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Learning to Read Music

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Do you play an instrument or sing? Do you want to improve your understanding of written music?

Are you curious to know more about how music notation works? This module will appeal to those learning to play an instrument, singers, composers, and anyone involved in group music-making.

Starting at the beginning it loosely follows the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music theory syllabus through the early grades teaching you how to read and follow written music.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through ten 2-hour sessions, made up of lectures, class discussions, small group work and debates. Class sessions will be supplemented by resources available to students via Learning Central.

Grade 1

  • Time values
  • Bar lines and time signatures
  • Notes on the stave
  • The treble and bass clef
  • Rests
  • Ties
  • Dots
  • Accidentals and how to cancel them
  • Tones and semitones
  • The scales and key signatures of C, G, D and F major
  • Degrees of the scale and intervals
  • Tonic triads
  • Composing a rhythm
  • Performance directions

Grade 2

  • Ledger lines
  • Time signatures of 2/2, 3/2, 4/2 and 3/8
  • Major keys of A, B flat and E flat
  • Minor keys of A, E and D (harmonic and melodic)
  • Triplets; Grouping of notes and rests
  • Intervals
  • Composing a four bar rhythm
  • Performance directions

Coursework and assessment

To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved. Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects.

The most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning. Our methods are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.

Students will take part in class exercises (30%) and a mock exam exercise (70%) designed to mimic the ABRSM exam paper. In the second element, students can opt to take the paper in a variety of ways.

Reading suggestions

  • Eric Taylor, Music Theory in Practice, Grade 1 (ABRSM Publishing)
  • Eric Taylor, Music Theory in Practice, Grade 2 (ABRSM Publishing)
  • Eric Taylor, The AB Guide to Music Theory (ABRSM Publishing)
  • Eric Taylor, First Steps in Music Theory (ABRSM Publishing)

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.