Key facts

Average number of students offered a place per year


Average number of applicants per year


Downing College enjoys a long and vibrant musical tradition, and many graduates have gone on to have impressive careers as performers, composers and academics. On average we admit 1-2 undergraduates per year to read Music.

Our standard conditional offer for this subject is usually A*AA at A level or 41 - 43 points overall and 7, 7, 6 at Higher Level in IB.  All Colleges may modify offers to take account of individual circumstances.  Further information can be found here.

We aim to admit students with significant musical potential who can cope with the rigorous intellectual demands of the Tripos, and who are willing to contribute actively to the musical life of the College and University.

The Music Faculty has a comprehensive music library (The Pendlebury Library) containing an extensive and frequently updated collection of books, journals, scores and recordings, as well as a listening room. The Maitland Robinson Library at Downing College also contains a regularly updated section devoted to music. Students at all stages of the Tripos course may also borrow from the University Library.

At Cambridge the Music Tripos is a three-year course with examinations at the end of each year. Detailed information about the Music Tripos can be found on the Music Faculty website, but here is a brief overview of the course:

The first year establishes a thorough grounding in a range of academic skills. The Music and Musicology Today paper introduces students to various musicological practices and debates in concert music, jazz, pop and world music.

The second part of the paper allows students to choose between giving a recital, composing a piece or writing an extended essay. Students also take two papers in Music History, covering topics from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century.

Two Tonal Skills papers enable students to receive regular, one-to-one instruction in harmony and counterpoint and practical skills, while aural is taught in Faculty-based classes.

The Analysis paper explores 18th and early 19th-century repertoire and is taught in lectures and small groups. All papers are compulsory in the first year.

Students have compulsory papers in Advanced Tonal Skills, Analysis and 20th- and 21st-century Music History. Students may choose their remaining papers from a selection, including specialist papers in music and science, ethnomusicology, popular music, opera, performance studies and notation.

Historical options will include at least one paper with a foreign language component. Students may also opt to submit a dissertation on a title of their choice, subject to approval by the examining board. Students may also take a recital option or submit a portfolio of compositions.

There are no compulsory topics in the final year and the range of papers students can choose from expands further. Coursework options include a dissertation paper and portfolios in composition, notation and analysis.

Seminars and lectures are co-ordinated by a noted scholar in the field and some of the options currently available include papers in the editing of early music, an in-depth study of different kinds of non-Western music, opera studies, jazz, film music, pop and a selection of musical-philosophical courses. Students may also continue with tonal skills. Another popular option in Part II is the Performance Paper.

All undergraduate Music students at Downing College are provided with a piano in their room. The College has funds available to help meet the cost of instrumental tuition for students wishing to take the recital option in any year.

Apart from offering financial support for instrumental tuition, Downing also participates in the Intercollegiate Instrumental Awards Scheme. Gifted performers on one of the eligible instruments, who have a serious commitment to chamber music playing, are encouraged to apply for such an Award.

Music at Cambridge and Downing College is taught in the same way as other Cambridge undergraduate courses. Individual and small-group supervisions are combined with lectures and seminars at the University Music Faculty.

The Director of Studies in Music is responsible for appointing a team of supervisors who arrange and teach the individual and small-group sessions and who also regularly set and assess written work.

At least some of this tuition will be provided by the Director of Studies themselves, but the teaching team will also include course lecturers, Fellows of other Colleges, external supervisors and post-graduate students of the University.

The Director of Studies for Music is Dr Alan Howard.

Applicants for the Music Tripos will normally have taken Music at A-Level, although ABRSM Grade 8 Theory may be offered as a substitute. Music Technology is not normally accepted as a substitute for A-Level Music.

History and language A-Levels (or equivalent) can be useful, but successful candidates very often have music in combination with Arts or Science subjects. Equivalent qualifications, such as the International Baccalaureate and Scottish Advanced Highers, are welcomed.

Some experience in both music history and harmony and counterpoint, whether or not explicitly tested by the A-Level (or equivalent) syllabus, is useful but not essential. It is not required to have a particular ability on an instrument to apply to read Music, but aptitude at the keyboard roughly equivalent to Grade 5 Piano is advantageous.

The College is happy to consider applications for deferred entry, as well as applications post-A-Level (or equivalent).

Candidates will be asked to submit an essay in advance of the interview, together with a musical composition or harmony exercise where appropriate. The work submitted may be used as the basis of part of the discussion at interview.

A written test, lasting one hour, will precede the interview and test basic harmony, counterpoint and essay-writing skills.

At present, Music applicants receive two half-hour interviews on the same day, each with two interviewers. Both interviews are largely subject-based, although more general questions may also be asked. You will be asked about your general knowledge of music and your musical interests and enthusiasms.

You may also be shown short musical or text extracts which you will be invited to discuss. One of the interviews may include some elementary aural and keyboard tests.

Further advice about entry requirements and interviews for all subjects can be found in the Applying to Downing section of this site.

Further information can be found in the prospectus produced by the Faculty of Music.