University of Cambridge




Our course covers a broad range of music, as well as a great variety of ways of thinking about and understanding music, ranging from medieval plainchant to the blues, and from advanced analysis to the study of music and science.

UCAS code W300 BA/M

Duration Three years

Colleges Available at all Colleges

2013 entry Applications per place: 3
Number accepted: 59

Open days and events 2015 College open days (arts)
Cambridge Open Days

Related courses
Contact details 01223 768927


Music at Cambridge

Over recent decades many of the most significant figures in British music have studied or taught at Cambridge: composers such as Alexander Goehr, Judith Weir and Thomas Adès; performers like Joanna MacGregor and Thomas Trotter; and conductors including John Eliot Gardiner, Christopher Hogwood and Edward Gardner.

Our undergraduate course has a strong academic component and offering papers in history, analysis, ethnomusicology, music and science, composition, and performance (see the course outline).

Facilities and resources

As well as providing a location for lectures, seminars and research activities, the modern Faculty building also houses:

  • a professional concert hall (seating 500)
  • an extensive library of music, books, periodicals and recordings
  • a purpose-built studio
  • music computing laboratories

Students can borrow period instruments and make use of the Faculty's Javanese Gamelan.The Faculty organises a weekly Composers’ Workshop, open to all students, and also supports the New Music Ensemble’s work. In addition, the Faculty hosts several resident ensembles (the Endellion String Quartet, Britten Sinfonia and Academy of Ancient Music) which perform regularly and offer masterclasses and further composition workshops for students.

These facilities and resources are complemented by the University Library and by the libraries, practice rooms and computer suites available in Colleges. College funds are available for instrumental or vocal lessons for those taking a performance course.

Changing course

While most students studying Music take both Parts of the course, undergraduates who have successfully completed one Part of another course and are suitably qualified can transfer to Music at the beginning of Part IB.


Music graduates are extremely attractive to employers and can follow a career in almost any field thanks to the transferable skills they acquire on our course. Many of our students do enter the music profession in one guise or another. Recent graduates include pianist Tom Poster, who performs regularly at the Proms, and Robin Ticciati, now the Principal Conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Other recent graduates have pursued successful careers in publishing and the media, academia, arts administration, banking, law, public service and the charity sector.

Course outline

Teaching is provided through lectures, seminars, and supervisions. In your first year, you can typically expect to have six lectures and three supervisions each week.

Assessment takes place at the end of each year through written examinations; the submission of portfolios, essays and dissertations; and through recitals.

Year 1 (Part IA)

The first year consists of three major components which continue into the second year:

  • Historical and Critical Studies – two and a half papers covering issues involved in understanding music and its relationship to society and culture. This includes the main historical developments of Western music from the medieval period to the present, and a selection of historical or contemporary case studies
  • Techniques of Tonal Music – two papers giving you a thorough technical grounding in music of the Western tonal tradition; through arrangement, acquisition of basic harmonic skills at the keyboard, aural work, and writing music in a range of historical styles. This is a foundation for more advanced work in all musical fields
  • Music Analysis – one paper which gives you an understanding of what makes music work through hands-on familiarity with a range of styles. This creates a bridge between your work in Historical and Critical Studies and Techniques of Tonal Music

For your final half paper, you have the choice of giving a 15 minute recital, submitting an original composition, or writing an extended essay.

Year 2 (Part IB)

You take a further paper in each of the core Part IA areas, which together take up half of your time.

For the remaining half, you choose three papers from a range of different topics. Subjects available change from year to year but normally include:

  • advanced historical topics
  • advanced analysis
  • jazz and popular music
  • ethnomusicology
  • scientific approaches to music
  • performance studies (including recital)
  • composition
  • a dissertation of 5,000-7,000 words
Year 3 (Part II)

In the final year, you have even more choice. There are no compulsory papers – you can choose six papers from a wide selection of options which reflect your own interests and which may also develop the skills and knowledge needed for your chosen career path. Examples of options available in recent years include:

  • Beethoven: the Late String Quartets
  • Mozart's Figaro in Context
  • The Music of Miles Davis
  • Fugue
  • Monteverdi in Mantua and Venice
  • Nationalism and Music in the Middle East
  • Performance Practice 1600-1830
  • Blues Cultures
  • Boris Godunov and its Contexts
  • Perception and Performance
  • The Music of Chopin

You can also work with individual staff members on your own projects, whether as an advanced performer, composer, historian, analyst, ethnomusicologist, or music scientist. In this way, while our course gives you the solid understanding of the subject which a music degree should guarantee, it also offers you the flexibility you need to prepare for life after Cambridge.

Entry requirements

Typical offers require
A Level:
IB: 40-41 points, with 776 at Higher Level
For other qualifications, see our main Entrance requirements pages.

Course requirements

Essential A Level/IB Higher Level Music (ABRSM Grade 8 Theory can be offered as a substitute)
Useful Grade 5 piano

Applicants for Music should be studying A Level Music (or equivalent). Further to this no particular subjects are more desirable than others. Modern Languages and History are useful but so are virtually all other subjects, including Mathematics and sciences, in different ways. Please note, Music Technology is not an adequate substitute for Music A Level.

Applicants should be familiar with the Western classical repertoire and have experience of writing about music. A well developed musical ear, some facility at the keyboard, and some proficiency in harmony and counterpoint are also desirable, though few successful applicants have equal facility in all these areas.

Check College websites for College specific requirements. See also Entrance requirements and our Subject Matters leaflet for additional advice about general requirements for entry, qualifications and offers.

Admissions tests and written work

The table below sets out the ways in which each College assesses applicants for this subject. For more information about these methods of assessment and why we use them, see the main Admissions tests and written work page.

College Assessment of applicant for this subject
Christ's School/college essay; Preparatory study at interview; Harmony exercise; Aural test at interview
Churchill School/college essays; Preparatory study at interview
Clare Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview; School/college essay; Harmony exercise
Corpus Christi School/college essay
Downing School/college essay; Test at interview
Emmanuel School/college essay; Preparatory study at interview
Fitzwilliam School/college essay; Test at interview
Girton School/college essay; Test at interview
Gonville & Caius School/college essays, Harmony work and compositions; Test at interview; Opportunity to perform at interview
Homerton School/college essay; Test at interview
Hughes Hall Test at interview
Jesus School/college essay; Test at interview
King's School/college essay; Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview
Lucy Cavendish School/college essay; Test at interview
Magdalene School/college essays; Harmony or composition work; Test at interview
Murray Edwards School/college essay; Test at interview
Newnham School/college essays; Preparatory study at interview
Pembroke School/college essays; Written test at interview; Preparatory reading at interview
Peterhouse School/college essays; Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview
Queens' School/college essay; Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview
Robinson School/college essay; Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview
St Catharine's School/college essay; Test at interview
St Edmund's Preparatory study at interview
St John's School/college essay; Harmony/counterpoint exercises and/or original composition where available; Tests at interview; Preparatory study at interview
Selwyn School/college essay; Test at interview
Sidney Sussex School/college essays; Marked music theory exercise (harmony or counterpoint) or original composition; Preparatory study at interview; Test at interview   
Trinity School/college essay; Test at interview
Trinity Hall School/college essays; Test at interview; Preparatory study at interview
Wolfson Test at interview
How to apply

If you are interested in applying for this course, please see our Applying section for more details.

Further Resources

Find out more about Music at Cambridge

  • Course website - Explore Music in more detail on the course website.
  • Music awards - Information on the various music awards available to talented students at Cambridge.
  • Music Open Days and Events - A list of opportunities for prospective applicants to visit the University and sample the faculty teaching and resources

Improve your knowledge of Music

Music and your future

The student experience

  • The Musical Environment - Some information on the various groups and societies that provide a huge range of opportunities for musical performance and appreciation in Cambridge.

Unistats info

Contextual Information

From September 2012, every undergraduate course of more than one year's duration will have a Key Information Set (KIS). The KIS allows you to compare 17 pieces of information about individual courses at different higher education institutions.

However, please note that superficially similar courses often have very different structures and objectives, and that the teaching, support and learning environment that best suits you can only be determined by identifying your own interests, needs, expectations and goals, and comparing them with detailed institution- and course-specific information.

We recommend that you look thoroughly at the course and University information contained on these webpages and consider coming to visit us on an Open Day, rather than relying solely on statistical comparison.

You may find the following notes helpful when considering information presented by the KIS.

  1. The KIS relies on superficially similar courses being coded in the same way. Whilst this works on one level, it leads to some anomalies. For example, Music courses and Music Technology courses can have exactly the same code despite being very different programmes with quite distinct educational and career outcomes.

    Any course which combines several disciplines (as many courses at Cambridge do) tends to be compared nationally with courses in just one of those disciplines, and in such cases a KIS comparison may not be an accurate or fair reflection of the reality of either. For example, you may find that when considering a degree which embraces a range of disciplines such as biology, physics, chemistry and geology (for instance, Natural Sciences at Cambridge), the comparison provided is with courses at other institutions that primarily focus on just one (or a smaller combination) of those subjects.

  2. Whilst the KIS makes reference to some broad types of financial support offered by institutions, it cannot compare packages offered by different institutions. Different students have different circumstances and requirements, and you should weigh up what matters to you most: level of fee; fee waivers; means-tested support such as bursaries; non-means-tested support such as academic scholarships and study grants; and living costs such as accommodation, travel.

  3. The KIS provides a typical cost of private (ie non-university) accommodation. This is very difficult to estimate as prices and properties vary. University accommodation can be substantially cheaper, and if you are likely to live in College for much or all of the duration of your course (as is the case at Cambridge), then the cost of private accommodation will be of less or no relevance for you. The KIS also provides the typical annual cost of university accommodation and the number of beds available. Note that since most universities offer a range of residential accommodation, you should check with institutions about the likelihood of securing a room at a price that suits your budget. Knowing the number of beds available is not necessarily useful: it may be much more important to find out if all students are guaranteed accommodation.

  4. Time in lectures, seminars and similar can vary enormously by institution depending on the structure of the course, and the quality of such contact time should be the primary consideration.

  5. Whilst starting salaries can be a useful measure, they do not give any sense of career trajectory or take account of the voluntary/low paid work that many graduates undertake initially in order to gain valuable experience necessary/advantageous for later career progression.

The above list is not exhaustive and there may be other important factors that are relevant to the choices that you are making, but we hope that this will be a useful starting point to help you delve deeper than the face value of the KIS data.