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MMus/MA Strings


The String Department offers outstanding opportunities to explore your musical passions. With a high staff-student ratio, we have a friendly and supportive learning environment that responds to individual needs and promotes initiatives.

The majority of our teaching staff are professional musicians working in Scotland and beyond. Being surrounded by four professional orchestras in Glasgow alone and the only Conservatoire in Scotland, the Department is integrated into the professional musical life of Glasgow and our students are in regular contact with it through personal contact as well as apprenticeship schemes. Students search for identity through creativity and artistic experimentation, and develop a clear overview of what it is to live and work as musicians today.


The String Department offers outstanding opportunities to explore your musical passions. With a high staff-student ratio, we have a friendly and supportive learning environment that responds to individual needs and promotes initiatives.

The majority of our teaching staff are professional musicians working in Scotland and beyond. Being surrounded by four professional orchestras in Glasgow alone and the only Conservatoire in Scotland, the Department is integrated into the professional musical life of Glasgow and our students are in regular contact with it through personal contact as well as apprenticeship schemes. Students search for identity through creativity and artistic experimentation, and develop a clear overview of what it is to live and work as musicians today.

Programme Outline

The programme of study for the MMus is conceived as a two-year journey. You will have a range of opportunities to work with professional musicians in a side-by-side context. The over-arching aim is to develop a professional level of competence in chosen areas. There are two main assessments in a year, and you will have a variety of options for assessment, ranging from solo recital, studio-recorded performance, concerto performance, to lecture recital. The end-of-session assessment is a public performance and this is a platform to express your artistic personality. We seek an ability to think creatively and execute your ideas into practice with consummate skills and artistry.

Staff and masterclasses

The String Department is staffed by artists who enjoy professional careers alongside their work at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. The intimate size of the department means that students receive excellent contact hours and attention from the team, whilst benefiting from each staff member’s considerable professional experience and external contacts.

David Watkin – Head of Strings

Visiting Professor

Pedro de Alcantara


Ilya Gringolts – Visiting Artist

Leland Chen – Visiting Artist

Simon Fischer – Visiting Professor

William Chandler – Co-Leader, Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Ruth Crouch

Francis Cummings – Sistema Scotland

Tamás Fejes – Assistant Leader – Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Andrea Gajic

Chris George – Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Katie Hull – Assistant Leader, Scottish Opera

Maya Iwabuchi – Leader, Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Gina McCormack

Angus Ramsay – Principal, Scottish Opera

Laura Samuel – Leader, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Justine Watts – Leader, Scottish Ballet

Baroque Violin

Huw Daniel – Dunedin Consort

Ruth Slater – Amsterdam Baroque


Jane Atkins – Principal, Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Lev Atlas – Principal, Scottish Opera

Andrew Berridge – Principal, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Scott Dickinson – Section Principal, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Duncan Ferguson – Co-principal, Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Baroque Viola

Alfonso Leal – Dunedin Consort


Robert Irvine – Senior Lecturer, Artistic Director of Red Note Ensemble

Aleksei Kiseliov – Principal, Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Martin Storey – Principal, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Betsy Taylor – Associate Principal, Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Alison Wells

Baroque Cello

Alison McGillivray– Principal, English Concert/ Concerto Caledonia

Double Bass

Tom Berry – Asst Principal, Scottish Opera

Iain Crawford – Asst Principal, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Ana Cordova – Principal, Royal Scottish National Orchstra

Nikita Naumov – Principal, Scottish Chamber Orchestra


Liivi Arder

Chamber Music

Duncan Ferguson – Co-ordinator

Robert Irvine

Bernard Docherty

Xander van Vliet

William Conway

Maya Iwabuchi

Laura Samuel

Alison Wells


All students have an opportunity during their time at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to take part in workshops and masterclasses with some of the world’s most renowned performers, including:

  • Pedro de Alcantara
  • Nicola Benedetti
  • Simon Fischer
  • Ilya Gringolts
  • Rinat Ibragimov
  • Alina Ibragimova
  • Lutsia Ibragimova
  • Ralph Kirshbaum
  • Lawrence Power
  • Joel Quarrington
  • Rachel Roberts
  • Jacqueline Shave
  • Joseph Swensen
  • Raphael WallfischPieter Wispelwey












Audition requirements

The audition and interview

Before your audition, you will have 15 minutes (or more dependent on your Principal Study) to warm-up on your instrument. RCS is not able to offer additional practice facilities before the allocated warm-up time, because the building is in full use by current students or by other audition candidates.

Through the audition, applicants will be required to demonstrate:

  • a high degree of technical competency on the instrument or voice in the service of specific repertoire
  • an ability to demonstrate a considerable degree of understanding of the repertoire performed
  • an ability to perform specific repertoire convincingly
  • a considerable degree of self-confidence and creativity with respect to the repertoire performed
  • a degree of self-sufficiency, initiative and independence in selecting, preparing and performing a particular programme
  • a developing musical personality

The interview will assess the candidate’s suitability for the programme in terms of knowledge, experience and commitment.


Instrumentalists (excluding piano, guitar, jazz, Scottish music and percussion and timpani) and vocalists will be automatically allocated an official RCS accompanist to play for them at their audition (unless RCS is notified that the applicant intends to use his/her own). Applicants will be given time with the accompanist prior to their audition in order to run through their programme. RCS does not require advance notice of your audition programme.



Any two movements from Bach’s Sonatas or Partitas, or equivalent piece (Bartok, Hindemith, etc) for solo violin and a movement from a major concerto (Beethoven, Brahms, Bartok, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Barber etc.) or a major performance piece (Chausson, Bartok Rhapsody, Ravel Tzigane, etc).


Any two movements from Bach’s Cello Suites, Violin Sonatas or Partitas, or equivalent piece (Ligeti, Hindemith etc) for solo viola and a movement from a Major concerto (Walton, Bartok, Schnittke, etc.) or a major performance piece or one or two movements from a sonata (Enesco Concertpiece, Schumann Marchenbilder, or Brahms Sonata etc).


Any two movements from Bach’s Cello Suites, or equivalent piece (Britten, Crumb, etc) for solo cello, and a movement from a major concerto (Dvorak, etc.) or a major performance piece or sonata.

Double Bass

Any movement from a major concerto and a contrasting performance piece.


All decisions will be posted on UCAS Conservatoires following your audition via UCAS Conservatoires Track, (you will need your username and password). You will also receive notification from UCAS Conservatoires when decisions on all your choices are available.

How to apply

Before applying we recommend that you follow our Applicant Guide journey which provides all the essential information regarding entry requirements, and the full application and audition process.

Begin your Applicant Journey here.

Making your application

Applications for the MMus/MA programme should be made through the UCAS Conservatoires website. There is a UCAS application fee of £25 (which is in addition to the audition fee) which allows you up to six choices of programme of study.

Why choose us?

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is in the World Top 5 for performing arts education

  • 90-minute individual lesson on your principal study each week
  • An international teaching team, with years of education and performing experience – many hold positions in the national artistic companies
  • Regular masterclasses from the world’s leading string performers, including Nicola Benedetti, Simon Fischer, Ilya Gringolts, and Joseph Swensen
  • Meaningful connections with world-class professional ensembles, including regular collaborations with Scottish Ensemble, Red Note Ensemble, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
  • 100% of postgraduate respondents from the School of Music are in employment or further study (HESA, 15/16)

Entry requirements

  • Normally a good Honours (at least 2.2) degree, or its overseas equivalent, in a subject area relevant to the demands of the programme

Entrance to the Conservatoire is based on talent, potential and ability, therefore consideration will be given to relevant experience which is deemed to compensate for any traditional education. We accept a wide range of qualification, including international qualifications. If you wish to check the suitability of your qualification/experience, please contact

English Language

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).

Other equivalent English Language qualifications may be considered, please contact for more information.

  • IELTS – 6.0 with a minimum score of 5.5 in each component

Audition Requirements

Audition requirements are given in our online Guide for Applicants.

Fees and scholarships

Tuition fees for academic year 2018-19

  • MMus Performance (2 years) UK/EU Students – £8,313
  • MMus Performance (2 years) International (non-EU) – £16,290
  • MA Performance (1 year) UK/EU Students – £11,280
  • MA Performance (1 year) International (Non EU) – £19,581

Scottish/EU students

Eligible students are able to apply direct to SAAS for a non-means tested loan to help with the cost of tuition fees to postgraduate courses. There is no limit to the number of eligible students who can apply for this support. Further details on this can be found here and the application can be found here.


New Scottish and EU domiciled students may be eligible for a Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loan. All eligible students will be able to apply directly to Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) for a non-means tested loan of up to £3,400. See the SAAS website for further details of the PSAS scheme.

Scottish domiciled postgraduate students on eligible courses can also apply for a Postgraduate Living Cost Loan up to £4,500 towards living expenses. This is in addition to the existing loan available towards the cost of their tuition fees.


Viola Scholarships

We offer viola scholarships worth 75% tuition fee per year. More information about these scholarships is available through the Admissions department. Please contact us at

Sources of external funding

For more information about alternative funding sources, including external scholarships and bursaries, please visit here.

The Conservatoire’s International and Student Experience team are available to advise and assist applicants and current students in respect of queries about funding your studies at the Conservatoire. Please email or telephone +44 (0)141 270 8281/ +44 (0)141 270 8223 for further information.

Graduate destinations

As RCS is Scotland’s only Conservatoire many graduates are involved in professional music making in the busy artistic activity, ranging from string quartets (Maxwell Quartet and Astrid Quartet are recent graduates) to freelancing with the BBCSSO, RSNO, Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and Scottish Ensemble. Indeed many graduates move on from freelancing to joining the professional orchestras. The RCS has an excellent track record of graduate employment or self-employment within six months of graduation.


The Department of Strings is clustered around the north-eastern part of the main building on the second floor with practice rooms dedicated to the Department’s use. RCS has three public venues – Athenaeum Theatre, Stevenson Hall and Ledger Recital Room – and you will be rehearsing and performing in these venues on a weekly basis.

IT provision in the Whittaker Library has increased in recent years to accommodate 16 PC workstations, (incorporating Sibelius 7), bringing the total open access student PC provision to 52 machines (and counting). This is further enhanced by the Royal Conservatoire’s Digital Training Unit and Language Lab facilities.

Students have access to over 70 relevant e-journals and 14 electronic databases and online archives, including Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches, HOTBED, Oxford Music Online, IPA Source, JStor and Naxos. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Whittaker Library continues to support Scottish Music students via a dedicated full-time Music Librarian and a full-time Performance Librarian.

The RCS possesses, for student use, a wide-ranging and extensive collection of specialist ancillary instruments for both modern and period performance.

David Watkin Interview

New strings head at Conservatoire is ready to shake up the system

The Herald interview by Kate Molleson , Wednesday 25 February 2015


David Watkin, newly anointed Head of Strings at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, is leaning forward at his desk, describing in animated detail a class he intends to introduce to the RCS curriculum.

David Watkin, newly anointed Head of Strings at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, is leaning forward at his desk, describing in animated detail a class he intends to introduce to the RCS curriculum.


Kate Molleson

‘Wild-Card Thursdays’ will see string students turn up once a week for a two-hour session about which they know nothing at all. They might be required to dance or to improvise theatre sketches. They might find themselves singing, playing their instruments to a backdrop of Latin verse or simply lying on the floor and breathing properly. It’s all a long way from the traditional music-college diet of scales and arpeggios.

Watkin is what you might call a lateral-minded musician. He conducts and he coaches young people, but most Scottish audiences will know him as a superb cellist: he was a soloist, chamber player and principal cello of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra until an autoimmune condition forced him to stop playing just over a year ago. For many instrumentalists, such a blow would be spirit-destroying. Watkins doesn’t suggest that the past year has been easy, but when we meet he is full of a drive and optimism that can’t be feigned. “I’ve always been a musician first and a cellist second,” he says. “Maybe losing the cello wasn’t so bad because it’s only ever been one avenue of musicianship for me.”

In conversation, Watkin is rather like his playing: energetic and fiercely intelligent but also playful and light-handed. His references dart between obscure musicological texts and the Pixar film Ratatouille. He uses the latter example – a cartoon about a Parisian rat who becomes a chef – to illustrate how real expression can cut through any pompous guff. “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere,” he says, quoting the movie’s notorious food critic Anton Ego. I suspect it probably sums up his own approach to music education, too.

The new RCS job couldn’t have been better timed for Watkin in terms of occupying the gaping space that cello playing filled for 40-odd years. But it’s clear that the new position isn’t just a fall-back. Watkin talks passionately about his father’s work as a peripatetic violin teacher in Port Talbot during the 1970s – “he was teaching every kid the violin in the biggest council estate in Europe, long before Sistema” – and applies the same principles of broad reach to the RCS, talking intently about the importance of the institution being a resource for the whole of Scotland.

As for those Wild-Card Thursdays? If it all sounds a bit fuzzy – well, it isn’t. At the core of Watkin’s mission is a deeply serious approach to music-making that pivots around the decidedly unfuzzy discipline of theory. A couple of years ago he wrote a potentially game-changing article for The Strad magazine in which he outlined what he thinks is wrong with the state of string teaching in music colleges and string playing in general.

“At conservatoires,” he wrote, “music theory has been pushed to the margins in the minds of many young performers (and often their teachers), whose goal is to build formidable technique. After all, technical prowess is easier to measure than musicianship, and it’s generally the prime currency at conservatoires, auditions and competitions.” The thrust of his argument is that a thorough grasp of theory is essential for any inquisitive, thinking musician. “How can we find real meaning in a piece if we do not understand how it works? How can we be eloquent without grammar? How can groups discuss interpretation without a common language?”

The article caused something of the stir he intended. “As I pinged it off, I thought, ‘I can kiss goodbye to any guest teaching at any conservatoire in the English-speaking world.’ It is quite damning of the status quo… But look,” he beams. “The RCS gave me a job!”

Watkin himself never went to music college: he studied musicology at Cambridge (where he was also a choral scholar) and learned cello privately until he began picking up work in various London orchestras. Before long he was drawn into the early music crowd, attracted by its “genuine sense of discovery and revolution. This was the late 1980s,” he says, “when there were still the real pioneers around. Today the technical standard has probably gone up in early music, but that sense of discovery has been diluted because it’s being taught. It’s a shame when early music, which was such a revolutionary thing, gets reduced to a new orthodoxy. When you get teachers saying, ‘all you’ve got to do to get work in early instrument groups is play a bulge here and no vibrato here…”

At the heart of Watkin’s approach to pedagogy is a desire to empower students to think for themselves, which can’t be a bad starting point for any head of department. He tells me about something he almost wrote in that Strad article but didn’t because he knew it would distract from the matter at hand.

“At that time there was a huge furore about scandals in music schools and colleges. For me, behind all the stuff about theory is the fact that a relationship between teacher and pupil cannot be dictatorial. It has to be a two-way collaboration; both people have to be learning. My dream is that one day the student comes back to the teacher and says, ‘that’s a minor subdominant chord there – so it can’t be an up-bow like you told me to do’. The faults of the system can be righted from either side.” Listening to him talk, I get the sense the RCS could have hired no better person to instigate the process.

Before I go, Watkin opens a desk drawer and rummages around for a CD. It’s his last recording, Bach’s complete cello suites, made in the months just before he stopped playing and due for release next week. Late in 2013 he was diagnosed with scleroderma, a chronic condition that relates specifically to his fingers: when he presses down on the strings, his blood vessels break. Now he can demonstrate a few bars in a lesson but six hours of rehearsal is out of the question. “I managed to get that recording done in early December,” he says, looking down at his hands. “My fingers would be black and blue by the end of the day, but I got it done.”

I head home and put on the first disc, and find myself in tears by the end of the first suite’s Allemande. Watkin’s playing is breathtaking: poised, tender, searching, eloquent. The fast movements really dance, the slow movements really sing. The sound is gorgeous – gut strings on a 1670 Cremona instrument for the first five suites and a smaller, earthier, slightly earlier five-string cello for the sixth. There is grit and solemnity, pain and resolve, but no trace of the anger that his illness must have caused during the recording. Mostly, Watkins shapes his phrases with all the time and love in the world. It’s a truly beautiful parting statement.