Music postgraduate modules

Indicative module descriptions 

Please note that the optional module information listed here is intended to be indicative, and the availability of optional modules may vary from year to year.  Not all modules are available on all pathways.  If a module becomes unavailable after you have accepted a place here we will let you know as soon as we can and help you to make other choices.

Advanced Studies in Electroacoustic Composition 1 and 2

These two co-requisite modules present selected topics in advanced electroacoustic composition, including, but not limited to:

  • Advanced recording techniques (studio and field) using conventional and ambisonic techniques
  • Approaches to multichannel spatialisation
  • Diffusion techniques and the MiniBEAST and BEAST sound systems
  • Topics in programming for electroacoustics and digital signal processing
  • Live electroacoustic performance
  • Advanced or non-standard synthesis techniques
  • Mixed instrumental and electroacoustic composition.

Assessment: A combination of written and practical tasks

Advanced Studies in Instrumental/Vocal Composition 1 and 2

The module contains the following main areas of study: repertoire studies, advanced compositional techniques, studies in notation, issues of compositional aesthetics.

Topics covered will include: editing and preparation of materials at a professional level, recent stylistic developments in contemporary music, the rational and the intuitive. Composers discussed may range from Ades and Adams to Lutoslawski and Ligeti.

Assessment: Two composition exercises, one editing exercise and one essay

Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art

This module 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 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 Walter Benjamin, John Dewey, Ernst Bloch, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Theodor Adorno and Martin Heidegger. 

Assessment: One 4,000 word essay.

British Music in Performance

This module will provide an introduction to issues specific to the performance of British art music repertory, both vocal and instrumental, from the mid-nineteenth century to the post-1945 period. There will be two primary areas of focus. The first will be the history of institutions and occasions for musical performance: concert and choral societies, pedagogical institutions (especially the conservatories), festivals, broadcasting, the recording industry, commemorative events, and so on. The second will be the history of performance practice itself, as documented by pedagogical texts and written reminiscences, as well as by recordings. Topics will be arranged roughly chronologically and will cover a wide range of genres, from solo vocal and instrumental to choral and orchestral.

Assessment: Two 2,000-word essays

Composition Tutorials 1 and 2

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. You will be taught composition techniques appropriate to your individual needs. You will also be encouraged to broaden your range of compositional practice, and move toward the development of a personal ‘voice’.

Assessment: A series of compositions

Fieldwork Methods

This practice-led module will build the skills needed to conduct an independent ethnographic research project. Throughout the module, you will become acquainted with the various methods available for fieldwork and learn to assess their strengths and weaknesses in relation to varying research contexts.

Topics addressed may include: project design and planning, ethics, audio-visual documentation, interviewing, field notes, transcription, and online/virtual ethnography. Instruction and assessment will be hands-on, applying theoretical readings to concrete materials and activities.  

Assessment: 2,500-word research prospectus and five applied fieldwork assignments totalling 2,500 words

Historically Informed Performance

You will study key issues and practices in the history of musical performance.  Through a series of case studies presented by experts in a range of fields, you will learn to navigate the complexities of historically informed performance. Topics examined might include instrument design and performance techniques, treatment of tempo and rhythm and conventions affecting temperament and ornamentation. Through this module you will gain an advanced insight into the notation practices of the early-modern period; tutorials will support you in developing your own specialism within the field.

Assessment: Two research projects, each 2,500 words or equivalent

Introduction to Global Popular Musics

This module aims to familiarise you with a field of study that has been emerging from the intersection of ethnomusicology and popular music studies. Assigned readings, discussions, and assessments will seek to situate popular music in a global context while also attending to the ways that global processes impact local musical actors, scenes, and styles. Particular attention will be paid to ethnography and its application to the study of popular musics. Topics and cases to be explored included diasporic popular musics, musical migration, recording and production, global music industries, musical labour in the ‘creative industries’, local music scenes, urban contexts, and media theory. This module will also provide an orientation to relevant fields of study (including ethnomusicology and popular music studies) through an engagement with foundational disciplinary texts as well as current debates.

Assessment: 3,000-word research project and ten weekly reading responses totalling 1,500 words

Sound Studies

Sound Studies began life as a corrective to the academic humanities’ tendency to reduce the consideration of the sounding world to the idealised case of music. Since then, almost all aspects of music studies have grown to accommodate its methods and principles, from historical musicology to contemporary composition. But what is sound studies and what are its key concerns? What can sound studies offer to the study of music in the twenty first century? Topics may include: sound and history; voice and vocality; sound and disability; sound and identity; theories of listening; and other topics that address sound in relation to society, culture and media. As well as using sound to think anew about music, we will use sound to rethink assessment conventions, experimenting with such formats as audio essays and narrated soundscape recordings alongside more traditional textual scholarship.

Assessment: Research project, Multi-Media Project and Listening Diary 

Sonic Alchemy: Live Electronic and Mixed Music Ensemble

This module explores the rapidly developing field of laptop ensemble performance. The class will function as an ensemble group, working to develop and prepare repertoire for public concerts. Topics covered will include techniques for improvisation, networked music performance, live coding, and composition for live electroacoustic ensemble. Works presented in concert will include student and group developed pieces, as well as ‘classics’ from the field. Experience in programming is helpful but not required, and the projects pursued will be selected according to the ensemble’s makeup each year.

Assessment: Short Projects, Improvisation Test and Final Performance / Presentation 

Performance Skills 1

This module runs in the autumn term. It is designed to address the extra-musical aspects of successful musical performances and is intended to complement and enhance performances given in other MA performance modules. 

You will attend five two-hour seminars/workshops in the Department’s Music Health and Wellbeing series, which focus on the physical and psychological elements of performance. You will deliver a presentation summarising the key skills and techniques covered in the series, relating them to your own performance practice. You will also attend all three Barber Evening Concerts, and produce a review of each concert.

Assessment: Ten-minute presentation and three 500-word reviews

Performance Skills 2

This module runs in the spring term. Following on from Performance Skills 1, it is again intended to address the extra-musical aspects of successful music performance.

You will attend five 'Performance Platform' sessions, where students perform for one another, analyse each other’s performances, and receive formative feedback from professional specialists, as well as their peers. Your assessment - a performance and short presentation - will require you to apply the skills and techniques learned in both the Music Health and Wellbeing Series (autumn term) as well as the feedback received during Performance Platform sessions. You will also attend three further Barber Evening Concerts, and produce a review of each concert.

Assessment: Ten-minute performance and five-minute presentation, plus three 500-word reviews

Topics in Early Music

This module will equip the student with a range of skills necessary for anyone wishing to pursue an in-depth study of early music. Through a series of case studies, the student will be shown a variety of analytical models to equip them with sophisticated ways of engaging with the music as well as of talking and thinking about it. The necessary technical and theoretical background for students working in this period will also be covered. Complex and controversial issues of performance practice will also be addressed. 

Assessment: One 4,500 word essay or equivalent analytical or editorial study.


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 you 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 you 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.

Assessment: Research Project, Weekly Written and Reading Responses and Practical Project and In-Class Presentation 

Classical and Romantic Keyboard Music

This module examines pianists' core repertory from perspectives that are seldom developed within instrumental pedagogy, such as social contexts, historical circumstances of composition, keyboard technology and instrument design, sources and editions, music analysis, and historical aspects of performance practice. The legacy of early recordings of this repertory will be surveyed and evaluated. The repertory will encompass solo keyboard music and keyboard concertos and will include examples of the Viennese Classical style, the early Romantic style of the generation of 1810, Romantic nationalism in piano music, and decadence at the fin-de-siècle and the early twentieth century. The module will lay emphasis on understanding sources and using them well, including musicological writings and editions of the compositions under consideration.

Assessment: 2,500-word essay and Exam 

Gustav Mahler: The Philosophy of Music

Today the symphonies of Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) stand at the heart of the concert repertory. They have generated an enormous amount of musicological commentary. But the most acute study of this music is arguably one of the earliest: the short book, Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy, published by the German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno in 1960, at a time when Mahler's music was much less familiar. For all its brilliant insight, Adorno's book is not an easy read. So the aim here is twofold. On this module you will gain a comprehensive knowledge of Mahler's symphonies, not just in terms of their formal construction, but also with regard to their intellectual content, itself often philosophical (Mahler was an avid reader of both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche). At the same time, you will learn how to read the work of the twentieth century's most celebrated philosopher of music, whose book on Mahler is one of his finest achievements.

Assessment: Two 2,000-word essay 

Postsocialist Music and Ethnography

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, global socialism has adapted to new economic and political circumstances to survive. With these changes, nation-states have revised, reversed, and augmented cultural heritage preservation policies to pursue new goals of nation-building. This module explores several socialist and post-socialist contexts attempting to implement newly-crafted policy. You will trace preservation practices during so-called high socialism, which often involved the creation of large folk music ensembles, to late- and post-socialism, which features strategical policy alliances with international organizations (including UNESCO) and tourism drives to bring funds to the state and its people. You will read several recent music ethnographies on Russia, China, Bulgaria, Cuba, Vietnam and elsewhere, as well as theoretical literature on the nature of post-socialist endeavour.

Assessment: Designing a Festival Project and Final Project 

Music as Critical Practice

This module introduces the aesthetics and criticism of contemporary music and sound art. Its themes cross the notation/sound-based divide and may include post-formalism and conceptual music; music and the Anthropocene; inter-and post-media art; music as social activism; music and posthumanism; music and the digital; music and contemporaneity; practice-based research. A key problematic for twenty-first century music is its relationship to what is not music, whether that be sound, the other arts, other media, or the social and political. We will explore this substantively, discussing examples that challenge the legacies of high modernist formal aestheticism and medium specificity. But we will also reflect on what this situation means for our own practices as composers and musicologists, and in what ways writing music and music writing should change to reflect contemporary music's transmediality. Assessments and in class tasks will experiment with novel ways of writing about, with, and through sound, including autoethnography, audio essays, and experimental writing.

Assessment: Written Project, Sound-based Project and Listening Diary