MA in Composition for Film and Television


Bristol is famous as a film-making city, and the University Music Department's fine reputation for Composition has been strengthened since 1994 by the international standing of this course.

The programme provides professional training in the practice and ideas of composing for screen media. Core teaching covers the technological bases, along with academic and critical perspectives, taught by in-house experts; and units in television and film scoring taught by guest composers active in the professional world. A range of options allow you to build your technical strengths according to need, and follow your interests in the practices of film-making, or in research skills as the foundation for further study.

The MA is taught within our high-specification Composition and Recording Studios, which have full-time technical support. Students are actively encouraged in building opportunities and networks, within and beyond the University, for projects in film, animation, documentary and more. The vibrant musical life of the Music Department provides opportunities for student and professional performance, and we are located at the heart of one of the UK's leading cities for broadcast, commercial and creative screen media.

Visit the Composition homepage for an overview of the people, culture and composer opportunities in the Department of Music, and to see how your postgraduate study is at the centre of what we do.

Click here for some of our successful Bristol alumni who speak of their MA Composition and MACFTV experiences.

For information on how to apply, read about the application portfolio for MACFTV.

Further information about the course is also available in the Postgraduate Prospectus.

Key points

  • a full-time course leading to a Masters Degree (also option for Diploma)
  • it takes around sixteen students, usually from several countries, many of whom will complete their course by making a short film in collaboration with postgraduate writers, directors and producers in the Film Unit of the Department of Drama.
  • the course lasts 12 months, from late September† to mid-September† each year

The course covers all the strands needed by the media composer

  • how to use studio resources and recording
  • how to write instrumental / orchestral scores effectively
  • practical workshops, sometimes with a professional ensemble
  • how to develop musical ideas and compose well
  • how to read film narrative and create suitable characterisation
  • understanding of the industrial and creative bases of film making
  • critical perspectives and writing about music in film and TV
  • techniques for underscoring, documentaries, title sequences, library music etc.
  • experience of creating an entire short film in collaboration
  • opportunity to compose to further films OR to write a critical dissertation
  • introduction to professional studios and tips on the profession

How does the student benefit?

  • The MA equips the student for working in media composition and many of our MA graduates are doing so; but obviously this doesn't gives you automatic success because the professional field is tough and the composer has got to have drive and luck to succeed.
  • Our students often develop collaborative relationships that help start their professional careers.
  • The MA also equips the student for a variety of other occupations relating to film and TV and recording and composition, teaching, theatre, mixed media.
  • It establishes scholarly approaches to media criticism, history, aesthetics and other skills which may lead towards a PhD and scholarly writing or to media journalism.
  • Our postgraduate students learn from each other - interacting freely in seminars, workshops and the wider music-making and social life of the Music Department, Graduate School, and University.

Programme of Study

Mandatory units

Optional units

Mandatory units

MUSI M0021 Portfolio / Dissertation - 60 credits

The summative assessment of the MA in Composing for Film and TV may be approached by two routes, either (1) a portfolio of original media compositions, or (2) one original media composition and a critical dissertation on an agreed media music topic. The choice of whether to write a Dissertation lies with the student, in consultation with the Programme Director. Students taking option (1) build their media portfolio throughout the year, but the main body of work is during the summer period following completion of the taught units. The portfolio usually includes collaboration with one of the MAFTVP or MAASM projects in the Drama Department. Guidance on the portfolio is provided by the course Tutor and by the Programme Director.

MUSI M0025 Media Composition - 20 credits

This is a practice-led unit which offers direct experience of the approaches used in media composition today, taught by a guest tutor professionally active in the industry. The unit develops skills in musical characterisation across varied genres, focusing on forms such as Television documentary, promotional videos, advertising and library music. The sessions consider the appropriate use of the latest studio techniques with or without live resources, working to a brief, and considerations of style in relation to the target audience. The unit brings together techniques taught in the Professional Techniques unit and in the student’s choice of optional unit such as Writing for Orchestra.

MUSI M0024 Professional Techniques - 20 credits

Director: Mr Jonathan Scott

This unit introduces the concept of studio production: the gray area in between the typical job of a composer and the creation of a polished audio ‘product’. The unit trains the aspiring media composer in the key aspects of music studio work and covers techniques in: effective MIDI sequencing; use of sample libraries and synthesis; audio recording; audio mixing; audio mastering; picture synchronisation. Assignments include the opportunity for live workshop performance of specially composed scores from which the recording may be mixed into a project prescribed in the Media Composition unit.

MUSI M0023 Film Scoring - 20 credits

The unit builds upon the technical skills and media experience established in the first semester to consider larger forms, dramatic scenarios and the feature film. This is a practice-led unit, taught by a guest tutor professionally active in the industry. Sessions consider responses to narrative techniques, genre, acting, larger-scale compositional architecture, orchestration and sound synthesis. The unit includes an introduction to the media-music business world, including issues such as making a pitch, working to a budget, and approaches to self-promotion in the industry.

MUSI M0020 Critical Analysis of Media Music - 20 credits

The unit is designed to introduce students to different ways of looking at music for film and TV, and to the choice of different analytical tools and methods, depending on the salient features of the music in question. The unit introduces the students to characteristic examples from different periods of film music history, from early sound film to the present day, including original scores as well as compilation scores, and to appropriate theoretical frameworks (including narrative theory, semiotics, critical theory) and analytical methods to describe those score adequately. Issues discussed in the session devoted to TV music include music in fact-based programmes (news, documentaries, features), music in TV series and music in TV advertising. The unit starts with the analysis of examples in lectures and mixed lecture/seminar sessions and moves on to sessions in which the students apply what they have learned to their own analyses.

Optional units

DRAMM0009 How Films and Television Programmes Work - 20 credits

Aimed at aspiring professional practitioners, the unit explores the techniques used in fiction film and documentary to make meaning, convey ideas, and create emotional responses. Among the areas covered are, short form structure and classical narrative, alternative structures in short form films, how to analyse film sequences and structures, sound and editing and their place in narrative, the frame and the shot images and meanings, genre and adaptation, and their uses and value to film-makers, ways directors transform the script, screen dialogue on the page and in performance, classic openings and endings in fiction film and documentary, and techniques in the realisation of screen pursuits and screen conflicts. The key aim of the unit is to offer students the tools to closely examining films as makers rather than as passive viewers, with a view to their being able to become self-directed learners, and to acquire the skills and understandings available.

DRAMM0014† - Writing and Directing for Film and Television - 20 credits

This unit introduces the craft, conventions, and key understandings in writing and directing for film and television. Each student makes several short films in directing, and produces a short fiction or documentary script. As a foundation for the understanding of the languages, techniques and processes of storytelling in film (both fiction and non-fiction) the unit a valuable option for students from many pathways, while being mandatory for the MA in Film and Television Production. The unit offers a broad and very practical foundation in the conventions and processes of writing and directing for the screen. It enables personal expression and requires students to work in groups as part of the secondary aim of creating a course culture and establishing and ethical and procedural foundation for course work.

DRAMM0016 Producing and the Business of Film and Television - 20 credits

This unit has two main objectives: to enable students to acquire the necessary procedural and management skills and understandings successfully to proceed to their dissertation productions, and to enable students to develop industry awareness that will be useful in professional life.

MUSI M0002 Introduction to Professional Composing - 20 credits

This unit is intended to develop the core skills needed to organise and work out a composition from conception to delivery of performance materials. We will focus on chamber music in order to facilitate study of instrumental usage, ensemble design, continuity of idea, texture, and formative approaches. We also cover elements of analysis, repertoire, and orchestration. A study of the contemporary new music scene and the profession will provide orientation on your prospects outside of the University. The Professional Composing unit culminates in a commissioned piece of about 6 minutes from each student for workshop / recording with our resident ensemble Gemini.

MUSI M0027 Composing With Electronics - 20 credits

This unit develops knowledge of the wide-ranging options for the use of electronics in composition and performance and combines technical and aesthetic concerns, demonstrated through original compositions. The focus is on combining acoustic instrument(s) and/or voice(s) with live electronic resources, but other areas such as acousmatic composition, sound installation, and design of new performance interfaces will be studied according to student expertise and interests. The unit will also address questions of presentation, dissemination, portability and preservation for music that is dependent on rapidly-changing technical resources. Extensive foundational knowledge of studio composition is assumed, but if lacking can be made up by additional attendance in undergraduate and other graduate classes. A substantial element of individual study and compositional activity is expected, with these elements brought together in tutorial. The unit equips composers to include a substantial electronic component in their MA portfolio, and prepares them for further compositional research involving electronics.

MUSI 30064 Composition Project - 20 credits

This unit will begin with weekly seminars on contemporary music, each one highlighting an issue for creative response in the form of a weekly exercise or compositional miniature on specified topics. Later in the semester, this will replaced by the composition of more extended movements for student ensembles as agreed with the unit director.

MUSI 30062 Advanced Written Techniques - 20 credits

This unit will develop student skills in music theory, style analysis and pastiche composition. The unit explores a specific historical/stylistic repertoire from Western music history through listening to musical material,† the analysis of representative pieces, and through pastiche exercises in the style in question. The choice of period and repertoire may change from year to year and could include medieval, renaissance or early baroque, romantic or Western popular music styles.

MUSI M0139 Further Written Techniques - 20 credits

This unit will introduce students to the compositional techniques of the classical and early romantic periods, both through the analysis of representative movements and the composition of short pastiche exercises in these styles. It will deal, in the main, with song accompaniments in the style of Schubert, though some attention will also be given to classical string quartet writing in the style of Haydn and Mozart.

MUSI M0141 Writing for Orchestra - 20 credits

This unit introduces students to the essential techniques of orchestral writing. We will begin by studying the capabilities of the individual instruments, section by section, using practical demonstrations wherever possible. We will then learn to blend instruments within their family groups and eventually to combine these groups into full orchestral textures. Examples used will be drawn mainly from Classical and Romantic orchestral literature, together with some from the early twentieth century.

Final Project (Summer to mid-September)

  • Composing Music to collaborative films
  • More diverse achievements in Media Composition OR Dissertation

Application information

For further information on life as a postgraduate in Bristol, visit the Graduate School of Arts and Humanities.

For advice on what kind of scores and materials to send, read about the application portfolio for MACFTV. For enquiries about the course please contact one of the following:

  • Dr Michael Ellison, Programme Director, MA in Composition for Film and Television
  • Alison Johnston, Postgraduate Student Administrator, Graduate School of Arts and Humanities, Faculty of Arts