Music

Sarah Batten

Music was always my favourite subject at school and the one thing I was totally obsessed with, so it was the only subject I really wanted to study at university. The Oxford course suits my strengths, and there are a lot of really top-rate academics in the department and plenty of exciting musical events going on. I’m most interested in the academic side of music (history and analysis), which is a key focus of the Oxford course. After one year, I have already studied music from the fourteenth century to the twenty-first, ranging from Haydn string quartets to Japanese hip hop. It’s exciting to study such a range of music and see how disparate styles can be linked together.

As part of my first year, I completed a 5000-word essay on Mendelssohn’s Grand Tour. I had total freedom in all aspects of the project, and whilst this was very challenging, especially setting (and sticking to!) my own research schedule, it was incredibly rewarding to hand in a completed essay that was all my own work.

Sarah, Christ Church, 3rd year

I was really worried before coming up to Oxford – so many uncertainties and unknowns. I was even more worried when I arrived, and saw what was actually expected of me! For me, the keyboard skills examination was possibly the most concerning part of the course. As a non-pianist, I was terrified by the prospect of a practical keyboard exam, but the tutorials prepared me really well and I felt really proud when I passed. I love that the course offers me the opportunity to do research whilst being supervised by world experts, and I also enjoy that I don’t have to compose or perform for my assessments – although many people do!

My favourite experience so far was the global hip-hop lecture series in first year. Everyone expects the course to be quite conservative and I enjoyed shocking my friends with unexpectedly ‘cool’ music! The lectures are fantastic, and have inspired me to do a dissertation on popular music.

Flora, St John's, student from 2012

Music at Oxford is an academic course that offers a great opportunity to study a huge range of music from a broad range of perspectives. From first year onwards you’ll be able to learn about types of music you may not have even realised existed with world-leading experts – from the songs of twelfth-century Europe to feminist hip-hop artists in present day Cuba. One of the best things about the music course at Oxford is that it allows you to take a broad range of approaches to music, that cover many different areas of study. In addition to history and analysis, studying music can include sociology, psychology, philosophy, politics, and anthropology among many other things! There are also many exciting opportunities for performers and composers, both as extracurricular activities and as optional parts of the course.

What makes Oxford different?

At Oxford there is a strong academic focus, with great one-to-one and small group support. The tutorial system allows you to engage with such a wide range of topics with leading experts. With such great library resources you also have the opportunity to do your own research and exploration in areas that haven’t been so heavily researched – with the exciting possibility that whether it’s the 5000 year history of the Persian ney instrument, or contemporary studio production techniques, if you’re really passionate about it, you could be the next expert!

What helped inspire your love of the subject?

George Haggett

You might expect an Oxford University music degree to have a heavy emphasis on Western classical music, but one of the most popular prelims modules here is on global hip hop, and undergrads write dissertations on everything from jazz to opera to folk to rock to musical theatre and everything in between. Listen widely, and make use of the wealth of free music available on YouTube and Spotify!

Unfortunately, there's not much in the way of free musicology resources. However, if you're able to request them at a public library, a good and insightful pathway into musicology can be found in "An Introduction to Music Studies" edited by Jim Samson and Paul Harper-Scott.

George, St Hugh's, 3rd year

I would suggest listening widely, and comparing and contrasting what you listen to - and maybe mentioning what you've been listening to lately in your personal statement. Leading up to my interview, I listened to a lot of Steve Reich's minimalism, and a lot of Brad Mehldau's jazz trio playing, and ended up comparing their repetitive styles in my interview. I also got asked (among other things) to have a go at sussing out who wrote a string quartet, which I'd luckily listened to a few weeks ago, upon thinking I'd better listen to something classical. Spotify, Youtube or even public libraries are good for this kind of broad listening, and a lot of concert halls even offer free lunchtime concerts, if you can make them. Maybe ask your music teacher to recommend you something they think you won't like!

A good read is Nicholas Cook's "Music: A Very Short Introduction", to see if you might be interested in the course. It takes a diverse view of musicology (the academic study of music), covering many of the areas studied and researched at Oxford. However, a lot of applicants will have read this, and the tutors know it well, so it's probably not the best book to reference in your personal statement: try to find something more specific.

If buying/accessing this (possibly through a library) is hard, I'd recommend googling "musicology" and looking up the aspects that it comprises - perhaps consider ethnomusicology, the the study of music in its cultural context, and music psychology, the study of music's incorporation into our daily experiences. If you find any ideas that stick, google the author, see if they've written anything that you can get your hands on and give it a good, thorough read.

Chris, Hertford, 3rd year
Eden Bailey

Whether it’s Björk or Bach, analytical or psychological perspectives that excite you, try and read about it. Look at YouTube videos, blogs, and you may even find something in your local library! Let yourself think critically about it, and see where your questions take you.

Eden, Magdalen, student from 2012
Sofia K-B

Listen to a lot of everything - not only classical pieces. If you can, read Cook's "Music: a very short introduction" and another book called "Sonata Form" by Charles Rosen.

Sofia, St John's, 2nd year

Tell us about your interview?

Sofia K-B

They gave me an excerpt from a text on music (and the fact that music should be seen as an action and not as an abstract concept), a contemporary piece to listen to along with the sheet music and finally a repetitive piece without the sheet music. I had half an hour to look through them all and take notes. I was then asked questions about the excerpts, before being asked about me in a more general sense. "Where would you picture yourself in 5 years?"

Another interview was more turned towards questions about the essays I had written and the compositions I had submitted. All in all, very agreeable and surprisingly chilled.

Sofia, St John's, 2nd year

Applicants that might be offered a place are invited for interview in December. See Music interviews for more information.

Find out more

Course length: 3 years
Students per year: 70
Typical weekly contact time in first year: several tutorials, practice, workshops, rehearsals and 4-6 hours lectures

Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.

If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.