MusM Music (Musicology)

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Historical and Editorial Skills

Course unit fact file
Unit code MUSC60092
Credit rating 30
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Music
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course develops advanced skills that are necessary for conducting original research on music from medieval times to the 19th century, using a ‘hands-on’ approach. Students examine original music sources as well as facsimiles, and learn how to extract from the external and internal features of both manuscript and printed sources what is most useful for scholars and also for performers.


Available as Free Choice (UG) or to other programmes (PG)?

Yes: available as Free Choice on other MA programmes, subject to the stated pre-requisite (a degree in Music or the approval of the course tutor).

Pre-requisite units

None, but requires a degree in Music or the approval of the course tutor.

The course uses English and music notation. Foreign words and phrases are occasionally introduced.



To provide training in advanced skills necessary for conducting research on music from medieval times to the 19th century, with emphasis on the Baroque and Classical periods.

To enable students to:

  • locate original music sources efficiently
  • examine both manuscript and printed sources effectively
  • decipher difficult handwriting and notation
  • understand the relationships between different sources
  • create effective performing editions of early music
  • understand elements of performance practice that relate to the notation found in the sources.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Locate original sources, using appropriate reference tools.
  • Understand how printed and manuscript sources of early music were prepared and assembled, and what can be learnt from them.
  • Understand how music was and is transmitted from composer to performer.
  • Employ greater discernment in the use of editions of varying quality.
  • Show thorough awareness of the problems of editing music.

Intellectual skills

  • Understand and address some of the innumerable questions and ambiguities that lie behind seemingly trustworthy music sources.
  • Understand the problems involved in dating early sources.
  • Decipher, transcribe and interpret music notation that lies outside what is ordinarily encountered in modern editions.

Practical skills

  • Handle both original sources and facsimiles, and assess the relationships between sources.
  • Create editions of early music that fulfil the needs of both scholars and performers.
  • Correct existing editions of early music.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Use online and library resources to locate desired information more efficiently.
  • Identify and distinguish handwritings, and decipher difficult handwriting.
  • Work out the relationships between different copies of the same material.
  • Write reviews, source descriptions and other narratives concisely but unambiguously.
  • Interpret conflicting pieces of evidence through the application of logic.
  • Exhibit experience in handling original sources from earlier centuries.


Employability skills

Students gain clear understanding of the processes by which documents can be corrupted during transmission. They increase their skills in deciphering difficult handwriting, gain knowledge of how to handle and interpret old documents, and how to edit and collate different versions of the same material ¿ especially for the purpose of creating musically performable editions.

Assessment methods

Project 1 50%
Project 2 50%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Oral feedback on individual presentations


Oral and/or written feedback on exercises


Additional one-to-one feedback during consultation hours or by email


Written feedback on projects



Recommended reading

Understanding sources:

  • Boorman, Stanley, et al. ‘Printing and Publishing of Music’, Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 
  • Boorman, Stanley, ‘Sources, MS, 1: Introduction’, Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. 
  • Gaskell, Philip, A New Introduction to Bibliography, Oxford, 1972; 2nd edn, New Castle, Del., 1995.
  • Krummel, Donald, Guide for Dating Early Published Music, Hackensack, 1974. 
  • La Rue, Jan, ‘Watermarks and Musicology’, Acta Musicologica, xxxiii (1961), 120-46.

Editing sources:

  • Caldwell, John, Editing Early Music, Oxford, 1995.
  • Cooper, Barry, ’Sources and Editions’, in A Performer’s Guide to Music of the Classical Period, ed. Anthony Burton, London, 2002, pp. 91-101.
  • Dart, Thurston, et al., Editing Early Music, London, 1963.
  • Grier, James, The Critical Editing of Music, Cambridge, 1996.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 278

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Barry Cooper Unit coordinator

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