MusB Music / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Techniques of Tonal Harmony

Course unit fact file
Unit code MUSC10112
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Students will study tonal harmony and counterpoint through exercises in two principal areas:

  • Chorale harmonisation in the style of J. S. Bach stimulates investigation of the structure of basic tonal chords, their relationship to one another in a given key, and their functions with respect to phrasing and cadence. It also introduces the concept of modulation and the relationships between keys in the course of a piece, and highlights some of the demands of four-part vocal writing both in terms of chordal voicing and the shaping of individual lines
  • Two-part counterpoint in the style of Palestrina focuses on line and counterpoint at an introductory level, giving students a sense of how musical lines are shaped, and how in simple combination they interact to create a harmonically convincing whole. By focussing on the style of Palestrina, students will experience the fundamentals of Sixteenth Century counterpoint, giving additional context for their understanding of J.S. Bach. Students will have the opportunity to hear their work performed in a dedicated workshop towards the end of the semester



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

Yes, but note prerequisite of A Level Music or Grade VIII Theory or equivalent.



  • To provide a foundation for understanding the concepts of consonance and dissonance within the context of early tonal music
  • To enable students to develop practical skills in the manipulation of musical materials within the parameters of set styles

Knowledge and understanding

Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • the concepts of consonance and dissonance
  • the interaction between line and harmony, within defined musical styles (ie, what makes a convincing line; what makes a meaningful harmonic progression)
  • how composers in the Sixteenth Century, and how J.S. Bach approached harmony and counterpoint

Intellectual skills

  • Demonstrate competence in the manipulation of musical line and harmony according to accepted conventions of early tonal music
  • Make sophisticated musical judgements according to these principals

Practical skills

  • Apply the skills they have acquired to the idiomatic completion of fragmentary musical textures, and to the composition of simple pastiche compositions from scratch
  • Notate their work to a high standard, so that it can be easily read by performers

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Demonstrate enhanced problem solving — thinking through problems in a logical way in order to determine key issues
  • Demonstrate increased creative skills
  • Demonstrate a flexibility of approach in application of understanding to defined musical scenarios

Employability skills

Make more informed interpretative decisions when performing Apply general principles from this course (where applicable) to composition Write about music in a more informed way A good knowledge of these skills is valuable for teaching, whether in schools (especially A-level), or teaching instruments / voice and guiding pupils through theory exams

Assessment methods

Cantus Firmus exercise 0%
Exam 100%


Feedback methods

  • Formative feedback on weekly tasks in tutorials
  • Formative feedback on Cantus Firmus exercise in workshop
  • Summative feedback on exam

Recommended reading

  • Bach, J.S., ed. Riemenschneider, Albert, ‘371 Harmonized Chorales and 69 Chorale Melodies with Figured Bass’, London : Chappell, 1941 (NB! You are expected to own a copy of this)
  • Boyd, Malcolm, ‘Harmonizing ‘Bach’ chorales’, London: Barrie and Rockcliff, 1967 (one-night loan in Lenagan)
  • Boyd, Malcolm, ‘Palestrina’s Style’, Oxford University Press, 1973 (one-night loan in Lenagan)
  • Morley, Thomas, ed. Harman, R. Alec, ‘A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music’, London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1952 (available from library as e-book)
  • Palestrina, G.P. da, ‘The complete works of G.P. da Palestrina’, Kalmus, 1960
    Swindale, Owen, ‘Polyphonic Composition’, Oxford University Press, 1962 (one-night loan in Lenagan; copies in Main library)              

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 5
Practical classes & workshops 1
Tutorials 6
Independent study hours
Independent study 88

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Richard Whalley Unit coordinator

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