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BA Music and Drama / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Composition Portfolio

Unit code MUSC30300
Credit rating 40
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Full year
Offered by Music
Available as a free choice unit? No


A course dealing with advanced compositional techniques, for students with a strong commitment to composing and to serious contemporary music. This course is open to both instrumental and electroacoustic composers; it is also possible for composers to study a hybrid of instrumental and electroacoustic composition, with the permission of the Course Director.

This course is a preparation for the composition at a high level within the profession, as well as for study of advanced composition at postgraduate level.


A minimum of 30 credits of composition units at level 2:

  • For instrumental composition, MUSC 20321 + 20362.
  • For electroacoustic composition, MUSC 20161 + 20162.

For mixed portfolio a minimum of 50 credits of composition at level 2 is necessary (either 20321 + 20362 + 20161, 20321 + 20161 + 20162 or all four L2 composition units)


  • To develop compositional skills relevant to today's composer of serious music.
  • To consolidate studio-based and live and interactive compositional methodologies.
  • To provide enhanced skills in sound processing, interactive performance and sound diffusion.
  • To create software-based environments for interactive sonic creativity with human interface devices and computers.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Apply a greater understanding of timbral resources to their compositions.
  • Apply increasingly ambitious temporal and dramatic strategies to their composition.
  • Apply greater independence in their approach to composition.
  • Demonstrate enhanced skills in sound processing and electroacoustic composition.
  • Develop sonic material with imagination and technical expertise.
  • Create, live perform and diffuse interactive and fixed media electroacoustic music in multichannel setups.


Semester one consists of a set task:

  • Instrumental composers write a composition where texture and timbre are the primary concern of the music, studying relevant repertoire, and developing appropriate temporal strategies to express their ideas to maximum effect.
  • Electroacoustic composers focus on formal strategies, composing a set of three miniatures for fixed media.

In semester two, each student writes an ambitious (<10 minutes) composition of their own choosing.

Composers are responsible for organising performances of both their compositions, which will take place at the end of each semester.

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures/seminars, tutorials, workshops, performances, consultation hours, Vaganza concerts, Composers’ Fora

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Understand to an advanced degree the technical and sonic characteristics of instrumental resources;
  • Demonstrate sophisticated knowledge of the principles of their combination in scoring;
  • Be knowledgeable, resourceful and independent in their approach to composing within musical parameters.
  • Merge knowledge and aesthetic awareness into the compositional process, while developing an original compositional voice.
  • Understand the technologies and tools necessary for working in electroacoustic environments.
  • Demonstrate an awareness of technologies required for sound diffusion in fixed media and live interactive performance for instrumental players.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

•  Analyse, evaluate and develop sonic material within aesthetic and technical contexts.
•  Research existing repertoire independently for guidance on completing the set tasks.
•  Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different compositional strategies in bringing their own ideas to fruition.
•  Plan sophisticated musical structures and solve technical and practical problems in bringing these to successful realisation in performance.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:


  • Apply knowledge of the technical and practical features of instruments creatively.
  • Articulate shapes and dramatic strategies through sound.


Instrumental composers will also be able to:

  • Supervise and direct rehearsals.
  • Produce performance materials to professional standards.
  • Notate musical ideas such that they can be learnt by musicians without the composer.


Electroacoustic composers will also be able to:

  • Demonstrate enhanced skill in using technology to achieve meaning and expression through sound
  • Work in teams assembling and derigging complicated set-ups.
  • Apply a technical knowledge of software techniques and sound recordings in realizing fixed media works and scores for instruments and electronics in performance
  • Implement at professional level the Format of Composition submission of scores for Live Interactive music¿(acoustic instruments with electronics or fixed media), designed and approved by the composition staff
  • Prepare and deliver a presentation through coursework as a formative experience toward completing the electroacoustic musical outcomes

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate creative problem-solving;
  • Collaborate with other students in realising their ideas, and the ideas of others.
  • Demonstrate organisational and management skills in booking musicians, arranging rehearsals, working with technology and preparing performances.
  • Demonstrate attention to detail through preparing and editing performance material to professional standards;
  • Demonstrate creative problem-solving.
  • Demonstrate enhanced skill in computers and technology as interfaces for human communication in contexts beyond creative music composition

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Surveying repertoire, analysing materials for musical potential
Group/team working
Collaborating with musicians; Interpersonal skills (collaborating with other students and musicians);
Inventing a creative concept and putting into motion
Leadership skills (being responsible for overseeing a creative product from inception through to final performance).
Project management
Time management (running workshops and rehearsals); Working to tight deadlines (composing music, and preparing performance materials in time for workshops and performances); Organisational skills (finding and booking musicians and rehearsal space);
Problem solving
Creative problem-solving (fulfilling set task with set resources);
Editing (in preparing performance materials);

Assessment methods

Assessment task


Weighting within unit

EITHER:  Composition that makes texture and timbre the primary focus for 3-5 instrumentalists

OR: Suite of three miniatures for fixed media

6 mins


Free choice composition

8 mins



Feedback methods

  • Tutorials on work in progress
  • Feedback from peers in tutorials, workshops and in collaboration with performers
  • Written feedback on the project
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during consultation hour or by making an appointment)

Recommended reading

Music scores of works by Claude Debussy, Arnold Schoenberg, György Ligeti, George Crumb, Gerard Grisey, Tristan Murial, Helmut Lachenmann, among others.

Blatter, Alfred,  Instrumentation and Orchestration (New York & London: Longman, 1997).

Gould, Elaine, Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide To Music Notation (London: Faber, 2011)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 12
Practical classes & workshops 17
Tutorials 12
Independent study hours
Independent study 359

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Philip Grange Unit coordinator

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