FAQS about BMus Composition
What is the programme like? Is there a Syllabus available?
You will find a summary of the programme on this website, and a more detailed outline is also available. Please contact the Composition Department Manager (email@example.com) if you would like a copy.
Alternatively, come to our Open Day, when the content of the programme will be explained, and you will have the opportunity to ask questions.
Will I be made to write music in a certain style?
We start from the position that composers need not only creative flair and imagination, but also solid technique, and whilst the former has to be nurtured and encouraged, the latter needs to be acquired in a variety of different ways. These include composing using the techniques of various composers of the past, from the Renaissance to the late twentieth century, including post-tonal and electronic music techniques.
However, think of this as being equivalent to the technical exercises (scales, arpeggios, ‘difficult passages’ and studies) that your instrumentalist colleagues have to master: an essential part of developing technique, but not an end in themselves. The most important part of your programme (and the part that carries the most weight in your final mark) is the portfolio of original pieces you will write, and the Techniques of Composition elements are there simply to help you write these with greater fluency and confidence.
I want to be a composer for film and television – is this the right programme for me?
It is important to note that our programme is not primarily a commercial music programme, although the skills and techniques learned would be of enormous benefit to anyone who later decides to work in a more commercial context, as they are not style-specific, and can be applied to many different genres and professional situations.
A useful analogy is to think of the difference for visual artists between choosing a Fine Art course and a Commercial Art or Graphic/Communication Design course. As with a Fine Art course, we begin from the assumption that our students want to develop an original voice, and think of their music as an ‘art object’ rather than something that only works in tandem with a visual or dramatic element.
That being said, if you are interested you may wish to look at the Film Music principal study within the Electronic Music Department.
What is the difference between studying Composition as principal study and Electronic & Produced Music as principal study?
The simple answer is that they are two distinct programmes, and candidates who think they might be better suited to principal studies in the Electronic & Produced Music department should consult this website or the prospectus, and if necessary make enquiries to the Head of Electronic & Produced Music.
Because the creative use of technology is so vital to composers working today, Principal Study Composers receive an hour per week tuition on Electronic Music Technique throughout their programme with specialist teaching staff, and are expected to produce a substantial piece of work in Year 4, in addition to smaller exercises in Years 1-3.
Additionally, there is an Electronic Music Elective available that focuses on more commercial applications, and for students who are exceptionally advanced in this area, it is also possible to take Electronic Music as a Second Study.
I think I might be more suited for the Jazz Composition programme, but I’m not sure. How can I find out?
As is the case for the instrumental students, Jazz Composition students also have to follow the Classical composition course initially. So the basic requirements of theory and aural skills are the same for both pathways, and the audition process is essentially the same. The Head of Jazz is happy to discuss the programme with potential applicants who may be unsure of whether the Jazz Composition programme is appropriate for them.
Is the programme available part time, or via distance learning?
No, the programme is a full time programme.
Are there are staff in your Department who are interested in teaching composition privately? If so, how could I get in touch with them?
Many of our professors and graduates undertake private teaching. Please contact the departmental administrator to be put in touch with them. Alternatively, the ISM and Musicians Union keep lists of members who teach in your area, and your local County Music Service may also have suitable people on its staff. UK students of school age should consider auditioning for places at either Junior Guildhall, or at one of the other conservatoire Junior Departments which teach composition.
What are the entry requirements?
Essentially, we are looking for composers who have: a passionate urge to create music; an awareness of the music of the past and a keen interest in the music of their time (of all kinds); a sense of the value of music as an independent art form; a strong desire to develop an individual voice; and the drive to acquire relevant skills to accomplish this.
It is worth noting at this point that because our course is a specialist programme for Principal Study composers, and not a general music degree, we expect that in addition to genuine creative imagination and a burning desire to compose (demonstrated by the portfolio of scores you will submit - see below - and at interview), candidates will already have a secure knowledge of music theory and good aural skills, or at least be able to demonstrate the aptitude to develop these.
The first year of our course assumes basic knowledge of tonal harmony in the Western classical tradition as covered in Grade 6 Theory, and developed further in Grades 7 and 8.
Some facility at the keyboard is also highly desirable, although this will not be tested at audition; if you are not a strong keyboard player, there are opportunities to develop this during the first two years of the course. Many of our students also have some fluency with the principal music technology software programs (Sibelius, Logic, Pro Tools, and even Max-MSP) before beginning our course, but similarly, this is not an entry requirement, and there are opportunities to learn these from scratch.
What do I have to submit with my application?
You will be required to upload three contrasting compositions in the Supporting Information section of the online application form. Scores should be provided in PDF format (Sibelius/Finale files are not accepted). Where possible, recordings of the scores submitted should also be included as online links on the score or as a separate document (any freely accessible online service is acceptable). These compositions need not be in the same style or for the same forces, and might have been written for specific projects. The aim should be – as in an instrumental audition – to give the audition panel a sense of what you can do, on both a creative and technical level.
Also, please note that applicants for Composition are required to submit two confidential references with their application in advance of your audition. Of the two references, one might be a more general academic reference (say from your Headteacher or Head of Sixth Form), and the other should be from the teacher who currently teaches you composition.
What if I don’t have recordings?
Obviously, recordings of real instrumental performances are much preferred, but we do appreciate that this is not always possible, and so we do accept MIDI/Sibelius recordings. However, as a general point of advice, try to write for good instrumentalists or singers that you know, and work with them closely to achieve good performances – this is not only excellent preparation for our course, it’s also good preparation for the profession.
Do you require scores for electronic music compositions or just recordings?
It is not necessary for purely electronic pieces to be accompanied by scores, although short textual commentaries on the structure and techniques used are always helpful. However, pieces that include electronics with live instruments should be accompanied by a score, unless the instrumental material is completely improvised.
When is the deadline?
Please refer to the individual programme pages for the deadline for applications for the current round.
Would it be possible to meet a member of the composition department before I apply?
Yes – we are always happy to meet with potential students for either a formal consultation lesson, or to answer questions more informally.
Please contact the Composition Department Manager (firstname.lastname@example.org) to make an appointment. There is also a departmental Open Day, usually held in February, which is an excellent opportunity to observe the Department in action, and to ask questions of the Head of Department, and other Professors who may be teaching that day.
What happens at audition?
The Composition Audition is in two parts: a written test and an interview. The written test (about an hour) will focus on Techniques of Composition (harmony and counterpoint) and will be at around Grade 6 Theory standard. There will also be some structured questions based on recorded extracts of music. These are designed to test your aural skills and will be of a similar structure to those in the GCE A-Level listening test. The written test is not something that you pass or fail – its purpose is diagnostic: in other words, we want to find out what you have learned already, and what kind of tutorial support might suit you best were we to offer you a place.
The interview (about 25 minutes) will be with a panel of (usually) three professors, and will focus on your submitted scores. You can expect to be asked detailed questions about these, as well as your musical interests and enthusiasms. In many ways, the interview is designed to simulate what a composition lesson or masterclass is like. We will not ask trick questions, or try to trip you up: the aim is to find out as much about you, your music, and your creative impulses and interests as possible in the limited time available. We ask all candidates the same basic questions and make our assessment based on their responses.
I have read/heard about the possibility of receiving a Scholarship (financial support) from the Guildhall School. Do I have to apply for it in advance or after the decision of my application?
The department has funds available for scholarships for exceptional students both from the UK and internationally, and these range from full fees to various proportions of fees. Students who are offered a place on the course are invited to apply for scholarship funding once we have received confirmtion that you are accepting the place.
Undergraduate students from England or the EU (but not Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland) may also be eligible for a National Scholarship if their family income is below £25,000 (details will be sent out with your offer letter).
I'm from an overseas conservatoire/university and I would like to study at Guildhall School for one (or more) semesters. Is this possible?
If you are interested in undertaking short-term study at Guildhall School, we would recommend the Short Term Music Programme (applications close on 31 March for September entry). If you are looking for a more informal way to study, we also offer a range of short courses (currently online only, running throughout the year).
Following the UK’s departure from the EU on 31 December 2020, Guildhall School will not be participating in the Erasmus scheme. The School will use this time instead to explore partnerships with institutions across the world. Find out more on our Study Abroad page.