Second and final year - Music

Optional modules

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.

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 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.

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.

Music Therapy: Clinical interventions from Lullaby to Lament

This module provides an introduction to the profession of music therapy. Audio and video recordings of music therapy sessions are used extensively throughout the module to illustrate a wide range of clinical examples: group and individual, from infancy to old age. Students are encouraged to develop their own observational skills as they develop an understanding of the fundamental principles which underpin this intervention. Two practical sessions enable students to start forming an insight into the use of music as a clinical tool through experiential learning. Dialogue, discussion and personal reflection are key components of this module. Assessment is through two essays, the first considers an overview of the history and development of the profession; the second allows students to focus on an area of music therapy chosen by each individual in consultation with the module tutor.

Globalisation and Musical Mobility

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.

An Introduction to Jazz Styles

This module will focus on selected jazz styles which fit approximately into the sixty years between 1920 and 1980. Taking a broadly chronological approach, the module will cover a range of styles, such as: ragtime, New Orleans styled jazz, swing, bop, modal jazz, free (and avant-garde) jazz, and jazz fusion. This survey will, of course, acknowledge that these styles were influenced by historical, cultural and geographical factors, but the main focus of the module will be on the details of style. Each style will therefore be investigated primarily through musical parameters such as, harmony, melody and rhythm, as well as investigating structural tendencies, improvisational approaches and instrumental roles in the repertoire. Similarly, various influential figures such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Chick Corea will be discussed mainly with regard to their contributions to jazz styles.

Film Music Techniques and History

This module will introduce students to both the history of film music and key stylistic tendencies in scoring film. The historical strand of the course will focus upon the practices of composers working in the mainstream (i.e. Hollywood) tradition. Broad tendencies in film scoring will be identified within a chronological framework. Key historical moments to be discussed will include the silent era, the golden age of Hollywood, the rise of pop and jazz scoring and the new symphonicism. Work on the history of film will be underpinned by analytical case studies and this will link with a series of exercises concerning film music styles. Through these exercises students will develop a grasp of textural, melodic and harmonic devices commonly found in recent film music thereby fostering useful practical skills and a more detailed understanding of stylistic tendencies in the composition of music for picture.

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 civilization. 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, Vaňhal, Haydn, Mozart, Kraus, Beethoven, Schubert, Gade, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, Sibelius, Elgar and Mahler.

The Blues

The Blues is one of the most important African-American musical genres and has been highly influential in the development of jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, and other Western popular musics. This module will consider what the blues are and who were/are the musicians who sang them. We will study the stylistic aspects of the different types of blues and the societies which shaped them. More specifically we will discuss the ways in which the blues were disseminated and the attitudes they communicate about morality, society, religion, etc. of the musicians who created them. Other important issues considered will include race, class, gender, and questions of intellectual property.

Experimental Music and Sound Art

After World War II, Western art experienced a more radical set of upheavals than at any previous time in its history. Writing in the late 1960s, Theodor Adorno reflected that ’[i]t is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident anymore, not its inner life, not its relation to the world, not even its right to exist.’ Nowhere were these shifts more pronounced than in music. The period from 1950 onwards saw almost every disciplinary certainty thrown into question, as the primacy of the musical score, the dominance of the concert hall, the authority of the composer, and the seperation between art and everyday life were all subjected to radical critique. Furthermore, art movements like Fluxus and Happenings worked at dissolving the very boundary separating music from other arts, as musical composition was expanded into the visual art realm and vice versa. Why were the 1950s and 60s so tumultuous in music and the arts, and what can we learn about our contemporary moment by attending to these shifts? This module provides a transnational survey of experimental music and sound art traditions after 1950, paying special attention to the new cross-disciplinary fervour that arose at this time between music, visual art, cinema and theatre. Topics to be covered may include John Cage and indeterminacy; fluxus, happenings and performance art; minimalism in music, painting, and sculpture; graphical and verbal notation; site-specific sound art; and conceptual music. As well as situating the varied experimentalisms in their historical and cultural context, we will seek to understand how these moments in art history have been interpreted by philosophy and cultural theory. To this end, we will explore the writings of such figures as Theodor Adorno, Peter Berger, Hal Foster, Peter Osborne and Joanna Drucker.

Music, Social Protest and Activism

Music serves and directs social activism towards various ends. Whether creating chants, drum circles, or music videos, organisers strategically cultivate communities of activists and generate sustained disruption through sound. This module examines general theories of effective protest through music and a series of case studies from disparate locations around the world; we further explore musical experimentation within movements, such as the Algerian Revolution and the Arab Spring. Musics explored also include folk music in North America and north Africa; funk in the United States; rap amongst First Nations in North America, in sub-Saharan Africa and in southeast Asia; metal in northern Europe and Asia; and chants in contemporary Britain.

Dramatic Italian Vocal Music

During the lifetime of Monteverdi significant and longlasting changes to dramatic vocal musics occurred. The end of the 16th century gave rise to the new genre of opera, which developed in disparate ways throughout the Italian peninsula over the course of the seventeenth century. Alongside opera many other secular vocal genres continued to thrive and develop. Studying all vocal genres side by side presents us with a more complete picture of singing culture during this period. While this module will certainly address the stylistic aspects of the vocal genres, we will also focus on the social and cultural issues which shaped their musical development. This includes examining the patrons, singers, and composers of this repertoire through issues of gender, class/social status, reception, the musical canon and the conception of the early modern body.

Local Musicking in Asia

Even as world music production creates new connections across international boundaries, local music making remains vibrant across Asia. These musical practices draw on long-standing methods of generating meaningful sound—by involving metaphor and myth, for example—to help local constituencies remain engaged with the changing nature of everyday life. This module explores the modes, ensembles, and theories of musical creativity practiced by musicians across the continent of Asia; we pay particular attention to instrumental and vocal music practiced in the Arab Middle East, Persia, Pakistan, India, China, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia. We undertake extensive discussion of these musics alongside listening exercises; performance exercises using some instruments from the region; and written exercises to develop general competencies in the music of Asia.

Music, Nations and Nationalism

The interaction of music, nations and nationalism has proved enormously fertile, alluring and controversial. It raises passions, positive and negative, speaking to our sense of identity and belonging, and underlining and shaping cultural differences. The module examines the history of this interaction from the French Revolution to World War II, drawing on recent research in musicology and the study of nations and nationalism. It covers music and ideas from across Europe and the United States, and analyses the music of (among others) Beethoven, Weber, Chopin, Glinka, Liszt, Wagner, Balakirev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Borodin, Grieg, Smetana, Dvořák, Janaček, d’Indy, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Bartók, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Ives, Harris and Copland. Topics covered include the incorporation of ethnic vernaculars, the homeland soundscape, national history and legend, national commemoration rituals, and the canons of national music.

Music in the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich

This course will comprise a survey of music in one of the most traumatic and fascinating periods in German history. The works and status of several composers will be considered, and may include Weill, Eisler, Hindemith, Strauss, Berg, Pfitzner, Schoenberg, Krenek, and Orff. The Berlin cabaret and operetta scene will also be considered, as will the general cultural and political milieu of the Weimar Republic. Consideration will also be given to the status of Jewish composers, both living and dead, the status of professional musicians and composers during the Third Reich, and the use made by the Nazis of the writings and compositions of Richard Wagner and Anton Bruckner as an ideological platform.

Perception of Sound and Music

This module provides a comprehensive introduction to key topics in the science of auditory perception. Topics may include: the structure and function of the ear; pitch, timbre and loudness perception; speech processing; spatial hearing; and auditory scene analysis. As well as expanding our understanding of sound and hearing, we will critically reflect on such questions as: how are hearing science experiments conducted? What types of knowledge can hearing science produce? What are its epistemological limits? And what can humanities disciplines such as philosophy, anthropology, and music contribute to our collective understanding of hearing? Assessments will be geared towards applying principles from music psychology and psychoacoustics to the analysis and evaluation of everyday and musical listening.