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Understanding music

This introduction to the fundamentals of music will allow you to understand and use music notation. You’ll study the elements of music and how these are assembled into larger musical structures, focusing on music encountered in Western traditions (popular and classical). You’ll learn to make sense of a wide variety of notated music, and you’ll be encouraged to make meaningful connections between the topics you study and your own experiences and tastes through independent study. You’ll develop practical musicianship skills, using professional music-notation software, that will provide you with a grounding for arranging and composing.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module

Module code
A234
Credits

Credits

  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
60
Study level
To enable you to make international comparisons, the information provided shows how OU levels correspond to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ).
OU FHEQ
2 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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What you will study

You'll learn about concepts in music theory and notation in order to help you understand various music examples from a number of different Western music traditions (including classical, pop and rock, film music, musicals, folk/traditional). You’ll be encouraged to select your own examples of music you wish to understand better through independent study tasks. In the final assessment, you’ll be able to choose from three options to suit your strengths.

The core teaching material is grouped into four blocks. The first two blocks introduce you to the fundamentals of music theory and notation, an awareness of which will help you to understand a wide variety of music. The third block examines how music is structured, and the final block develops your skills in harmonisation. Throughout the module there are various activity types that will help you to engage with the teaching materials. These include:

  • listening tasks
  • practical notation exercises using software and worksheets
  • simple performance tasks using a MIDI keyboard
  • watching videos

Your understanding of music-theory concepts will be enriched through practical exercises. These are designed to improve your aural skills and musicianship, and to develop your proficiency with handling notation. You'll use specialist music-notation software to do this which is supplied as part of the module materials and you'll need to download before you begin. You'll also need to buy a MIDI keyboard controller to use with the software.

You don't need any prior knowledge of musical notation in order to study this module, but some basic preparation in advance will be helpful. You'll be directed to websites where you can gain the relevant information. The module is presented online, with two accompanying printed scores booklets, and the text is interspersed with musical recordings and guidance videos.

There will be a series of online tutorials run by your tutor. You'll also be able to interact with other students as you undertake tasks on the module’s online forum.

Vocational relevance

As well as developing your understanding of music theory, you'll be introduced to industry-standard music-notation software, helping you to gain skills that can be used in many different music-related careers.

Professional recognition

This module is considered to be an acceptable alternative for Grade 6 Theory by the Associated Boards of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM).

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will provide guidance and help with the study material to prepare you for the module’s assessments. Your tutor will mark and give you feedback on your assessments. Your tutor will interact with you in online rooms and forums, where you will also be able to discuss your ideas with other students.

Assessment

The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Future availability

Understanding music starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2021. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2031.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    2 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
    End-of-module assessment
    No residential school


    Entry requirements

    There are no entry requirements for this module, but you are advised to study one or more OU level 1 Arts modules, such as Discovering the arts and humanities (A111) or Revolutions (A113), which will provide you with relevant study, writing, and listening skills).

    If you are studying this module as part of either our music degree or diploma we advise that you study this module before Music, sound and technology (A232), though you should be guided by your prior experience and existing skills in deciding which module order is best for you. In addition, the following free courses on OpenLearn are recommended as preparation:

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

    Register

    Start End Fee
    - - -

    No current presentation - see Future availability

    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2031.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).


    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2021. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 25/10/2020.

    What's included

    You'll be provided with two printed scores booklets and have access to a module website, which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • module materials (with instructions about downloading the commercially available Dorico software)
    • audio-visual materials
    • interactive content
    • an assessment guide
    • access to online tutorials and forums.

    You will need

    A MIDI keyboard controller (recommended 49 full-size keys, but smaller or larger acceptable, with USB-MIDI connection).

    You'll need a listening setup with which you can listen to audio at a reasonably high quality. Ideally you'll be able to plug your computer into good quality studio monitors, a stereo hi-fi system, or at least some kind of external loudspeakers. Good quality headphones are a suitable alternative. Internal laptop speakers or mobile phone speakers are unsuitable as they are too limited in terms of sound quality, frequency response, and volume. 

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Dorico Elements software requires a desktop or laptop computer with a minimum of either an up-to-date version of Windows (64-bit) or macOS (64-bit), 4GB of RAM, and 6GB of free hard disk space.

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A234 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.