Dear First-Year Music Students,

Congratulations on your conditional offer to study Music at the University of Oxford. The Faculty of Music is an internationally renowned centre of teaching and research, one of the largest and liveliest music departments in the UK. When you get a chance, please look at the Faculty’s webpage ( or its Twitter feed ( to catch a glimpse of the extraordinary range of events and activities hosted by the Faculty. You also may want to take a close look at the Oxford University Music Society’s webpage, which shows the full gamut of student-led ensembles in Oxford, or at the webpage of EMPRESS, the Faculty of Music’s resident research/performance group dedicated to electronic music in all its forms (

Musical life at St John’s is no less exciting, with an array of extra-curricular music- and sound-making activities whose range eclipses that of most other colleges: we sponsor the World’s Music at Oxford, the city’s only concert series dedicated to non-Western music; we are home to the we are home to Orchestra Vox, a resident ensemble (open to all students by audition) that performs a vast repertoire (including a fully staged opera each year) and engages in a range of outreach and charitable work; we host an internationally recognized sound artist each year for a full-term residency that allows students to participate in making and exhibiting “sound art” (for example, see here for info on our autumn 2018 sound artist); and we have a highly active choir which performs in the college chapel, itself home to the Aubertin Organ, one of Oxford’s most exceptional chapel instruments.

St John’s performance and rehearsal facilities are top-flight. We are one of the few colleges with a dedicated, well-equipped rehearsal room for amplified music (in the Kendrew Quad); we have a stand-alone building in the Garden Quad with three practice rooms, including one large enough for small chamber music rehearsals; we have the stunning “Barn”—with professional lighting and sound system, a portable stage, and a top-of-the-line digital piano—that can accommodate musical performances with an audience up to 60 people; and we are the only Oxford college with a proscenium Auditorium, a 200-seat venue equipped with a state-of-the-art electro-acoustic enhancement system (to enable the electronic alteration the room’s acoustics), a first-rate professional sound system, full theatre lighting, cinema surround-sound, and a Steinway D concert grand piano.

St John’s also hosts the Seminar in Ethnomusicology and Sound Studies, Oxford’s most adventurous music lecture series, which often brings to College scholars and musicians representing a multiplicity of musical genres and traditions.

Some general, pre-arrival reading

This is a list of suggested books that you might want to engage with before your studies commence. You are not expected to purchase any of these, but instead look for them online. If you can’t get hold of them, please don’t worry, as your college library and/or the Faculty will have copies when you arrive.

General reading:

  • Kofi Agawu, Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Positions (Routledge, 2003)
  • Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh, Western Music and Its Others: Difference, Representation, and Appropriation in Music (University of California Press, 2000)
  • Martin Clayton, Trevor Herbert, and Richard Middleton, The Cultural Study of Music: A Critical Introduction. (Routledge, 2012).
  • Tia DeNora, Music in Everyday Life (Cambridge University Press, 2000)

Also, before you arrive in October, please listen widely and inquisitively, and think critically about what you’re listening to. If it’s a piece for which a score is available, do try to look at the score too. The Faculty hosts a few playlists on Spotify: click here to get to these (note: some of the “suggested listening” tracks given below can be found on these Spotify playlists).

The Prelims curriculum

During your first year, you will prepare to sit the Preliminary Examination in Music (also known as “Prelims”), which takes place in the spring across your third term at Oxford. Prelims consists of six “papers” (some of which include one or more subparts); four papers are compulsory and students must choose two optional papers out of the five options offered.


(Note: you will be examined on 1; 2; 3a AND 3b; AND three of the four “Topics” from number 4)


Foundations in the Study of Music


Stylistic Composition, Arranging and Transcription (SCART)


3a. Analysis

3b. Critical Listening


Topics 1 (choose any THREE)

  • Machaut
  • The Schumanns and their Circle
  • Nationalisms
  • Global Hip Hop

A Note on Paper 4 (Topics 1)

Taken together, the four courses that coalesce under the heading “Topics 1” represent the core of the first-year curriculum. Here are descriptions of two of the modules that will be offered for Prelims 2024, with suggestions for readings and listening materials to you prepare in advance for the histories and theories you’ll encounter in lectures and tutorials:

Machaut – Professor Elizabeth Leach

This course will introduce Guillaume de Machaut as a central and important composer of the Middle Ages. The course will start by considering his creative persona as a poet and composer with a developed interest in book-making. We will examine the surviving manuscripts of his work, their notation, and ordering. The second half of the course will look at the specific forms of his music, mainly love songs, and how we understand and analyse them today.

Suggested Reading:

Elizabeth Eva Leach, Guillaume De Machaut: Secretary, Poet, Musician. (Ithaca, 2011). Or: explore the various posts under the category ‘Machaut’ on

Something to listen to:

Guillaume de Machaut, The Mirror of Narcissus, Gothic Voices, dir. Christopher Page. Hyperion CDA66087. Digital booklet (.pdf) available here (and on iTunes etc.).

Global Hip Hop – Professor Jason Stanyek

After tracing the complex diasporic flows that came together to produce hip-hop culture in 1970s New York, we will examine how hip-hop spread worldwide, with specific attention given to hip-hop scenes in Brazil, Cuba, France, Japan, South Africa, and Tanzania.

Suggested Reading: Sujatha Fernandes, Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation (Verso, 2011). Something to listen to (available here):

Nega Gizza (featuring Leda Hills), ‘Larga o Bicho’ (Brazil)

Simi Lab, ‘The Blues’ (Japan)

Mos Def, ‘Hip Hop’ (U.S.)


PAPERS 5 and 6

5/6. Options (choose any TWO)

  • Extended Essay
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Musical Skills (Conducting Skills/Keyboard Skills/SCART)
  • Critical Studies in Ethnomusicology

Music’s Prelims curriculum is rigorous yet highly flexible. You will have the ability to choose two papers drawn from the set of five “Options” given above. The Extended Essay (which requires a 5,000-word essay on a topic of the student’s own choice), Performance, and Composition are all open-ended, with students themselves making significant decisions with regard to topic, repertoire, and creative direction. Musical Skills extends the teaching done under the compulsory “SCART” course. The Critical Studies in Ethnomusicology option offers numerous perspectives on the anthropological study of music (as you can see from some selected topics/readings that will be on the syllabus for Prelims 2024):

Critical Studies in Ethnomusicology (Professor Jason Stanyek)

1. Geographies (The Politics of World Music)

2. Sovereignties (The Politics of Indigeneity)

3. Acoustemologies (The Politics of Tuning)

4. Temporalities (The Politics of Rhythm)

Philip V. Bohlman, World Music: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: 2002).

Tara Browner, Heartbeat of the People: Music and Dance of the Northern Pow-Wow (University of Illinois Press, 2002).

Peter Pesic, Music and the Making of Modern Science (MIT Press, 2014).

Kyra Gaunt, “Got Rhythm? Difficult Encounters in Theory and Practice and Other Participatory Discrepancies in Music” (City and Society, 2002).

An outro

There’s much, much more to studying Music at Oxford than revealed above. Immediately upon your arrival, you’ll witness the sheer vibrancy of the Faculty of Music and the astonishingly rich cultural life of St John’s College. Again, hearty congratulations on your conditional offer to join the Music course at the University of Oxford; we’ll look forward to welcoming you to St John’s very soon.

Very best wishes,

Jason Stanyek
Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology
St. John’s College

Study skills for incoming undergraduates

As an Oxford student, you have many great opportunities ahead, but studying here can also be very challenging. To help you prepare for this, we have put together some resources that will help you develop your study skills before you start at Oxford, no matter your subject.

Starting at Oxford

Starting a course at Oxford can be very daunting, but there are many resources out there to help you succeed! Here are some useful guides from across the University that you might want to check out:

  • Study skills and training: Here you can find advice on academic good practice including avoiding plagiarism, managing your time, reading, note taking, referencing and revision.
  • Student life: It’s not all about academics at Oxford; here you can find out about the range of other opportunities available to you as a student, as well as tips on how to navigate student life with your workload. If you prefer podcasts, much of this information is available in that form here!
  • Managing the cost: Undergraduate students Helena, Joe and Dan, have teamed up with the University’s Undergraduate Admissions team to discuss the financial support available to students and how they manage the cost of studying at Oxford.

Useful contacts

If you have any questions that aren’t answered on this page, you can get in touch with the following people:

ContactQuestions they can answer
Admissions Office: Sarah JonesAnything to do with offers, visas, UCAS issues, reading lists and preparatory materials
Accommodation OfficeAccommodation, what to bring, insurance, electoral roll issues  
BursaryAll things financial
College OfficePractical arrangements, bank letters, etc.
Disability enquiries: Elaine EastgateAny issues relating to disability or special requirements