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The Orchestra: History, evolution, future

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This course will trace the way in which groups of musical instruments have worked together over history, following the evolution of the orchestra through the opera house, concert hall, and recording studio.

It will investigate how various musical instruments have changed over the years, how combinations of them have affected the ways in music has been composed and performed, and how the whole process of producing what we now call the ‘orchestral sound’ has been developed, controlled, and manipulated.

Extensive use of video, detailed imagery, and musical examples will hopefully create a better understanding of how it ‘works’, and perhaps even of what the future might hold.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through 10 two-hour sessions, made up of lectures, class discussions, small group work and debates. Class sessions will be supplemented by resources available to you via Learning Central.

Topics are likely to include:

  • an introduction to key moments in the history of the orchestra
  • the histories of instruments
  • understanding composition and performance in different historical contexts
  • the changing homes of the orchestra: opera houses, concert halls, and recording studios
  • understanding orchestral sound.

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.

You can choose to write two short assignments (750 + 750 words) or one essay of 1,000 words.

Reading suggestions

A full reading list will be provided at the beginning of the course.

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.


21-23 Senghennydd Road
CF24 4AG