MA Music part 1

This module is the first part of the MA in Music, which is taught and assessed entirely online. It introduces a wide range of music research skills in the context of the digital humanities (the use of computing and the internet for research and study). There are topics and themes in the programme that will help you think in new ways about musical documents, music criticism, musical performances, and ethnographic approaches to music. You will also work with music databases in The Open University’s online library, one of the largest in the world, to investigate musical subjects of interest to you. This module has a great cultural and thematic breadth: all students engage with a range of musical styles from different places and eras. The module is accessible and relevant to those with a vocational or leisure interest in music.

Vocational relevance

Emphasis is placed on the relevance of the module to practical and professional aspects of music. Increasingly, practitioners in music (performers, teachers, journalists and those involved in the various branches of music media) are concerned with a diverse range of music and have a need to exercise research, critical and interpretative skills. The module will provide training in these skills. The assessment strategy has also been designed with this in mind, offering the opportunity to produce different ‘real-life’ writing tasks.

Postgraduate qualifications increase employability because they develop both specific and more generic transferable skills. In particular, you will learn and practise: the detailed analysis and critique of data; awareness of music-specific methodology and literature; structuring complex arguments; critically evaluating evidence, and integrating different forms of evidence into coherent and comprehensive reports; writing to deadlines and word limits; clear and effective written expression; accurate referencing; and the constructive and imaginative use of digital media. You will also have to plan, organise and manage your own learning, and interact with fellow students and tutors in an online environment.


A873 is a compulsory module in our:

A873 is an optional module in our:

Postgraduate Loans 

If you study this module as part of an eligible qualification, you may be eligible for a Postgraduate Loan. For more information, see Fees and funding.


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 postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

What you will study

This module is the first part of the MA in Music (F32). It introduces the methods and materials used for music research, particularly in the context of the digital humanities. This does not mean that you will learn the technicalities of computing or web design, but you will be introduced to the strategies and planning processes that are involved in research and dissemination projects that use the internet and its tools, including various types of database and social media. However, the module also provides advanced training in music research. 

You will:

  • develop an approach to researching music that incorporates many different methods
  • learn how to accumulate information about music, and synthesize and present your findings
  • encounter a number of musical topics, themes and repertories from different periods and styles that you can explore in ways that match your personal interests
  • become familiar with some of the main digital tools and resources that are used for current music research.

The module has four main sections or ‘blocks’, each of which is broadly structured into a six-week study period. Some flexibility is built in so that you can extend your reading in areas that particularly interest you.

Block 1 is the introductory section, in which you look at the history of how music is studied and how the idea of musical knowledge has changed over the last century. It also includes the following topics: People and communities; Composition and creativity; Performance and listening; Musical biographies; Music criticism and journalism.

Block 2 focuses on the significance of the ‘digital humanities’ for the study of music and some of the emerging questions. Key utilities and databases are introduced.

Block 3 guides you towards looking critically at different types of digital resources and the challenges associated with them. The topics are: Documents; Images; Places; Repertories and musical sources; Instruments; Performances and recordings.

In Block 4, you'll develop the work begun in Block 3 by drawing together different digital resources in case studies devoted to the BBC Promenade Concerts, Copland, music in Tudor London, and Joni Mitchell.

Normally you’ll need to have completed this module in order to progress to MA in Music part 2 (A874).

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor to help you with the module work and mark and comment on your written work. Both modules in the MA in Music programme are provided via online tuition, and you are encouraged to take part in the online tutorials with your tutor and tutor group. These tutorials will be held throughout the year and can be accessed from your own computer. More details about them will be available at the start of 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.

Course work includes

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Future availability

MA Music part 1 (A873) starts once a year – October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2023 when we expect it to start for the last time. A replacement module is planned for October 2024 which will be part of a new MA in Music (F99).


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.

Entry requirements

You must hold an honours degree to study for our MA in Music. Although your degree need not be in music, you must have the basic skills expected of a graduate in that area. The first module brings you up to date with the latest ideas and approaches in music but does not offer remedial undergraduate training if your qualifications and/or experience are inadequate.

The MA assumes that a candidate for a master’s degree already has the knowledge and skills usually acquired by pursuing the subject at undergraduate level. Any student beginning the qualification without an undergraduate Music degree or equivalent experience will do so at their own risk. If you would like further advice regarding this, please speak to an adviser. You should be aware that a degree of at least 2.1 or equivalent will greatly increase your chances of successfully completing the MA.

It is expected that your spoken and written English will also be of an adequate standard for postgraduate study. If English is not your first language, we recommend that you will need a minimum score of 7 under the International English Language testing system (IELTS). Please see their website for details. 

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

Preparatory work

You should read:

T. Herbert (2012) Music in Words, ABRSM Publishing. This book, the set book for the module, is in two parts. The first contains advice about how to research music, how to store research data and other basic advice on how to write about music. The second part is a reference manual for writing about music. It will be helpful at this preparatory stage to read the section that introduces scholarly conventions and the sections that encourage you to think about setting up a personal research bibliography and database.  It is available as an ebook and a physical copy – make sure you get the ABRSM version which is outlined below, and which is aimed at UK readers (rather than the OUP version, which is aimed at the US).

You might also like to look at the following websites in preparation for your work, bearing in mind that you will get guidance on how to use these resources during your studies:

Harvard College Library - a rich and extensive basis for beginning electronic research on a wide variety of topics in music

The Proms Archive - the history of the Proms, searchable by composer and works, year or artist.

Another useful resource is the MHRA Style Guide, which deals with referencing systems.


Start End England fee Register
07 Oct 2023 Jun 2024 -

Registration now closed

October 2023 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

Future availability

MA Music part 1 (A873) starts once a year – October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2023 when we expect it to start for the last time. A replacement module is planned for October 2024 which will be part of a new MA in Music (F99).

Additional costs

Study costs

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

Ways to pay for this module

We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

Study materials

What's included

All the necessary teaching is included in the study material, which is delivered online. The module teaches you how to use online resources for music research (but it does not provide basic training in computer operation or word-processing skills), and you will also have unlimited access to an extensive module website that includes:

  • a wide range of some of the most valuable online databases, usually including Grove Music Online, Naxos, History Online, The Oxford English Dictionary, The International Index of Music Periodicals, The Music Index, Early English Books Online, and JSTOR.
  • embedded links to a wide range of music databases and other research sites
  • other module-related activities such as tutor-student forums, and an MA blog
  • direct access to other Open University online services.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Herbert, T. Music in Words: A Guide to Researching and Writing about Music (2nd edn) Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music £18.50 - ISBN 9781848491007

Note: This book is also a set book on A874 MA Music part 2.

If you have a disability

This module has no printed materials and is delivered online. The materials are provided as a series of web pages via the module website. Some online material may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader, and some archival materials, particularly where musical notation is involved or where you are required to study original documents, may be particularly difficult to read in this way. You should also be aware that this module demands a high level of independent study, including reading journal articles with music examples. Where certain activities are not accessible, we will provide suitable alternatives, but some activities, for example, studying digitalised music manuscripts, may not be available in different formats. You will be expected to listen to music and study a variety of musical scores and documents. This module also makes extensive use of research databases. The module may therefore be particularly challenging if you have a severe visual or hearing impairment.

Blind or partially-sighted students and those with a hearing impairment are encouraged to contact us for advice before registering for this module.

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. Visit our Disability support website to find more about what we offer.

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