Critical and Experimental Composition MMus

Year of entry

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Start date
September 2024
Delivery type
On campus
12 months full time
24 months part time
Entry requirements
A bachelor degree with a 2:1 (hons) in Music
Full entry requirements
English language requirements
IELTS 6.5 overall, with no less than 6.0 in any component
UK fees
£11,500 (Total)
International fees
£26,500 (Total)

Course overview

Critical and Experimental Composition MMus

This course gives you opportunities to develop your compositional creativity and technical fluency to an advanced level under the guidance of our expert staff. Our diverse composition staff are all experienced and active composers, enabling us to support a broad range of critical and experimental approaches to acoustic and electroacoustic composition, and to the intersections of these aesthetics.

Throughout the year you’ll take a combination of core modules helping you to develop your skills as a composer and musician. You’ll grow your academic skills, including research and presentation skills, as well as studying the principles of composition and different professional contexts. You’ll also develop an awareness of broader topics in the study of music through exploration of aesthetic theory to help you understand and develop your compositional voice. Your major project will be a portfolio of original compositions. Provided you have the necessary prior knowledge and experience, you can pursue optional modules in other areas of music such as musicology, electronic music, performance, and music psychology.

There are opportunities to try out new work, both formally and informally, and the School of Music’s contemporary music ensemble, LSTwo, often includes student compositions in its repertoire. The School enjoys a significant reputation for performance studies and a lively and full concert diary – much of which will provide useful material for study by students on this course. The course is ideal if you wish to pursue advanced compositional studies, and can also be used as preparation for undertaking a composition-based practice-led PhD.

Additional highlights

We are one of the largest schools of music in the country, which brings several benefits to our students. Our size enables us to incorporate an impressive range of specialisms within our curriculum, reflecting our ethos that music is music, regardless of genre or style. We attract a diverse body of students from across the UK and internationally, which gives the School a vibrant community and culture. Decolonisation, equality and inclusivity are embedded within our curriculum so all our students can feel a sense of belonging in the School and can thrive on their course no matter what their background and musical experience.

Take a tour of our School

Join School rep, Georgie, on a tour of our building and its specialist facilities to get a feel for life as a student in the School.

In the recent national Research Excellence Framework (REF2021) exercise, 93% of our research was considered to be ‘internationally excellent’ or better in terms of its originality, significance and rigour, with 56% rated as ‘world leading’, the highest classification. Each of these measures places us within the top 10 Schools of Music in the UK. Our staff expertise feeds directly into our curriculum, with relevant specialisms including:

  • Contemporary and experimental composition
  • Electronic and computer music
  • Performance and performance practice, including contemporary performance practice
  • Practice research in music and the arts
  • Musical aesthetics and postcolonialism
  • Popular, folk, and global musical cultures
  • Music technology in theory and practice
  • Sound studies
  • Opera and Western classical/art music
  • Music analysis
  • Film music
  • Historical musicology

We work closely with our students, particularly through our active Student Staff Partnership Forum, to ensure that we continue to offer the best possible experience to everyone studying in the School of Music. Our Industrial Advisory Board – an invited body of professionals from across the professional music sector, which includes several alumni within its membership – actively supports the ongoing development of our courses to ensure they deliver the skills and opportunities our students need to prepare them for life after University.

The School of Music is part of a strong musical community at the University of Leeds, and there are numerous Leeds University Union (LUU) clubs and societies that offer opportunities to get involved in music and performance activities. The Leeds University Union Music Society (LUUMS) is one of the Union’s largest societies and boasts ten ensembles including a composers’ collective as well as orchestras, choirs, brass and wind ensembles; each one gives regular concerts, and some go on tour. LUUMS is linked to the School of Music as our departmental society, and the School and LUUMS work closely on social events and the promotion of musical opportunities. School of Music students also often participate in other campus-based ensembles such as the Clothworkers Consort of Leeds (led by School of Music staff members) and Student Union performance societies such as:

  • The LUU Big Band
  • Various musical theatre, opera and pantomime groups
  • Societies focused on jazz and blues, folk, and pop music
  • A cappella (unaccompanied) singing
  • Electronic music and DJing

The Clothworkers Concert Hall in the School of Music hosts our diverse International Concert Series, the Students’ Union runs regular gigs and its long-standing Friday evening club night, ‘Fruity’, and beyond the University campus the city of Leeds provides numerous opportunities to engage with a wide variety of musics at venues including:

  • Leeds First Direct Arena, a fixture on the national touring circuit for leading artists and bands.
  • Leeds Grand Theatre, which routinely presents touring West End musicals, comedy and other shows, and is the home of Opera North (a partner of the University) and Northern Ballet.
  • Leeds Playhouse, which presents a range of stage musicals and other theatrical productions, several of which then tour nationally.
  • Leeds Town Hall, home to the Leeds International Concert Season (LICS), which usually features a wide range of international orchestras within its programming. LICS also run various chamber music series at venues including Holy Trinity Church, Leeds Cathedral, and The Venue at Leeds Conservatoire.
  • O2 Academy Leeds hosts a range of popular-music events including its regular ‘Indie Thursdays’ and ‘PROJEKT’ club nights.
  • Seven Arts, an independent arts space and a not-for-profit Community Interest Company that presents a range of jazz, popular and light musics within its diverse programme.
  • The Brudenell Social Club, which hosts events most nights of the week and covers a wide range of musical genres.
  • The Howard Assembly Room, Opera North’s concert hall next door to Leeds Grand Theatre, which hosts folk, jazz, classical and world music as well as theatrical works, film screenings and talks.
  • Warf Chambers, a non-profit music venue hosting a diverse range of experimental and DIY events.

All these elements combine to make studying Music at the University of Leeds a distinctive and memorable experience that actively supports our students to pursue careers or future study within and beyond music.

Specialist facilities

The School of Music provides you with dedicated, purpose-built facilities complete with rehearsal, performance and practice spaces, computer clusters, a lab for studying the psychology of music, and dedicated learning and teaching spaces. There are also studios for sound recording, software development and computer-music composition, supplemented by a wide range of specialist software and recording equipment to help you with your studies.

At the heart of our School is the Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall, a beautiful performance space that hosts a large and varied programme of concerts in term time. As a student in the School you'll be able attend events in the International Concert Series programme free of charge. The spacious Clothworkers Foyer is the School’s social hub, and doubles as a venue for popular music and informal performances, including the LUUMS ‘Friday Feature’ series.

We were the first Russell-Group University to have All-Steinway status. Over £700,000 was invested in the pianos – a combination of uprights, baby grands and concert grands – and all 29 pianos in the School are Steinways. Our instrument collection also includes a specially commissioned gamelan, historic and modern keyboard instruments and a large selection of orchestral and world percussion.

Course details

You’ll study core modules designed to support your development as a composer, and to enable you to place your compositional activities and approaches within broader critical and musical contexts.

You will work closely with a member of our expert composition team on your major project, a Portfolio of Original Compositions, attending a series of round-table seminar sessions through which you will contextualise and develop your understanding of your own creative process, and gain continuous feedback from your supervisor and your peers as you craft your musical works. On Composition Studies you can explore an alternative aspect of composition, such as writing for a specific type of ensemble or engaging with more commercially applicable work such as orchestration or scoring for media, as well as developing your professionalism through a time-limited commission-style assignment. In Aesthetic Theory you will study contemporary trends in aesthetic thought and consider the ways in which those modes of thought relate to and reflect on your own compositional voice and practice, and can be applied more broadly in compositional and musicological contexts.

You’ll complete your course by choosing two optional modules enabling you to focus on specific interests in areas such as musicology (including applied/practice-led musicology, and the option undertake a focused musicology project on a topic of your choosing), electronic music, creative inquiry, audience engagement and impact, and, depending on your prior experience, modules in performance and in the applied psychology of music.

If you choose to study part-time, you’ll study over a longer period and take fewer modules in each year.

The list shown below represents typical modules/components studied and may change from time to
time. Read more in our terms and conditions.

Most courses consist of compulsory and optional modules. There may be some optional modules omitted below. This is because they are currently being refreshed to make sure students have the best possible experience. Before you enter each year, full details of all modules for that year will be provided.

For more information and a list of typical modules available on this course, please read MMus Critical and Experimental Composition (Full-Time) in the course catalogue.

For more information and a list of typical modules available on this course, please read MMus Critical and Experimental Composition (Part-Time) in the course catalogue.

Compulsory Modules

  • Portfolio of Original Compositions (60 credits) - On this module you will attend a series of round-table seminars that usually combine discussion of set texts addressing the creative process across many disciplines (philosophical, visual art, dance, as well as musical subjects), workshops with visiting composers and performers, and student-led discussions of their own work and work of interest to them. The module focuses on critical and experimental music, primarily avant-garde music post-1960 (though there is some flexibility of content where appropriate), and you are expected to have a relatively strong understanding of twentieth-century music history (not restricted to contemporary art music, but including it) and some idea of relevant standard and recent developments in the arts. The creative work and accompanying commentaries you produce will demonstrate a clear original voice and high level of technical sophistication and presentation.

  • Composition Studies (30 credits) - This module offers you the chance to specialise in a specific area of compositional (or related) interest that differs from the main focus and aims of the Portfolio of Original Compositions. You may, for example, choose to explore and develop more commercially applicable work such as arrangements/orchestrations for standard ensemble forces, or to focus on a composition for a specific ensemble (e.g. brass band or choir). Part of the module assessment takes the form of commission-style assignment to be completed in a relatively short timeframe, with students usually choosing one brief from a small set of given options.

  • Critical and Aesthetic Theory (30 credits) - The module looks at contemporary trends in aesthetic thought and the ways in which those modes of thought can be applied, especially with reference to music. Specific texts by leading thinkers in aesthetics form the basis of class discussion, which are at the heart of the module.

Optional Modules

  • Short Dissertation (30 credits) - The Short Dissertation module provides you with the opportunity to investigate a focused musical subject of your choice (subject to the approval of the module leader), and to present your findings in an essay of 6,000-8,000 words. Your supervisor will help you to define the scope and topic of your Short Dissertation, but it should be one which enables you to demonstrate focused criticality, the assimilation and synthesis of scholarly literature, and the confidence to work independently.

  • Individual Project (30 credits) - This module allows you to pursue an independent research project in an area of music or sound studies in which you have a strong interest, agreed in negotiation with an appointed supervisor. The module involves devising, carrying out, documenting, and critically reflecting on an independent project, and it is the project documentation and critical reflection, rather than the project work itself, that is assessed. Accordingly, the Individual Project is an ideal opportunity for you to explore an appropriate area of interest without risk of any inexperience adversely affecting your ability to achieve on the module.

  • Electronic and Computer Music Contexts (30 credits) - This module gives you the opportunity to listen to, discuss, research, and write about electronic and computer music with an emphasis on its history. (It is not a practical course in electronic music production.) The module has a reading-group format, and you will attend weekly seminars in which set texts and works of electronic or computer music are discussed.

  • Applied Research Methodologies (30 credits) - This module engages with the theory, history and practice of applied research methodologies such as archival studies, editing, fieldwork and transcription. You will explore the qualities and properties of different methodologies, and the range of source materials to which they may be applied. You will select one or more methodologies suitable to a source-based research project of your own devising (guided by tutors), which will be developed with the support of a series of small group and individual tutorials.

  • Issues in Musicology (30 credits) - This module focuses on a range of theoretical work by prominent scholars associated with a variety of critical viewpoints in current musicology and musical culture. It is designed as a thorough grounding in the principles and philosophies that have shaped the discipline of musicology, concentrating on European and American approaches. Issues addressed may include (but are not limited to) canon formation, reception history, consumption and popular music, ethnicity, religion, class, gender, and sexuality. The module aims to enable you to develop the critical skills necessary to evaluate differing theoretical premises, and relate to them to a musicological framework.

  • Audience, Engagement and Impact (30 credits) - This interdisciplinary module studies how artists and arts organisations can design meaningful and memorable audience experiences and how, in turn, these can be evaluated in terms of strategic and cultural value. You will critically investigate a range of audience engagement strategies and explore different methods of capturing and evaluating the impact that the arts can have on audiences, whether live or digitally and whether locally or globally.

  • Creative Inquiry, Communication and Learning (30 credits) - On this module you will explore the relationship between the creative arts and creative practice, communication and learning. The module is oriented towards social and educational justice and knowledge democracy, and towards working in partnership and solidarity with the marginalised and the voiceless. It is inherently interdisciplinary and will be of interest to those working with, or interested in working with, the arts in educational and public engagement settings, creative and communication practitioners keen to theorise the educational dimensions of their work, and researchers and practitioners with an interest in collaborative, cross-disciplinary and cross-sector work, and work which engages with different formal and informal learning communities.

  • Short Recital (30 credits) - On this module you will have one-to-one lessons with a specialist instrumental or vocal teacher and participate in weekly performance classes, leading to a recital for which you will select the repertoire and produce programme notes. This module is for experienced performers working at Masters level; you will need to submit an online video recording to be reviewed by performance staff before being granted a place on the module.

  • Case Studies in the Applied Psychology of Music (30 credits) - This module is designed to provide you with a contextual understanding of the field of the applied psychology of music, enabling you to develop and refine your skills of critical evaluation, reasoning, and literature searching. The module adopts a case-study approach, examining key concepts and texts thematically, considering areas such as education, therapy, advertising, technology, science, and society. You will attend staff-led seminars and are required to prepare key texts in advance of each seminar. Please note, previous experience of music psychology is needed to study this module, and you will normally be required to submit appropriate written work for review by the module team before being granted a place on the module.

Learning and teaching

Academics in the School of Music are experts in their fields, and their activities inform their teaching directly. We use a range of inclusive, active and student-centred approaches to learning and teaching to engage you in your course and support you to develop your knowledge, understanding, and skills. Depending on the modules you choose, your learning and teaching methods may include workshops and practice-based sessions, as well as lectures, seminars, tutorials and other small-group learning classes. If you take a performance module you may also have one-to-one instrumental/vocal lessons with a specialist teacher, as well as rehearsals and performance classes.

Taught sessions are only a part of University learning, and on many of our modules you’ll be supplied with online learning resources designed to work in tandem with classroom sessions. Some modules may require you to engage with videos, podcasts, readings or other activities before class sessions, with some of the classroom time devoted to debate, discussion and deeper learning based on how students have interpreted the online materials. Your learning experience will offer opportunities for collaboration, a key aspect of music and the arts, and peer learning, as well as fostering a culture of reflection and self-awareness. Independent study is also an important part of your course, and you’ll develop your critical, creative and research skills through time spent in the University Library and Special Collections, practice rooms and studios, depending on your module choices.

We support your learning in several ways. Resources are made available through our virtual learning environment, Minerva, you can seek assistance as required from our experienced technical staff and your Academic Personal Tutor, and there is extensive support for students offered through the academic skills programme at the University Library. Additionally, all staff have office hours when they are available should you have questions, or you need to ask for help. We also work closely with the University’s Language Centre to ensure that international students are fully supported and able to thrive on our courses.

On this course you’ll be taught by our expert academics, from lecturers through to professors. You may also be taught by industry professionals with years of experience, as well as trained postgraduate researchers, connecting you to some of the brightest minds on campus.


We use a variety of assessment methods, each of which is chosen to best measure your achievement of a module’s learning outcomes and associated skills, so you and we can understand and support your progress and development. Depending on the modules you choose, across your degree you are likely to encounter a mix of creative outputs and portfolios (e.g. compositions, editions), written assignments (e.g. essays, reports, reviews, reflective logs), presentations, project work, recitals and performances, and online assessments. Some assignments will be completed individually, some collaboratively, and some may require elements of group working leading to individual submissions.

You might be given a brief, question or problem to be addressed, or you may have scope to determine your own question or approach under the guidance of a member of staff. You’ll be given clear instructions regarding the assessment requirements and criteria, and you’ll receive feedback on your work to support your learning as you progress through your course.

Assessments will usually require you to synthesise and evaluate learning from multiple taught sessions and learning resources (e.g. a module’s lectures, seminars, set readings and other online resources), and you should think of your course as a whole, and apply your learning across your modules. Creative and practical work may offer you the chance to take risks and experiment with new ideas and concepts, and in all cases we encourage you to challenge yourself, to think critically and creatively, to move as far beyond your comfort zone as you can, and to reflect on your working process and achievement.


Entry requirements

A bachelor degree with a 2:1 (hons) in music, or equivalent qualification

English language requirements

IELTS 6.5 overall, with no less than 6.0 in any component . For other English qualifications, read English language equivalent qualifications.

Improve your English

International students who do not meet the English language requirements for this programme may be able to study our postgraduate pre-sessional English course, to help improve your English language level.

This pre-sessional course is designed with a progression route to your degree programme and you’ll learn academic English in the context of your subject area. To find out more, read Language for Arts and Humanities (6 weeks) and Language for Social Science and Arts: Arts and Humanities (10 weeks).

We also offer online pre-sessionals alongside our on-campus pre-sessionals. Find out more about our six week online pre-sessional.

You can also study pre-sessionals for longer periods – read about our postgraduate pre-sessional English courses.

How to apply

Please see our How to Apply page for information about application deadlines.

The ‘Apply’ link at the top of this page takes you to information on applying for taught programmes and to the University's online application system.

If you're unsure about the application process, contact the admissions team for help.

Documents and information you need

  • Your degree certificate and transcript, or a partial transcript if you’re still studying. Please provide official translations if applicable.

  • If English is not your first language, you’ll need to provide evidence of your English language qualification.

  • A personal statement in response to the questions asked in the supporting statement section of the application form..

  • A recent composition and recordings if you have them. These can include links to websites, Dropbox, Soundcloud, or similar.

  • If you are an international applicant and have previously studied in the UK on a Student Visa, please provide a copy of your Visa (and Residence Permit if applicable) to cover all the dates of your time in the UK, a copy of your CAS summary, and a copy of your completion/award certificate if applicable.

  • Please note that there are some optional modules available as part of our courses for which new students may be required to provide an example of their work, audition, or liaise with the relevant Module Leader first in order to assess suitability for entry on to the optional module. Assessment for optional modules with pre-requisites is not part of the admissions process. Offer holders are normally contacted by the School regarding optional modules in advance of their studies.

  • References may be requested.

  • Applicants are often invited for interview as part of the admissions process

The Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures receives very large numbers of high-quality applications and regrets that it cannot make offers to all of its applicants. Some particularly popular schools may have to reject many that hold the necessary academic qualifications.

Read about visas, immigration and other information in International students. We recommend that international students apply as early as possible to ensure that they have time to apply for their visa.

Admissions policy

University of Leeds Taught Admissions Policy 2024

This course is taught by

School of Music

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Postgraduate Admissions



UK: £11,500 (Total)

International: £26,500 (Total)

Read more about paying fees and charges.

Part-time fees
Fees for part-time courses are normally calculated based on the number of credits you study in a year compared to the equivalent full-time course. For example, if you study half the course credits in a year, you will pay half the full-time course fees for that year.

Additional cost information

There may be additional costs of study that students need to cover. We estimate that these additional costs could be as described below, but this amount may vary depending on your chosen modules.

Equipment and materials costs

If you are enrolled on an optional Performance module you’ll continue to be liable for covering ongoing costs of insuring and maintaining your own instrument and buying instrument-specific materials such as reeds, strings, etc. These costs are variable depending on the type of instrument and the nature of the maintenance required. You’ll have access to a good supply of sheet music that is available in the University libraries; however, you might need to purchase your own repertoire if you take a performance module (costs for this are variable).

Reading materials

You’ll have access to a good supply of books, academic journals, periodicals, etc., that are available in the University libraries. You’ll also have online access to an extensive range of reading resources. You might decide, however, to purchase required books that are recommended on your programme.

Study trips and placements

There may also be the opportunity for optional study trips and individual projects / placements. Costs will depend on the project / placement undertaken, and on the nature and location of each trip.

There may be additional costs related to your course or programme of study, or related to being a student at the University of Leeds. Read more on our living costs and budgeting page.

Scholarships and financial support

If you have the talent and drive, we want you to be able to study with us, whatever your financial circumstances. There may be help for students in the form of loans and non-repayable grants from the University and from the government.  Find out more at Masters funding overview.

Find out more about scholarships and funding opportunities available in the School of Music.

Career opportunities

A postgraduate degree in Music from the University of Leeds equips you with valuable subject knowledge, cultural and social awareness, and a strong balance of musical and transferrable skills. Skills such as communication, leadership, time and resource management, and the ability to work independently and collaboratively are particularly attractive to employers, and you’ll also be able to demonstrate the flexibility, resilience and confidence needed to adapt to new situations and environments.

Your subject-specific knowledge will bring your critical, creative, research and problem-solving abilities to the fore, and you’ll be able to articulate how the experience gained through your postgraduate study has prepared you for whatever comes next, be that work or doctoral research.

Our postgraduate courses equip our graduates to work in a wide range of areas within the music industry, including:

  • Composing
  • Teaching, lecturing and coaching
  • Performing
  • Music publishing and copyright
  • Creative production
  • Arts, artist, project and event management
  • PR
  • Theatrical stage direction and musical direction
  • Music supervision
  • Marketing and digital marketing
  • Arts research
  • Music therapy

Graduates from our postgraduate courses also often go on to undertake Doctoral research here at Leeds and elsewhere.

Reach your potential

Hear more about the School and Faculty support you can access from our employability lead, Professor Karen Burland.

Careers support

Skill development is built into our courses, so you start becoming more employable from the moment you begin your studies, and your degree is designed to help you recognise your skills and understand how you demonstrate them. Reflection on and understanding of your skillset is part of your course, meaning we will support you to be able to demonstrate these things by the time you graduate.

You’ll also have additional opportunities to develop your skillset and your CV. You could become a course representative and participate in our Student Staff Partnership Forum on behalf of your cohort, or apply to be our School Taught Postgraduate Representative and work with School and Faculty staff and the Students’ Union to drive the School and University forward.

Leeds for Life is our unique approach to helping you make the most of University by supporting your academic and personal development. You’ll also have access to the University’s ‘MyCareer’ portal and have opportunities to discuss your personal and professional development with your Academic Personal Tutor. We run careers events every year in collaboration with our Faculty Employability Team and encourage all our students to attend to develop their awareness of the opportunities that exist beyond graduation, even if they are not yet sure what they want to do after their degree. Alongside this, the Careers Centre provide a range of support and advice to help you plan your career and make well-informed decisions along the way, even after you graduate.

We encourage you to prepare for your career from day one. That’s one of the reasons Leeds graduates are so sought after by employers.

The Careers Centre and staff in your faculty provide a range of help and advice to help you plan your career and make well-informed decisions along the way, even after you graduate. Find out more about Careers support.

Alumni profile: Jordan Gammon

The course helped me come into my own and find my own identity as a composer in music. It allowed me to express my creativity and experiment with new tools which helped set me up for PhD study.
Find out more about Jordan Gammon's time at Leeds

Student profile: Ed Cooper

I wanted to be able to hit the ground running and get myself into the best position to apply for PhDs in the following year. Knowing and trusting the staff—both academic, pastoral, and administrative—was crucial to my decision.
Find out more about Ed Cooper's time at Leeds