MusB Music / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Vocal Composition

Course unit fact file
Unit code MUSC20362
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
Available as a free choice unit? No


A practice-based course in which students create original compositions using voice/voices for performance and recording at the end of the course.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Instrumental Composition MUSC20321 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


This course unit provides knowledge of voice types (their technical features and sonic characteristics) and how these may be combined with each other and with instrumental resources to artistic ends. The student will be able to set words to music, in sympathy with their textural meaning, subtext, stress, rhythm, grouping-structure and form. By the end of the course the student will have applied this knowledge by completing an original composition setting a text in English and bringing this to a well-prepared performance. 

Knowledge and understanding

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

  • Understand the technical and sonic characteristics of vocal resources
  • Combine these with each other or with instruments
  • Understand the principles of text setting – meaning, stress, rhythm, grouping structure and poetic/literary form
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the principles of balance and timbral combination in scoring for voices and/or instruments
  • Have a sophisticated understanding of all the principal musical parameters and use these to interact with textual structures in meaningful ways.

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 for guidance on completing the set task
  • Evaluate the potential of literary texts for musical setting, and put this into practice
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of different compositional strategies in bringing their setting to fruition
  • Plan sophisticated musical structures that interact meaningfully and coherently with literary structures and solve technical and practical problems in bringing these to successful realisation in performance;
  • Apply standard professional musical notation and evaluate its applicability to creative objectives.

Practical skills

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

  • Apply knowledge of the technical and practical features of the voice creatively;
  • Articulate shapes and dramatic strategies through sound;
  • Create musical shapes that interact with words in a coherent and meaningful way;
  • Collaborate with singers and instrumentalists;
  • Supervise and direct rehearsals;
  • Produce performance materials to professional standards;
  • Notate musical ideas such that they can be learnt by musicians without the composer.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

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

  • Demonstrate organisational and management skills in booking musicians, arranging rehearsals and preparing performances
  • Demonstrate attention to detail through preparing and editing performance material to professional standards
  • Demonstrate creative problem solving
  • Collaborate with other students in realising their ideas, and the ideas of others


Employability skills

Analytical skills
Analytical skills (surveying repertoire, analysing texts and materials for musical potential)
Group/team working
Team work (collaborating with musicians) Interpersonal skills (collaborating with other students and musicians)
Creative problem-solving (fulfilling set task with set resources)
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 fixed deadlines (composing music, and preparing performance materials in time for workshops and performances); Organisational skills (finding and booking musicians and rehearsal space);
Editing (in preparing performance materials)

Assessment methods

EITHER: Original composition for voice and two instruments from different instrumental families (excluding keyboards)

OR: Original Composition for three a cappella voices






Feedback methods

  • Tutorials and workshops 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

  • Blatter, Alfred,  Instrumentation and Orchestration (New York & London: Longman, 1997).
  • Barker, Paul, Composing for the Voice: A Guide for Composers, Singers and Teachers (New York & Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge, 2004).
  • Elliot, Martha, Singing in Style: A Guide to Vocal Performance Practice (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).    
  • Gould, Elaine, Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide To Music Notation (London: Faber, 2011).
  • Manning, Jane, New Vocal Repertoire (Oxford: Clarendon, 1994)
  • Miller, Richard, The Structure of Singing: System and Art in Vocal Technique (Belmont, Ca.: Schirmer, 1996).
  • Potter, John, The Cambridge Companion to Singing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).   
  • Sundberg, Johan, The Science of the Singing Voice (DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1987).
  • Thomson, Virgil, Music with Words: A Composer’s View (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 10
Practical classes & workshops 6
Supervised time in studio/wksp 8
Tutorials 2
Independent study hours
Independent study 74

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Camden Reeves Unit coordinator

Additional notes



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