Course structure

Course structure by year

The three-year music course is divided into two parts: Prelims, taken at the end of the first year, and Final Honour School (FHS), taken at the end of the third year.


In the first year, music students are given a broad set of skills as a foundation for the second and third years. Five papers constitute Prelims, some of which are compulsory and some optional. You must take papers in music history, analysis and techniques of composition. The areas of study in music history vary from year to year but the intention is to offer a broad historical sweep. Music analysis will teach you how to dissect music and provide you with necessary terminology for describing musical processes. Techniques of composition involves learning how to put tonal music together in the manner of the eighteenth century and incorporates some keyboard skills. You will be given weekly tutorials in these compulsory papers.

In addition, you must sit two of the following papers: an exam in critical issues, performance, composition, extended essay. These will be overseen by your Tutor in Hertford, but you may go to Tutors in other colleges for specialist subjects.

Final Honour School

In the second and third years, music students prepare for their set of final exams. These again have some fixed and some variable components. Two music history papers (one on music up until 1750 and the second on music from 1700 to present) are taken by all students in the form of written exams. You will have weekly tutorials to prepare for these music history exams. In addition to these, there are a range of options which are assessed by a mixture of portfolio and examinations. Up to 25% may be taken as practical recitals in solo and chamber music options. You will have a mixture of tutorials and classes in preparation for these additional elements.

The ‘shape’ of the degree which you end up taking will be different to others in your year. If you have a particular interest in the creative side, for example, there are a number of papers which will provide you with an opportunity to develop your own musical idiom. If you have a scholarly interest in an historical area or particular composer, then the opportunity to research and write a 10,000 word dissertation would be a possible option. An important benefit of the Oxford system is that your Tutor is able to arrange tutorials for you with faculty members whose interests may align closely with your own.