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Medieval Score 2

If you are thinking of studying for a degree in music, the best thing you can do to prepare is to listen to, and read about, as much music as possible, and to think critically as you do so: do you agree with what you are reading – and if not, why not? Why do you like (or dislike) the piece of music you are listening to? How is it structured? How does it compare with other works you have heard? Or with other performances of the same work? How does the performance relate to the score? What are the historical, social, and political contexts of the work and its composer? And how important is an understanding of such context for an understanding of the music?  

Below you will find a list of resources, together with reading and further study recommendations that you may find helpful in developing your understanding of music and preparing for a University degree.


HE+ Music provides an overview of Music as an academic subject alongside resources and activities written by University of Cambridge academics and research students. This growing set of resources will introduce different approaches to thinking about music, including 'Apologising through song', and 'Analysing Musical Performance'.

Four Score and More offers a huge number of music theory completion exercises based on Bach Chorales and 19th-Century Lieder. The website also provides a selection of interactive introductions to musical scores.

The Faculty of Music YouTube Channel hosts a number of talks and films featuring our academic staff and visitors.

The Music@Cambridge Research Blog features short articles by our Faculty researchers; it's a great way not only to find out about the work that we do here, but to learn more about the incredible diversity of music as an academic subject.

Our specialist in Russian Music, Professor Marina Frolova-Walker, has a website that brings together her public talks, radio broadcasts, podcasts and writings on the fascinating history of music by composers including Shostakovich, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Glinka, and more:

Have a go at trying to sing a 1000-year old song! Medieval Music expert Dr Sam Barrett explains the basics of early music notation (neumes), and guides you through the process of reconstructing music that hasn't been heard in over a millennium:

External Resources

Opera Vision is a wonderful resource for exploring opera. This freeview website streams operas from across Europe, and has a wealth of accompanying resources, including interviews, podcasts, and articles introducing the basics of opera.

Discovering Music offers a fantastic set of resources hosted by the British Library Website. Currently featuring music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the platform 'brings to life the social, political and cultural context in which key musical works were created', through digitised manuscripts, specially commissioned articles, and videos. 

Composer of the Week. This long-running BBC Radio 3 programme, hosted by Donald McLeod, is a brilliant way to find out more about the lives and music of a vast array of composers. There are hundreds of podcasts to listen to, from an introduction to Hildegard of Bingen to the musicians of the Harlem Renaissance.

The Society for Music Analysis has produced a series of short videos introducing various aspects of music analysis, each with links to relevant scores, and suggested further reading:

      1) Why we Analyse Music

      2) Aspects of Popular Music

      3) Analysing Musical Time

      4) Analysis in Context

Reading and further study recommendations

What should I be reading?

Studying Music at Cambridge will introduce you to a wealth of new approaches to music, while challenging you to deepen your current interests and skills.  Once you are offered a place, the most important thing is to begin thinking about music in a creative and disciplined way, exploring different repertories and traditions for yourself, but keeping in mind the ways in which music is presented to you as an object of knowledge. The following notes are intended to provide some suggestions to ease the transition from the types of teaching you may have encountered at school to the more independent learning expected at University. Later in the summer you will be provided with detailed descriptions of each of your first-year courses, including specified reading and listening and online access to key introductory texts; the suggestions below are deliberately of a more general nature.

Approaches to Music

Our 1684 Professor, Katharine Ellis, provides an introduction to Musicology – and why 'Music is good to think with' – in this British Academy blog post. To get a sense of the range of different approaches to music currently available, you might also try reading Nicholas Cook, Music: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2000) or The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction, edited by Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert, and Richard Middleton (2nd edition, London: Routledge, 2012).


Nicholas Cook, A Guide to Musical Analysis (Oxford, 1994) will introduce you to some of the ways in which one can think about musical structure and form.

Music History

You should begin to acquire an outline of the chronology of western music – the major composers, genres, developments – from the beginnings of plainchant up to the present day.  Browsing a single-volume textbook – e.g. J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout and Claude V. Palisca, A History of Western Music (New York, multiple editions) – will provide a framework, which you should complement by listening to as many of the examples discussed as you can. It would also be good to explore at least one form of non-western or popular music: a useful beginning point would be Philip V. Bohlman, World Music: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2002).

Harmony and Counterpoint

You might begin to familiarize yourself with the styles and procedures of the following. Listen to these suggested examples with the score, and make notes on any features you find of interest; this will help you to become more familiar with the sound of the musical styles that you will study in your first year.

(i) Later sixteenth-century mass settings, eg. Palestrina’s Missa Aeterna Christi munera;

Look out in particular for points of imitation in the Kyrie.

(ii) Baroque fugues, especially by J.S. Bach, eg. the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier;

Try tracing the way in which the fugue subject is handled in the first fugue in C major.

(iii) Classical minuets, eg. as found in Haydn’s op. 17 quartets;

Try analysing the phrase structure, modulations, and form in the Minuet from the first of the string quartets in this collection.       

(iv) The Romantic Lied, eg. Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin (a translation of the text is available here);

Think about the relationship between the words and the music, especially in No. 3, ‘Halt!’; no. 12, ‘Pause’, and no. 20, ‘Des Baches Wiegenlied’.

Aural and Practical Skills

It would be worthwhile exploring musical repertories other than those related to your principal instrument(s). Where possible, follow a recording or performance with a score: this will help you to begin to make connections between sounds and their notation (the Imslp website is a fantastic resource for accessing scores that are now out of copyright). In time, you will acquire the ability to ‘hear’ a score—including one that you are writing—in your head. Meanwhile, you might practise score-reading at the piano, beginning with simpler passages from string quartets and other chamber works: as a starting point, try playing through the Palestrina and Haydn scores (especially the minuets) suggested above.

Once in Cambridge, you will be able to use the excellent library resources available, but it is well worth building up your own personal library of books and study scores, so that you have them to hand as and when you need them. Music and music books can be expensive, but bear in mind that they can be put to multiple uses: a volume of Mozart or Beethoven string quartets, for example, will be relevant to work in harmony and counterpoint, analysis, and history, as well as providing excellent material for score-reading practice. Dover editions are relatively inexpensive, and offer a very wide range of repertoire. If you don’t have a good book or music shop near where you live, is an excellent source for second-hand (and out-of-print) material. And don’t neglect your local Oxfam or other charity shop—there are often bargains to be had.

We hope that you find these notes helpful. Your College Director of Studies will be happy to explain matters in more detail, and to provide further advice on reading, listening and other preparatory study.

Other Useful Preparation

Offer holders may also find it useful to explore the University's CamGuides which aims to introduce you to some of the academic and information skills that you will need during your studies, as well as how and where you be working.