Second and final year - Music

Optional modules

Paper Composition

  • Prerequisite: Successful completion of Year 1 Paper Composition

Personal aesthetic convictions are respected, but a willingness to expand one’s awareness and a desire for creative investigation are expected. Presented topics, upon which fortnightly assignments are based, will develop a number of technical aspects of contemporary music. Workshop-style sessions provide the opportunity to review compositional decisions and to monitor progress. Final projects are played through during the Summer Term revision period. Additional seminars, workshops and concert attendance are an integral and quality part of the module. Attendance is required (10% of the final mark), and one mark will be subtracted for each unjustified absence.

Studio Composition

  • Prerequisite: Successful completion of Year 1 Studio Composition. 

This course builds on techniques learned in Studio Composition level 1. Starting from a group recording session to gather source sound material, classes (nominally fortnightly) focus on techniques of digital sound editing, processing and mixing, together with discussion of compositional and aesthetic issues. The learning process is significantly informed by guided reading and listening – attendance at the weekly MiniBEAST listening sessions (11.30-12.30 on Wednesdays throughout Semesters 1 & 2) and at BEAST events in Birmingham are compulsory components of the course, for which students are required to keep a diary containing critical notes on the works presented; they should therefore avoid scheduling instrumental lessons or committing to any other activities at these times. In Semester 2, attention shifts to the composition of individual pieces by each student; scheduled class times provide an opportunity for the tutor to monitor and give feedback on the progress of each student’s piece as it develops.


The module aims to provide students with facility in orchestrating Classical and Romantic music; to sharpen the ear and improve command of harmony and counterpoint, musical notation, calligraphy, and the presentation of scores and parts. The module begins with basic techniques of scoring for strings, woodwind and brass, and moves to the scoring of Classical, Romantic, Impressionist music for symphony orchestra, and 20th century music for smaller ensemble. Examples of instrumental scoring by a range of composers will be examined in class and prescribed for private study. As well as 4 main summative assessments, students will also undertake additional formative assessments.


The course will comprise a combination of theory and practice. The basics of stick technique will be studied as one of the means of communicating with performers. The importance of analysis and the issues involved in learning a score and making decisions about it will also be investigated. Students will conduct ensembles formed by the rest of the group.

Arts Management in Practice

A practical module in Arts Management focusing on the Classical Music industry delivered as a combination of seminars and practical classes. Subjects covered include marketing, stakeholder management, project management, fundraising and finance, and ‘creating a project with impact’. Classes include group tasks and students are expected to present their findings to their peers. Assessment will be report and presentation based.

An Introduction to Sound Recording Techniques

An introduction to the skills required in contemporary recording. The course covers aspects of microphone use and placement; mixing and balancing; monitoring; production and engineering techniques; track compilation and post-production and CD-R Mastering. The course is primarily practice based, and takes a musical, as opposed to a technical, approach to recording.

Eighteenth-Century Counterpoint

This course will familiarise students with 18th-century counterpoint techniques through the study of major repertoire and the writing of a variety of small forms such as canons, preludes, and inventions. The course will also include the introduction to the fugue, in form of exercises and writing of an exposition. An emphasis will be placed on practical skills. This course is suitable for anyone interested in deepening their understanding of counterpoint as well as developing their practical writing skills, and is particularly suitable for composers.

The Symphony: Sammartini to Sibelius

The symphony was the high-prestige mode of instrumental composition in nineteenth century Europe and it retained its status in professional orchestral concerts and in the era of recording. The symphonic repertory of this era is one of the glories of western civilisation. The module examines the symphony from its origins to World War I, exploring famous canonic compositions and lesser-known byways, and composers such as Sammartini, Dittersdorf, Vanhal, Haydn, Mozart, Kraus, Beethoven, Schubert, Gade, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Dvorák, Sibelius, Elgar and Mahler.

American Experimental Music

This course will look at the history of what has become known as the American Experimental tradition (and its numerous offshoots), from its early proponents such as Ives and Cowell, through the works of Cage and the New York School, and beyond to the present day. Topics will include Americana in experimentalism, the influence of non-Western musics, minimalism and post-minimalism, Fluxus, and electronic music. The course will examine both the philosophical attitudes of the composers involved and technical aspects of the music.  Lectures will be supplemented by in-class experiments and performances.

Tonality: An Introduction

This course is intended to consolidate and enhance technical knowledge and expertise gained by students in the first-year harmony and counterpoint course. Skills relating both to the harmonic analysis of tonal music and the composition of eighteenth-century-style counterpoint will be brought together in the context of an introduction to Schenkerian analysis. A knowledge of Heinrich Schenker's (1868–1935) immensely influential theory and an ability to understand and deploy his complex notational system remain prerequisites for any student wishing to read recent analytical literature on tonal music. The repertoire to be discussed in the course will range from Monteverdi to Schubert, but the primary focus will be on work by Arcangelo Corelli (1653–1713) and J.S. Bach (1685–1750).

The Singer's Survival Guide

By the mid-seventeenth century the development of an opera repertoire for a certain type of paying public was well under way. Yet, while this certainly changed the cultural landscape of secular vocal music from that point forward, it did not eradicate the popular interest and development of vocal music for private chamber settings, including sacred themed music for private use and making. Studying other vocal genres and the venues in which they were performed side by side with opera at this crucial moment in operatic history presents us with a more complete picture of singing culture from 1650-1750s. In order to become a success in this climate, singers not only needed to be musically but also politically savvy. This module will explore the political and social systems which these singers needed to negotiate and exploit in order to maintain their popularity and social status. We will also focus on the social and cultural issues which shaped the musical development of the different repertories in which they were expected to participate. Musical features of these genres will be studied side by side with the patrons, singers, and composers of these repertoires and will be interpreted through issues of gender, class / social status, reception, the musical canon and the conception of the early modern body.

The Sixties

People are still talking about the legacy of the 1960s. For some, this was a golden age, the greatest decade in living memory, a time of political people-power, free expression, and free love; for others it was a pit of ill discipline and moral degradation. One thing is sure: ripples of the era’s influence continue to this day. Equally certainly, however one views the ’60s, everyone agrees that music played a major role in encoding and transmitting its cultural message. Using close readings, along with musical and video examples, this module will explore the music at the ‘sharp end’ of ’60s culture: the music that embodied its various messages and, for better or worse, immortalised them. On that account the emphasis is inevitably on folk and popular music, though we will also address concert music and jazz. By the end we will all at least have carefully considered, if not perhaps answered, the question as to whether there is such a thing as quintessentially ‘sixties music,’ and what, if anything, binds together its various manifestations.

The Romantic Piano: Chopin and his Legacy

Chopin is the pivotal figure in the history of modern keyboard music: he fully exploited the new possibilities of the nineteenth-century piano in figuration and texture, whilst building on the heritage of eighteenth-century music of the highest quality with immaculate taste and technique, and in many ways standing firm against contemporary artistic currents. His performance style, especially in its rhythmic freedom, was controversial. He was an early pioneer of ‘national music’. His legacy for later pianist-composers, piano pedagogy and recital repertoire was profound. In this module we will evaluate Chopin’s own music and his distinctive style and innovations, and then assess its legacy in the work of composers such as Liszt, Balakirev, Grieg, Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Albéniz, Debussy and Medtner.

Music and the Brain

Thanks to imaging techniques like fMRI, great advances have been made in our understanding of the human brain and how it functions. Very recently music has taken an increasingly prominent role in this research. Scientists have been intrigued to discover that not only does music activate the nucleus accumbens (the pleasure zone) and the amygdala (that governs emotions) but it also activates the pre-frontal cortex area (which is associated with abstract decision making). The work of Levitin and others has also evidenced an association between music and antibodies governing immunity (in particular immunoglobin A). A major focus of the course is music and health/well-being and thus it will be of interest to anyone wishing to pursue further research or professional training in this area, whether pure research, or applied research e.g. music therapy. Our study of the scientific literature will show how the neurocognitive processes involved affect intellectual, sensory and emotional processes. We will also study music cognition in the wider sense of how we grasp, conceptualize and process music in the light of past knowledge and experience. This dimension of the course will provide a fresh perspective to all students on ways of listening to and analysing music and should also be of particular interest to composers.

From Glinka to Glazunov

This module will examine the music composed when Russian musicians were becoming more conscious of their national identity and attempting to create a distinctive national style of composition.  The composers examined will include Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Rubinstein, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov, Borodin and Glazunov and we will attempt to find out what, if anything, made their music distinctive from that of the contemporary ‘mainstream’ Western tradition.  The relevant social, political and cultural context will also be examined.

Small Ensemble Performance

Chamber music ensembles are formed by the students concerned and a ‘joint’ application to take the module is made.  The ensemble must include at least three performers of whom at least two will be taking the module for credit.  Each ensemble will receive coaching by an appropriate instrumentalist/vocalist (e.g. a member of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) leading to a public performance of approved repertory.

Studies in Performance Practice

This module combines the disciplines of musicology and performance, introducing students to the main topics in performance practice of Western Music. Case studies are chosen from different periods of Western musical history: Medieval, Early Modern, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th-Century. Topics may include organology, rhythm and tempo, articulation, pitch and temperaments, notation, the history of recorded performance, manuscript and printed musical sources, issues surround existing editions and editorial practices, and debates around ‘authenticity’ in performance. These will be explored through case studies of individual works, discussions of performances and recordings, readings of contemporary treatises, critical evaluation of the secondary literature on Performance Practice, and workshops with CEMPR vocal and instrumental tutors.

Solo Performance

  • Prerequisite: Successful completion of Year 1 Performance or, for Joint Honours students, satisfactory attendance and progress at the prescribed instrumental/vocal lessons.  
  • All students must pass the Aural Test, Concert Report and Performance Journal elements of Year 1 Performance in order to gain admission to 2nd year Performance.

Students receive practical musical tuition during the teaching weeks of the year.  This total of 20 hours’ tuition may be divided between two studies (10/10) or may all be taken on one study (20 hours).  The aim is to make as much technical and musical progress as possible and to provide a basis for further specialisation in performance at Level 3.  Lessons are given by tutors at the Birmingham Conservatoire, and by tutors employed by the Department of Music, some via CEMPR. The module focuses on developing the skills and techniques needed by a solo performer (instrumentalist or singer) to perform successfully music at a performing standard approaching that of the DipABRSM (1st study) and ABRSM Grade 7/8 (2nd study). This will include developing technical skills as well as interpretive and presentational skills. For 1st study performers specific technical skills will be assessed at the end of the Spring term. Each assessment component will last 2-3 minutes each.

  • Jazz instrumentalist and vocalists will be tested on 1) improvisation over a standard chord progression and 2) scales and other exercises.
  • Western tradition instrumentalists will be tested on 1) scales and arpeggios and 2) sight reading.
  • Western tradition vocalists will be tested on 1) sight singing and 2) unaccompanied singing in a foreign language.  
  • Vocalists and instrumentalists of Early Western or non-Western traditions will be tested on two technical areas determined at the beginning of the Autumn term by the instrumental/vocal tutor and Director of Performance that are appropriate to each specific study.  
  • All instrumentalist and vocalists on all studies presentational, technical, and interpretive skills will be assessed by a performance of repertoire appropriate for their given instrument or voice.

An Introduction to Music Therapy

This module is designed to provide a basic understanding of the fundamental components of music therapy, both practical and theoretical. Audio and video clips will be used to explore the nature of this clinical intervention. At least one practical music session will enable students to gain an experiential understanding of this application of music. Assessment will include essay(s) and a 10 minute presentation to the student group on an area of music therapy chosen by each individual.

Music and Globalisation

This module provides an overview of globalization and mobility as fields of study, as well as an in-depth exploration of their entanglement with music. Whether through travel, trade, migration, or telecommunication, music moves through circuits that connect the local and the global. Together, we will encounter a series of conceptual frameworks and concrete case-studies that foreground the role of movement in musical life. This module will consider how people experience music on the move, why some musical actors are more mobile than others, and the impact of accelerating global flows. In-class discussions will address such topics as: how travel and migration shape music-making and musical senses of place; how systems of mobility enable or constrain musical agency; the expansion of multinational media conglomerates; the impact of travel and tourism on local music scenes; the influence of recording and telecommunications technologies upon musical production, distribution, and consumption.

Love, Death and Music in the Renaissance

The music that has surviving from the Renaissance served a wide range of functions: it was used to adorn courtly events and religious worship, for political display, for the marking of great events, and for intercession with saints for the welfare of earthly souls. In addressing these needs it covered a broad range of styles and approaches. Taking diverse examples, this module will look at style, structure, and external reference and quotation, and show the ways in which music reflected and intensified the broader messages and social structures in which it operated. Along the way we will get to know a wide range of pieces and cultivate a deeper level of appreciation of the musical expression of earlier phases of Western society.

Sounding Images

This module will provide students who have developed skills and techniques in studio-based composition to undertake a project-based course working with artworks in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. The module will begin with an overview of composers working with image, both contemporary and historically and consider writings on the subjects of image and place in music. The practical project will begin with a recording session (with the option to undertake field-recordings) to gather sound material and will be supported with seminars and one-to-one and group tutorials. The module will culminate in the installation of the works in the gallery providing practical experience of curating and event management.

From Rossini to Puccini

The dramatic works of Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini and their contemporaries sit at the heart of the international operatic repertory - yet they were produced in a musical and cultural context in many senses alien to our own. In this module we will be listening closely to representative 19th-century Italian operas, developing an understanding of their unique formal and dramatic conventions, but we will also devote considerable attention to the larger forces that shaped these works. Major themes will include: the shifting relationship between composers, singers, stage directors and audiences; the impact and legacy of Italian nationalism; the rise of realism; the status of the operatic "text".

Music Festivals

This module provides an in-depth examination of music festivals as a cultural phenomenon. Students will discover and discuss the historical origins, social contexts, cultural significance, and practical functioning of music festivals. Students will be introduced to key concepts and critical perspectives in the study of music festivals through assigned readings and in-class discussion. Assessments will be geared towards applying the insights gained from these materials to the analysis and evaluation of real-world music festivals. Topics and cases to be examined will include a wide range of genres (folk, classical, early music, world music, electronic, rock), scales, venues, and historical periods.

From Show Boat to Sondheim

This module comprises a survey of the musical theatre, placing the genre in its cultural context alongside close analytical study of scores and libretti. The works of composers and lyricists including Kern, Hammerstein, Gershwin, Rodgers, Hart, Porter, Bernstein and Sondheim will be examined. Although concentrating on American output of the 20th century, predecessors of the genre such as operetta and US theatre forms, and the contribution of the West End, will also be considered.

Electronic Music Studies

This module provides an in-depth examination of electronic music as a cultural phenomenon. Notably, it will cover both electroacoustic music and electronic dance music, studying them comparatively as parallel and often intertwined musical practices. Assigned readings, discussions, and assessments will focus on introducing students to a wide range of repertoires, genres, technologies and techniques relevant to both streams of electronic music. In-class discussion of readings and recordings will form the core of the module, complemented by hands-on activities that familiarize the students with the materials and methods of electronic music. Activities and assessments will also build the necessary skills to conduct deep, contextually-nuanced analyses of electronic music. This course will also provide an orientation to debates and issues within fields relevant to the study of electronic music.

Notation and Editing

This module introduces students to the skills and practices associated with editing and publishing musical editions, with the intention of providing knowledge and training in good editorial practice and notation up to a professional level. Topics covered may include: The Publishing Process; Copyright for Composers & Editors; Engraving Rules and why they matter; Music Setting and why not to trust music-setting programmes; Page Design & Layout Choices and their impact on the musician; Instrumental Part Extraction; Appropriate Idiomatic Notation, including writing for strings, keyboard & percussion; Extended techniques: what the performer needs to know; Vocal Notation including preparing a Piano/Vocal Score and Choral Reduction; Full Score Layout Options; Proofreading (music and text) including checking sources; Scoring with instruments and electronics; Impact of non-metrical/free notation and ensemble coordination.