Composing music

Whilst studying with us either at BMusMMus or PhD level at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, you can choose from our great range of Composition classes and tutorials:

Individual Composition Tutorial

Each student is allocated regular individual tutorials with their composition teacher(s). These are usually used to discuss and aid specific practical projects that you are working on.


We run a substantial number of projects which you can choose from. These include opportunities to compose for an array of visiting professional ensembles, the RBC Symphony Orchestra, the Thallein Contemporary Music Ensemble, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, interdisciplinary projects and collaborations with students working in film and theatre. Projects include guided tutoring, workshops and public performances.

Composers Seminar

In composers’ seminar we usually invite a renowned composer, artist or industry professional to come and share their work, ideas and experience. The seminar is followed by a discussion with the guest and these sessions are often accompanied by a masterclass.


This practical session provides an opportunity for student composers to present work in progress to fellow students and staff. It is an opportunity to experiment, try things out and discuss work in an open and explorative environment.


Year 1

Composition Studies 1
Discussion based class learning about different approaches to organising material and creating innovative work. Examine how different disciplines and musical traditions can lead to novel ideas.

Orchestration 1
Learn everything from the basics of instrumentation to working with larger orchestral forces.

Applied Composition 1
Examine the historical building blocks for writing polyphonic music.

Electronic Music
Learn how to use coding musical languages, modular synthesizers, electronic effects, Pure Data, DAW composition and recording techniques.

Learn about effective ways of presenting your music to performers and how to use notation software.

Year 2

Composition Studies 2
Learn about different experimental approaches to composition. Examine the most recent innovative uses of conventional notation, graphic and text scores, devised processes, electronic music, free improvisation, experimental songwriting, minimal music, and field recording techniques. Discuss how they might be incorporated into your own compositional language.

Orchestration 2
Continuing on from year 1, learn how to effectively use ensemble and orchestral forces, as well as extended techniques.

Applied Composition 2
Examine four areas of composition in detail: rhythm, melody, tuning/microtonality and electronic processing.

Conducting 1
Develop the skills required to lead both small ensembles and large groups of musicians in a beginner’s context.

Pedagogy: Teaching for Composers 1
An introduction to aspects of teaching composition to other people. The classes are taken by a variety of experts from a wide range of disciplines.

Year 3

Composition Studies 3
Learn how to talk about and critique your own music and that of your peers. Discuss and receive feedback on your current compositional ideas and projects.

Orchestration 3
Examine three different ways of using the orchestra: large concert hall settings, the orchestra as a collective of improvisors and the orchestra in film music.

Applied Composition 3
Examine several innovative compositional methods in detail: game strategies, text scores, beat-making, translation, contemporary songwriting, writing for yourself as a performer, and using novel structuring techniques.

Conducting 2
Develop more advanced skills required to lead large ensembles and rehearse complex scores.

Learn fundamentals of traditional Javanese gamelan notation, composition and performance; then write, perform, and record your own pieces for this ensemble.

Pedagogy: Teaching for Composers 2
More advanced approaches to teaching composition. The classes are taken by a variety of experts from a wide range of disciplines.

Year 4

Composition Studies 4
Discuss and receive feedback on your current projects. Learn about the most recent work being created today and how you fit within this context.

Final Project
Work on a self-defined final project, entirely of your own devising utilizing both on campus and off campus resources. In recent years students have self-produced operas, interdisciplinary performances, albums and album launch events, a two-week festival, symphony orchestra concerts and many more.


MMus in Composition is augmented by a number of modules common to all MMus students across Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. You can choose several modules from areas related to composition, career development, experimental and traditional performance, music technology, musicology and practice-based research.

Postgraduate Forum

In this session composition staff and postgraduate composers share and discuss ideas about contemporary composition and current trends in a small group session. In addition to taught sessions there are opportunities to present and discuss your own work.


Research within the Conservatoire Composition Cluster, headed jointly by Professor Joe Cutler and Professor Michael Wolters, covers a wide aesthetic and performative spectrum, including score-based and improvisational work, conceptual approaches, interdisciplinary experimental performance and research into the live interaction of digital technologies with human performers.

Although the research underpinning compositional practice is individual and personalised and the Conservatoire’s composition staff positively celebrate and encourage diversity of expression, the cluster nevertheless enjoys a strong bond of artistic endeavour. Staff share a desire to challenge traditional institutional preconceptions regarding the nature, content and presentation of historic and new music, especially with respect to experimental venues, non-elite content, mixed-media creativity and the cultivation of new audiences. Rather, they explore, examine and document the potential, difference and impact of work which is realised through alternative and more independently mediated creative processes.

Key research concerns and issues include:

  • Alternatives to the traditional concert hall
  • Composer-led collectives
  • The composer as performer
  • Interdisciplinary composition
  • Composition with minimal means
  • Control of dissemination of our works, for example, through our own label: Birmingham Record Company
  • Community engagement as artistic practice
  • Concept-led composition
  • Post-genre compositional approaches

Composition Courses at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire