Music Recommends

Before beginning your undergraduate Music degree course here at Birmingham you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to prepare.

A number of applicants have contacted the Music Department to ask for reading suggestions. We are happy to suggest the books below, along with several listening recommendations. Applicants should not feel obliged to buy any of these books; they are NOT required purchases.  A separate list of required purchases will be sent out during the summer months.  After enrolment, all of the texts will be available through the University’s Library Services.

Reading recommendations:

Before you begin your studies with us, you might look at one or more of the following.

Three music book covers

Some books from Year 1 reading lists:

Recently published histories:

Some of the books above are recent publications; some are ‘classics’.  If you have an interest in a particular period of music history and want a recent scholarly publication, you might consider buying one of the following:

  • Music in the Renaissance by Richard Freedman (2012)
  • Music in the Baroque by Wendy Heller (2013)
  • Music in the Eighteenth Century by John A. Rice (2013)
  • Music in the Nineteenth Century by Walter Frisch (2012)
  • Music in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries by Joseph Auner (2013)

Listening recommendations


If you have Spotify you can listen to the music of upcoming concerts by the CBSO.


Operavision is an excellent website for finding full length operas

Late Twentieth-Century Works

Here are some performances of works composed in the late twentieth-century by particularly prominent composers: 

Sinfonia by Luciano Berio (Amsterdam Concertgebouw cond. Pierre Boulez)

City Life by Steve Reich (Conservatorio di Musica "Arrigo Boito", GMC cond. Danilo Grassi)

Asyla by Thomas Adès (Franfurt Symphony Orchestra cond. Markus Stenz)

Spotify playlist from Birmingham Jazz

Birmingham Jazz produce a Spotify playlist that’s well worth a listen.


CBSO Podcasts  -  one of their choices is ‘The Classical Top 5’,  a series that provides good listening recommendations.


Here are three ‘must-see’ films for those with an interest in the history of film music: 

  • Vertigo (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
  • North by Northwest (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
  • Psycho (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Helpful tips from Eloise (BMus Music student):

Eloise’s recommendations for University of Birmingham Music applicants


  • The Rest is Noise by Alec Ross. This book gives you an account of 20th century music in a digestible manner and I found it useful for the history module in first year!
  • Any of the oxford ‘Very Short Introduction’ books. I read the Introduction to Early Music by Thomas Forrest Kelly which was also very useful for the first year history module. These books are really small and short and provide really useful basic knowledge.
  • Read anything that interests you because at the end of the day, that is how you will want to tailor your degree and will determine which modules you choose. Just read things you enjoy and are interested in. I read an excellent book by Mark Wigglesworth called The Silent Musician about the role of a conductor and I used it in an essay recently. 


  • Just listen! Listen to lots of different genres of music. This could be pop, jazz, classical, renaissance etc…
  • Listen outside of your normal repertoire. Of course, listen to your favourite music but also take recommendations from other people and expand your knowledge of other genres through friends or family. I found this really useful, and I now listen to a much more eclectic range of music.

General tips

  • Throw yourself into lots of different things and get actively involved, especially within the music society! There are so many different groups and plenty of time to do lots of them and other societies. Really use first year to work out what you like to spend your time doing.
  • Use this summer to be interested in music and (Covid permitting) try to go to some concerts or see live music to be inspired.
  • Come to uni with an open mind to experience new things and become interested in things you may not have considered before.
  • Finally, a general tip which you have probably heard many times before but it is useful, do not bring everything you own to uni because it probably won’t fit in your room!