposal and Research Committee Changes

It is common for the details of the doctoral piano essay to shift a little once research begins. Below are some scenarios and how they should be handled:

  • Minor changes from what was proposed: If the topic is essentially unchanged, but you want to made adjustments to your method, to the scope of the topic (for example, adding to, subtracting from, or making a change to the list of pieces you were going to write about), an amended proposal is generally not required.
  • Major changes from what was proposed: Changes other than the kind described above generally require a new topic proposal. If you have questions, send an email to the doctoral clerk ( for guidance. If the new topic proposal proposes a different research committee membership, you will be asked to inform committee members whose service is no longer requested.
  • Committee member no longer available: Faculty who are no longer teaching at IU because of employment elsewhere or retirement are eligible to remain on research committees if the student wishes, provided they are able and willing to carry out their responsibilities. If a committee member is no longer able to serve, the student should find a current faculty member willing to step into that role and send their name to the doctoral clerk ( for approval by the director of graduate studies.
  • Committee member on sabbatical: Faculty members on sabbatical leave are not required to participate on doctoral committees while on leave, though some elect to in some cases. We do everything possible to ensure that the piano essay is not delayed because a committee member is on leave, which may involve a replacement or substitution. It is best to consult with the music graduate office in such situations to determine the best approach.
  • Committee change for other reasons: Rarely, it seems desirable to replace a member of a committee for other reasons or to change who fills the role of research director. In such situations, you should consult with the director of graduate studies.