This short article is concerned with a typical or traditional music courses at universities. It does not cover course content, discussion of music institutions, musicology, music technology, or popular and performance based music courses. For some advice on how to write a Personal Statement for Music, see Writing a Personal Statement for Music courses.
You will most likely take courses in musicology, composition, and analysis, as well as having the options for performance. Modules can vary greatly across institutions - you may be able to choose from a wide range, such as:
Medieval music/Post Modernism music
The life of Beethoven/Jimi Hendrix
Creative Music Technology
Like other subjects, different univerisites specialise in different areas. These many be serialism, jazz, classical, electroacoustic composition, etc.
Certain music institutions such as The Royal Northern College of Music and Royal Academy of Music etc. have noteable reputations as they specialise in music. These are generally described as conservatoires, and focus on performance and composition. However other univerisites have excellent music departements like Kings College, Manchester, Durham, Nottingham, York, Southampton and Bristol amongst others. Oxford and Cambridge are also excellent as usual.
Many courses will require you to be a high standard in an instrument. Most universities ask for a grade 8 exam board certificate - sometimes distinction, sometimes "or similar high ability". A-level offers range from AAA to Cs and Ds. This is often a good indicator of the calibre of the course. Some courses also specify basic keyboard skills e.g. to know the notes of a piano fairly well and of course you need to be able to read music. (Including guitarists - TAB does not count). You can often tailor your course in the 2nd and 3rd year to suit your interests, such as more performing, composing, musicology or analysis.
UCAS Form & Personal Statement
Currently, students wishing to pursue an academic Music degree can apply to an initial majority of 5 places. Students wishing to pursue a performance Music degree can apply to the majority of UK music colleges via CUKAS, the conservatoire branch of the UCAS system. (It should be noted that the Royal Academy of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama are not part of the CUKAS system. Applications to either or both of these institutions have to be completed separately.) Students can opt to apply to conservatoires and universities simultaneously via both systems. This gives students who are undecided about which type of degree they would like to pursue, or who are equally interested in/capable of both types, a maximum of 14 applications.
Application deadlines depend upon where a student chooses to apply. The main application deadline for CUKAS applications is the 1st October of the year before entry. The RAM and GSMD have similar deadlines (students interested in these should check their websites for the exact date). Students applying via UCAS to Oxford and Cambridge have to submit their form by 15th October, whilst students not applying to these universities have until 15th January to do so.
There is a section under the 'Qualifications' section of the UCAS form which allows students to put their instrumental/vocal results as well as theory exam results. There are no rules about how many qualifications one should put in this section. Some people like to list all their results from Grade 1- Grade X. This can be useful if an applicant has only started learning that instrument relatively recently. Others prefer to put the most recent exam result, which is equally fine. Students should note that whilst Grades 6-8 on an instrument or in theory tests are part of the UCAS tariff (in that points are given), most institutions will not count such points, nor accept points gained by these qualifications as part of a offer. As with any academic qualification, institutions can ask candidates to send photocopies of any music result for verification.
Writing a personal statement for a Music degree is quite different to writing one for most other subjects, in that a large proportion of the statement will inevitably be given to what would usually be termed "extra-curricular activities". Students should ensure that all instrumental/vocal grades (or equivalent standards) are clearly stated/explained in one's personal statement, even if they have been listed under the 'Qualifications' section. This is particular important for universities that demand a specific level (usually Grade 5 or 6) on a keyboard instrument.
Whilst there is often a significant overlap in personal statement material for those applying via both UCAS and CUKAS, it should be noticed that universities and conservatoires are looking for different qualities, accomplishments and skills. Generally speaking, it is important to ensure that universities personal statements are not too "performance heavy" but show all-round musicianship and an interest in academic music texts (if appropriate).
Students applying to universities and conservatoires are encouraged to use TSR's 'Personal Statement Help' forum, where current Music students can offer individually-tailored advice on any personal statements submitted.
Life as a Music Student
Graduate Destinations and Career Prospects
It is a common misconception that studying a Music degree severely limits what one can do career-wise post-uni. There are in fact a variety of options available to Music graduates. Some of these are musical:
- Postgraduate study in performance, conducting, composition and musicology. These courses are offered by universities and conservatoires - Arts administration - PGCE training - Music therapy - Working as a professional performer across a variety of contexts (soloist, session musician, accompanist, orchestral player, band member, etc.) - Working as a conductor - Instrumental/vocal teaching
Equally, Music graduates can pursue a number of non-musical options:
- Graduate medicine - Law conversion courses - Graduate Accountancy courses, etc.
All the options listed above are a small selection of opportunities available to Music graduates.