Credit points


Campus offering

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Unit rationale, description and aim

Musical ideas, practices, instruments and repertoire developed in the western tradition of concert or 'art' music influence a wide array of musical activity. Professional musicians and music teachers need to engage with the styles and practices of western art music to interpret and analyse music from that tradition and to understand its influence on diverse music practices of the present. A high-order understanding of western art music is also a required knowledge area for specialist music teachers working in secondary schools.

This unit examines case studies of the western musical tradition drawn from plainchant to the art music of the twenty-first century. It considers the changing social, cultural and economic underpinnings of western music, examines the different analytical approaches used to understand western music, and explores theories of style change. The unit also examines the ways western musical ideas have been influenced by other cultures and traditions, and students are exposed to the ethical considerations that arise out of cultural exchange.

The aim of the unit is to equip students with the skills in music analysis and research needed to be an informed listener, performer, teacher and critic of western art music.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe representative styles, practitioners and repertoires of western art music (GA4, GA8)

LO2 - Explain the religious, social, cultural and economic forces that have shaped music in the western tradition (GA1, GA4, GA8, GA9)

LO3 - Critically analyse music scores, recordings, primary source materials and scholarly readings (GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA10)

LO4 - Construct evidence-based arguments using discipline-specific terminology and analysis on issues in western art music (GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9)

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively.


Topics will include:

  • Narratives used by musicologists to understand western music history
  • Theories used to account for style change in western art music
  • The development of music notation and its impact on music conventions and practices
  • Sacred and secular influences on western art music
  • Economic impacts on western music including the patronage of composers by church, state and institution
  • The development of vocal music genres such as motet, madrigal, mass, opera, oratorio and lied
  • The development of instrumental music genres such as the baroque dance suites, fugue, fantasia, concerto, sonata and symphony
  • The "isms" of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century
  • Traditions of analysis and criticism in western art music
  • Musical postmodernism and the art music of the twenty-first century
  • Dialogue, interaction and exchanges between diverse music traditions and western art music.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

The unit sees students encounter case studies of representative styles and genres of the western art music tradition. Learning in the unit is centred around ‘active listening’ with students exposed to diverse repertoire and aided in developing the ability to identify key features of convention and style. Knowledge and skill tied to the analysis of repertoire are developed incrementally across the unit. Key ideas are presented to students in lectures (which have the capacity to be ‘flipped’), and via annotated music scores and strategically chosen listening excerpts, students develop the confidence to employ active listening to a wider scope of repertoire outside of structured classes. Students share their learning via engagement with their peers in tutorial and seminar classes, which may be conducted online.

With the capacity to recognise, understand, and analyse repertoire, students go on to consider the wider cultural influences that have informed music practice in the western art tradition via a combination of lecture vignettes, scholarly readings and class discussions. The unit culminates in students synthesising knowledge and skills in a research task that sees them explore, test, debate and demonstrate high-order thinking in the discourse surrounding western art music.

Assessment strategy and rationale

Listening to and analysing music underpins the wider work of musicologists in seeking to make sense of change and development in western music history. The assessment in this unit is designed to develop the knowledge and skills required of musicologists and music teachers to effectively engage with western art music. The assessment works to scaffold the acquisition of knowledge and the development of skills by providing a context for active listening and a scaffolded development of skills in musical analysis. It also allows students to apply these in the context of a higher-order research task.

Students first listen widely to diverse music - much of which will be unfamiliar - and develop a knowledge of style and time period. This basic awareness is tested in a quiz and underpins learning throughout the unit. Skills in analysis and the development of deeper knowledge are developed through active listening tasks that involve written analytical summaries and annotated music scores. These tasks become gradually more challenging as the students refine their skills. Only some of the tasks are submitted for assessment. The research task represents the summative assessment in the unit and sees students apply the knowledge and skill developed through the semester. Depending on the mode of offering and student preference, this task can take the form of a research essay with musical examples, an exegesis of a performance displaying key elements of authentic performance practice, or a presentation including music excerpts.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Online Quiz

Students undertake a quiz consisting of short answer questions to test their knowledge of music repertoire, style and practitioners. This is designed to help students develop knowledge of repertoire that underpins subsequent learning in the unit.



GA4, GA8

Listening Analysis Tasks

Students regularly annotate music examples, some with score, some presented only aurally, to develop skills in music analysis. A selection of these are submitted for assessment. The purpose is to strengthen active listening skills to explore the development of vocal and instrumental genres in western art music.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1, GA4, GA6, GA8, GA9, GA10

Research Task

Students undertake a research project to apply the knowledge and skills developed through the unit by constructing an argument around a scholarly idea tied to the study of western art music history. The task will incorporate written and musical elements. The purpose is to provide students with an opportunity to model ways musicologists construct knowledge.


LO2, LO3, LO4

GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8, GA9, GA10

Representative texts and references

Auner, Joseph. Music in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries. W.W. Norton and Company, 2013.

Ambrosini, Armand and Michael Lee. Introduction to Western Concert Music, 2nd edition. Kendall Hunt, 2015.

Beer, Anna. Sounds and Sweet Airs: the Forgotten Women of Classical Music. One World Publications, 2016.

Burkholder, Peter, Donald Jay Grout and Claude Palisca. A History of Western Music, 10th edition. London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2019.

Nieden, Gesa Zur, and Over, Berthold. Musicians' Mobilities and Music Migrations in Early Modern Europe. Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript Verlag, 2016.

Ross, Alex. The Rest is Noise. New York: Picador, 2007.

Tarasti, Eero. Semiotics of Classical Music How Mozart, Brahms and Wagner Talk to Us. Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, 2012.

Tibbetts, John C., Michael. Saffle, and William A. Everett. Performing Music History Musicians Speak First-Hand about Music History and Performance. 1st Ed. 2018. ed. Cham: Springer International : Imprint: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Vroon, Donald. Classical Music in a Changing Culture : Essays from the American Record Guide. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Yang, Mina. Planet Beethoven : Classical Music at the Turn of the Millennium. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan UP, 2014.

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