Popular Music BA (Hons)

Key information


In addition to practical areas, this programme focuses on developing an in-depth and critical historical understanding of popular music repertoires, cultures, and practices. We have a particular specialism in this area, having established the Institute of Popular Music (IPM), the world’s first specialist centre for the study of popular music, in 1988.

Some of the modules are practical, concerned with musical performance, song-writing, or creative music technology, although none of these are compulsory. To support these practical elements, we recently undertook a major refurbishment and expansion of our facilities.

Other modules focus on popular music history topics or the music industry, and there are also options in areas such as music psychology, audio-visual media (films and videogames), and vocational options. Throughout, you will learn to write about popular music from a historical, critical, sociological, or philosophical viewpoint.

Programme in detail

The nature of the programme varies according to your module choices. In Year One, core modules will take a detailed look at the nature of the popular music industries, and a critical exploration of 20th century popular music history, not only going through key musical milestones but also exploring their social contexts and the long-term cultural implications.

In Years Two and Three you will focus in more depth on fewer selected topics, either concentrating solely on Popular Music modules or retaining the option to pursue one or two modules in other areas. Specialist topics are studied alongside advanced level performance and music technology modules. In Year Three there is a particular emphasis on specialism and an extended or independent project (such as a research project, a music technology project, or an extended performance recital).

Year in Industry 

This programme is available with a Year in Industry. Year Three is spent on a paid placement within an organisation in industry, broadly defined. You will be supported by the School of the Arts and the Department throughout, and your reflexive written account of the experience will contribute towards your final degree result. If you wish to study this programme with a Year in Industry please put the option code YI in the Further Choices section of your UCAS application form.

Study as part of joint-honours at 50:50 Choosing this subject as a combined degree

In Year One, core modules look at popular music repertoire and history and industry.

Options include performance, technology, audio-visual music, world music, and music industry. In Years Two and Three you focus in more detail on the areas that interest you most (such as history, psychology, audio-visual, performance, or popular composition/song-writing).

Department Key Facts

Number of first year students

66 Year One undergraduates in 2018

Graduate prospects

94% of our graduates are employed or in further study within six months of graduating (DLHE 2016/17)

Facts and figures

We created the Institute of Popular Music in 1988, becoming the first Department of Music in the UK to introduce dedicated, specialist popular music studies and research

Why this subject?

Working in partnership with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

We are intrinsically connected to the city, working closely with musical and cultural partners, including the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. This particular partnership extends across the spectrum of the Department’s activities, with the Orchestra’s musicians making frequent visits to campus, providing lessons and coaching, including through our undergraduate scholarship scheme, and undergraduate and postgraduate composition workshops.

Take advantage of composition opportunities

Traditional, electro-acoustic, and audio-visual composition, as well as popular composition/song-writing, are all represented in the Department. We also offer composition for film and TV media, as well as digital gaming.

Develop your confidence through performance

Although not compulsory, if you wish to pursue performance then we offer tuition, workshops and support to enhance your development as a performer. Among the many ensembles, there is a symphony orchestra, a university choir, and a chamber choir, while the University’s Music Society runs a wind orchestra, a brass band and a jazz band. We run a weekly professional lunchtime concert series. We are also home to numerous pop and rock groups, covering many styles, and many of our students perform at local venues and open-mic nights.

Benefit from studying in a well-established Department

We were one of the very first places to offer university-level provision in popular music, and our dedicated research centre, the Institute of Popular Music, was the world’s first specialist centre for the study of popular music.

Learn from music analysis and psychology experts

We offer a critical approach that encourages you to develop your own unique ways of analysing music from a broad range of repertoires and invites you to explore many new possibilities for appreciating the sonic experience of music. We offer modules in music psychology and musical emotion, which are increasingly popular with students wishing to become music therapists.

Benefit from access to excellent facilities and learning resources

Investment in our facilities has provided additional studios, practice rooms, a games research lab and a large rehearsal space: take a virtual tour. Students enjoy excellent library facilities, which include online books as well as archive print materials, online services and learning spaces.