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Inside music

This module is an introduction to the principles of music, in which you will learn how music ‘works’. You’ll begin by examining the fundamental elements of Western music and comparing them with those of other musical cultures (such as India). In later units you will develop a more detailed understanding of western rhythm, melody, harmony, polyphony, instrumentation, structure and form. You will learn how to use these elements in song composition and – by the end of the module – will have written a complete song with piano accompaniment, using Sibelius music notation software.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
2 8 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
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Entry requirements
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Student Reviews

This is a super course made even better by the very enthusiastic tutor who I had met some years ago...
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I found this course very informative and stimulating, providing a real entry into songwriting and composing. The course is demanding...
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What you will study

The module is designed for anyone who wishes to develop an understanding of the language and conventions of music in the Western tradition, ranging from art music (classical music) through jazz and musical theatre to modern popular genres. The purpose of the module is to examine the musical principles that underpin all these types of music, and to give you the opportunity to use the knowledge that you acquire in your own songwriting.

In order to write music, you will learn to use Sibelius music notation software. Some elementary knowledge of musical notation is assumed, but only to a level that anyone with experience of playing an instrument or singing is likely to have acquired. If you lack this experience, preparatory material is available. See Entry below for further details.

The core teaching texts of the module are grouped in three books. These incorporate strands of units on harmony, form, and songwriting, which are the spine of the skills teaching through the module.

Book 1 – covers:

  • the elements of music and notation, and the place of western music in the context of other cultures
  • introductions to time, rhythm, pitch, melody, harmony and polyphony
  • chords and triads; timbre, dynamics and texture
  • the development of musical ideas
  • songwriting and arranging (working with rhythm, pitch and harmony).

Book 2 – covers:

  • the three basic chords
  • polyphony and its hierarchies
  • introduction to form
  • song-writing and arranging (more on rhythm, pitch and harmony)
  • extending harmonic progressions
  • ensembles and the orchestra
  • rondo, ritornello and jazz forms
  • songwriting and arranging (harmonic progressions, bass line, countermelody).

Book 3 – covers:

  • secondary triads, chromatic chords, harmonic sequences
  • variation form
  • modulation
  • song-writing and arranging (structuring through modulation)
  • form in vocal music
  • sonata form
  • case study: Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor
  • songwriting and arranging (extending harmony and modulation, piano accompaniment, the complete song).

The majority of units are in print, but several, including the five songwriting units, are online. There are also books of scores, audio CDs, a DVD, music notation software (Sibelius Student 6), online databases and quizzes, and preparatory material on music notation.

You will learn

By the end of the module, you will have developed fluency in the following areas:

  • aural perception
  • reading two- and three-stave scores in detail, and orchestral scores in less detail, identifying essential landmarks
  • the understanding and use of common musical procedures, covering melody, rhythm, harmony, polyphony, and musical forms
  • description and analysis of music and its styles, with the use of recordings and scores
  • writing musical notation on up to three staves (e.g. keyboard instrument plus voice)
  • composition on two and three staves
  • the use of Sibelius music notation software to write music.

Professional recognition

The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) allows you to use Open University (OU) modules as substitutions for the usual ABRSM prerequisites. This module can be used as a substitution for the ABRSM Grade 6 Theory, which is one of the two prerequisites required for entry to the DipABRSM Principles of Instrumental/Vocal Teaching. Visit the ABRSM website for more information.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day-schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

The assignments will cover the following elements:

  • learning to use Sibelius to write music notation
  • songwriting exercises, which test your grasp of text-setting and the musical skills taught throughout the module
  • descriptive and analytical essays on extracts of recorded and notated music.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015. We expect it to be available once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is an OU level 2 module and builds on the OU level 1 modules The arts past and present (AA100) an d Voices, texts and material culture (A105). These modules develop skills such as logical thinking, clear expression, essay writing and the ability to select and interpret relevant materials. They also offer an introduction to a range of subjects in the arts and humanities. 

If you have not studied at University level before, you are strongly advised to study OU level 1 modules before progressing to OU level 2 study.

An introduction to music theory on OpenLearn provides a good introduction to the specific skills of listening and writing about music. In addition, your regional or national centre will be able to tell you where you can see reference copies of an older module, Start listening to music (A179), or you can buy selected materials from Open University Worldwide Ltd.

You are expected to have some elementary knowledge of music and music notation, but you don’t require any formal qualification in order to start the module. If you have played an instrument, or sung in a choir or group, you may well have the experience that you need. The level of knowledge required at the start of the module is roughly that of Grade 3 Theory of the Associated Board (ABRSM) music syllabus. This includes the following:

  • common note-values, and equivalent rests, and their most usual rhythmic groupings
  • time signatures
  • pitches and their positions on the stave (treble and bass)
  • the most common scales, keys and key signatures (major and minor, with up to four sharps and flats)
  • common intervals and chords (triads).

If you have studied the discontinued module, The technology of music (TA212), you will already be familiar with these aspects of music theory. The early units of A224 revisit these elements, but on the assumption that you have encountered them before, and have some ability to read music notation.

It is appropriate to study Inside music even if you have already studied the discontinued module Understanding music: elements techniques and styles (A214) as the content of the module is not the same.

Preparatory work

We strongly advise you to look at the preparatory material to check whether you have the necessary knowledge to start this module. This is available on our OpenLearn website.

If the material covered there is unfamiliar, you should work through it before starting A224. It is best to do this over several weeks, so that you have time to absorb it, rather than trying to cram it all in immediately before starting the module.

In a less formal way, listening to, and thinking about, a wide range of music would be good preparation. The module ranges from classical through jazz and musical theatre to folk and pop music. The more you have already got into the habit of thinking as you listen, ‘What makes this music sound the way it does?’ the more you will be ready to embark on A224.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


Start End England fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 £2700.00

Registration closes 10/09/15 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after you register.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time that is convenient to you.

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2016. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

This information was provided on 28/07/2015.

What's included

Books of teaching units, scores, online teaching units, audio CDs, DVD-Video, Sibelius Student music notation software delivered on disk.

You will need

CD player, DVD player (or a computer with DVD-ROM drive), manuscript paper.

Please note that the Sibelius Student music notation software, delivered on disk, is supplied with a Sibelius Scorch browser plugin which is currently only compatible with the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 7 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 4 or above (with Firefox running in 32-bit mode).

The Sibelius Scorch browser plugin is currently not supported by Apple Safari 5.1 or Google Chrome. Mac users running OS X 10.6 or 10.7 are advised to use Firefox in 32-bit mode in order to run the Scorch plug-in. The software has not been tested with other operating systems such as Linux. Although a Linux computer may be suitable for the majority of the activities for this module we do not recommend using one for Sibelius Student music notation software as you may experience problems.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available. For this module you will also need to install software provided by the OU on a disk or USB stick.

We recommend one of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system
  • modern Linux desktop or laptop computer.

A netbook, tablet or other mobile device that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:
  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

Materials to buy

Other materials

  • Mozart, W.A. Piano Concerto no. 24 in C minor KV 491 - study score (ISMN: 9790006200511) Baerenreiter £10.00 This score is available from specialist music shops.

If you have a disability

Throughout the module there are listening exercises, and exercises in which students are expected to know how their work will sound (notably in songwriting). These exercises may be very challenging for anyone with serious hearing impairment. If you have concerns about this, please contact a learning advisor in your region before enrolling on the module.

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader, and musical notation may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.