There are a grand total of five people in my year studying Music Technology BMus at the University of Edinburgh. Evidently, it’s a rather niche course that technically doesn’t exist anymore for it has been ‘rebranded,’ as it were, to become Acoustics and Music Technology BSc and no longer requires any music qualification to apply. As it is a relatively unknown course in the wider, educational world I thought that writing this post would give potential applicants an insight into what studying Music Technology would be like. However, due to the change in degree, I’m not sure how relevant this will actually be to new students because the compulsory classes will be different. This is a good thing though because I wasn’t particularly fond of many of my first-year electives and I would hate to scare anyone off.
I chose this course because even though I love music I didn’t see myself composing and performing for the rest of my life. I had a decent understanding of maths throughout secondary school so it made sense to pick a degree that combined my creative and academic sides. There are limited universities in Scotland that provide this sort of degree so Edinburgh had always been my first choice and I was really proud that my hard work paid off when I received an unconditional offer.
My first year of studying Music Technology wasn’t great because instead of having the academic and creative worlds merge like I had imagined, it felt very disjointed due to the lack of communication between departments. You could tell that it was kind of a forgotten about course when some of my classes were in annexe rooms and I was asked by lecturers and students whether I studied the MA or the regular BMus instead of BMus Tech. I wasn’t musical enough for the music classes but I wasn’t academic enough for the physics classes so I floated around in this bubble of awkwardness desperately trying to understand the circle of fifths.
It was especially prominent in my first semester when I had classes in maths, music and physics that it didn’t feel like I was studying Music Technology at all, just a bunch of classes with minutely overlapping topics. I understand that I will need to have foundation theory in different departments to build off of but I can almost guarantee that I will never need to transpose multiple saxophone parts in five minutes when I finally launch into my own career.
I thought I’d start this post off with a bang and talk about Musicianship 1 as it was the elective that made me have an existential crisis and question if Music was what I actually wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was very much aimed at the people who were doing pure music as a degree and had a much better music education than the one that is offered in Scottish Secondary schools. Advanced Highers are supposed to be similar to first-year level at a university to provide a foundation for a degree you might pursue but in Scotland, I can assure you, it was far from the level required.
I’m one of the few people in the music department that cannot sing well. In every lecture, we had to sight-sing like the Von Trapp Family in strange keys that I’d never heard of. I was useless at identifying chords on the spot and was terrified in both the exams I had. Giving students an hour to pick apart three large scores, with many modulating questions is a joke. Even those who found Musicianship lectures and tutorials easy-breezy couldn’t finish the exam on time so yeah, I was feeling spectacular afterwards.
I thought I was going to love Musical Acoustics because my first lecture involved (intentional) fire which is a big selling point for any class. Unfortunately, the course was part of the Physics department and therefore I think it was expected that I’d have a higher understanding of how waves work. Us music tech folk were surrounded by engineering, maths and science students who grasped things a lot quicker than us, especially me who was often rather exasperated during tutorials.
We learned about how instruments worked and how sounds reacted in different ways to environments such as a concert hall or the human ear. It was quite interesting but it was too much for a novice like me to learn in a short space of time and I started to fall apart in the time leading up to the exam. By far the worst part of those lectures was the number of times I saw in graphic detail how vocal chords work, it’s really disgusting and not what you want to see just before you eat dinner.
Despite the fact that I struggled to grasp some concepts I did surprisingly well overall. Due to a fluke that happened in the marking of one of my reports, I got 100% instead of a lower one that I definitely deserved. I probably should have questioned my grade but when it also appeared as a perfect mark online I just assumed that the marker was feeling particularly generous that day. Ironically I’m studying a degree based around music but my strongest electives were maths and physics related. You can see why I was questioning all my major life decisions thus far.
Composition 1 (& Style Studies 1)
Composition 1 was perhaps the biggest scam of a subject. Instead of being based in one semester, it was an elective for the whole year that only counted as 20 credits when it was the work of 40. It was probably one of the main reasons that I had so much work to do in the first semester because they couldn’t get away with having Style Studies 1 as a separate subject without blatantly overworking students.
That being said, the lecturers were really lovely. During the first semester when it was Composition I had Gareth who is such a funny man and made the lectures somewhat interesting even though I was struggling with the coursework. James, the lecturer for Style Studies, was also great and was so willing to help when the submission deadline was fast approaching. I sent him so many emails asking for advice, all of which he replied to despite the fact that the strikes were going on.
Unfortunately, there was no balance between Composition 1 and Style Studies 1. On one hand, I had no submission guidelines except a time limit and on the other, I had to follow many strict rules that revolved around parallel fifths. I decided to drop all forms of composition for my second year because I learned that I wasn’t particularly good at writing in my own style, never mind Haydn’s.
Maths for Music Technology 1
Maths for Music Technology (MfM) was also a bit of a lie because it doesn’t really have anything to do with Music Technology until the second year but I enjoyed the class time nonetheless. Our lecturer/tutor, Darren is the most chill and down-to-earth guy I’ve met and it meant I didn’t mind trekking to King’s Buildings for 10am that much. As our class had a grand total of 10 people in it we spent half the time watching Chucklevision and eating rather than doing the work we probably should of. However, having taken Advanced Higher Maths in school, I understood a lot of the problems we were supposed to be solving with the exception of hyperbolic functions which were the subject of many desperate emails to Darren.
The relaxed environment of MfM meant that I was happier when studying in class. Everyone helped each other and laughed together so at least when we were confused and/or stressed it never lasted for long. I’m actually excited for my second year of Maths for Music Technology because I much prefer smaller lectures/tutorials with my friends where I have somewhat of an understanding as to what is going on.
Music 1B: Instruments, Culture and Technology
I mentioned earlier how there was no communication between departments and this was most evident during my 1B lectures. Part of the module was to cover instruments, hence the title but it meant that I had the same lecturer from Musical Acoustics going over the exact same slides that I had the previous semester. It was ridiculous that we had to go over so much material we’d already spent hours sitting through as nothing had changed on the slides in three months. I could have dropped one elective and focused more on other subjects during my first year which could have potentially avoided a whole lot of unnecessary stress.
In general, it really wasn’t a great class. The number of subjects they tried to fit in didn’t really match up and involved some really weird lectures. Out of all my electives, it was also the one that was most affected by the strikes which lead to me disliking it even more. On the bright side, the university has decided to discontinue the class and replace it with a new one that sounds far more interesting with fewer random tangents.
Due to my expectations from my degree, Sound Recording was the class I was most excited for so perhaps I can only blame myself for being disappointed. Considering I am a Music Technology student I had hoped to grasp the basics of recording fairly quickly and I got frustrated when this wasn’t the case. That being said, I worked hard and produced work that I was really proud of and met the brief. I then received my lowest marks of the year (even lower than Musicianship) and now have to rethink everything that I want to do in my career.
The class itself was quite good as we got a lot of hands-on experience with recording equipment rather than just constantly sitting in lectures. I always a slight fear in tutorials of breaking a microphone and having to pay hundreds of pounds to replace it so messing around wasn’t really an option. My favourite part was going to the studios and learning how to mix recordings. Again, I wasn’t great at it but it was something that really made me feel like a Music Technology student which had been lacking throughout the entire year.
I am so proud to have survived the first year and passed with an average of a B. Whilst the classes weren’t great, I hope that the things I learned will come in handy further down the line. I cannot tell you how much I had wished to study other electives that were outside of music because I was surrounded by so much of it, music started to turn into something I resented. I am currently happier with my degree choice, now that I am a month into my second year but I know that when I start into honours, it will be a lot of fun. If you’re finding the first year of university a bit of a culture shock and are thinking of dropping out, I urge you to stick it out, I’m glad I did.