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Central questions in the study of music

What does music mean? What does it do? These are the queries at the heart of this module. You'll explore how music conveys meanings and has an impact within its social contexts before moving into investigations of audiences, performances, and film music. The module incorporates a focus on the transmission of music, examining how it is edited, notated, and recorded. The final part looks at music in relation to specific social and historical contexts, incorporating case studies of works of western art music from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.

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Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
3 10 6

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

In this module, you'll study music in a wide range of historical and contemporary contexts.

Block 1 introduces the central questions of the module – ‘What does music mean?’ and ‘What does music do?’ –  exploring how they relate to an array of musical repertories. The block also discusses musical performances and audiences and investigates how music functions in film. You'll look at the way music establishes genre, setting and characterisation in films and do a case study of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Block 2 focuses on how music has been transmitted, including through written and printed notation, critical editions of music, and audio and visual recording. Here, too, you'll look at a range of repertories and transmission styles. You'll explore how the music notation used by composers such as Bach, Handel and Dowland can be translated into contemporary notation. You'll also explore some of the creative ways music from inside and outside the western art tradition has been represented visually. You'll look at how recording technologies and practices have shaped our encounters with jazz, pop, and western classical music, among other traditions.

Block 3 continues the investigation of what music means and does, with particular attention to western art music from the seventeenth to twenty-first centuries. You'll look at several important composers and genres and undertake case studies of works, including Handel’s oratorio Saul, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet, op. 44, and Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. The block also includes units on nineteenth-century Italian opera and contemporary Scottish music.

By studying this module, you'll:

  • learn how music communicates meanings and how it shapes and reflects its social contexts.
  • develop a critical awareness of some of the most important ways of transmitting music.
  • become familiar with an array of musical works, practices, performances and ideas from several historical eras and cultural contexts.
  • gain familiarity with scholarly approaches to film music, recording, performances, audiences, and the notation and editing of music. 

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You’ll 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. Tuition will take place across a range of media, including online tutorials.

There will be two day schools during the module, led by our expert team of tutors and focusing on key concepts. Each day school is mirrored by online sessions covering the same topics. You are strongly encouraged to attend these sessions either face-to-face or online to maximise your chances of success on this module. Where the day schools are held will depend on the numbers and distribution of students, where tutors are based, and what online alternatives are provided. We cannot guarantee that they will be hosted in specific locations, or locations that have been used previously. While you’re not obliged to attend any of these tutorial events, you are strongly encouraged to take part.

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.

Future availability

Central questions in the study of music starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2026.


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

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)

Entry requirements

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

Understanding music (A234) is highly recommended as preparation as it develops a number of skills that you should possess before attempting this module, including in reading, writing and understanding music notation and in analysing music.

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


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2026.

Additional Costs

Study costs

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

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

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.

Joint loan applications

If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

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

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. 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 module 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 module.  

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, Mastercard, Visa 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).

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 fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 19/04/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

Books of scores and teaching units, audio CDs, a DVD, and you’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • audio and video content (replicating the content of the CDs and DVD)
  • assessment guide
  • online tutorial and forum access.

You will need

Good quality (but not necessarily expensive) headphones so that you can distinguish important details in performances, interpretations and recording techniques.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Schumann, R.: Alberti, M. (ed) Piano Quintet E flat major op.44 - piano, 2 violins, viola and cello - study score (no. ETP 78). ISMN: 9790200200980 Ernst Eulenburg Ltd £12.99 - ISBN 9783795763565 This study score is available from specialist music shops and can be ordered directly from the publisher. Please use the correct ISMN and ETP no. when ordering.

Other materials

  • Beethoven, L. van: Del Mar, J. (ed) Symphony no.6 in F major, op.68 "Pastoral" - study score (urtext edition no. TP 906). ISMN: 9790006204298 Barenreiter £12.50 This study score is available from specialist music shops and can be ordered directly from the publisher. Please use the correct ISMN and edition no. when ordering.
  • Steven Spielberg (Director) Close Encounters of The Third Kind (DVD) 2011. EAN: 5051159650115 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment £5.99 This DVD is available from high street or internet retailers, or by searching on www.find-dvd.co.uk. Please ensure you purchase the DVD released in 2011, since other releases and media formats may contain significantly different versions of the film.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A342 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.