Music students at Bristol have the best of both worlds: they are able to combine the experience of studying in one of the best Music Departments in the UK with a friendly, highly nurturing environment. Music staff at Bristol all share a passion for teaching as well as for their research, and the department has a strong ethos in student care that marks it out as a particularly nurturing environment in which to study. It is this strong combination of pastoral commitment and academic excellence that has seen Bristol rise to the top of the Music league tables: the Guardian and Independent league tables for Music placed Bristol second and third respectively in their ranking of UK Music Departments for 2011 and since 2012 Bristol has topped the Guardian table for a university music course.
Like all music departments, Bristol has its specialisms. These include: Composition, popular music, especially jazz and hip-hop, Russian and Soviet music, film music, British music, music and migration, 19th and 20th century French and German music, Medieval music (especially chant), Turkish and Asian musics. Staff offer history options in these and other related topics each year, and continue to teach in these areas at Master’s and PhD level for those wishing to take postgraduate degrees.
All first-year students take units in Baroque Composition and Analysis, Music History, Composition (with studio in the second semester) and Practical Studies (orchestration and conducting). Performance is taken by most students, but it is not compulsory at Bristol, since we recognise that excellent composers and musicologists do not necessarily have an interest in performing. In the second semester, students may take an Open Unit in another department from any Faculty in the University.
In the second year students may begin to pursue individual specialisms more closely. Composition (acoustic and studio) is popular with students and is essential for those who wish to continue as composers in their final year, though it is not compulsory after the First Year. All students take courses taught by several staff members (such as ‘Issues in Twentieth-Century Music’) as well as choosing specialised history units. Analysis and Classical Composition styles are available to those who wish to develop their technical skills. Again, students may take an Open Unit in another department if they wish.
This is the year when students have the chance to undertake a high level of specialism in their chosen field(s). Students may choose to submit an Extended Study in Performance, Composition or Musicology as well as having the full range of history options. Romantic Composition, Aesthetics and Open Units are also available.
Bristol is home to some of the best concert venues in the UK, including Colston Hall and St George's Bristol. Many professional musicians live in and around the city and there is an abundance of choirs and orchestras, together with regular visits by top national and international orchestras and opera companies, including the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia and Welsh National Opera, which brings most of its new productions here. The department is extremely fortunate in its instrumental teachers, most of whom teach in major British conservatoires and all of whom are professional performers in their own right. Details of many of them can be found on our staff page. The Music Department pays for all Performance students to have private instrumental lessons on their first study instrument/voice with our approved teachers.
The Music Department has a close relationship with its ensembles-in-residence, the Brodowski Quartet, Gemini and the Bristol Ensemble. Each week in the first semester performers attend masterclasses given by members of this and other ensembles. During the second semester there are workshops on chamber music for students performing in our March chamber music concert. For details of our orchestras, ensembles and choirs, see our 'University Music Making' page. There are numerous student-run ensembles in addition to those listed, including several jazz groups, a Baroque group, a chamber choir and a chamber orchestra. In the summer, the music students put on the 'Resonances' music festival, with concerts in local bars, churches and in the Music Department.
There are three composers on the staff at Bristol: Professor John Pickard, Neal Farwell and Michael Ellison. For details of their works, recording and commissions, see their personal websites (linked from their names). Students at Bristol have a wide range of composition interests, and we encourage personal creative development. In the first year, acoustic composition is taught in workshops, where students learn to compose for different combinations of instruments and to conduct performances of their own pieces. In the second and third years, composition is taught in small groups and individually. Throughout the degree programme, composers hear their works played by fellow students in workshops and concerts, and the best composers may have pieces selected for performance by the University Symphony Orchestra. Our own student composers regularly arrange concerts to showcase their own works, and our annual student-run Summer Festival always includes works by student composers.
Musicology is an umbrella term that embraces a wide range of disciplines. At any one time, a musicologist may be a historian, an analyst, a sociologist, an aesthetician, a critic, a palaeographer, an editor, a linguist or a theorist. Learning music ‘history’ at Bristol means learning about the society that produced the music we love to hear and play as well as learning about the way that music works. There is a lively research environment at Bristol, with annual conferences and study days on topics that include Russian, Soviet and East European Music, Music and Film, Medieval chant and song and British Music. Our Tuesday Seminar series is open to interested undergraduates as well as postgraduates, staff and the general public.
For details of the many ensembles, choirs and orchestras run by the Music Department, see our pages on University music making.
For full information about accommodation at Bristol, see the Accommodation office pages.
"I was not a particularly strong candidate in A Level music (only just scraping the required B), but the quality of teaching and support meant that I was able to achieve 1st Class Honours Degree by the end of my three years."
"The Department of Music at the University of Bristol not only provides numerous opportunities in music for prospective students, but prepares you for graduate life through the ability to shape your degree to suit your own career path."
There are more quotes on our testimonials page.