MU4003 - Techniques of Composition, Harmonic Analysis and Improvisation

What will I learn on this module?

In this module, you will explore how music is made through the study of techniques of composition. It provides an opportunity for you to develop a knowledge of harmony in order to enhance your skillset for further musicological study, and to inform your work as a performer. Focusing on the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century music, you will explore a range of genres, such as the piano sonata, string quartet and lied. Analytical work is intended to aid an understanding of harmonic progressions, and you will learn how to employ two systems to describe harmony (figured bass and Roman numerals). Students produce weekly harmony assignments which may include analytical exercises, harmony exercises and pastiche composition. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the distinctions between composer, improviser and performer were much less distinct than today, and we will explore improvisation in historic styles.

How will I learn on this module?

Fortnightly seminars alternate with tutorials. The seminars may include some lecture input, student presentations, group discussions of musical scores, improvisation workshops and related exercises, feedback on work to the whole cohort. The tutorials are in smaller groups, and are designed to give help and guidance on drafts of your work.

You will learn most through your active engagement with the exercises in harmony and through pastiche composition. Sometimes, an in-course assignment will include the submission of previous work corrected in the light of feedback. This ensures that the written and oral feedback you receive on your work is absorbed and can be of some practical use. This work will be supported by analytical assignments.

There is an online textbook which will be required reading; this is readily available on the eLearning Portal.

At each seminar, you will be set harmony exercises and/or pastiche compositon to do in preparation for the following week’s tutorial. At each tutorial, you will be set reading, listening and/or analysis to do in preparation for the following week’s seminar.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

You will be given considerable support by the Module Tutor within workshops and tutorials, during publicised office hours and via email. You will be constantly working with your peers in a spirit of mutual support, encouragement and collaboration. The programme leader will guide you through the requirements and expectations of your course. You will receive on-going feedback each week during the seminars which will help you prepare for the in-course assessments.

You will be given constant feedback. Feedback on analysis set for the seminar will normally be oral, and usually group feedback. Feedback on harmony exercises and composition will be individual, taking the form of annotations to your score(s).

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at:
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team –

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:
1. You will understand harmonic progressions, especially cadential ones.

2. You will know and understand how figured bass and Roman numerals are used in the analysis of tonal music.
Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
3. You will be able to complete harmony exercises and compose and improvise in a stylistically convincing way.

4. You will be able to undertake a harmonic analysis of Classical and early Romantic music.

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
5. You will demonstrate a capacity for curiosity, creativity, and intellectual openness

How will I be assessed?

1. Portfolio of written and recorded work, built up during the year (100%). MLOs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Feedback will be given on drafts of work. Written feedback will be in the form of annotations to the score(s). Feedback will be given during the course of the module on each piece of work that will contribute to the portfolio.


Entry to the BA (Hons) in Music



Module abstract

In this module, you will develop develop your understanding how how music is made by creating music in the style of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, exploring genres such as piano sonata, string quartet and lied. The course involves exercises in harmonisation, improvisation and writing your own piece. Analytical work will help you understand harmonic progressions, and you will learn different ways of describing harmony. Fortnightly seminars include lecture material, analysis of musical scores, improvisation workshops and feedback on work to the whole group. In between you meet in a smaller tutorial group where you will receive help and guidance with the exercises that you complete in harmony and composition. Your knowledge of how music is composed will be a critical part of your skillset when undertaking further musicological studies in your degree, and is essential in your work as a performer.

Course info

UCAS Code W320

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years Full Time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Humanities

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024 or September 2025

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing. 

Full time Courses are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but could include elements of online learning. Most courses run as planned and as promoted on our website and via our marketing materials, but if there are any substantial changes (as determined by the Competition and Markets Authority) to a course or there is the potential that course may be withdrawn, we will notify all affected applicants as soon as possible with advice and guidance regarding their options. It is also important to be aware that optional modules listed on course pages may be subject to change depending on uptake numbers each year.  

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with possible restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors if this is deemed necessary in future.


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