University of Sydney Handbooks - 2019 Archive

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Master of Music


The Master of Music (Composition) provides students with advanced compositional skills and affords opportunities to work on compositions of a length and complexity not possible during undergraduate award programs. Students work on both a composition portfolio (creative work) and the closely related research dissertation which, together, form the thesis.

Candidates develop skills in, and an understanding of, all aspects in the successful completion of a composition project.
Candidates may research compositional approaches of other composers, practitioners and artists, and to create musical works based upon the results of this research.

The musical outcomes may take place on the small and larger scales, and should demonstrate the development of a high-level creative approach, substantial composition technique and the initial establishment of a compositional voice within the national and international music sector.

Course structure

It is expected that both components of the thesis, the composition portfolio and the related research dissertation, will be pursued concurrently and at an even rate across the duration of the candidature. Demands of candidates in terms of craft skills and imaginative writing are high.

Candidature for all candidates includes:

  • enrolment in appropriate research methods units and elective units of study
  • supervised research on an approved topic which includes 24 one-hour sessions across each year. Sessions cover both written research work and composition as appropriate to the needs of the student
  • a confirmation presentation late in the first year of candidature
  • annual progress review (APR)
  • presentation at the Composition Seminar at some time during the candidature
  • attendance and presentation at the interdisciplinary Postgraduate Creative Work seminar
  • submission of a thesis comprising the portfolio of original compositions with accompanying recordings and the 10,000-20,000 word dissertation associated with the candidate’s composition portfolio and the research behind its creation.

The following are benchmark examples of portfolio size, and should be referred to by intending students writing the 1500-2000 word research summary when applying for entry into the course.

(a) Candidates specialising in instrumental or music theatre composition

A portfolio of compositions of approximately 50 to 70 minutes, including one designated major work. The portfolio should reflect and respond to the area(s) of research undertaken during the candidature. At least half of the music should have been performed, workshopped or publicly presented. Recordings should accompany the folio where possible.

Examples of submissions could include:

  • a set of solo saxophone etudes (15 minutes), a saxophone quartet (10 minutes), a piece for large chamber ensemble (10 minutes), a concerto for saxophone and orchestra (25 minutes)
  • two chamber works of 12 minutes each for 8 players, an orchestral piece (10 minutes), a piano sonata (19 minutes)
  • a 15-minute work for woodwind quintet + CD, a music theatre work of 45 minutes
  • a string quartet with didjeridu and erhu (20 minutes), a chamber work for mixed sextet (5 minutes), a work for dancers and chamber ensemble (14 minutes), a sound installation (variable duration), four pieces for large ensemble with jazz quartet (total 12 minutes)
  • a music theatre work of 60 minutes
  • works created as part of the Composing Women Program

(b) Candidates specialising in electroacoustic composition

A number of electroacoustic compositions intended for various configurations such as stereo, surround and multi-channel or interactive works that have a collective duration of 12-15 minutes of music per each full-time semester of the candidature, that is 48-60 minutes for the entire candidature.

Examples of works to be included in the portfolio could include:

  • a stereo acousmatic composition
  • a surround work with a minimum four channels
  • a work for 1-3 instruments and playback

    a performance for instrument and live electronics
  • a sound installation
  • an interactive multimedia piece for sound and video

(c) Candidates specialising in music technology

The written dissertation between 10,000 and 20,000 words will investigate a research topic in music technology. Projects may involve computer programming for musical applications, exploration of advanced signal processing techniques, analysis of existing electroacoustic repertoire, sound recording, digital audio production for visual and interactive media.

Music compositions must demonstrate the aesthetic value of the theoretical investigation and must be included in the submitted portfolio. Where software creation is a significant component of the work then a balance between music composition and software creation shall be negotiated with the supervisor, but a minimum of two 12-15 minute works will be required under any circumstance.

(d) Candidates specialising in jazz composition

A portfolio of compositions as outlined below:

  • four small ensemble works of 6-8 minutes duration for 8-10 instruments
  • two small ensemble works of 6-8 minutes duration for 8-10 instruments + string group
  • two big band works of 6-8 minutes' duration

    one third stream (confluent) work for 3-4 soloists + rhythm section and chamber group of 8-10 minutes duration
  • one third stream (confluent) work for 3-4 soloists and full orchestra (no rhythm) of 8-10 minutes duration

It is expected that the works contain no more than 30 percent of improvisation with the work being at least 70 percent fully scored. If a candidate would like to include a greater percentage of improvisation than the 30 percent standard, this must be negotiated with and approved by the supervisor and the Associate Dean. The duration of such works should be at the upper limits of the durations given above.

(e) Candidates specialising in contemporary songwriting and production

A portfolio comprising approximately 50 minutes of broadcast-quality audio recordings of original music. The portfolio should reflect and respond to the area(s) of research undertaken during the candidature, striving for innovation.

All Composition candidates normally complete the following research units of study during the first fulltime year or equivalent

Units of Study

  • CMPN5001 Creative Work (Composition) 1
  • CMPN5002 Creative Work (Composition) 2

Candidates normally complete 18 credit points of coursework units of study chosen as follows:

  • PERF5600 Graduate Research Methods, or an approved alternative
  • Two other units of study chosen from the Conservatorium list of postgraduate electives, or an approved alternative.

Example progression pattern for Master of Music (Composition)*

Semester 1 Semester 2

CMPN5001 Creative Work (Composition) 1

With guidance from the supervisory team, work on portfolio development and early stages of dissertation

CMPN5002 Creative Work (Composition) 2

With guidance from the supervisory team, work on portfolio development and early stages of dissertation

Postgraduate Creative Work seminar

Postgraduate Cretive Work seminar

PERF5600 Graduate Research Methods** Postgraduate elective
Postgraduate elective Confirmation presentation and progress review
Semester 3   Semester 4  

With guidance from the supervisory team, work on portfolio and dissertation development, and participate in the Postgraduate Creative Work seminar


With guidance from the supervisory team, complete full thesis for examination including composition portfolio and dissertation

 Postgraduate Creative Work seminar (optional)   Postgraduate Creative Work seminar (optional)  
    Submit for final examination by the end of the eighth research period (or part time equivalent)  

* This pattern is for a full-time student. For a part-time student the pattern will be adjusted.
** For students commencing in the 2nd half of the calendar year, Graduate Research Methods can be taken in their 2nd semester of enrolment, or an alternative option may be available.

Year 1 (or part-time equivalent)

The student will work with a supervisory team throughout the year. Up to 24 one-hour supervision sessions are provided for the year with your supervisory team which comprises a principal supervisor and an auxiliary supervisor. The student and the supervisory team negotiate the spread of hours at the beginning of the year. Supervision sessions do not need to be confined to semester dates.

During year 1, students normally complete all required units of study. The first year Creative Work units of study focus on the candidate’s compositional research development under the guidance of the supervisors. Students attend and participate in the interdisciplinary Postgraduate Creative Research Seminar as part of MMus Creative Work 1 and 2. At this seminar each student will present twice attending all sessions. The research methods and other elective units of study support research development.

Year 2 (or part-time equivalent)

The student will work with their supervisory team throughout the year as in year 1. During the second year the student prepares their written research dissertation and composition portfolio (henceforth the ‘thesis’*) for submission by the end of the year. Although there are no unit of study requirements, students should continue to attend and participate in the Postgraduate Creative Research Seminar. At the Seminar in the second year, students are expected to present their thesis* research normally attending a minimum of 6 sessions.

* The term thesis includes both components of the research project – the composition portfolio and written research dissertation.

Students should consider the entire project in choosing the thesis title. A preface can be used to introduce the components of the thesis.

Submission of final thesis includes:

  1. the final composition portfolio of a suggested 45-60 minutes of music (or as negotiated with the supervisory team depending on the nature of the project.)
  2. the dissertation of 10,000-20,000 words.

Normally, both components of the thesis will be examined together.

Submission and examination of the thesis

The thesis, including both your composition portfolio and your written research dissertation, must be submitted no later than the end of your second year of enrolment (or by the end of the part-time equivalent for students proceeding by part-time enrolment). The thesis will be examined in accordance with University of Sydney policy by two approved examiners, including at least one examiner external to the University of Sydney.