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Undergraduate course

Music Composition BA (Hons)

Work with accomplished international composers who teach through practice.

student playing piano

Whatever genre you focus on, this is the place to build your compositional voice. Your composing will develop through exposure to film music, improvisation and challenging new ideas. You will have exciting opportunities to hear your work performed by professional ensembles, as you become part of a vibrant musical network alongside performers, community musicians and educators.

89% 89% of Graduates from our Music courses were in employment or further study within six months. DLHE 2017

York campus

  • UCAS Code – W3R5
  • Duration – 3 years full-time | Part-time options available on request
  • Start date – September 2020, September 2021
  • School – Performance & Media Production

Minimum Entry Requirements

    88 UCAS points

    3 GCSEs Graded at C/4 or above (or equivalent) including English Language

Tuition Fees

    UK and EU 2020-21 £9,250 per year

    International 2020-21 £12,750 per year

The York St John Experience

Course overview

We believe the study of music should be eclectic and embrace a variety of genres. At York St John University you will not only learn about classical, jazz and rock; but also about music from many different cultures from across the globe. Our teaching staff includes accomplished composers who are active practitioners locally, nationally and internationally. During your time with us you’ll have professional performers interpret your work and there will be concerts where your music will be performed and recorded.

York is an inspiring and beautiful place to study and is the perfect place to build your collaborative networks. It’s a city rich in culture, with a thriving music scene across countless venues. As a composer you will actively collaborate with experienced musicians, community members, artists and arts organisations in order to develop performances, skills and professional contacts.

Our students leave the course at a professional standard when presenting compositions, with a full range of vocational skills. You’ll further develop your portfolio; building a bank of recordings, a collection of scores and a professional online presence. You will be adept at creating large-scale musical structures, having spent time focussed on composing for larger groups such as bands and choirs. You can also continue your studies at Postgraduate Level on our MA Music Composition programme.

Course structure

Level 1


Modules include:

  • Vox: This module offers an innovative combination of practical work and academic study, introducing learning through practice coupled with the progressive and creative development of performance technique and inclusive group work. Establishing an eclectic range of musical experiences from a wide range of global and social cultures, it is based around vocal music but is inclusive and accessible to all musicians. It is assessed by a group performance and an essay. (20 credits)
  • Drumming: This module continues and develops work begun in Vox, but here the medium is percussion. Students have the opportunity to explore performance skills using Javanese gamelan, African djembe, Brazilian samba and Japanese taiko, in addition to Western drums and pitched instruments. Like Vox, it is a very practice-based study – hands on, literally! It is assessed by a group performance and an essay. (20 credits)
  • Music Skills: This year-long module helps build your understanding of melody, harmony and rhythm through a broad range of practical work. It also includes opportunities to develop skills in performance as a soloist and ensemble musician, and you will receive individual instrumental or vocal lessons. It is assessed by a performance and portfolio of work. (40 credits)
  • Perspectives on Music: This year-long module develops your knowledge and understanding through an exploration of music, art and culture. It comprises a series of short projects which cover a wide range of musical styles and genres, investigating them from many different perspectives. Previous projects have included studies of music and the brain, female composers, Bach, propaganda, how music conveys emotion, the concept album, David Bowie, semiotics and many others. It is assessed by a group presentation and a portfolio of written work. (40 credits)

Level 2


Compulsory modules include:

  • Ensemble Performance: This year-long module introduces fundamental skills required for playing in ensembles, an essential part of musicians’ professional toolkits. Focusing on teamwork and rehearsal techniques, students play in ensembles led by themselves and staff members in a wide range of genres, instrumentations, and contexts. It is assessed by a portfolio of evidence and a critical reflection. (20 credits)
  • Improvisation: This module, taken by all music students, explores practical and theoretical approaches to improvisation. It not only includes practice in genre-specific improvisation such as jazz and blues, but working with graphic scores, classical improvisation, and improvisation in non-Western cultures. It is assessed by a performance and an essay. (20 credits)
  • Composition: This year-long module encourages the growth of students’ individual voices as composers. Expanding the range of techniques students use when writing music, this module focuses on working with specific instruments and voices, as well as using notation effectively. It is assessed by a portfolio of scores and recordings with written commentaries. (20 credits)
  • New Music, New Ideas: This module, taken by all music students but tailored towards compositional issues, looks at examples of innovative practice from musicians in a diverse range of genres, unified by their focus on producing something ‘new’ – or else on questioning what ‘newness’ means. Students listen to and discuss pieces by these musicians, analyse the techniques they use, and reflect on the role they play within contemporary culture more generally. It is assessed by an essay. (20 credits)

Optional modules include:

  • Film Music: This module introduces students to practical and theoretical issues around writing music for film. Through analysing soundtracks, narratives, and the elements of film, students will work towards working with a director in writing their own music for a short film. The module is assessed by a written analysis and a completed film soundtrack. (20 credits)
  • Music in Education & Lifelong Learning: This module looks at learning and teaching music in a variety of contexts, drawing on the students’ own experiences, current practice, appropriate literature, and professional music education networks. As with Music in the Community, this module offers students placements working in a range of locations around York. It is assessed by a presentation and portfolio of evidence. (20 credits)
  • Music in the Community: This module introduces community music as a vibrant and exciting part of today’s society. In parallel with class workshops and lectures, students will undertake ongoing work-based learning in a community music setting, designed improve their understanding and technique in workshop practice. It is assessed by a presentation and a critical reflection. (20 credits)
  • Experiments in Music: This innovative module explores experimental methods of creating, performing, and presenting music. Students will examine how their relationships with musical content, their fellow performers, and their audiences may be manipulated, changed, broken, or subverted – and how that affects the overall impact and meaning of the music. It is assessed by a group performance and a reflective essay. (20 credits)

Level 3


Modules include: 

  • Enterprise & Employability: This year-long module bridges the gap between the worlds of academic and professional music, allowing students to research areas of interest which might provide outlets for their skills and career aspirations, including as performers, composers, community workshop leaders, teachers, managers, and so on. Through developing research skills to investigate career interests, the module provides opportunities to make links with professional musicians, businesses, and institutions, prepare for interviews or business pitching opportunities, and develop a professional online presence. It is assessed by a written research report and a portfolio of evidence. (20 credits)
  • Advanced Composition: This year-long module focuses on composing for larger groups such as bands and choirs, and in creating large-scale musical structures. It is intended to help students reach professional standards when presenting compositions developing vocational skills. It is assessed by a portfolio of scores and recordings with written commentaries. (20 credits)
  • Ensembles & Leadership: This year-long module not only continues to develop students’ ensemble skills within a range of contexts, but also provides the framework them to understand musical leadership. Students lead their own ensembles and are supported by staff in finding how their personal leadership style might be applied to a variety of contexts, and how they might continually improve as leaders. This module is assessed by a portfolio of evidence and a critical reflection. (20 credits)
  • Collaborative Project: This year-long module is the culmination of students’ undergraduate study as musicians. They are given freedom to create a significant artistic project which reflects their interests and strengths. Working in collaboration with other musicians, filmmakers, visual artists, dancers, producers, and so on, students are supported through individual tutorials to design, implement, and evaluate strategies for making a large artistic work. It is assessed via a portfolio of evidence and a written reflective evaluation. (40 credits)
  • Dissertation: This year-long module gives students the opportunity to specialise on an element of artistic interest and explore this through analysis, experiment, theory, practice and reflection. In working on this large-scale piece of writing, students not only learn the intricacies of their chosen area, but also work individually with tutors to clarify their thought processes and writing skills. It is assessed solely through the dissertation. (20 credits)

Teaching & Assessment


Music is taught in many different ways, according to the subject. There are relatively few formal lectures, but more emphasis practical workshops, seminars, tutorials, rehearsals and individual instrumental or vocal lessons.

Contact hours

Most Music modules occupy 2-3 hours every week, but beyond that there are regular rehearsals, concerts, tutorials and individual lessons – all of which form an essential part of the musician’s learning experience.

Self-study time

Self-study time may include individual practice and listening to music (such as attending concerts and musical events) in addition to reading, composing, researching and completing coursework.


There is an enthusiastic and supportive team of Music tutors at YSJ who are all well-qualified and experienced professionals: they include performers, composers, teachers and community musicians, and their musical interests include jazz, metal, gamelan, choral music, brass bands and contemporary music of all types. They are supported by a large group of instrumental and vocal teachers who cover all instruments and musical styles.


Many modules include options to develop your music skills in work-related contexts. This is particularly the case in Education and Community modules which offer formal placement opportunities but Composition and Performance modules also offer work-based learning and professional simulation, and all students take Enterprise and Employability in the third year: a module which offers opportunities to undertake places related to your chosen profession.

Assessment methods

There are no formal examinations in Music. Instead, students are assessed on performances, presentations, work produced during the course and portfolios of evidence. For every assessment you are given an assignment brief which provides extensive information on exactly what is expected of you, the deadline and how you will be assessed, and academic tutors are available to offer support. Assessments are designed to allow you to demonstrate your learning, not to trick you or trip you up!

Entry Requirements


The minimum entry requirements for this course are:

88 UCAS Tariff points

3 GCSEs at grade C/4 or above (or equivalent) including English Language

Terms and conditions

Our terms and conditions, policies and procedures contain important information about studying at York St John University. These can be accessed through our Admissions webpages.

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