Sounds and Cultures

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 1
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Music & School of Arts

Module overview

The aim of the course is to introduce some of the major musical cultures of selected regions in Africa and Asia through a focus on:

Musical Instruments

In the context of oral, unwritten musical cultures, such as those of Asia and Africa, the study of musical instruments can tell us much about the historical contact between peoples, the ascribing of symbolic power to certain musical traditions, the continuity with the ancient world, and the creativity and transformations of instruments by musicians in contemporary societies whether rural, urban and/or global.


Rhythm, a recurring sequence of strong and weak beats, is a fundamental regulator of many aspects of life, beyond just music. Many musical cultures around the world, from the most traditional to the most popular, are identified and defined by their rhythmic patterns. Rhythm is intrinsically connected to language and dance. Where relevant, we will present some important rhythmic concepts such as the clave or ‘timeline’ - an asymmetrical tapped rhythm originating in Africa and finding its way across the Atlantic into Cuba, Brazil and American popular music.

Within these topics, the lecture(s) and readings may discuss, as appropriate

  • characteristic concepts of what music is and what purposes it serves;
  • the circumstances and purposes surrounding musical performance;
  • who can be a musician,
  • what musical roles are assigned to whom, and what his/her place in society is;
  • the teaching and transmission of oral and written traditions;
  • aesthetic considerations - of both the sounds of instruments and their craftsmanship


The course is intended for 1st year BA Music and... students. The course is also available to students from other departments as an open option, by agreement with the convenor.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

General objectives of Sounds and Cultures include

  • exploring musical repertoires and their cultural contexts;
  • understanding the relevance of music and music-making to societies past and present;
  • linking the study of musical structures with that of the social context.

Specific objectives of this half-unit include

  • to provide a basic introduction to selected music cultures of Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and the Jewish world;
  • to encourage cross-cultural comparison between them;
  • to prepare for more in-depth study of individual music cultures of these regions in 2nd/3rd-year Music courses focussing on one of these three regions.

Learning outcomes include contribution to the development of a number of skills

  • the ability to assimilate relevant scholarly literature and relate its insights to the experience of music;
  • the ability to apply insights and discoveries in one area of study to another;
  • the ability to relate music to its historical, social, cultural, political, philosophical, economic, spiritual and religious contexts;
  • the ability to confront, explore and assimilate unfamiliar musical sounds, concepts, repertoires and practices.

Specifically, students will learn to recognize the characteristic features of musical sound and musical culture, and the links between them, in each of the selected regions of Africa, the Middle East, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and the Jewish world.


Two hours per week

Method of assessment

One 2,500 words essay (worth 50%); one exam (worth 50%)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules