Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2020-2021 (archived)

Module MUSI43260: Compositional Techniques

Department: Music

MUSI43260: Compositional Techniques

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 60 Availability Not available in 2020/21 Module Cap None.
Tied to W3K707


  • We require evidence of standard at least equivalent to a strong 2:1 degree final year composition portfolio. A portfolio of at least two contrasting works of at least ten minutes total duration must be submitted to prove that the applicant is of the required level.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To facilitate the acquisition of advanced skills and techniques through close engagement with specific learning contexts in composition.
  • To enable students to develop a critical understanding of, and reflective approach to, new directions in art music, above all as the basis for evaluation of their own compositional research.


  • Representative topics may include (but will not be restricted to):
  • composing for ensembles
  • composition for a given film extract
  • composition for antiphonal ensembles
  • composition using borrowed materials
  • music theatre
  • composition for dance
  • vocal and choral composition
  • computer-assisted composition
  • composing for film
  • Students will be guided through the writing of varied compositional studies which will develop and exploit specific skills. The student can tailor aspects of the module to their own compositional strengths, interests, and learning needs.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • students will become familiar with a range of advanced compositional techniques, as well as the perspective and critical understanding required to apply them, where appropriate, to their own compositional research.
  • critical understanding of theories and methodologies pertinent to the composition of musicadvanced knowledge of relevant musical repertories from a range of historical periods and geographical locations
  • advanced knowledge of relevant performative praxes .
Subject-specific Skills:
  • students will acquire the skills necessary to write compositional exercises with fluency, authority and originality.
  • through organised workshops and performance opportunities, students will engage directly with the practicalities of creative communication and expression via the medium of music composition.
  • an advanced ability to engage critically with theories and methodologies pertinent to the academic study of composition
  • an advanced ability to describe and analyse musical works from a range of repertories, informed by an understanding of the socio-cultural matrices from which they emerged and of their specific formal and stylistic features
  • an advanced ability to draw upon appropriate theoretical perspectives and methodologies to compose music while simultaneously deriving independent intellectual and creative insights from this activities
  • advanced competence in musical literacy
  • advanced competence in engaging with musical materials of different kinds, whether as physical objects (e.g. scores) and or in electronic formats (e.g. recordings, audio-visual materials)
Key Skills:
  • engage in close readings of a wide range of challenging texts (musical, verbal, audio-visual, as appropriate)
  • deploy independent research skills using appropriate specialist tools and resources;
  • synthesise complex materials from a wide range of sources and to present them cogently in the form of written documents, oral reports, presentations, and musical performances, as appropriate
  • demonstrate competence in information technology skills to support MA learning and research (e.g. by means of: word-processing and music-processing software; databases; presentation software; audiovisual editing and analysis software; graph- and image-processing; web-based resources; relevant technologies)
  • deploy advanced knowledge of professional conduct in meeting academic standards, including appropriate use of relevant ethical codes of practice and correct referencing of sources
  • deploy problem-solving skills
  • deploy organisational skills, including time management.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The seminars will enable students to express their own creativity and develop their own compositional voice in response to a range of ideas associated with contemporary art music. Typically, directed learning may include assigning student(s) an issue, theme or topic that can be independently or collectively explored within a framework and/or with additional materials provided by the tutor. This may function as preparatory work for presenting their ideas or findings (sometimes electronically) to their peers and tutor in the context of a seminar.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 20 Weekly during terms 1 and 2 2 hours 40
Individual tutorials 20 variable 1 hour 20
Preparation and Reading 540

Summative Assessment

Component: Composition Exercise Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Composition to submit to an external composition competition Expected around 6' (though actual length contingent on competition rules) 70% Yes
Critical reflection on composition brief 1,000 words 30% Yes
Component: Portfolio Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Portfolio of two compositional exercises, and 1000 word commentary 10 minutes 100% yes

Formative Assessment:

Periodic small-scale assignments in compositional techniques studied on the module.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University