MSt in Music (Composition)
About the course
The MSt can serve both as a self-contained course for students wishing to pursue more advanced studies in composition for one year or as an excellent preparation for doctoral research. Students on the MSt courses in musicology, performance and composition follow a common structure, supported by appropriate individual supervision or tuition in their chosen specialism.
The Master of Studies in Music (Composition) introduces a broad range of current methodologies and approaches in music scholarship. The main MSt teaching and coursework is completed in the first two terms; the third is reserved for completion of assessed work.
In the Michaelmas term there are typically six topics:
- historical musicology
- current trends in music theory
- the social and cultural study of music
You may participate in as many of these seminars as you wish. Your first summative assessment will be a compositional exercise written in response to the composition core seminar.
Each year a number of faculty members convene a series of ‘elective’ seminars based on their research interests, to help you prepare for your assessment essays. You are invited to attend as many of these seminars as you wish. Reading lists are sent out before the start of the courses and you are asked to prepare fully and contribute to the seminars. Most of the electives take place in Hilary term.
Recent seminar series included the following titles:
- Pitch, Amplitude, Timbre
- Brazilian Music
- Distributed Creativity in Composition and Performance
- Thirteenth-Century Motets
- Music and (Non) Religion
- Music and Race
- Gender and Sexuality in Popular Music Studies
- Music and Islamic Culture
- Beethoven between History and Myth.
Presentation seminars are held in Trinity term. Musicologists, performers and composers each prepare a presentation on their own research and are asked to respond to another student’s presentation in another; further feedback on presentation skills is received from the seminar convenor.
The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Faculty of Music and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Faculty of Music.
Students can usually expect to meet with their supervisor between two and three times a term, depending on the needs of the student and at the discretion of the supervisor.
You will submit a musical composition in response to techniques presented in core composition seminars at the end of Michaelmas term. An essay is submitted at the end of Hilary term. The final assessment includes a further essay in musicology or a further musical composition produced in response to techniques presented in composition seminars; and a larger musical composition or portfolio of compositions, at the end of Trinity term.
Typical graduate destinations include doctoral research in music, teaching, arts management, performance, and other music-related or broadly cultural professions
Changes to this course and your supervision
The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.
Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.
For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding changes to courses.
Other courses you may wish to consider
If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.
All graduate courses offered by the Faculty of Music
Oxford 1+1 MBA programme
This course can be studied as a part of the Oxford 1+1 MBA programme. The Oxford 1+1 MBA programme is a unique, two-year graduate experience that combines the depth of a specialised, one-year master’s degree with the breadth of a top-ranking, one-year MBA.
Entry requirements for entry in 2023-24
Proven and potential academic excellence
As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the following UK qualifications or their equivalent:
- an average mark of 67% or higher in an undergraduate degree with honours in music or related fields.
However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a first-class degree or the equivalent.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.6 out of 4.0. However, most successful applicants have a GPA of 3.7.
If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.
Relevant professional experience may be considered as a substitute for academic attainment.
GRE General Test scores
No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
- Publications are not expected.
English language proficiency
This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.
|Test||Minimum overall score||Minimum score per component|
|IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713)||7.5||7.0|
TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'
(Institution code: 0490)
*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
†Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.
Declaring extenuating circumstances
If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.
You will need to register three referees who can give an informed view of your academic ability and suitability for the course. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the types of reference that are required in support of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including an official transcript and a CV/résumé. The How to apply section of this page provides details of the supporting documents that are required as part of your application for this course and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview
Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.
How your application is assessed
Your application will be assessed purely on your proven and potential academic excellence and other entry requirements published under that heading. References and supporting documents submitted as part of your application, and your performance at interview (if interviews are held) will be considered as part of the assessment process.
An overview of the shortlisting and selection process is provided below. Our 'After you apply' pages provide more information about how applications are assessed.
Shortlisting and selection
Students are considered for shortlisting and selected for admission without regard to age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins), religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex, sexual orientation, as well as other relevant circumstances including parental or caring responsibilities or social background. However, please note the following:
- socio-economic information may be taken into account in the selection of applicants and award of scholarships for courses that are part of the University’s pilot selection procedure and for scholarships aimed at under-represented groups;
- country of ordinary residence may be taken into account in the awarding of certain scholarships; and
- protected characteristics may be taken into account during shortlisting for interview or the award of scholarships where the University has approved a positive action case under the Equality Act 2010.
Whether or not you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.
Processing your data for shortlisting and selection
Admissions panels and assessors
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
Other factors governing whether places can be offered
The following factors will also govern whether candidates can be offered places:
- the ability of the University to provide the appropriate supervision for your studies, as outlined under the 'Supervision' heading in the About section of this page;
- the ability of the University to provide appropriate support for your studies (eg through the provision of facilities, resources, teaching and/or research opportunities); and
- minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to the University's taught and research programmes.
Offer conditions for successful applications
If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, your offer will outline any conditions that you need to satisfy and any actions you need to take, together with any associated deadlines. These may include academic conditions, such as achieving a specific final grade in your current degree course. These conditions will usually depend on your individual academic circumstances and may vary between applicants. Our After you apply pages provide more information about offers and conditions.
In addition to any academic conditions which are set, you will also be required to meet the following requirements:
If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.
Disclosure of criminal convictions
In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.
The Faculty of Music is situated in specially adapted premises in St Aldates which include teaching and lecture rooms, offices, the faculty's library with listening, audio-visual and microfilm rooms, a dedicated Graduate Centre, a common room, the Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, the multimedia resource centre (MRC), an electronic recording studio, computing facilities, an ensemble room, a rehearsal/lecture hall and a suite of practice rooms.
The University’s Bodleian Library, receives every important British musicological study, in addition to acquiring most major books and editions published elsewhere; it has particularly important collections of printed sources for early music theory and nineteenth-century sheet music. Its manuscript collection contains many important sources for early English and European music, as do several college libraries.
Other significant research collections are held at the Taylorian Library (modern languages), the Sackler Library (art and archaeology) and the Maison Française. Oxford’s three important collections of musical instruments are the faculty’s Bate Collection, the Ashmolean Museum’s Hill Collection of old stringed and keyboard instruments, and the Pitt Rivers Museum’s extensive collection of ethnographic materials.
The Music Faculty Library is the University’s main repository for sound recordings and holds DVD recordings of opera, film and classical music. The library’s multimedia resource centre has 11 stand-alone Mac-based composition and research workstations with Sibelius 7 notation software, Pro Tools 10 audio production platform and Max/MSP audio and video modular programming language installed as standard, as well as specialist software for video editing, noise-removal, sound design, graphics editing, audio digitisation and transcription.
The faculty’s Electronic Music Recording Studio (EMS) includes a dedicated, acoustically-treated control room, with tie-lines that are connected to the Octaphonic Research and Composition Studio and the Denis Arnold Hall, allowing for recording anything from single instruments up to full-size orchestras.
Software in the control room and music technology lab includes the latest versions of Pro Tools Sibelius, Max/MSP, Logic Pro, Composers Desktop Project and Soundloom. Plug-ins by Waves (Gold Bundle) and Native Instruments are also available. A dedicated AVID C|24 control surface and Miller Kriesel stereo monitoring completes the control room.
The Octaphonic Research and Composition Studio (OSCaR) is a cutting-edge facility allowing the user to compose spatially using acousmatic technique, or perhaps explore possibilities of music perception and environment. It consists of eight speakers arranged in a diamond formation plus software, used to artificially simulate an acoustic environment.
Software platforms in the room include Logic Pro, Soundloom and Max-MSP. There is also a Yamaha Disklavier piano with MIDI connectivity to the studio computer so performance can be captured digitally.
The studio also functions as a 7.1, 5.1 and stereo mix room, allowing users to explore areas such as composition for media and film.
The Ensemble Recording Suite, suitable for recording medium-sized ensembles, is a 16-input, multi-track recording studio, with full floating-room acoustic isolation, air conditioning and professional audio tie-lines into a large acoustically designed live room with natural daylight and a view of Christ Church gardens, also boasting a Yamaha Baby Grand Disklavier piano.
The studio is built around a Universal Audio Apollo Quad interface with Audient ASP 880 microphone preamps and Neumann monitoring. There is a complimentary collection of professional microphones available to use also including an AEA R88 mk2 Stereo ribbon microphone and the DPA d:note classical recording kit.
There are listening facilities and a composition workstation available in the Graduate Centre, which includes vinyl, tape and CD playback, as well as the latest versions of Sibelius, Max/MSP, Logic Pro and Composers Desktop with a MOTU audio interface, M-Audio MIDI keyboard and controller, and laser printer (for printing scores).
The University expects to be able to offer around 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2023-24. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant December or January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential.
For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources.
Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of any college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages or below:
Please note that not all the colleges listed above may accept students on this course. For details of those which do, please refer to the College preference section of this page.
Annual fees for entry in 2023-24
Annual Course fees
Further details about fee status eligibility can be found on the fee status webpage.
Information about course fees
Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on changes to fees and charges.
Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.
Where can I find further information about fees?
The Fees and Funding section of this website provides further information about course fees, including information about fee status and eligibility and your length of fee liability.
There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs. However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.
In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2023-24 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,290 and £1,840 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2023-24, it is suggested that you allow for potential increases in living expenses of 5% or more each year – although this rate may vary significantly depending on how the national economic situation develops. UK inflationary increases will be kept under review and this page updated.
All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs).
For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges.
The following colleges accept students on the MSt in Music (Composition):
Before you apply
Our guide to getting started provides general advice on how to prepare for and start your application. Check the deadlines on this page and the information about deadlines in our Application Guide. If it's important for you to have your application considered under a particular deadline – eg under a December or January deadline in order to be considered for Oxford scholarships – we recommend that you aim to complete and submit your application at least two weeks in advance.
Application fee waivers
An application fee of £75 is payable per course application. Application fee waivers are available for the following applicants who meet the eligibility criteria:
- applicants from low-income countries;
- refugees and displaced persons;
- UK applicants from low-income backgrounds; and
- applicants who applied for our Graduate Access Programmes in the past two years and met the eligibility criteria.
You are encouraged to check whether you're eligible for an application fee waiver before you apply.
Do I need to contact anyone before I apply?
You do not need to make contact with the department before you apply but you are encouraged to visit the relevant departmental webpages to read any further information about your chosen course.
Completing your application
You should refer to the information below when completing the application form, paying attention to the specific requirements for the supporting documents. If any document does not meet the specification, including the stipulated word count, your application may be considered incomplete and not assessed by the academic department. Expand each section to show further details.
Three overall, academic preferred
Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.
References should generally be academic, though you may use one professional reference.
Your references will support compositional ability, academic achievement, motivation, and research promise.
Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.
More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.
A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.
Statement of purpose/personal statement:
A maximum of 1,000 words
Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for the evidence it supplies of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study; the ability to present a reasoned case in English; feasibility and coherence of proposed composition project to be pursued during the course.
One essay of a maximum of 3,000 words
An academic essay or other writing sample from your most recent qualification, written in English, is required. An extract of the requisite length from longer work, such as an undergraduate dissertation, is also permissible.
Written work should generally be about composition. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.
If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.
This will be assessed for:
- understanding of the subject area
- ability to construct and defend an argument
- powers of analysis
- powers of expression.
Two or three compositions with a combined duration of 30 minutes
Scores should be uploaded to your application in form of a PDF or JPG as ‘Written work’.
You should also send in mp3/mp4 recordings to Graduate Admissions via the document upload portal (it is not possible to send these file types via the application form). If the file exceeds the file-size limit of our document upload portal or you encounter an error uploading it, it should instead be hosted on a website or service that is publicly accessible via the internet, eg via Vimeo, YouTube, Flickr or your own website. You will need to embed the URL (and password, if necessary) for the recording in a PDF file and upload this using the document upload portal.
Compositions will be assessed for their demonstration of invention, critical awareness of the field of contemporary classical composition, musicality, technical assurance and for their clarity of presentation.
Start or continue your application
You can start or return to an application using the relevant link below. As you complete the form, please refer to the requirements above and consult our Application Guide for advice. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.