Guide to Studying Music

Instruments © Africa Studio - Fotolia
© African Studio - Fotolia

By Dr Mills, Senior Lecturer, Durham University

What is Music?

Music covers a vast range of activities.

  • Beyond performing and listening, people involved in music may well find themselves teaching, composing, arranging, recording, reviewing, administrating, marketing, archiving and, of course, studying.
  • Many degree courses aim to cultivate skills in all of these areas.
  • In Durham, the menu of modules on offer develops skills in composing, orchestrating, performing, analysing, conducting, studio use, administration, and musicology (the historical and cultural study of music), engaging a broad range of past and present musical forms and styles, and from diverse cultures.

Specific or general skills developed

  • Music degrees, through their challenging and multi-faceted nature, foster very diverse skills relating to critical thinking, creative thinking, team work, delivering presentations, multi-tasking, administration, cataloguing and archiving, conducting detailed analysis, and much more – and these skills are highly valued by employers in diverse professions.

Coursework, assessment and exams

  • Typically, university music modules are taught through a combination of weekly lectures, small group seminars and workshops, and one-to-one tutorials – the latter being particularly associated with independent study projects, when students explore their own chosen topics (usually in the final year).
  • Generally, performance modules are assessed through live recital, although pre-recorded and written components are also common; composition modules are assessed through submitted scores (for acoustic compositions) and recordings (for pieces created in the studio), often with supplementary written commentaries; and analytical and musicological modules are assessed through exercises, essays, and seminar presentations.
  • A small minority of music departments continue to feature timed exams in their degree assessment.
Music © Sergey Milushkin - Fotolia
© Sergey Milushkin - Fotolia

What degree can I get? 

There are three main types of undergraduate music course, all of which usually lead to a BA (Hons) degree.

  • Single Honours course (focusing on explicitly music-related modules);
  • Combined Honours course (with a large proportion of modules taken in one or more other department/s);
  • Joint Honours course (also involving modules taken in another department but with closer interdisciplinary links built into the programme).
  • Options differ considerably from institution to institution. In Durham, in addition to the Single Honours course, a multitude of different Combined Honours courses are available, including cross-faculty combinations, and it is also possible for Single Honours students to pursue a small number of modules in another department of their choice.

What qualifications do I Need?

  • Music degree entry requirements vary considerably from institution to institution and course to course.
  • Ideally, one of the grades should be in Music.
  • In most cases, universities also require evidence of performance skill, typically accepting ABRSM or RCM Grades – or, more rarely, requesting live performance during interview.

Use our Course Chooser to search through Music courses.

Sound © stockyimages - Fotolia
© stockyimages - Fotolia

What are the postgraduate opportunities?

  • There are many postgraduate opportunities, both taught and research, for Music graduates. Areas of specialism include opera, musicology, production, composition, popular music, and musical theatre to name but a few.

Graduate job prospects



*Professional employment refers to a job or occupation which normally requires a degree.
**Non-professional employment refers to a job or occupation which doesn't normally require a degree.

What are the job opportunities?

  • Due to the wide range of skills attained, music graduates find success in a huge array of professions, both music-related and non-music related.
  • For example: music teachers, performers, composers, academics, publishers, producers, arts administrators, lawyers, and others – in many cases after pursuing more specialised postgraduate programmes or placements subsequent to completing their degrees.