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2019/20 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

MUSS1020 Understanding Music

20 creditsClass Size: 111

Module manager: Dr Clive McClelland

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 View Timetable

Year running 2019/20

Pre-requisite qualifications

Confident music reading skills required. Knowledge of keys, chords and cadences (in line with grade 5 theory syllabi) would be an advantage.

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

MUSS1020 Understanding Music seeks to introduce you to a variety of important ways of engaging with and understanding music. Although the focus will be on tonal music, the ways of thinking about music surveyed in the module can be applied, to greater or lesser extents, to other repertoires as well. You may find that some of the approaches overlap with your pre-university studies. In such cases, you will find these ideas will be deepened and enriched, and perhaps even turned on their head. Other topics and themes will be entirely new. This course helps you prepare for the analytical study in levels 2 and 3, and, just as importantly, to support and complement aural, historical and compositional studies you will encounter elsewhere in the curriculum.


The module seeks to introduce students to a variety of core strategies for engaging with and understanding music at the tertiary level. Some overlap may be expected with pre-university studies, so that familiar ideas are deepened and enriched, while some topics and themes will be entirely new. This course aims to help students prepare for the analysis modules at Level 2 (Interpreting Music) and Level 3 (Analysing Music), and to support aural, historical and compositional studies.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, students may be expected to:

• Have demonstrated an understanding of core, tertiary level strategies for engaging with a variety of musics;
• Show an awareness of fundamental principles of the same musics, including, though not limited to, form, polyphony, counterpoint, and harmony (each in both aural and, broadly conceived, written forms);
• Evidence a developing ability both to replicate stylistically and critique the musics engaged with using appropriate tools and terminology;
• Demonstrate an understanding of a variety of music notations and their application;
• Appreciate the way in which basic analytical approaches to music can enrich and inform broadly aesthetic approaches (especially in the context of other modules within the programme as a whole)


On successful completion of this module, students may be expected to…

• Demonstrate a basic understanding of how procedural modes of engaging with complex information (through analytical strategies) juxtapose with more intuitive modes of thought;
• Have begun making links between in-class working practices and self-directed study;
• Show a developing awareness of the relationship between ‘theory’ (broadly conceived) and ‘practice’ (such that students are moving toward becoming not only ‘informed practitioners’ but also practical theoreticians)

Skills outcomes
Aural awareness, music theory, species counterpoint, harmony, score reading, formal analysis


You will have 20 weekly lectures; there will be 10 lectures in each semester. In the first semester, many lectures will be followed by a supporting seminar in which you will work on practical exercises in smaller groups following the models presented during the lecture, with formative feedback and demonstrations of ‘ideal’ solutions where appropriate. During these weeks you will be studying two broad topics. The first concerns tonality, looking at the different kinds of tonal music.
This leads into a study of counterpoint in order to understand the voice-leading principles that underpin tonal music. In the second semester we look at harmonic principles, including chromatic chords and figured bass. We then move on to look at form and its relationship with tonality in a variety of genres. Your weekly lectures will be supplemented with supporting on-line material that will allow you to test your understanding of the module. In both semesters you will be expected to spend time between teaching sessions on preparatory exercises, background reading and listening.

The lectures are supported by seminars. These have the dual function of allowing one-to-one correction of exercises appropriate for the subject matter, as well as providing support for first-year undergraduates as they adapt to university. There is also a voluntary one-hour ‘catch-up seminar’ in week 6 of each semester, to allow stragglers an opportunity to seek additional help.

The module is assessed by two exams - one at the end of each semester. At the end of semester one, the exam requires you to complete one exercise in tonality and one in counterpoint. In semester two, there will be one harmony exercise and a structural analysis of a piece prepared in advance.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Class tests, exams and assessment21.503.00
Private study hours160.00
Total Contact hours43.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)203.00

Private study

4 hours preparation for each timetabled session = 160 hours

Following each lecture session, students will work on practical exercises, with formative feedback and demonstrations of ‘ideal’ solutions. Students will also be guided towards contextual and theoretical materials, both in written and aural forms.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Following each lecture session there will be smaller group sessions (the class being divided into three for these purposes), in which practical exercises will be carried out following the model(s) presented during the lecture. Members of academic staff (or RPGs if available) will lead these seminar sessions, helping students to develop their work and commenting upon progress. If RPGs run these sessions, they will be expected to provide feedback to members of lecturing staff to ensure that they are aware of any difficulties arising.

Methods of assessment

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Unseen exam 1 hr 30 mins50.00
Unseen exam 1 hr 30 mins50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)100.00

The first exam will be a 90-minute exam in which students are required to complete two technical exercises: the first, a Set of scales to write out, the second a short passage of four-part harmony with figured bass. The second exam will be a 90-minute exam where an exercise in mixed species counterpoint must be completed, and a prepared piece of music analysed by means of a blank table and short essay.

Reading list

There is no reading list for this module

Last updated: 30/04/2019


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