What are the different ways in which you listen to music?

The University is today releasing a set of sample interview questions from tutors who conduct Oxford interviews.

Professor Laura Tunbridge of the Faculty of Music provides the question: ‘What are the different ways in which you listen to music? How does that change the way in which you think about what you’re listening to?’ You can read her commentary on this below, and her take more broadly on what Music interviewers might be looking for.

You can read the full set of sample questions on the University website here.

You can also read about this story in the Guardian.




What are the different ways in which you listen to music? How does that change the way in which you think about what you’re listening to?

Music interviews often have several parts: there may be questions about your interests or on broad topics, and many colleges will give a reading and/or a short piece of music to look at beforehand, which you will be asked questions about. Some colleagues play music in the interview and, similarly, ask what your thoughts are about it. The point of all this isn’t to find out what you don’t know but to get a sense of how you read a text or understand a piece of music, and how you think through issues or material. We are very much aware that the types of music people play and care about are varied and the course itself covers a wide range, from global hip hop to Mozart, medieval song to sound art. It’s not a question, then, of liking the right stuff but of finding out how curious you are, and how well you can apply what you already know to something new.

Standalone questions like this one, are more unusual, but suggest the kinds of topics that might be used to prompt discussion. The question allows students to use their own musical experiences as a starting point for a broader and more abstract discussion about the different ways people consume music, the relationship between music and technology, and how music can define us socially. There might be follow-up questions about whether students think a particular way of listening has more worth the others, for example. It could also prompt other discussions; for example, we tend in Western Europe to be silent in concert halls: why might that be and what is the effect? Does it encourage a certain kind of attentiveness and respect? Might it put some people off? What would be effect of, say, clapping between movements of a symphony to your understanding of how the music works?

I might also expect to discuss whether particular types of music suit being listened to in particular ways; whether listening on headphones changes the way you experience what’s going around you; and what makes some soundtracks better than others. We are interested in probing their understanding of music and its contexts, so thinking about how you share music with others and how the environment in which you listen to music affects the way you experience it – if you hear the same tracks live, at a festival or concert, what factors change how you hear and think about the music? The study of music is about more than just examining composed works, and a question like this gets at that aspect of the course.

Laura Tunbridge