In 1964 Sumarsam received Teaching Diploma at Indonesian National Academy of Music. Then he got Bachelor of Arts at Indonesian National Academy of Music in 1968. after that he earned Master of Arts at Wesleyan University in 1976, and Doctor of Philosophy at Cornell University in 1992.
Sumarsam began to teach right after his graduation from the Konservatori Karawitan Indonesia. He also participated in government programs to promote Indonesian culture abroad, and in 1970 Sumarsam was invited to Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan, where he worked seven months. In 1971 he was invited to teach at the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra, Australia. Afterwards he moved to the United States to become a visiting artist at Wesleyan University. He continued teaching and performing at various universities in the United States, and was made an artist-in-residence at Wesleyan in 1976.
Sumarsam was made adjunct professor at Wesleyan in 1992, University Professor in 2011, and Professor of Music in 2016, where he currently serves as Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music.
Sumarsam is married to Urip Sri Maeny, with whom he has two children: Tistha, and Dwi Sumarsam.