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Year 13 Transition Work for Music at University

On this page you will find tasks that will help you be more prepared for (the more traditional) university music courses and interviews for these courses. There are first specific tasks for history and composition, followed by general reading and listening lists. [note: this page was complied in the first COVID lockdown for the then-abandoned year 13s but it has some helpful stuff so I have left it up].

Essay work

Writing essays is a key aspect of all music degrees. Unlike at A level in which you only do extended writing exams, you will need to write essays that are more formally presented. I have set one essay here on sonata form that draws on Eduqas AoS A. I will set one on Debussy in due course.

One key difference for these university-style essays is the requirement to reference where you have taken ideas from. The most common referencing system in music academia is the Harvard system. The basic idea is that you list all the books you have used at the end in a bibliography, presented in a standard format, and then you reference those books in the text in brackets. I have summarised the basics (and a bit more) of this system in this Harvard Referencing Guide:

I have also put together some more general notes on striking an appropriate academic tone in your essays:

Essay 1: Discuss the importance of sonata form in the Classical and Romantic symphony.

This takes as its starting point an essay topic that we have covered for A level and it should cover Haydn 104 (first and last movements) and also draw on a range of works from the development of the symphony pages (might include Stamitz, CPE Bach, Haydn 31, Beethoven 3, Tchaik 5, Dvorak 8 and Mahler 2).

BUT I want it to be different in the following ways:

  • It needs to be longer (about 2,500 words)
  • Introduce and explain sonata form much more carefully at the opening
  • Write a more discursive essay. How important is sonata form in the examples you choose? How can you prove this? Are there examples in which the principles of sonata form are in fact less important or changed in some way?
  • Read the extracts below (and any others) and quote from and refer to them in your essay, referencing them properly as set out above.


Rosen, C. (1998) Sonata Forms, revised edn, London: Norton.

Rosen, C. (2005) The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, London: Faber.

Sadie, S & Latham, A. (eds.) (1990) The Cambridge Music Guide, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Taruskin, R. (2010) Music in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Oxford History of Western Music Vol. IV), Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Short Exercise

Write a short piece for either a solo string instrument or string ensemble that uses only one pitch (e.g. D, but it can be in any octave). You should use rhythm, texture, and the full range of the instruments to make it as interesting as possible. The more bonkers the better. There are extensive notes on different string techniques here.

Extensions: write a similar piece for your own instrument and/or choose a small set of different pitches and try the same discipline of concentrating on timbre, rhythm, texture and techniques rather than melodic and harmonic content.

Film score arrangement

Choose one of the extracts from this book of film cues for cinema pianists:

You should now orchestrate it but do so by finding models to copy. You can find your own (John Williams plundered loads Holst, Rimsky Korsakov and Stravinsky among others) or you can use the resources on the Composition Moodle. Particularly helpful will be the examples listed under ‘Narrative music’ but you might also find the more general examples useful. A list of all the examples on Moodle can be found here:

Twentieth Century Piece

Many university departments focus on twentieth century composing styles. You could write a piece based on the notes on various composers here or find a twentieth century composer you like and try to emulate their style.

Listening and Reading Lists

Listening to any of the repertoire listed below and/or reading any of the books would help you be better prepared for uni. It should also be interesting and enjoyable. If you never got round to it, spend a bit of time first browsing around the Short History of Music on here.

Reading list

  • Taruskin, Richard (2004) A History of Western Music, Oxford: Oxford University Press [six hefty volumes but very readable and you will need Spotify/Youtube handy to listen to some of the examples he gives to get the most out of this. There is a one-volume version that might be more suitable (and affordable!!)]. Much more old-fashioned but shorter and probably easy enough to find cheap second hand on the web is Grout’s History of Western Music that has gone through many editions.
  • Cook, Nicholas (2000) Music a Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press [this is on all the University reading lists it is short and snappy but introduces lots of important issues – written by an influential and provocative commentator]
  • Ross, Alex (2007) The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, London: Fourth Estate [this is an excellent and accessible introduction to the music of the twentieth century in its wider cultural and historical context]. An older but also excellent pair of books entitled Modern Music by Paul Griffiths.
  • Harper-Scott J.P.E. and Jim Samson (2009) An Introduction to Music Studies, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [this is an inexpensive and useful introduction]
  • Caplin, William (2013) Analyzing Classical Form: An Approach for the Classroom, Oxford: Oxford University Press [this is a hefty book but is much clearer for students than a similar one by the same author from 2008 that is on several university reading lists. It looks in detail at how Classical form works from the point of view of its phrase structure and has an excellent companion website]

Listening List

Some suggested core listening (of the sort that would help you understand a first year course):

J.S. Bach

  • Some of the preludes and fugues from the Well-tempered Clavier (often called ‘The 48’)
  • B minor mass and/or some of his cantatas
  • A Brandenburg Concerto

W. A. Mozart

  • A symphony (perhaps ‘Jupiter’)
  • A piano concerto
  • Part of an opera (perhaps Don Giovanni or the Marriage of Figaro)

F. J. Haydn

  • Some of the other ‘London’ or ‘Paris’ symphonies
  • A selection of quartets from Op. 33

L. v. Beethoven

  • The violin concerto or a piano concerto (you should already have a good knowledge of the symphonies)
  • A range of string quartets: earlier (op. 18), middle (op. 59) and later (perhaps Op. 95 or the ‘Grosse Fugue’)
  • A piano sonata

Some other basic repertoire not covered in the course (i.e. I have missed out Classical/Romantic symphonists and early twentieth century) might be Josquin’s masses (particularly l’homme arme) Palestrina’s masses, Byrd’s sacred music (perhaps Cantiones sacrae), Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Vivaldi L’estro armonico concertos,Schubert’s lieder, Chopin’s nocturnes, Wagner’s operas (particularly Tristan und Isolde), Sibelius’ symphonies (particularly no. 5), Shostakovich’s symphonies, Rachmaninov’s Three Symphonic Dances, Bartok’s string quartets, Copland’s Appalachian Spring,Messiaen’s piano music (Vingt Regards), Britten’s operas, Ligeti’s Atmospheres, Boulez’s Le Marteau sans maitre, Cage’s music for prepared piano. You should also listen to some new music (some interesting English composers, for example, include Peter Maxwell-Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, Judith Weir, James MacMillan, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Thomas Ades, Sally Beamish, Kenneth Hesketh, Stephen Pratt and many others). Other C20 composers that I am fond of are Carl Nielsen, Witold Lutoslawski, Magnus Lindberg, Galina Ustvolskaya, Henri Dutilleux, Gerard Grisey, Aulis Sallinen, John Casken, Simon Holt, Ruud Langgard, Charles Ives, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Phillip Glass and many others.

Online resources list

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