Centre for Continuing Education

Music Appreciation Course: How Music Works

Music. Learn, enjoy, appreciate.

COVID-19 update: arrangement of our courses

We are now delivering courses both online and in-person. Please check the delivery format for each class before you enrol.

Please note that course materials for all classes (excluding prescribed textbooks) are shared electronically within 48 hours of a course starting. Printing is not available.

Why are some piano keys white and some black? What does ‘A major’ actually mean? What is harmony, and how does it work? How do you read music? The answers to these questions hold the key to a deeper and more rewarding understanding of music.

Designed for absolute beginners, and taught in a practical and down-to-earth way, this course explores and demystifies the inner workings of music. No musical knowledge is necessary.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • list some of the elements of music
  • describe some of the features of the elements of music
  • describe some specific examples of the elements of music.


Introduction: Listening to music

  • The elements of music
  • Terms we use to talk about music

How pitch works

  • A little about the physics of sound
  • Black notes and white notes
  • Sharps and flats

How melody works

  • Perfect pitch and relative pitch
  • What makes a good melody?
  • Scales and Keys: what ‘major’ really means

How rhythm works

  • Tempo and pulse
  • What is a time signature?
  • Bars and barlines
  • Swing and straight, simple and compound
  • What does syncopation mean?

How harmony works

  • Consonance and dissonance
  • What are chords?
  • Chord progressions
  • Minor scales and keys
  • Relative majors and minors
  • Modulation: Changing key
  • The Cycle of Fifths

How form works

  • Structure in music
  • The effect of form on the listener
  • Through-composed, binary, ternary
  • Theme and variations, Rondo form, Sonata form

How texture works

  • What is texture in music
  • Using layers for contrast and effect
  • Monophonic, homophonic, and polyphonic textures
  • How texture is used in music
  • Texture throughout history

How instruments work

  • Why instruments sound different
  • Instrument families
  • Strings
  • Woodwind
  • Brass
  • Percussion

Performing music

  • What it takes to be a musician
  • Interpretation of music
  • What conductors do

Orchestration and arrangement

  • How instruments work in combination
  • Changing musical styles
  • Some great arrangements

How music notation works

  • How pitch and rhythm are notated
  • Score reading and analysis
  • Following music notation

Intended audience

Designed for fans of classical music, beginners and experienced listeners alike. No prior musical knowledge is required.

Delivery style



Handouts will be provided in class.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

What others say.

  • Course is well structured and provides a good overview of the essential elements to Western music. The use of many and varied musical examples is a good support to the theory.

  • The presenter of this course is an excellent teacher – enthusiastic and obviously has a wealth of knowledge that is imparted in a considered way. For myself, with zero musical knowledge it was always accessible, any questions welcomed and I now understand so much more. Lots of examples were played and the AV set up was great. I look forward to the next course.

  • An excellent presenter. I also found the structure of the course was very good and appreciated the week between each session to absorb the information.

What others say.

  • An excellent presenter. I also found the structure of the course was very good and appreciated the week between each session to absorb the information.
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