About the MMus/MComp programme
Guildhall School offers some of the most stimulating and creative training for composers in the UK. Studying Composition at Guildhall Artist Masters level prepares you for professional life as a composer. It allows you to explore and refine your individual artistic voice within the collaborative atmosphere of a busy, modern conservatoire, while also giving you the space for self-reflection.
The programme centres around weekly one-to-one Principal Study lessons. You will be allocated to one of the Department’s distinguished Faculty of composers, who will guide your creative participation on core projects across the year. The outcomes of core projects are all workshopped, rehearsed, publicly performed and recorded. Weekly composition seminars and open sessions support technical, aesthetic and professional development, and a choice of elective modules support specific aspects of your development.
- Part One (MMus) – one year full-time/two years part-time
- Part Two (MComp) – one year full-time
- Progression to Part Two is conditional on results from Part One
- MMus/MComp can also be studied as a purely electronic specialism - see the Electronic Music department page for more details on the principal study options available.
Successful completion of Part One meets all the criteria for a Masters level (level 7) award and a student may conclude their studies at this point and be awarded a Master of Music (or a Postgraduate Diploma, according to the modules taken). Part Two represents progression for the student in terms of depth and breadth of repertoire within a project-based structure that mimics, in a controlled environment, professional practice at the highest level. Students who continue to Part Two (progression criteria apply, see Part One below) will be awarded, on its successful completion, a Master of Composition (Guildhall Artist).
Part One concentrates on the student’s intense activities in Principal Study, but also includes core Contextual Studies and a wide range of Elective opportunities.
Part One of the programme is centred around weekly one-to-one Principal Study lessons and participation in five creative projects. A range of elective choices complement compositional study and development.
While compositional activity will take up most of your study time, you can also take classes in electronic music and writing for film and television. You can pursue these areas further within the elective programme, which also offers elective modules in areas including performance, jazz and improvisation, aesthetics and analytical or historical research.
The programme is built around a central strand of weekly seminars, in which both staff and visiting composers lead discussion and score analysis of recent contemporary music. An eclectic mix of composers, musicologists, performers and music administrators cover a range of practical and theoretical topics.
Recent visiting composers include John Adams, Steve Reich, Louis Andriessen, Michael Finnissy, Rozalie Hirs, Michel van der Aa, Claudia Molitor, James MacMillan, Howard Skempton, Jennifer Walshe and Alwynne Pritchard. Prominent publishers, copyists and administrators also offer practical insights into the music business.
Part-time study for Part One
Please note that studying Part One part-time provides you with the time to develop your performance and academic skills over a two-year period; it does not mean that you will be required for half of the time. It is not possible to engage part-time for ensemble rehearsals and performances. Therefore, while your academic workload will be less, your performing and rehearsal schedule will be as busy as if you were a full-time student.
After successful completion of Part One and on achieving the required grades, students may opt to progress to Part Two (MComp).
During this year, you will be supported to develop three projects across the year including the Creative Platform, an opportunity to curate and produce your own event. There is also the option to write for chamber orchestra, with players drawn from the LSO working alongside instrumentalists from Guildhall’s Orchestral Artistry programme.
During Part Two, creative projects are developed and designed by students themselves, with a greater degree of curatorial freedom; in Part One, projects are set, designed and provided by the Department.
The module consists of classes and individual study on the interaction between the psyche and the soma (body) in the context of musicians’ performance and creation. The taught content of the course will include a range of issues relevant to learning, practising, creating, making and performing music. The links between mind and body will be explored. Students will have the opportunity to build upon ideas disseminated in class by choosing, in negotiation with their tutor, a particular focus for their own assignment. Examples of study topics are: maintenance of good health and fitness; how to perform to maximum potential; facilitation and inhibition of musical creativity; managing competition in the profession; the ’inner critic’; stage presence.
After initial sessions in which postgraduate students come to know each other, groups are formed from amongst the student body with support from the Co-ordinator of Chamber Music and departmental staff. Groups have lessons, coaching and masterclasses with internal staff and visiting groups in residence. Groups are encouraged also to seek external opportunities for performance as well as internal concerts.
Composition for Media
The class content includes the study of mainstream techniques (use of sequence, picture painting, juxtaposition, transition, tempo, synchronisation, association, emotive description) and practical application of these within a simulated professional context (use of timecode LTC/SMPTE, conducting to picture/click track, synchronising to picture, industry overview, performing rights, production processes).
The module is taught in classes where students receive group and individual tutorials. The content includes conducting technique, score preparation and interpretation, and a knowledge of instruments and style with consideration of historical context; organisational, management and communication skills. There are eight places in this class every year. Students requesting this module are selected through practical assessment of abilities and potential at the beginning of the year.
Contextual Studies: The Forbidden Saxophone
This module is compulsory for Masters saxophone students in Wind, Brass & Percussion, and open to other Masters students, up to a maximum of 20. It presents issues which are core to the learning experience for saxophone students at this level. Charting the narrative of the saxophone’s development, and as a mirror to developments in twentieth-century art, the lectures encompassing subjects including social, racial and gender.
The aims of this module are to build on an existing foundational level of understanding and skill in electronic music, to pursue practical expertise in various instruments of music technology as appropriate to an individual student’s area of speciality, to equip students with all-round production skills appropriate for a project in the recording/production studio, to equip students with further technological skills that will enable them to respond creatively to state-of-the-art developments in electronic music technology.
Historial Performance: Performance
This module offers second study in historical instruments and vocal ensembles. It provides students an opportunity to explore different sound worlds and styles of performance through individual lessons and participation in ensembles. No previous experience in historical instruments is needed although an audition on either historical or modern instruments is required. Vocal ensembles are allocated in collaboration with the Vocal Department.
Interpretation through Improvisation
The work proceeds through fortnightly classes of small groups. Content is approached as class workshops in which students interact in performance with the tutor and with other students. The teaching/learning process also normally includes analysis of video and audio recordings of lessons. Students are encouraged to have access to some relevant theoretical knowledge, but no writing up is involved. The work is practical and covers normally the following areas: improvised dialogues and counterpoints against an unprepared harmonic background, and improvised simple dance forms in baroque and classical styles without embellished repeats. Students also participate in one of the Music and Drama collaborative projects (Circus or Storytelling projects). Each one of the two projects is one term long and includes a showing.
Jazz Composition and Arranging (for jazz students)
Content includes melody writing, harmonic development, chord voicing, counterpoint, orchestration, style, and presentation of scores and instrumental parts. Non-Jazz specialists need to demonstrate adequate skills to join this class. The class uses a variety of teaching and learning methods, including presentation of examples and techniques by the tutor, group analysis of musical examples, and the realisation and analysis of the students' own compositions and arrangements. The first half of the course concentrates on techniques employed in small ensembles, whilst the second half concentrates on arranging for larger forces. Arrangements are rehearsed and recorded both for the purposes of assessment and for formative feedback.
Jazz Improvisation (for jazz students)
The teaching and learning strategies are experiential, employing a range of environments including improvisation within forms (with specific skills and applications) through to free improvisation. Non-Jazz specialists need to demonstrate adequate skills to join this class. Topics covered will include:
- Design and motivic development
- Linear independence; rapid cadential movement; rhythm as an improvisational resource; improvising within non-functional harmony; constructive dissonance; "time-no-changes"; the relationship between language, form, concept and spirit
- Awareness of factors affecting the practice of improvisation
Music, Philosophy and the Arts
The aims of this module are to give students an understanding of music in the context of the arts and culture in general, to ground students in techniques of philosophical analysis and critical reading, thinking and writing, to develop students’ understanding of their musical/performance studies in the context of contemporary society, and to develop students’ abilities in written presentation and abstract thinking.
Opera and Theatre (for singers)
This elective aims at familiarising singers with the performance of repertoire designed for the stage, and is so structured that experiences may be derived from any one of three areas (opera associates, music theatre, opera ensemble) or may be formed from involvement in separate projects from two of the three areas. Teaching and learning is through class activities, ensemble rehearsals and performances both in directed and undirected groups, and personal practice and research. One project from either Music Theatre or Opera Associates or Opera Ensemble or a summer term of professional work (role, cover or chorus) with an approved Opera company: Glyndebourne Opera, Garsington Opera, Holland Park Opera, Grange Park Opera, or other professional opera company approved by the Head of Vocal Studies.
PianoWorks (for pianists)
The aim of the module is to develop expertise in preparing and performing contemporary repertoire, encouraging curiosity and a level of familiarity with this area of repertoire and its cultural background.
Pianists choosing this module can choose between a number of extant projects. These include the New Music Ensemble, VoiceWorks, Composer Workshops and the various opportunities for developing and performing new works written by the postgraduate composers.
The projects on offer will vary from year to year, but there will always be at least three to choose from. Each will have its own schedule of classes, coaching and rehearsal, and each will culminate in a performance, usually open to the public.
The aims of this module are to further develop students’ appreciation of and engagement with musicology, to promote students’ independent study in musicology and increase their confidence in this work by developing their research skills (from identifying and refining a personal topic of enquiry to producing a final paper on this subject), to promote students’ critical faculties in reading, thinking, discussion and writing on musicological topics, and to develop a sophisticated understanding of the relevance of musicological study to the practice of performance artists.
Social Arts Practice
This module aims to foster and support a growing community of socially aware, creative, collaborative, independent artists within the School. It allows students to gain experience and skills in leading, supporting, creating and collaborating in music- or sound-based activity in different participative contexts, to develop the capacity to respond creatively, sensitively and openly, and to develop strategies and processes for broadening, repurposing or adapting existing skills as an instrumentalist, composer, singer or electronic musician. It aims to inspire students to develop a personal, enquiry-based approach, with an appreciation of and engagement with artistic practice as research.
Song Accompaniment (for pianists)
Pianists will be helped to find singer partners from the postgraduate vocal training programme. They will then prepare, rehearse and be coached on relevant repertoire. They will be encouraged to work with their singers beyond the precise limitations of this module, taking part in vocal performance platforms, song classes, singers’ assessments and in masterclasses taken by internal or visiting professors.
Techniques in Composition
This module develops an understanding of historical composers’ practices which will aid students’ own performances, and develops skills that will complement and enhance learning in other elective subjects. Students choose one of five pathways: Analysis, Counterpoint, Fugue, Orchestration, and Stylistic Composition.
Vocal Repertoire (for singers)
This elective module is available to singers only. This module aims to develop understanding of the distinct technical and stylistic demands of vocal repertoire related to the major sung European languages. Teaching is in the form of performance projects on key areas of vocal repertoire. In consultation with the Module Leader, students select from a list of projects that changes from year to year. This covers a variety of repertoire in different language, commonly including song in English, French & German; and song or opera/oratorio in Italian & Russian.
Voiceworks (for singers)
This module enables creative collaboration between postgraduate singers, composers and pianists. After a series of introductory workshops and seminars held jointly by the Vocal, Composition and Keyboard Departments, the following projects are offered:
- Wigmore Voiceworks: new song repertoire for voice(s) and piano or instrumental chamber ensemble is produced in collaboration between Guildhall singers, composers and writers from the MA in Opera Making. This is written with the specific acoustic and space of London’s Wigmore Hall in mind and performed at a Voiceworks concert in Wigmore Hall.
- New Song Voiceworks: an exploration of the wealth of new song repertoire composed in recent decades through special projects designed each year to illuminate particular areas of this repertoire. Appropriate repertoire is selected in consultation with course tutors and coached in a series of group and/or individual workshops.
Wind, Brass & Percussion Additional Solo Recital
This module provides students of the Wind, Brass & Percussion department, whose professional and artistic focus is normally chamber or ensemble performance, with the opportunity to develop further the repertoire, and the artistic and professional skills for recital performance.
Applicants may be offered a place on the Extended Guildhall Artist Programme if their Principal Study is not yet at Masters entry level. This extended programme comprises an initial year almost entirely focused on the development of Principal Study. At the end of the year, students can progress to Part One if they achieve the minimum necessary requirements. Students who don’t progress to the full programme are awarded a Graduate Certificate.
Students who are enrolled on the Extended Guildhall Artist programme will need to pass an introductory year before progressing to Part One.
Creative & collaborative opportunities
There is a focus on the collaborative nature of compositional practice, and the Department benefits from a number of long-standing external partnerships including with London Contemporary Dance School (LCDS) and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). Recent projects have included generating new work for Plus-Minus Ensemble, EXAUDI and Voiceworks at Wigmore Hall, as well as work with choreographers and dancers from LCDS performed at The Place. See the Composition Principal Study pages for further information on departmental opportunities.
In addition to coursework, we encourage students to take advantage of the many creative and collaborative opportunities Guildhall School has to offer. These might include working on one of the Drama Department’s many productions, collaborating with the jazz students or developing new work with postgraduate performers and singers.The School’s New Music Society, New Music Ensemble and annual projects with the vocal ensemble EXAUDI, new music specialists PlusMinus and City Chamber Choir all provide excellent platforms for public performance.
The Department has enjoyed strong links with the London Symphony Orchestra’s Panufnik Young Composers Scheme, LSO SoundHub, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Young Composer programme, which have all featured Guildhall composers.