Analysing Classical Music: An Introduction (Online)


  • Do you have an interest in classical music?
  • Are you a keen amateur musician?
  • Are you a professional musician looking to increase your understanding of the music you perform?

Music exerts such a powerful effect on humanity that people have been trying to penetrate its mysteries for centuries. We might respond to a piece of music by describing it as beautiful, emotionally moving, elevating or exciting. We might feel that there is a sense of inevitability about it, such that not a single note could be changed for the better.

Musical analysis is, essentially, the attempt to bridge the gap between our intuitions about music and our conscious knowledge of it. In analysing works that we feel to be intrinsically worthwhile we are trying to correlate our subjective responses with observable properties in the music.

This course explores a number of well-established approaches to musical analysis whilst also laying due emphasis on the subjective experience of the listener and performer.

In order to do this course successfully, we recommend that you should be comfortable in reading music to a certain level. If you have studied a musical instrument to even a modest level of proficiency your music reading ability will probably be sufficient.

Similarly a basic understanding of music theory will be helpful. You need not have taken any theory exams but if your knowledge of music theory is around Grade 5 in the ABRSM theory syllabus then you should be able to follow the course



Programme details

Unit 1: What is musical analysis? Analysis of melody and harmony

  •          Analysing Melody
  •          Analysing Greensleeves
  •          Larger scale structures within the melody
  •          Analysing harmony
  •          Interpreting harmony
  •          Chords that are not part of the harmonic progression

Unit 2: Traditional techniques

  •          Methods of analysing harmony
  •          Analysing the 1st movement of Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata
  •          A closer look at Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata
  •          Segmenting music into chords - analysing Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata
  •          Labelling chords

Unit 3: Schenkerian analysis of tonal music – 1

  •          Bach: Prelude in C from Book 1 of the ‘48’
  •          Schenkerian graphs
  •          Some principles of Schenkerian analysis
  •          Prolongation
  •          Neighbour notes
  •          Linear progressions
  •          Voice leading
  •          Fundamental structure

Unit 4: Schenkerian analysis of tonal music – 2

  •          Bach: Chorale Ich bin’s, ich sollte büssen from the St. Matthew Passion
  •          Significant moments in music
  •          The importance of context
  •          Schenkerian graphs as interpretation
  •          Debussy: Puck’s Dance from Preludes, Book 1
  •          Fundamental structure

Unit 5: Psychological approaches to analysis – 1

  •          The term ‘psychological’ as it is used with reference to musical analysis
  •          Phenomenology and phenomenological reduction
  •          Thomas Clifton’s phenomenological analysis of Bach’s C major Prelude from Book 1 of the ‘48’
  •          Background and prolongation
  •          Pattern in music and its perception. The work of Leonard Meyer
  •          Leonard Meyer’s analysis of Schubert’s Das Wandern from the song-cycle Die Schöne Müllerin
  •          Meyer’s vs. Schenkerian analysis
  •          The analysis of rhythm in Meyer’s work

Unit 6: Psychological approaches to analysis – 2

  •          The psychology of motivic interrelationships. The work of Rudolph Réti
  •          Réti’s analysis of Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata, Op. 13.
  •          Critical reaction to Réti’s theories
  •          Motivic constituents

Unit 7: Case studies in musical analysis: Selecting the right approach

  •          Starting an analysis
  •          Schumann: Auf einer Burg
  •          The Song of Simeon
  •          Musical ‘pieces’
  •          Britten: Pan

Unit 8: Analysing sonata forms - 1

  •          What is ‘form’?
  •          ‘Surface pattern’ and ‘underlying process’
  •          Mozart’s opera: The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro)
  •          The traditional view of sonata form
  •          Comparing two sonata forms by Beethoven

Unit 9: Analysing sonata forms - 2

  •          Comparing symphonic movements by Beethoven and Berlioz
  •          The Symphonie Fantastique

Unit 10: Analysing a problem piece

  •          First impressions of Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie
  •          Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie “problem piece”:
    •    The analysis by Paul Hamburger – motivic relationships
    •    The analysis by Paul Hamburger and Gerald Abraham – formal segmentation
    •    An alternative segmentation
    •    As a ternary form


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


Mr Jonathan Darnborough

Jonathan Darnborough is Director of Studies in Music and Departmental Lecturer in Music at Oxford University Department for Continuing Education.  He is a composer and pianist and has worked in continuing education throughout his career. He was a prize-winner in the 1992 Franco-Italian Piano Competition in Paris and he has performed throughout Britain, as well as in Europe, the USA and Indonesia.

Course aims

  • To introduce the principles underlying the main approaches to musical analysis.
  • To foster an understanding of the differences between the main approaches to musical analysis and the reasons, therefore, why different approaches are used for different music works.

Teaching methods

Throughout the course you will be given the opportunity to:

  •          Participate in online forums in which fellow students and the tutor can exchange ideas, thoughts and opinions in a constructive way
  •          Independently research articles and bodies of work that will help your understanding of the course
  •          Analyse pieces of music external to core course content

In order to help facilitate your understanding of this course, our ingenious course author has not only included video introductions to each unit topic, they have included a wide range of additional media which helps deconstruct the music for you in order to help you appreciate fully what a composer was trying to achieve with their pieces.

In addition to this we have included a number of interactive musical examples via a MuseScore plugin which allows you to get to grips with the music yourself so that you can start and stop the music, change the tempo and listen to particular notes all in the aid of helping you in the process of analysing music.

Learning outcomes

  • To introduce the principles underlying the main approaches to musical analysis.
  • To foster an understanding of the differences between the main approaches to musical analysis and the reasons, therefore, why different approaches are used for different music works.

You will also be expected to have gained the following skills once completing this course:

  • Give a simple formal description of a musical work.
  • Describe the characteristics of a theme and compare and contrast it with other themes within a work, in particular exploring the paths of development for each musical idea.
  • Be able to analyse a melodic structure, a harmonic sequence and be able to analyse the structure of a piece of music.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.

Additionally the media elements of the course are freely accessible throughout the course and if you are interested in downloading and going further with some of the media assets yourself then you will need to register a free account or download and install the free music notation software called MuseScore.