MA Music: Instrumental/Vocal Composition pathway

Find your own voice and individual path through the myriad of possibilities open to you on the Instrumental/Vocal Composition MA programme at Birmingham.

This programme combines a solid grounding in the creative history and technique of Western art music with the latest twenty first century compositional techniques. Instruction in practical aspects - for example advanced orchestration, post-serial and post-spectral techniques, computer-assisted composition - is combined with the development of theoretical knowledge and critical faculties. 

You will study two core modules:

  • Advanced Studies in Instrumental/Vocal Composition
  • Composition Tutorials

You will also choose two optional modules and produce a composition portfolio of new musical works.

Why study this course

  1. Long standing history – The Department of Music is one of the most distinguished in the UK with a history stretching back to 1905 when Edward Elgar was appointed the University’s first Professor of Music.
  2. Fantastic resources available - we have a wide range of resources and facilities to support your learning and ensure you receive the maximum benefit from studying this programme. Our facilities in the £16 million Bramall Music Building include the Dome room, which is regularly used for readings, rehearsals, and concerts, and the 450 seat Elgar Concert Hall, which is arguably the best space of its kind in any University in the UK, with flexible acoustics. The entire building is wired with state of the art audio systems which allow for the recording of student works.
  3. Lots of opportunities - By studying this pathway you have the opportunity to write works for the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (our ‘Ensemble in Association’) the Department’s New Music Ensemble, as well as other departmental ensembles such as the orchestras. As well, we regularly offer workshops with visiting performers (e.g. the Hermes Ensemble, Darragh Morgan, Carla Rees, and Joby Burgess in recent years). All this combined with excellent equipment (computers, microphones, recorders) and library resources, and the opportunity to interact with distinguished guest artists in our COMPASS Forum seminar series, makes for an exciting and creative environment.


You will study two core modules:

Advanced Studies in Instrumental/Vocal Composition

The module contains four main areas of study: musical form (micro and macro); advanced studies in notation; repertoire studies; and relevant strands of advanced music theory. Topics covered will include proper editing and preparation of materials at a professional level, recent stylistic developments in contemporary music (e.g. post-spectralism, post-minimalism), and computer assisted composition techniques.

Composition Tutorials

Over two semesters, you will receive regular one-to-one tutorial teaching, enabling you to develop your compositional technique and a self-reflexive critique of your own work. Composition techniques appropriate to individual needs will be taught and discussed during tutorials. In so doing, you will also be encouraged to broaden your range of compositional practice, and move toward the development of a personal ‘voice’.

You will also choose two optional modules from the following:

Special Study in Music

You will undertake a special study of a particular field of your choice under the direction of the leader of your pathway, which will typically require attendance at an appropriate series of lectures or tutorials as well as independent reading and research. Topics for study might include: vocalists in the Baroque era; topics in music analysis; or topics in critical musicology.

Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art

This module consists of a critical examination of topics in aesthetics and the philosophy of art. It considers subjects such as: art and the nature of aesthetic experience; beauty, ugliness and the sublime; symbolism and allegory; the aesthetics of modernism. At its core is an overview of the German aesthetic tradition, involving a close reading of foundational texts by Immanuel Kant, Georg Hegel and their contemporaries in the early 19th century. It will also consider work by a range of subsequent authors, such as, for example, Walter Benjamin, John Dewey, Ernst Bloch, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Theodor Adorno and Martin Heidegger. Attention will be paid not only to the conceptual arguments put forward by the thinkers in question, but also to the ways in which their theoretical tenets have underpinned the interpretation and criticism of works of art, music and literature.

Sound in Society

This module provides an introduction to the field of Sound Studies, including both the conceptual framework as well as practical techniques. We will begin with an overview of the field and its formation in 2004 through a consideration of the work of Trevor Pinch, Karin Bijsterveld and R Murray Schafer. Subsequent weeks will cover topics such as: soundscapes; sound and the animal world; noise and silence in philosophy; the engineering of sound; sound and radio art; and synaesthesia research in cognitive psychology.

Contemporary Music Studies

This module studies the explosion of musical expression that characterises 20th-century and contemporary music, focusing on key movements (serialism, minimalism, etc) and concerns (tonality/atonality, aleatoric principles, etc). Starting from the musical ‘crisis’ of the early years of the 20th century, the course will address issues such as the separation of ‘art’ and ‘popular’ music, the impact of technology and the presumption of postmodernism at the start of the 21st century. The marked shift in aesthetics and music’s ‘function’ will also be discussed.

Music, Place and Identity

This module is concerned with understanding the relation of music to concepts of place and identity. In addition to a broad theoretical overview of topics related to place (including theories of locality, nationalism, transnationalism, diasporas, and indigeneity) as developed in fields as diverse as history, cultural geography and anthropology, the module will cover seminal ethno/musicological works on how musics inscribe place-based senses of cultural belonging. Topics and examples may include: occupation and cross-cultural collaborations in Palestine/Israel; transnationalism and cultural diplomacy in the Eurovision Song Contest; music and governmentality in the Caribbean; contemporary Native American and First Nations indigenous musics; European art music and colonialism; diasporic South Asian music in the UK; the role of music in the Arab Spring; and music in Birmingham.

Related staff

Fees and funding

We charge an annual tuition fee. Fees for 2016/17 are as follows:

  • Home / EU: £6,570 full-time; £3,285 part-time
  • Overseas: £14,850 full-time

For part-time students, the above fee quoted is for year one only and tuition fees will also be payable in year two of your programme.

Eligibility for Home/EU or Overseas fees can be verified with Admissions. Learn more about fees for international students

Tuition fees can either be paid in full or by instalments. Learn more about postgraduate tuition fees and funding.

Scholarships and studentships

Scholarships to cover fees and/or maintenance costs may be available. To discover whether you are eligible for any award across the University, and to start your funding application, please visit the University's Postgraduate Funding Database.

International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government.

Entry requirements

Learn more about entry requirements

International students

Academic requirements

We accept a range of qualifications; our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country.

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

How to apply

Before you make your application

You may wish to register your interest with us to receive regular news and updates on postgraduate life within this Department and the wider University.

Making your application

When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

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Your learning will be enhanced by our extensive resources, including the new Bramall Music Building and our association with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

You will also become part of, and contribute to, the vibrant international community of the College of Arts and Law Graduate School, which offers dedicated research resources and a supportive working environment. Our team of academic and operational staff are on hand to offer support and advice to all postgraduate students within the College.

Support with academic writing

As a postgraduate student in the College of Arts and Law, you have access to the Academic Writing Advisory Service (AWAS) which aims to help your transition from undergraduate to taught Masters level, or back into academia after time away. The service offers guidance on writing assignments and dissertations for your MA/MSc programme with individual support from an academic writing advisor via tutorials, email and the provision of online materials.

International students can access support for English Language development and skills through the Birmingham International Academy (BIA).

The University has been recognised for its impressive graduate employment, being named ‘University of the Year for Graduate Employment’ in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016.

In addition, the global edition of The New York Times has ranked the University 60th in the world and 9th in UK for post-qualification employability. The rankings illustrate the top 150 universities most frequently selected by global employers and are the result of a survey by French consulting firm Emerging and German consulting firm Trendence.

Your degree will provide excellent preparation for employment and this will be further enhanced by the employability skills training offered through the College of Arts and Law Graduate School. The University also offers a wide range of activities and services to give our students the edge in the job market, including: career planning designed to meet the needs of postgraduates; opportunities to meet employers face-to-face at on-campus recruitment fairs, employer presentations and skills workshops; individual guidance on your job applications, writing your CV and improving your interview technique; and access to comprehensive listings of hundreds of graduate jobs and work experience opportunities.

University of the Year for employability

Birmingham's Music postgraduates work in a wide range of careers within and beyond the music world. A postgraduate degree in Music develops a broad base of skills including general skills such as communication, problem solving and research, and also specific skills developed by practice and performance such as self-management, team work and presentation.

Over the past five years, 96% of Music postgraduates were in work and/or further study six months after graduation. Whilst some graduates pursue music-related careers, others choose to use their transferable skills to follow career paths in fields including finance, the media and the public sector. Employers that graduates have gone on to work for include: Arts Council England; BBC; Birmingham Conservatoire; Birmingham Contemporary Music Group; Coventry City Council Performing Arts Service; Lancaster University; National Opera Studio; National Orchestra; Raffles Institution; and Royal Northern College of Music.

Music postgraduate alumni profiles

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Get involved

In addition to the student groups hosted by the Guild of Students, each school runs its own social activities, research fora, seminars and groups for postgraduates.


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The City of Birmingham

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