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Inside music

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This module is an introduction to the creative principles of music. You’ll begin by examining the fundamental elements of Western music and comparing them with those of other musical cultures (such as India). You'll develop a detailed understanding of western rhythm, melody, harmony, polyphony, instrumentation, structure and form. You'll 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 the Sibelius music notation software widely employed in the creative industries.

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'll 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.

The core teaching texts of the module are grouped in three books:

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.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module and builds on the OU level 1 modules Discovering the arts and humanities (A111), or The arts past and present (AA100) (now discontinued), and 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.

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 this module. 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'll be ready.

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

What's included

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

You will need

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

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with either:

  • Windows 7 or higher
  • Mac OS X 10.7 or higher

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Materials to buy

Other materials

  • Mozart, W.A. Piano Concerto no. 24 in C minor KV 491 - study score (urtext edition no. TP 63). ISMN: 9790006200511 Barenreiter £11.50 This score is available from specialist music shops.

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.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A224 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Inside music starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019 when we expect it to start for the last time. A replacement module is planned for October 2020.

Course work includes:

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

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