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Guide to studying Music

Music may be a hobby of yours that's fuelled by passion. If this is you, then you're already a strong candidate for a degree in the subject area.

Two pianists playing a duet


  1. What's Music?

  2. Why study Music?

  3. What jobs can you get as a Music graduate?

  4. What do graduates do and earn?
  5. What qualifications do you need?

  6. What degrees can you study?

  7. How will you be assessed?

  8. What are the postgraduate opportunities?

What's Music?

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.

Many of the Music modules on offer develop 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 from diverse cultures.

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

Why study Music?

Whether you're interested in performing, composing or studying the theory of music, this subject area gives you the chance to explore your musical passions and become a creative artist.

Read our five reasons to study Music for more information on why you might choose this subject area.

Music at university allows me to explore what I enjoy about certain pieces and learn about their context. It also gives me the chance to learn about styles I had never come across, in particular the contemporary classical genres and world music.

James, University of Durham

Sound engineer working in a recording studio

What jobs can you get as a Music graduate?

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.

What do graduates do and earn?

In the infographic below, the first table shows what graduates of Music have gone on to do in the months after their graduation.

The second table shows the average salaries of undergraduate Music students entering employment. The three skill levels – high, medium and low – reflect the UK's Standard Occupational Classification's major groups 1–3, 4–6 and 7–9 respectively.

Source: HESA Graduate Outcomes Survey 2017/18

What qualifications do you 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 require evidence of performance skill, typically accepting ABRSM or RCM Grades – or, more rarely, requesting live performance during an interview.

Make sure to check for the university and course you're interested in studying.

What degrees can you study?

There are three main types of undergraduate music courses, 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. 

How will you be assessed?

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 where your explore your 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.

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.

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