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BMus (Hons) Composition

By studying Composition at RCS, you will build a distinct, artistic practice, with the skills required to embark on a professional career as a creator, collaborator, educator, promoter and organiser of new music.

Overview

The Composition pathway is designed to develop artistically aware, imaginative, and confident creators, who are equipped to succeed as musicians in a rapidly changing cultural landscape. 

When you study Composition, you will be working with our diverse and talented performing community in some of the best facilities in Europe. You’ll benefit from our professional partnerships with leading ensembles and orchestras, and there will be opportunities to hear your work performed. The performance of new work is of paramount importance to us, and we have a significant reputation for contemporary music. PLUG, our critically acclaimed annual festival, has become a renowned platform for new work, premiering hundreds of new works. 

You’ll follow your own tailored path through the programme, where you have the option to include a second study in performance, work in the superb electroacoustic and recording studios, or devise new work in our purpose-built performance venues. 

Composition can be a solitary existence, but at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, we help you to develop the skills to work with other composers as well as artists across disciplines, allowing our students to develop a number of projects with dance, theatre, film, and musical theatre. 

The important details

UK Applicant Deadline:
2 October 2023

International (including EU) Applicant Deadline:
1 December 2023

Institution Code:
R58

Programme Code:
302F

Audition Fee:
£65

Application Fee:
£27.50


Why Study Composition at RCS?

The Composition department at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland offers unique opportunities to learn and develop as an artist. Our approach sets us apart, with benefits including: 

A student sits with her harp in her hands. A teacher sits beside her, talking. They are in an individualised lesson.

90-minute Individual Lessons


In your first year, you will receive 60-minute individual lessons and have the option for 30 minutes of additional performance study. In your second, third, and fourth years, you’ll receive 90-minute individual lessons.

A composing student, violinist, percussonist, a sound production student, celloist and pianist prepare or Plug fest.

Performance Opportunities


RCS is one of the busiest performing arts venues in Scotland. As a result, you’ll have numerous opportunities for your work to be performed live by Conservatoire performers and external professionals. 

A student laughs while sitting on a piano bench.

Community


At RCS, you’ll experience a real sense of community with your fellow composition students, staff, and PhD cohort with weekly meetings of the Composers Forum 

The back of a composing student is centre in the photo. On the right, a violinist, percussonist, and a sound production student. On the left, a celloist and pianist. They prepare to play for Plug fest.

PLUG Festival


Each year RCS stages PLUG, our annual contemporary new music festival. PLUG has been part of the RCS calendar for 17 years, with over 500 new works receiving their premiere performances during the run of the festival.

The photo is split in two. The top half pictures students performing a scene from 'LEtoile'. The bottom of the photo is of the students playing music for the scene in the Orchestra Pit.

Collaboration


Studying at one of the most multi-disciplinary conservatoires in the world, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to collaborate across art forms and with other programmes, including Modern Ballet, Acting, and Filmmaking. 

A violin teacher smiles as they watch a student perform. The photo is black and white.

World-class Staff


Our Composition staff are highly experienced with international profiles, and are all active within the industry. We have small class sizes so you’ll experience an excellent student:staff ratio and benefit from their knowledge during your studies.

Errollyn Wallen headshot

Visiting Professors


We have regular Visiting Professors from industry who share their knowledge and experience with our students. Our current visiting professors are Errollyn Wallen CBE, Sir James MacMillan, and Anthony R. Green.

Students celebrate their graduation with a glass of champagne in the RCS cafe. They wear blue graduation gowns and formal attire.

Graduate Destinations


In the HESA Graduate Outcomes survey 2019/20, 96% of RCS School of Music respondents were in work or further study.

Meet the Staff

Recording studio featuring a piano on the right side.

Facilities


The Composition department has a full suite of computers which are equipped with the industry-standard versions of Sibelius, Protools, MaxMSP as well as other software designed to engage the compositional process.

Composers also have access to our three electroacoustic music studios (including a multi-channel, immersive sound system), one recording studio, a full-sized Indonesian gamelan, and Rhythm Theory expert Dr Steve Forman’s exciting collection of working exotic percussion, which has become a permanent collection, based next to our Wallace Studios buildings.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays with RCS students on campus.

Industry Connections


The Composition department has connections and relationships with most professional music groups in Scotland and recently has collaborated with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Psappha, the Fidelio Trio, the New Music Players, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Red Note, and Icebreaker, amongst other internationally-recognised orchestras and ensembles.   

We have also taken part in collaborative projects with Glasgow School of Art, Stirling University Art Collection, Glasgow Caledonian University and the Scottish Music Centre.  

Graduate Destinations

Our Composition graduates work across the world in a variety of settings, including concert music, film and media, and as performers, curators, educators and promoters of new music.  

Alumni include: 

  • Amit Anand – composer 
  • Rylan Gleave – composer and performer 
  • Electra Perivolaris – composer 
  • Patrick Doyle – Film and media composer 
  • Jay Capperauld – Member of the inaugural RSNO Composers’ Hub Scheme 
  • C Duncan – Mercury prize nominee 
  • John Harris – Director of Red Note Ensemble, Artistic Director of New Music Dublin 
  • Martin Keary – Composer, YouTuber and software designer 
  • Alex Mackay – Composer and touring musician for Mogwai 
  • Claire McKenzie – Co-founder of award-winning company, Noisemaker 
  • Juta Pranulyte – Composer and Curator, Artistic Director of Druskomanija New Music Festival, Lithuania 
  • Rufus Isabel Elliot – Composer and Curator 
  • Jennifer Walshe – Composer, performer and visual artist 
  • Gareth Williams – First Composer-in-Residence for Scottish Opera 
  • Jessica Jones – Film and media composer 
  • Matthew Whiteside – Composer, producer and promoter of new music concerts 
  • Paul Leonard Morgan – Film and media composer 
  • Matthew Grouse – Composer 
RCS Composition Alumnus and Mercury Prize Nominee, C Duncan
Composer C Duncan poses on steps in front of a door of a close.

BMus Programme Structure

In year 1 your studies are divided between your principal study (e.g. your specific instrument, or composition), and a range of other modules that building knowledge, skills and experience relevant for a professional musician.

Principal study/Supporting studies – this includes your one-to-one tuition on your instrument, voice or in composition and a range of supporting studies in your department (e.g. Keyboard, Brass, Composition, etc.) including classes, workshops, masterclasses and large ensemble work. You also begin to develop your reflective skills in relation to understanding your strengths and development opportunities.

Core Curriculum Studies (CCS) in Musicianship and History (contextual studies) – weekly classes on ear training, harmony, music theory, analysis, music history, and skills in research and writing.

Professional skills – an introduction to some of the skills required to enter the profession; and an introduction to working as a music leader in educational and community settings

Creative Citizenship – an introduction to the cultural, artistic, political, and educational context of learning in a Higher Education Performing Arts institution, equipping you with understandings and skills which enable you to be resilient, pro-active, compassionate, and ethical collaborators and peers within this context.

Module Breakdown

  • Principal Study 1: 60 Credits
  • Supporting Studies 1: 10 credits
  • Contextual Studies 1: 10 credits
  • Musicianship 1: 10 credits
  • Creative Citizenship: 10 credits
  • Introduction to Professional Skills for Musicians: 10 credits
  • Music Leadership: 10 credits

Principal study/Supporting studies – as in year 1, this includes your one-to-one tuition on your instrument, voice or in composition and a range of supporting studies in your department (e.g. Keyboard, Brass, Composition, etc.) including classes, workshops, masterclasses and large ensemble work. You continue to develop your reflective skills in relation to understanding your strengths and development opportunities.

Core Curriculum Studies (CCS) in Musicianship and History (contextual studies) – weekly classes on more developed ear training, harmony, music theory, analysis, music history, and skills in research and writing. This includes an introduction to extended compositional techniques, and a specific historical focus on music post-1900.

Professional skills – in year 2, the professional skills module focuses specifically on the pedagogy of your own discipline and the skills and knowledge of an effective teacher. an introduction to more of the skills required to enter the profession.

IXP modules – you choose a 10 credit IXP module from our catalogue of more than 30 choices. These modules provide you with learning opportunities outside of your core-curriculum within a community of learners from across the Conservatoire. Modules vary from year to year but currently include a wide range of topics such as Gamelan, Kodaly, Experimental Improvisatory Practices, Mindfulness, Community Music, Writing for the Screen and British Sign Language.

Module Breakdown

  • Principal Study 2: 60 Credits
  • Supporting Studies 2: 20 credits
  • Contextual Studies 2: 10 credits
  • Musicianship 2: 10 credits
  • Interdisciplinary and Extended Practice (IXP): 10 credits
  • The Teaching Musician: 10 credits

Principal study/Supporting studies – as in BMus1 and 2, this includes your one-to-one tuition on your instrument, voice or in composition; a range of supporting studies in your department; and continuing reflections on strengths and development opportunities.

Professional skills – in BMus3, the focus is on how to approach a freelance career and on planning a project related to your life after graduation.

Core Curriculum Studies (CCS) – in BMus3, you will choose two an elective topics, one from those offered in Musicianship and one in Contextual Studies. While the topics on offer will vary from year to year, typical choices include Musicianship electives in Orchestration, Advanced Aural Skills, ARSM Teaching Diploma, Introductions to Jazz or Folk Ensembles and free Composition; Contextual Studies choices include the study of topics ranging from Beethoven’s String quartets to A History of Scotland in 100 Tunes; from Performance Practice to The Beatles; from film and television music to Music Psychology.

IXP modules – you choose another 10 credit IXP module from the catalogue: this might be the continuation at a higher level of a topic you began last year, or a completely new topic.

Module Breakdown

  • Principal Study 3: 60 Credits
  • Supporting Studies 3: 20 credits
  • Contextual Studies Electives: 10 credits
  • Musicianship Electives: 10 credits
  • Interdisciplinary and Extended Practice (IXP): 10 credits
  • The Freelance Musician: 10 credits

Principal study/Supporting studies – as in previous years, this includes your one-to-one tuition on your instrument, voice or in composition; a range of supporting studies in your department.

Research Paper – the research paper is a small, student-directed project that brings together the reflective skills developed in Principal Study in years 1 to 3 with the research skills developed in Contextual Studies. The paper explores a topic of your own choice that is of direct relevance to your own interests and development as a musician, supported by a supervising tutor.

Options: Professional Development options – as a culmination of the professional skills modules in years 1-3, you will undertake a project related to your career after graduation. Choices here include a public performance, a professional composition project, work in music education or community music, a business project or another project of your own design.

Other options – In addition to the project module you may also take either another IXP module, or a Musicianship or Contextual Studies elective that you did not take in year 3.

Module Breakdown

  • Principal Study 4: 60 Credits
  • Supporting Studies 4: 15 credits
  • Research Paper: 15 credits
  • Professional Development Options: 20 credits
  • IXP and Electives: 30 credits

Entry Requirements

Academic Requirements

  • Scottish Highers — 3 passes (grade C or above)  
  • A Levels — 2 passes  
  • International Baccalaureate — minimum score of 24 with 3 subjects at Higher Level  
  • Recognised equivalences (EU and International Entry Requirements)  

We welcome the Scottish Baccalaureate and will accept combinations of Highers and Advanced Highers.  

We offer a flexible approach to students taking Higher over more than one academic year and/or who achieve their qualifications in more than one sitting.  

Within the minimum academic entrance requirements listed above, the subject recommended are:  

  • Music at Higher, Advanced Higher or Advanced level or equivalent  
  • English at Higher, Advanced Higher or Advanced level or equivalent 

English language requirements

The language of study is English. Applicants whose first language is not English will be required to provide evidence of proficiency in English. We accept the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Level 6.0 (with a minimum score of 5.5 in each component) is required of applicants to the School of Music. 

Music requirements 

A strong indication of potential is sought at the entrance audition for this programme. Successful applicants will normally be of a standard at least equivalent to Grade 8 with Distinction of the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music in their Principal Study. You can apply and audition without having obtained Grade 8 with distinction, however as an indication only, applicants are normally expected to have reached this standard in their performance. 

Direct entry 

Applications for direct entry beyond Year 1 will be considered on a case-by-case basis and in accordance with the Royal Conservatoire’s Recognition of Prior (Experiential) Learning policy. If you wish to apply for direct entry, please mark the point of entry on UCAS Conservatoires application as 2 or 3. 


Fees & Funding

Tuition fees

  • Scotland: £1,820 (for most full-time, Scottish-domiciled undergraduate students, this will be paid by SAAS. More information is available on our Fees & Funding pages)
  • RUK: £9,250
  • International (including EU): £27,968

Funding & Scholarships

You can find out about the funding and scholarships available for studying at RCS by visiting our dedicated page:

Funding & Scholarships

Cost of Living & Programme Costs

In addition to tuition fees, it is estimated that you will need between £11,200 and £15,300 per year to live in Glasgow, plus programme costs. Much will depend on your lifestyle and whether your course runs for three or four terms. 

Programmes within the School of Music have a range of associated costs related to the specific activities required and advised by the programme team. You can find an indication of these costs below: 

School of Music Programme Costs 


How to Apply

Apply via UCAS Conservatoires

Applications are made through UCAS Conservatoires website. The UCAS Conservatoires application system is separate from the main UCAS undergraduate application system. If you wish to apply to conservatoires and universities within UCAS, you will need to register for both services.

You can read our guidance about using UCAS Conservatoires on our dedicated how to apply page.

We do not offer deferred entry. If you wish to commence in 2025, you must apply next year.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland institution code is R58. You will also require the following programmes codes to apply: BMus (Hons) Composition: 302F OR Joint Principal Study (Hons): 301F

The closing date for all on-time applications is 31 January 2024.  If you submit your application after this date, we cannot guarantee that your application will be reviewed by the audition panel. If you do want to submit a late application, you must contact admissions@rcs.ac.uk in the first instance to check we are accepting late applications

Application/Audition fees

There is a UCAS Conservatoires application fee of £27.50. In addition to the application fee, each conservatoire charges an audition assessment administration fee.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland additionally charges an audition assessment administration fee of £65 per course.

We recognise that auditioning and interviewing for conservatoires, drama and ballet schools can be costly. The audition assessment administration fee charge allows us to offer a thorough and positive experience to all applicants and we encourage you to get in touch to ask the panel questions and find out more about the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to see if it is the best place for you.

We are committed to ensuring fair access to a conservatoire education for students who have the talent and potential to benefit from it, regardless of their background. In support of this, audition fee waivers are offered to applicants whom financial hardship may be a barrier to auditioning. Please see the audition fee waivers document for more information.

Policy

We have a number of policies and statements which you should read when applying to study at the Royal Conservatoire.

Please select the links below to read each policy.

References

It is your responsibility to ask two separate referees to write references and ensure that these are sent to RCS.

The references must be written by two different people and we will not accept references from family, other relatives or close friends. You can submit your UCAS Conservatoires application form and send your references at a later date, but they must be received prior to your audition date.

UCAS Conservatoires provides reference forms for you to download and send to your referees for completion.

Selection process

Applicants are selected first and foremost on the basis of merit and potential. However, due attention is also paid to the range of Principal Studies accepted in order to ensure the optimum experience for each student and to sustain the critical mass required for curricular activities, such as the symphony orchestra and choral activities.

Please note that the Conservatoire is obliged to offer one audition date per application. If you are unable to submit your application/audition recording by the deadline date above, you must email us immediately stating the reason. We have a specific period allocation to audition and all on time applications will receive a decision before Christmas. If your audition recording is delayed, there is a risk that places will already have been taken and your application may not be considered in the first round of scholarship allocation.

BMus Joint Principal Study (JPS)

The Joint Principal Study pathway is intended to cater for the needs of individuals who are equally accomplished in two Principal Study disciplines (e.g. Flute and Composition, or Trumpet and Conducting, etc.) and who wish to maintain this intense level of dedication in their musical studies. Please note that Conducting is only available as a Joint Principal Study and Jazz Performance is only available in conjunction with Conducting or Composition.

The selection process for applicants applying for Joint Principal Study is the same as that for other applicants; please prepare for two separate in-person auditions, or, for International applicants, please submit your audition recordings via Acceptd for each principal study. Applicants to the Joint Principal Study pathway who are successful in only one of their Principal Studies may be offered a place on the relevant ‘single-study’ pathway (i.e. Performance, Composition or Jazz).

Portfolio Submission and Interview

All interviews are planned to take place in-person at our campus in Glasgow in November 2023.  Should you apply on time, you will be e-mailed directly with details of your audition date and time, and your UCAS Conservatoires track will be updated with this information.

Once you submit your UCAS Conservatoires application, please then upload your portfolio to Acceptd. Composition applicants should submit three or four compositions (preferably recent examples) together with brief analytical notes, recorded performances (digital or acoustic) and PDFs of scores (if applicable).

Once you submit your portfolio, this may be followed up with an interview.

In the interview applicants will be encouraged to demonstrate a detailed knowledge of varied repertoire. Applicants will be asked about how they began composing or how they were introduced to composition, and they will be invited to talk about the compositions they have submitted. Applicants will also be asked about their aspirations as a composer. Successful candidates will show style, imagination, an adventurous approach to composition and above all, potential to develop their beliefs and skills through the programme.

All decisions will be posted on UCAS Conservatoires following your audition via UCAS Conservatoires track (you will need your username and password). We aim to post outcomes before Christmas.

More from the Composition Department

Why RCS?

We are the only place in Europe where you can study all of the performing arts on the one campus. There is a distinctive creative energy at RCS and you’ll be made to feel part of our inclusive and diverse environment from the very beginning of your studies.

Our graduates are resourceful, highly employable and members of a dynamic community of artists who make a significant impact across the globe.

At RCS, students develop not just their art but their power to use it.

Find out more 

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World Top Ten


We were voted one of the world’s Top Ten destinations to study the performing arts (QS Rankings) in 2024, the eighth time we have been placed in the top ten since the ranking was established in 2016.