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 done 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 assessment may be written in response to an aspect of any one of the courses attended.
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. The first of the seminars may well incorporate a lecture given by the faculty member. Most of the electives take place in Hilary term.
Recent seminar series included the following titles:
- Musical Cross Currents between Opera and Film
- Late Medieval Music: Ontology, Ethics and Cognition
- Music and Consciousness
- Operatic Identities
- Schubert’s Fingerprints
- Sound Cultures, Sound Objects
- Street Music
Presentation seminars are held in Hilary term. The entire MSt student cohort is split into two groups, with musicologists, performers and composers being represented in each group. You will prepare a presentation on your own research in one session and will be asked to respond to another student’s presentation in another.
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 and other music-related or broadly cultural professions
- MSt in Music (Performance)
- MSt in Music (Musicology)
- MPhil in Music (Composition)
- MPhil in Music (Musicology)
- MPhil in Music (Performance)
Changes to the course
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. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.
Entry requirements for entry in 2018-19
Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:
1. Academic ability
Proven and potential academic excellence
Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in music or related fields.
For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.6 out of 4.0.
However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a GPA of 3.7, a first-class degree or the equivalent.
If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).
Relevant professional experience may be considered as a substitute for academic attainment.
The minimum Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score sought is 163 (Verbal). However, since entrance is very competitive most successful applicants will have a GRE score of 166 (Verbal) or more.
Other appropriate indicators will include:
You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.
Performance at interview(s)
Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.
Publications are not expected.
Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience
Relevant professional experience may be considered as a substitute for academic attainment.
2. English language requirement
Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.
3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places
The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:
- The ability of the Faculty of Music to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work.
- Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.
The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:
- The allocation of graduate supervision 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.
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 sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.
4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties
Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.
Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.
Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.
All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).
Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.
6. Other information
Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.
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).
There are over 1,100 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.
The Ertegun Scholarship Programme and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) each provide a number of awards every year, to support graduate students across a range of disciplines. To be considered for these studentships you must apply by the relevant January admissions deadline.
Annual fees for entry in 2018-19
Total annual fees
The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.
Tuition and college 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 tuition and college fees).
For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.
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 tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.
For the 2018-19 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between c. £1,015 and £1,555 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.
The following colleges accept students on the MSt in Music (Composition):
- Campion Hall
- Christ Church
- Hertford College
- Jesus College
- Keble College
- Lady Margaret Hall
- Linacre College
- Lincoln College
- Magdalen College
- Merton College
- New College
- Oriel College
- The Queen's College
- Regent's Park College
- St Anne's College
- St Catherine's College
- St Cross College
- St Hilda's College
- St Hugh's College
- St John's College
- St Peter's College
- Somerville College
- Trinity College
- University College
- Wadham College
- Wolfson College
- Worcester College
How to apply
You are not encouraged to make contact with an academic member of staff before you apply.
The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:
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:
Up to 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.
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 up to 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.
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 online query form as it is not currently possible to send these file types via the application form.
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.
References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic
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.