BlogUniversityWhat It’s Like Studying a Bachelor of Music at UNSW

What It’s Like Studying a Bachelor of Music at UNSW

UNSW Music - Fact Sheet

Are you passionate about music and want to know more about studying a UNSW Music degree?

Lucky for you, you’ve come to the right place! We’ll cover everything you need to know about core units, majors, potential careers, the faculty and culture and more below.

Let’s get started!

What is a Bachelor of Music at UNSW?
Core Units and Majors
How to Get into a Bachelor of Music at UNSW
What’s the Teaching Format?
What’s the Faculty and Culture Like?

What is a Bachelor of Music at UNSW?

A Bachelor of Music prepares students for a career in music, and lets you explore your skills in composition, performance, sound production, musicology, and music education. You will develop a well-rounded understanding of the different fields of study within music and get the opportunity to specialise in an area of your choosing.

What can you expect from studying UNSW Music?

No matter what area of music you specialise in, you can expect to perform a lot. You’ll be playing your instrument or singing as a soloist or within one of UNSW’s variety of ensembles, and even alongside your lecturers and tutors.

You can also expect to broaden your musical knowledge, engage with a range of genres, and develop your skills in musicology and musicianship.

Can this degree be studied with another?

This degree can also be studied as a double degree. Whether you want to study a complementary area — think arts, secondary education, or media, or something entirely different — from science and commerce to engineering and law — UNSW offers a range of degree combinations. 


Students that perform well during their studies can also be eligible to study an Honours year. For students studying a Bachelor of Music, they must produce a research thesis and coursework, with the option to also complete a practical project in performance or composition.

To be eligible for Honours, students must have completed all of the subjects required for the Bachelor of Music, and must have achieved a minimum WAM (Weighted Average Mark) of 70.

Students who are interested in undertaking Honours and have achieved a WAM of 80 or higher can also apply for an Honours scholarship. Offered by the School of Arts and Media, the student with the highest WAM in each Honours subject area will receive $5,000.

To find out more about how to apply for Honours, head here!

Career Paths

There are a variety of careers that you can take your Bachelor of Music into, such as:

    • Performance
    • Academia
    • Arranging and composing music
    • Private teaching
    • Broadcasting
    • Sound design
    • Classroom music teaching
    • Conducting
    • Audio engineering
    • Arts management
    • Music journalism

Since you will finish your degree with skills in performance, musicianship, and musicology, you can apply what you have learnt across a variety of industries and fields.

Core Units and Majors

What are the Core Units?

To complete a Bachelor of Music at UNSW, you will need to take 144 credit points worth of subjects across the duration of the degree. These subjects are taken from all four areas of specialisation, giving you a little taste of everything!

First Year

In first year, you will study:

Core UnitsDescription
Music ReinventedThis unit covers the history of music and introduces students to the subdiscipline of ethnomusicology. Students also explore how musical works and their reception are shaped by the political and artistic contexts of the composer. 
Materials and Structures of Music 1 and 2These two units are all about music theory and musicianship. Students will hone their analytical skills, participate in rhythm workshops, and learn how to write chord progressions and sight-sing.
Western Music: A PanoramaIn this unit, students will explore the history, genres, and key themes in Western classical music. Discussing significant compositions from different time periods will enable students to develop their skills in critical analysis and understand how musical styles and genres have developed over time.
Performance Laboratory ACovering the practical aspects of music, students are required to take this unit across three consecutive trimesters for a total of 12 credit points. Students will develop their instrumental, vocal, or compositional skills with one-to-one support from a specialist tutor and by participating in workshops, masterclasses and ensembles.

Alongside your core units, you can also study a free elective from any subject area across UNSW and a General Education unit — a subject from any faculty other than Arts and Social Sciences.

Second Year

In second year, you can expect more in-depth subjects that continue on from first year. These include Materials and Structures of Music 3 and 4; Sound, Society and Self in World Music; and Performance Laboratory B.

Since there are fewer core units, you’ll have the space to complete more free electives, General Education units, and gateway subjects for your chosen stream.

Third and Fourth Year

Once you reach third year, the only core units you will need to complete are the Performance Lab units and the core units for your specialisation. This will give you the opportunity to complete additional electives and General Education units.

In your final year, there are two core units left to complete: Critical Investigations in Music and Critical Practice in Music. These subjects enable you to apply the knowledge and skills you have learnt throughout your degree and engage with your specialisation from a scholarly perspective.


Alongside core subjects that all Bachelor of Music students need to study, you will be able to choose one area of music to specialise in, including:

    • Music Creative Practice
    • Music Inquiry
    • Sonic Arts
    • Music Pedagogy

Since the degree requires the completion of the majority of your core units in first and second year, you start to take subjects in your chosen stream from third year onwards.

Entry into the Music Creative Practice is also restricted to students who perform well in Performance Laboratory A. This means that students must achieve a grade of 80% or higher for the practical exam, and need to do well in the ensemble assessment, written assignments, and in-class performance presentations. 

Does this degree give you work experience?

Internships are not compulsory for this degree, but you can still get real-world experience by taking the Performing Arts Industry Experience unit (ARTS3013).

This unit gives you the opportunity to undertake a semester-long work placement with a performing arts organisation! To be eligible for this unit, you will need to have a WAM of 65 or higher.

To find out more about this unit, head here!


How to Get into a Bachelor of Music at UNSW

For guaranteed entry into a Bachelor of Music at UNSW you’ll need to achieve an ATAR of 80. If you don’t meet the ATAR requirements, you can find alternative paths into the degree here!

Early Entry

UNSW also offers an Advanced Entry Scheme, an early entry program for students applying for the Bachelor of Music. Students will be invited to apply for the scheme if they have an ATAR of 80 or higher, an LMus (Licentiate in Music) or equivalent qualification, and based on their performance in the audition.

If you meet the requirements and pass your audition, you will be guaranteed entry into the degree before the final deadline for UAC preferences.

Plus, students who are successful may also be eligible for course credit for first year subjects. This means that you won’t need to take these subjects when you start studying and can complete your degree faster!

Assumed Knowledge

To get into Music at UNSW, you need to be able to perform well and have a solid knowledge of music theory. This means that you will need to have completed Grade 7 or higher in AMEB Performance and have studied Music 2 during the HSC; or Grade 6 in AMEB Musicianship; or HSC Music Extension.

Meeting these requirements both improves your chances of being accepted into the degree and reduces the amount of theory you will need to catch up on when you study your first year core units.

Additional Assessments

On top of the ATAR requirements, you will need to demonstrate your practical skills and musical knowledge to enter the Bachelor of Music. This takes the form of an audition and the Musicianship Test, which you need to complete in the year before you wish to enrol.

Musicianship Test

The Musicianship Test is made up of multiple choice questions that will cover everything from scale constructions and basic four-part harmonies to your general musical knowledge and ability to read simple scores. To prepare for this test, it’s advised to revise music theory and general knowledge of music to the level of Grade 5 AMEB Theory.


Auditions are held across two rounds in the later half of the year, and you can choose which round to register for. The audition structure varies depending on which specialisation you intend to study, but generally includes:

    • Recordings of two contrasting pieces of music that you have performed on your instrument or have sung
    • A short song that you must sing unaccompanied to test your sense of pitch
    • A 500-word essay about yourself to demonstrate your ability to express yourself
    • A CV
    • A scanned copy of a photo ID, such as a drivers licence or student ID
    • A letter of reference, including your referee’s contact details

If you are intending to specialise in composition, you will also need to submit the scores and audio of two contrasting compositions.

Students who have studied Music Extension or Music 2 for their HSC and want to be considered for the Advanced Entry scheme should also submit their final musicology essay.

Still got questions about the Musicianship Test, audition process, or the Advanced Entry scheme? Head here for all the details!


A wide variety of scholarships are available within the Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture and UNSW more broadly. There are even some that are specifically for students studying music, including:

    • Richard and Isolda Munz Award in Music: Value of $4,000 for one year, students must be studying a Bachelor of Music, a Bachelor of Music / Bachelor of Education, or a Bachelor of Music / Bachelor of Arts to be eligible.
    • UNSW Music Scholarship: Value of $5,000 per year for four years, eligible students are Australian citizens, permanent residents, or New Zealand citizens who are commencing full-time study of a Bachelor of Music as a single or double degree.

Find a list of all of the scholarships on offer at UNSW here!

What’s the Teaching Format?

If you choose to study a Bachelor of Music at UNSW you will be attending classes across three trimesters, with the opportunity to study select units over the summer break. Since you will be learning a combination of practical skills and theoretical knowledge, you can expect to attend both lectures and tutorials.

Class Structure

The types of classes you will attend varies for theoretical and practical subjects, but all of your subjects will offer lectures and a selection of tutorials, workshops, masterclasses, and one-on-one lessons.

UNSW Music - Class Structure

Theory Subjects

For units that are more theory-based, you will learn about and discuss concepts in lectures and tutorials. Lectures are where students are introduced to different concepts, can vary in size from 20 to 100 people and range from 1.5-2 hours in length.

These are followed by tutorials, where you will discuss what you have learnt in lectures, take part in workshops, and take in-class assessments. Tutorials are typically 1.5-2 hours long and there will be up to 20 people attending.

Practical Subjects

When it comes to practical subjects such as performance labs, you will attend a mix of lectures, one-on-one lessons, workshops, and masterclasses. These classes are around the same size, varying from 3 to 20 people.

Lectures make up the smallest amount of class-time in these subjects, usually lasting for 1-2 hours, and are held anywhere from once a week to once every few weeks. 

In one-on-one lessons, you will be paired with a specialist tutor for your stream. Whether you are a vocalist, instrumentalist, or composer, you will hone your technical skills with the help of a tutor for eight one-hour sessions per trimester. 

Workshops are where students will gain more experience in their chosen field. For instrumental and vocal students, this can take the form of performing in front of the class and with other students, while composition students will learn about the considerations and processes behind composing music.

UNSW Music - Student Quote

Masterclasses are frequently held by guest speakers who are highly-experienced and often still working in their field. In these classes, you will get the opportunity to hear from professional musicians from a variety of styles — such as classical musicians, opera singers, or jazz musicians, as well as other experts.

How many hours do you have to go to university?

While the hours will vary, you can expect to attend uni for 15-20 hours a week. For example, taking performance-based subjects will generally increase your contact hours since you may be expected to attend additional rehearsals or participate in ensembles, while theory-based subjects will usually require less time in class.

What are the assessments like?

Since studying a Bachelor of Music at UNSW enables you to broaden your practical skills and theoretical knowledge, the assessments are made up of theory-based and practical components too.

In-Class Assessments

These assessments are held in tutorials and practical classes and are worth between 5-20% of your final grade. These can include short written exams, tests that assess your aural, sight-singing, and transcription skills, as well as in-class exercises.


For theory-based subjects — such as Music Reinvented — you will have to write an essay. These assessments can be worth quite a lot (up to 55%) and can require critically engaging with your chosen topic and undertaking research.


Portfolios are made of several assessment tasks, which can include in-class exercises, take-home tests, and assignments. While each task is worth between 15-20%, they can add up and be worth a larger proportion of your mark.

Performance Exams

Performance exams generally consist of a mock and final exam. The mock performance is held during the trimester, is weighted less heavily than the final performance, and works as a kind of progress mark to make sure you’re on track for the final exam. 

The final performance exam is often held in the last two weeks of trimester, meaning that you’ll start your holidays sooner than students in other faculties! For instrumental and vocal students, you will put together a repertoire of music and perform in a semi-formal concert environment.

If you choose to study composition, you will compile a portfolio of work and present it. Performance exams are generally worth 30% of your final grade.

Performance Presentations

These assessments require you to demonstrate your practical skills — such as playing your instrument, singing, or conducting, as well as your theoretical knowledge — including the cultural, historical, or musical context of the piece you perform.

Performance presentations are often held in-class, are worth about 35% of your final mark, and can involve working in a group or as an individual.

Skills You Develop

UNSW Music - Skills

Not surprisingly, studying a Bachelor of Music will allow you to develop advanced skills in music. Throughout your degree you will hone your skills in composition, performing as a soloist and within an ensemble, while learning how to use different technology.

Plus, UNSW offers more than 20 ensembles that you can join — including jazz ensembles, choirs, orchestras, and cultural music groups — meaning that you will be exposed to a wide scope of musical styles and genres.

“I did West African drumming, I did the choir, I did introduction to jazz improvisation, I did the band, orchestra, chamber music … UNSW has a range of ensembles [and] they welcome you to try them all out.” — Rachel Woolley

Since you will be performing as a soloist and in small groups and ensembles, you will pick up leadership skills and become a great team player.

On top of that, completing written assessments and presenting your ideas will help develop your communication skills in a range of contexts. All of these skills are highly transferable, and you are likely to use them throughout your working life.

Learn all about the pros and cons of this degree here!

What’s the Faculty and Culture Like?

Faculty and Culture

The Music Faculty are very passionate, knowledgeable, and supportive of their students. The lecturers and tutors are a mix of industry professionals who are often still performing and active in the industry, and academic staff.

You will often have the same lecturers and tutors for a number of subjects and even get the chance to play with them in-class or in ensembles, meaning that students often develop great relationships with staff.

The large number of core units required by the degree also means that the cohort is just as tight-knit as the staff. You will find that your classmates are just as passionate about music and are happy to share resources and help each other out.

“You have the same passion, which you’ve had for many, many years, which you share with these people. So it definitely creates an instant bond, not only with your peers, but with the teachers as well.” — Rachel Woolley


UNSW offers 300 societies, so whether you’re looking for networking opportunities, career advice, or to make friends and have fun, there is bound to be a society for you!

For music students, joining the Society of Orchestra and Pipers (SOAP) is a perfect place to meet people who are passionate about music. SOAP consists of an orchestra and a wind symphony, which both rehearse weekly and put on three concerts every year.

The society also hosts a variety of social events, including a camp, cruise, and ball!

Peer Mentoring

To help first-year students adjust to university, the UNSW Art Society runs a Peer Mentoring Program. First-year mentees who sign up for the program are grouped with an older student-mentor and several other mentees, and get to meet with their group throughout the trimester.

Plus, once you reach second year you can sign up to be a mentor! Being a student mentor can be a great way to develop your leadership and communication skills.

You can find more information about the Peer Mentoring Program here!

Rachel Fieldhouse is a Content Writer at Art of Smart Education and has just completed a double degree in Science and Arts at The University of Sydney, majoring in Chemistry, English, and Linguistics. Rachel’s writing has been published in Concrete Playground, Inside Enterprise, Planting Seeds, and SURG FM, and she currently writes blog posts for Remi AI, a Sydney-based Artificial Intelligence firm. When she’s not writing, you can find Rachel playing her saxophone or flute, or relaxing with some sudoku.


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