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From composition to performance: musicians at work

This theme-based module draws on a wide variety of musical traditions and periods, including western art music of the last 500 years, jazz, popular and film music, and music of non-western traditions. You’ll examine the processes by which music is formed and transmitted – composition, improvisation, performance, editing, and publication – and social and historical factors that shape those processes. You need appropriate knowledge of harmony, form and score-reading before you start the module; these will enable you to develop technical skills in tasks such as transcribing and editing music. The assessed essays require evaluation of historical and contemporary sources, listening to music and engaging with musical controversies and debates.

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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
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

Much of the music in this module comes from the western art tradition, commonly referred to as the ‘classical’ repertoire, but you will also be studying a good deal of music from outside that tradition, such as popular music, jazz, film music, and music from cultures other than those of western Europe and North America.

You will investigate:

  • processes by which music comes into being and is transmitted: composition, improvisation, performance, editing and publication
  • social factors that shape those processes (such as why orchestras developed as they did)
  • the nature of the historical evidence concerning those processes (for example, how do we find out how musicians improvised before the advent of modern recording technology?)
  • how far modern musicians and audiences can and want to interact with the past: what exactly is the modern ‘authentic’ performance movement trying to do?

Each of these themes appears to a greater or lesser extent in most of the blocks that make up the module. At the beginning of each block you will find an introduction explaining how its material relates to the module as a whole, and there are block conclusions to summarise the main issues examined. There are five blocks:.

The Composer in Context This block investigates why composers compose in certain ways, depending on the social and economic contexts in which they are writing. The subject matter includes musicians from Africa, South America and South Asia; composers of the English Reformation; Monteverdi; some composers for the early piano; Schumann, Chopin, Berlioz, Mahler, Debussy, Schoenberg and others.

What is Composition? A wide variety of compositional techniques is examined, looking at the working methods of Gluck, Beethoven and Elgar, as well as musicians outside the western art tradition: film composers; blues, rock and jazz musicians; and Indian and Indonesian musicians. Historical and modern improvisation techniques are also investigated.

Notation and editing This block begins with the development of notation and music printing. Historical editing techniques are described, and then the work of the modern editor is examined at length, in preparation for an assignment in which you edit music yourself.

Performance The history of instruments and their performance is traced by means of studies of keyboard, stringed, wind and brass instruments. The development of solo singing, choirs and orchestras is also discussed, as are certain elements of jazz and popular music performance, and there is a study of historical recordings.

Reception The history of a musical work does not end with its first performance. The audience’s response will affect the way in which the work is subsequently regarded and may lead to changes in a single work or in a whole tradition. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; so-called World Music; and early twentieth-century European avant-garde music all feature here.

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 our Student Registration & Enquiry Service 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 can choose whether to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) on paper or online through the eTMA system. You may want to use the eTMA system for some of your assignments but submit on paper for others. This is entirely your choice.

One of the TMAs is double-weighted. You must be able to include notated music examples with your electronically submitted work.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014 when it will be available for the last time.


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:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school


AA302 is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students with recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably at the OU.

The reading and writing skills developed in The arts past and present (AA100) and From Enlightenment to Romanticism c.1780-1830 (A207) would be ideal preparation for this module.

This module requires a knowledge of harmony, form and score reading at the level of our OU level 2 music modules. You are strongly advised to study Inside music (A224), before taking AA302, unless you have already studied the discontinued module A214.   

Your regional or national centre will be able to tell you where you can see reference copies of the OU level 1 and 2 study materials, or you can buy selected materials from Open University Worldwide Ltd.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Preparatory work

You would be well advised to listen to – and if possible consult – scores of a broad range of the western music repertoire from about 1500 to the present. Try also to listen to music from other cultures, and to familiarise yourself with some of the different strands in popular music of the twentieth century.


Start End England fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015 -

Registration now closed

The deadline for financial support applications has now passed

October 2014 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

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 annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. 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 10 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. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

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

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser.

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 based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 21/09/2014.

What's included

Module books, other printed materials, DVDs, audio CDs.

You will need

Television, DVD player, CD player, manuscript paper. A keyboard is not essential, but you might find it helpful to have the use of one.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as it includes online activities, which you can access using a web browser.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2008 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile device check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.7 or later.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

If you have a disability

Block 4, Performance, includes comparative listening activities which may be very challenging for students with hearing impairments. Alternatives to tutor-marked assignments which include listening exercises may be provided where there is evidence of a need for this based on a student’s additional requirements. If you have concerns about accessing any elements please contact a learning advisor in your region before enrolling on this 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 where applicable: musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials 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.