Music courses are embracing a new beat alongside traditional classical scores

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The Independent Online

To most of us, the image of a young person going off to study music at university conjures up pictures of piano or violin master-classes, and students grappling with some of the more demanding passages of a Chopin or Mozart piece.

But, although these scenes are still played out in university music studios, altogether different sounds, reflecting musical styles unknown until the late 20th century are now also emanating from campuses.

One of the most eye-catching examples of this development is at the University of Chichester, where the music department accounts for more than 10 per cent of the entire student population of over 4,500, and where half of all students across all subject areas come from families and backgrounds where higher education participation has hitherto been a rare event.

Every year around 180 first year students join music-related degree courses at Chichester. Most are on the basic BA music course, but large numbers start on two-year foundation degree programmes, some moving on to join the full degree course in the third year.

The courses are heavily over-subscribed, but that certainly doesn't mean that the university demands top grades in traditional music exams, or other academic subjects.

"All applicants are auditioned, which is the single most important thing," explains Ben Hall, head of music at the university.

"If someone has promise, but not many academic qualifications, we are very happy to take them. So we get a real mix. We have classically trained musicians, who account for about 60 per cent of our intake, but also rock and jazz musicians, people talented at hip-hop and even beat-boxers."

The university recognises that many students, while possessing talent and aptitude in one or other musical area, may have difficulties with formal musical notation and the more traditional academic disciplines of essay writing.

"We track students entering the university from these areas," explains Hall, "give them support to build up their formal study skills, but we certainly do not segregate students from different musical backgrounds."

The university also has an extensive outreach programme, with undergraduates helping to run music workshops at schools – particularly those where university has not been a popular destination, with the aim of encouraging more school age pupils to consider a music-related degree. More than 1,000 Sussex school children took part in such events in the last school year alone.

But Chichester is not alone in shaking off the image of the conservatoire. At Plymouth University, for example, there's a healthy mix of modern influences among the 45 new starters on the BA music degree every year.

"What I like to think Plymouth does well is provide a programme that looks in a number of directions at once," explains Phil Hull, Head of Music. "The cellist and the rock guitarist are able to have a darn good conversation here."

And, like Chichester, Plymouth does not let a lack of traditional qualifications get in the way. The threshold for entry to the degree programme is round about the mark of 220 UCAS points, or three grade C A-levels.

"I keep the UCAS points requirement as low as I can," says Hull, "so that we take those who didn't score hugely well in traditional academic subjects, because I believe that musicians are wired up differently."