Music

Everything you are about to read has been written by current and recently graduated students at the University of Cambridge, to give you honest information about what it’s like to be a student at Cambridge.

The music course at Cambridge is different to those run at conservatoires; here we focus on writing about music history and theory, as well as introducing you to practical skills that will help you develop your general musicianship. Of the 65 or so students per year, everyone has a different set of skills. Throughout the three years, you gain a broad understanding of how music functions, what it means to be a musician, and what music can do when it is not confined to a page.

Music Credit: Cambridge University

What about the Music course at Cambridge appealed to you?

Jay, Music, Pembroke College, 1st Year
Jay
Pembroke College, 1st year
What Appealed

Many university music courses plunge straight into contemporary approaches to music, which can be exciting, but makes much more sense if you’ve already covered the earlier history basic techniques of the subject. In the first year we take reasonably in-depth courses on medieval and Renaissance musics and on particular aspects of the late Classical and early Romantic periods which, along with thorough study of harmony and counterpoint, set you up really well for any specialism you’d like to pursue in later life. I’ve learnt a huge amount from my supervisors that I couldn’t have hoped to get out of lectures or my own reading, including insights on the music profession and on life in general, and having good working relationships with them makes my time here tremendously inspiring. The supervision system has made me feel really valued and taken seriously as a student.

How have you found the structure of the course?

Alice, Music, King's College, 3rd Year
Alice
King's College, 3rd year

Like a lot of courses at Cambridge, the music course starts relatively broad, and then allows students to specialise toward the end. This can be great for trying new things, but also means some bits of first year can be a bit intimidating. Don’t be put off by this – if you’re truly terrible at Keyboard skills you can drop them later on! In second year, students chose half their modules and in third year, all of them. I really enjoyed the ability to make my degree what I want, and the variation that’s possible – right now I study mainly the social aspects of music with a few interesting history modules thrown in, but I have one friend who’s managed to orientate everything around piano music (including a recital), and another who spends most of their time composing.

What is your faculty/department like?

Jay, Music, Pembroke College, 1st Year
Jay
Pembroke College, 1st year

The music faculty library is tremendous -- as well as having all the books and journals that your college library might not have, it is a really great place to work. It’s also right next to the University Library, so if you need a book, it’s within reach! Access to food from the faculty is very limited though (particularly after a long lecture!) so we mainly use facilities elsewhere on the sidgewick site, like the arc cafe. A particular downside is that music students aren’t able to use the concert hall for free, although we can book practice rooms with grand pianos for up to two hours at a time.

What types of work do you have to do?

Erin, Music, Girton College, 1st Year
Erin
Girton College, 1st year

Through the compulsory first and second year modules you’ll get a taste of all the different types of work that the university expects music students to do. In first year this consists of reading for and writing essays, completing harmony and counterpoint exercises, practice at the piano for keyboard skills and composing or practising your first instrument (if you opt for the small composition or performance options). In second year everyone does some composing, in a particular historical style. These types of work are completed for supervisions (sessions of 1-5 people lead by a teacher) of which there are an average of 4 per week in first year. The music faculty library (the Pendlebury library) contains a large selection of books, scores, recordings and other resources so it’s very easy to get hold of anything you need for your work and lots are now digitized!

Do you have career plans?

Alice, Music, King's College, 3rd Year
Alice
King's College, 3rd year
Types of work

Next year I have an offer to go to Oxford and research pop music, specifically Arianna Grande and Miley Cyrus! I didn’t plan on staying at university, but I’ve found I really enjoy writing about music. Others in my year will go on to further study at conservatoires, in order to become professional musicians, or, in the case of a few, conductors. Some will end up teaching music in one way or another, or running music centres and church choirs. However, studying music doesn’t restrict you – I also know people who’ve gone on to be accountants or consultants. People don’t necessarily study music because they know they want to do that for the rest of their lives, but rather because they find it interesting enough to spend three years thinking about it.

What about your course would you change?

Jay, Music, Pembroke College, 1st Year
Jay
Pembroke College, 1st year

Not a lot! In some ways my expectations of it have moulded to my experience, but I can genuinely say that in my first two terms here I feel like I’ve been given an accurate view of music as an academic discipline. So far I’ve always had way more on my plate than I can handle so I’ve not really had the opportunity to find it boring (!), but certainly I enjoy my work, and crucially I’ve felt that there is always the potential to take it further and that my lecturers, supervisors and Director of Studies will support me whenever I do.

Typical timetable of a 1st year Music student

Erin, Music, Girton College, 1st Year
Erin
Girton College, 1st year

The timetable of a music student can change quite a lot - the lecture schedule is fixed, so I will be in the faculty all morning from Tuesdays to Fridays, but the supervision schedule and extra-curricular activities can really vary from week to week! If you decide to get involved in your college chapel choir, the pattern of rehearsals and services is pretty fixed, although commitment varies from college to college. I’m also in a university orchestra, which operates on a project-based schedule. It’s up to you to decide which you opt for, and the more you do the busier you’ll be! What I fill the time at the weekend with varies, but that might be a choir party, a gathering in a friend’s room, going to a concert at the faculty or a show at the ADC theatre.

- Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
9am No Lectures Musicology Lecture Music History Lecture (pre-1800) Music Analysis Lecture Counterpoint lecture
10am No Lectures - - Faculty Coffee Morning! -
11am No Lectures Music History Lecture Harmony lecture Aural skills class Keyboard skills supervision
12am - Use of Russian (grammar lesson) Translation from Russian to English class - -
1pm Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch
2pm Harmony & Counterpoint Supervision - Analysis (Baroque) supervision Analysis (classical) supervision in town Quartet rehearsal at the faculty
3pm - - - - -
3pm Renaissance supervision - - - Rehearsal with my accompanist for recital.

What has been going on at Music?

- Recent Events -

Woman Conductors Workshop with Alice Farnham

11 music students of varying experience worked with Alice over 2 days, conducting two pianos and then a professional string quartet.

Academy of Ancient Music and Cambridge University Collegium Musicum: Side-by-side workshop

Workshop held in the West Road Concert Hall focusing on historically informed performance techniques appropriate to seventeenth-century Italian repertoire.

Britten Sinfonia: Composers’ Workshop

Five shortlisted composers from across the undergraduate, Master’s and PhD programmes attended intensive rehearsals of their music; one will receive a professional commission from the orchestra.

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