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MA Music (Composition pathway)

Define your own unique compositional voice.

Year of entry: 2020/21


1 year full-time,
2 years part-time

Start date

September 2020 (term dates)

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Our next recruitment round for this course will be for 2021 entry. For more information, contact

Discovering your compositional voice and presenting it with clarity in compelling, innovative music is a lifelong project. Our MA is designed to help you develop the skills to pursue this, whatever your career aspirations.

Our internationally-renowned composition staff work across a range of styles and media and our students are similarly diverse. Solo or orchestral music, electronic or acoustic, notated, improvised or devised – all of these are valued in York. You'll encounter a wide variety of approaches but no prescriptions.

You'll join a lively community of postgraduate composers and the rich creative environment of the Department of Music, recieving one-to-one tuition and studying the established and emerging techniques in this exciting and constantly developing field.

Contemporary music has been a cornerstone of the department since its foundation. From early visits from Cage, Feldman and Shostakovich and the creation of pioneering electroacoustic works by Trevor Wishart and Dennis Smalley to the Proms commissions, Glastonbury appearances and international tours of recent alumni such as Anna Meredith, Kerry Andrew and Christian Mason, York has a long history of nurturing extraordinary talent.

Work with the experts

You’ll be part of CMRC, a thriving community of staff and students dedicated to the creation of new music through composition, improvisation and performance.

Performance opportunities

Hear the music you’ve written played by professional ensembles and write for the annual student-performed orchestral/large ensemble workshop.

Creative freedom

For composers, all assessments are based on your own compositions: the focus is always on your creative work.

Course content

All pathways for the MA Music follow the same structure. Over the year, you’ll take four modules totalling 180 credits. We place an emphasis on independence and creativity - you will have the freedom to study the areas that interest you.

It is crucial for every composer’s development to hear their music performed, and our lively department offers plenty of opportunities for composition students. Find out what's on offer.

Weekly composition seminars bring together MA, PhD and staff composers, with a number of seminars each term delivered by distinguished visiting composers from the UK and other parts of the world, as they present their music and compositional priorities. There may also be sessions focussing on skills for professional compositional life, for example: (self-)publishing and promotion, editing and typesetting and royalties. In Term 3, you will be expected to give a short presentation in this seminar series.

In addition to these seminars, we strongly encourage you to participate in department ensembles and attend weekly research seminars and performance classes relevant to your studies. ‌


You'll take a total of four modules:

Projects I and II

You’ll take the modules Project I: Developing Technique and Ideas and Project II: Expanding Technique and Ideas in Terms 1 and 2 respectively, with further teaching in the Summer Term.

As part of these modules, you'll attend a number of weekly seminars related to the Composition pathway. These seminars support your individual creative practice by extending your knowledge of contemporary repertoire and aesthetic attitudes as well as mining this repertoire for techniques and approaches to inform your own writing. These seminars also provide an opportunity for you to present your own music and discuss it alongside that of your peers.

At the end of each module you’ll produce a ‘guided submission’ in the form of a portfolio of compositions. Throughout the development of these portfolios you’ll receive advice, support and feedback from your academic supervisor. Your supervisor will support you as you define your own compositional voice, and you can expect this relationship to challenge and inspire you.

Project III

The course culminates in Project III, an extended individual project.

The extended project is considerably more complex than your first two submissions – you will produce a substantial portfolio of compositions, where 'substantial' is an indication of the depth of thought and sophistication of execution that is expected of composition at this level.

You'll receive advice and support from your supervisor during the Term 3 to help you develop your work.

Critical Reflection in Musical Practice

Critical Reflection in Musical Practice runs throughout the year. In this module you’ll develop sophisticated ways to articulate critical and reflective outlooks on your creative work, culminating in a presentation to fellow pathway students.

Please note, modules may change to reflect the latest academic thinking and expertise of our staff.

The York approach

Every course at York is built on a distinctive set of learning outcomes. These will give you a clear understanding of what you will be able to accomplish at the end of the course and help you explain what you can offer employers. Our academics identify the knowledge, skills, and experiences you'll need upon graduation and then design the course to get you there.

Students who complete this course will be able to:

  • Research independently and collaboratively with the sophistication, close attention to detail and creative flair developed through the advanced study of music at Master’s level
  • Lead, or constructively contribute to, advanced-level musical activity, for example by performing, composing, critical listening and thinking, analyzing, editing, improvising, notating or employing studio techniques and digital literacy at a professional level
  • Apply the musical and transferable skills gained throughout the programme with confidence and aptitude in a range of national and international professional contexts, for example performance, composition, teaching, management, academic work, and collaborative projects
  • Communicate at an advanced level on a range of issues relating to music, the arts, society and culture, using appropriate written and oral media and music-making activities
  • Plan and execute focused individual research projects, composition portfolios or recitals through rigorous planning and the application of appropriate principles, theoretical knowledge, methodologies, techniques and experience
  • Apply self-evaluative skills of reflective practice to inform current work and continuing professional development – whether through written work, compositions or performance – with creativity, imagination and initiative
The MA in Music Composition is a great opportunity to immerse in postgraduate studies, in an encouraging environment of committed teachers with a variety of approaches and areas of expertise, and in interaction with a diverse group of classmates developing very interesting projects.
Florencia, MA Music (Composition pathway)

Fees and funding

Annual tuition fees for 2020/21

Study modeUK/EUInternational
Full-time (1 year) £8,040£18,240
Part-time (2 years)
This is the year 1 fee. Fees for future years are subject to confirmation.

Students on a Tier 4 Visa are not currently permitted to study part-time at York.

For courses which are longer than one year, the tuition fees quoted are for the first year of study. Fees for subsequent years are subject to increase (no more than 2% each year).

Fees information

UK/EU or international fees? The level of fee that you will be asked to pay depends on whether you're classed as a UK/EU or international student.

Funding information

Discover your funding options to help with tuition fees and living costs.

If you've successfully completed an undergraduate degree at York you could be eligible for a 10% Masters fee discount.

Home/EU students

International students

The Terry Holmes Composer & Performer Award is a paid commission awarded jointly to a current postgraduate composer and performer to collaborate in the creation of a substantial new work for soloist and ensemble.

The Department of Music offer a number of other postgraduate scholarships, awards and bursaries. See funding options on our website.

Living costs

You can use our living costs guide to help plan your budget. It covers additional costs that are not included in your tuition fee such as expenses for accommodation and study materials.

Teaching and assessment

You’ll work with world‐leading academics who’ll challenge you to think independently and excel in all that you do. Our approach to teaching will provide you with the knowledge, opportunities, and support you need to grow and succeed in a global workplace.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

We're making changes to comply with rules on social distancing. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students

Teaching format

Teaching is delivered through a combination of individual lessons, group lessons, seminars, composition workshops and presentations from visiting performers and composers.

You will have regular meetings with your supervisor, who will advise you and help develop your ideas as you progress through your studies.

We encourage you to get involved with our lively departmental community, from our ensembles to our weekly seminars, performance classes and research seminars.


The Department is home to the Music Research Centre, one of the finest facilities for listening to and recording sound in the UK. There is a large-scale neutral listening and performing space built to extremely low noise specifications (PNC15), a linked studio suite containing a dedicated performance space with configurable acoustics and two mix down/control rooms (one with an SSL Duality console). These facilities include a wide range of microphones and recording hardware/software.

The Department houses two concert halls: The Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall and the Rymer Auditorium. Through involvement with composition workshops and departmental ensembles, composition students can expect to hear their work performed in these venues.

All students have free access to Sibelius.

Teaching location

You will be based in the Department of Music on Campus West. Almost all of your teaching will take place within the department.

About our campus

Our beautiful green campus offers a student-friendly setting in which to live and study, within easy reach of the action in the city centre. It's easy to get around campus - everything is within walking or pedalling distance, or you can always use the fast and frequent bus service.

Assessment and feedback

You’ll produce Guided Submissions for the first two terms and an Independent Submission during the summer term and summer vacation. These will take the form of substantial composition portfolios with commentaries and a presentation to fellow pathway students.

Careers and skills

The MA in Music (Composition pathway) is an ideal springboard for PhD study at York or elsewhere. Many of our students continue to PhD study and later find work in university teaching or freelance composition work, and our graduates are in positions of influence in many UK and overseas institutions.

Career opportunities

  • Teaching
  • Freelance composer
  • Residencies

Transferable skills

  • Time management
  • Critical analysis
  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Self-evaluation
York prepared me for my career by allowing the time and freedom of thought necessary and inherent to any freelance life, and especially in allowing me to embark on the substantial/ambitious projects which enabled my career to get going in the first place.
Christian Mason, MA Music (Composition pathway)

Award-winning composer

Entry requirements

Qualification Typical offer
Undergraduate degree 2:1 or equivalent in Music or another relevant discipline. We will also consider your application if you have a 2:2 honours degree and relevant professional experience.
Other international qualifications Equivalent qualifications from your country

Additional requirements

You will need to attach scores or a link to a portfolio of work which demonstrates your ability as a composer.

English language

If English isn't your first language you may need to provide evidence of your English language ability. We accept the following qualifications:

Qualification Minimum requirement
IELTS 6.0, minimum 5.5 in each component
PTE Academic 55, minimum 51 in each component
C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency 169, minimum 162 in each component
TOEFL 79, minimum 17 in Listening, 18 in Reading, 20 in Speaking and 17 in Writing
Trinity ISE III Pass in all components
Duolingo Minimum overall score of 100

For more information see our postgraduate English language requirements.

If you've not met our English language requirements

You may be eligible for one of our pre-sessional English language courses. These courses will provide you with the level of English needed to meet the conditions of your offer.

The length of course you need to take depends on your current IELTS scores and how much you need to improve to reach our English language requirements.

After you've accepted your offer to study at York, we'll confirm which pre-sessional course you should apply to via You@York.


You can apply and send all your documentation electronically through our online system. You don’t need to complete your application all at once: you can start it, save it and finish it later.

Please indicate clearly in the written title of your application which MA Music pathway you wish to apply for.

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Department of Music

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