MA in Music (taught): Contemporary Studies

Course summary

The MA in Music (taught): Contemporary Studies pathway is for students who wish to investigate areas of contemporary music through practical and theoretical research.

Staff contact

If you have any further questions about the course, or would like to discuss your application, please contact the pathway leader:

Our MA in Music (taught) gives you time, facilities and authoritative guidance from academics and professional musicians to concentrate on your own musical interests.

Postgraduate Diploma and Postgraduate Certificate

Each pathway is also available as a Postgraduate Diploma (120 credits) and Postgraduate Certificate (60 credits).

Typically there are around 10 - 15 students working with a particular supervisor on a pathway, and during the year you will concentrate on your own particular projects. There are no major pieces of work thrust upon you that do not respect the independent nature of your pursuits. Instead, you produce Guided Projects for the first two terms and an Independent Project during the summer term and summer vacation.

About the Contemporary Studies pathway


This course allows students to investigate areas of contemporary music through practical and theoretical research. The aim is to gain an understanding of the range and variety of current musical practices (in composition, performance or improvisation, but also other forms: installation, sound art, music theatre, radio and web-based work, and so on), and to contextualize this in relation to recent musicology and critical theory. Students will extend their knowledge and experience of contemporary repertoire, examine different models of practice (including relevant approaches in other art forms), and consider the implications of new technologies.

Structure and ethos

Supervisions for the Guided Submissions

The Autumn and Spring terms are spent producing guided submissions in the form of portfolios, as explained above. You will be allocated an academic supervisor, with whom you'll make weekly or fortnightly appointments in order to discuss your work. You may also make appointments to discuss your ideas with other members of staff, as interest and time allows.


Teaching is through seminars and workshops. Along with the other students studying for the MA in Music, you'll attend a seminar every Wednesday exploring the range of contemporary practice and examining it in relation to relevant critical debates in musicology, critical theory, and other art forms.

Performance activities in the Music Department

Performance students are eligible for some financial contribution towards their instrumental or vocal lessons. Students will be offered advice on their choice of instrumental teacher; there are recommended visiting teachers in voice and most instruments. For student conductors there is the opportunity to have specific guidance in conducting contemporary repertoire.

 Practical performance plays an important part in all our courses: this is a busy, creative department. All postgraduate students are encouraged to participate as much as possible in Departmental Ensembles, whether or not performance forms part of your assessment. Information on the range of ensembles can be found on the Department website. You may also take part informally in undergraduate modules if you wish (with the tutor's permission).


During the MA year you will submit two portfolios of Guided Submissions for assessment, one in the Spring Term, one in the Summer Term, followed by an Independent Submission (known as the dissertation portfolio) in September, near the end of the course. The content of these submissions is negotiated with your supervisor, and can include essays and/or creative work plus documentation. The practical work can take any form, by negotiation: compositions, performances, installations, fixed media work, web-based work, etc. You are expected to show creativity, knowledge of the subject area, research and original thinking in all your portfolio submissions. The documentation that accompanies creative submissions should contextualise the work and place it in a critical framework. The form and content of this documentation will vary according to the project: guidance on this will be provided by your supervisor.


What support does the University provide for the Contemporary Studies pathway?

In addition to the supervisory support mentioned above, the University Library has a useful collection of electronic and hard copy resources relevant to contemporary studies in music and the arts. There is a good collection of primary and secondary source materials in performance practice, including a large collection of scores.  The Library has an efficient interlending service that can get hold of items (for a small fee) not held onsite or in nearby research libraries. The Document Supply Centre of the British Library is located near to York, and a bus provides transportation from the library to there once a week during term-time.

In the Department, students have access to technical equipment for electronic and recording work, and the support of dedicated technicians. The Department also has a fine collection of early instruments including two fortepianos, a square piano, four harpsichords, a spinet, a clavichord, a three-manual neo-classical organ, a continuo organ, a chest of viols and various Renaissance, Baroque and Classical instruments.

How to apply

International students

You will need English Language to IELTS 6.0.

Please note that the assignments on this course are mostly practical in nature.

The application process is straightforward. After application, you will be shortly be called for interview. For international students, this can be accomplished on Skype (or similar).

Make your application

  • Apply for the MA in Music online using the University's application forms.
  • Indicate clearly in the written title of your application that you wish to be considered for the MA in Music: Contemporary Studies pathway.