Department of Music and Media

Tonmeister application FAQs

Selection Procedure

All applications to the Tonmeister course must by made via the UCAS application system ( Candidates who, from their application form, seem promising will be invited to an interview day (these normally fall on Wednesdays between mid-January and the end of March). A promising application form will normally show evidence of the required levels of musical performance ability (eg. an achieved or pending Grade 7 or 8 pass) and academic attainment (eg. achieved or pending good A-level passes in Mathematics, Physics and Music or Music Technology), and will demonstrate the applicant's interest in, enthusiasm for and motivation toward the study of Audio Engineering, Music and Sound Recording.

Each interview day will normally include a talk about the course and the admissions procedure, playback of recordings made by Tonmeister students, an opportunity to ask any questions you may have, a short musical test (relating to aural and harmony skills, analysis and repertoire), a questionnaire which will explore your knowledge of sound recording, free admission to a lunchtime concert, individual interviews with academic staff, an audition where appropriate, and a tour of the Department and of the University given by current students who will also be able to answer your questions from a student perspective. Applicants not offering Mathematics, Physics and/or Music qualifications which we recognise as being completely equivalent to UK A-levels may additionally be asked to take a short test, based on A-level examinations in these subjects.

Additionally, the University runs a Parents' Programme on all interview days.

After the interview process, offers will be made to the best applicants and these offers will normally be conditional on grades in A-level examinations or similar qualifications.

We are perfectly happy to accept applications for deferred entry to the course and these will be treated in exactly the same way as applications for the current year. Please note, however, that:

  • Any conditions attached to the offers we make must be met by the end of the August following application

  • Candidates wishing to defer entry must make this clear on their application form

International Applicants

The UK has been a centre of excellence in the audio industry since the advent of recorded sound. Major recording studios such as Abbey Road and Air Lyndhurst are famous for the recordings made there, of everything from the Beatles to many major Hollywood movie soundtracks. The BBC maintains the highest standards in all areas of audio programme-making, including news, documentaries and outside broadcasts of a range of sports and musical events such as the Wimbledon tennis championships and the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

The UK is also home to a wide range of audio equipment manufacturers who have pioneered new technologies and who lead the industry with their creativity and engineering excellence. In the area of professional audio, the likes of AMS-Neve, SSL and Focusrite continue to produce innovative and cutting edge equipment, whilst Meridian Audio, B&W and Linn provide high quality products for the high-end consumer market.

Nowadays many top musical artists and film production companies still decide to make their audio recordings in this part of the world due to the outstanding reputation of the recording studios in London and across the UK. If you are considering studying Music and Sound Recording, why not do it in the country with such good traditions?

Information about being an international student at Surrey can be found here.

A. Entrance Requirements and Key Facts

A1. What are the Entry Requirements for Sound Recording?

Our entry requirements can be found on the main university website.

A2. Why do I need a Music A-level to study Sound Recording?

If you are planning a career in recording, editing or producing music, then a musical background is essential. From the basics of being able to read scores and understand musical terms, through being able to arrange and orchestrate for a range of instruments, to highly developed listening skills such as being able to spot errors in musical performance are all useful. A high level of competence in all these areas will improve the way in which recording sessions run, and will give you a great deal of flexibility in the roles that you can undertake.

Even if you do not wish to go into an operational role, a musical background is useful if you wish to develop or support tools for musicians and engineers, as experience of the musical process will help you to understand how the equipment may be used.

You will be given an opportunity to develop these skills as part of the Tonmeister course, but the music modules assume that you have a basic musical background—in other words a reasonable level of musical performance ability—and good theoretical knowledge and understanding of music.

A3. Why do I need A-level Physics to study Music & Sound Recording?

Everything to do with recording and reproducing sound is based on principles of physics, from the production of sound, through the design and use of equipment, to the methods used to store the audio information. To position your microphones in the optimum place you need to understand how musical instruments radiate sound, how sound propagates, and how sound waves interfere with each other. To select the optimum microphone for each situation you need to understand how microphones work, how they convert sound to electricity, and how the different design parameters affect the recorded sound. To get the most out of analogue signal processing and find faults in equipment you need to understand how electronic circuits work and what each component does. To get the most out of your monitoring system (the loudspeakers and room) you need to understand how loudspeakers turn electricity into sound, how the different design parameters affect the reproduced sound, how the loudspeaker is acoustically coupled with the room, and how various acoustical treatments work. All of these factors are covered as part of the course, and all are based on fundamental physical principles that you will need to understand to make sense of it all.

A number of the core academic modules on the Tonmeister course (e.g. Acoustics, Electronics, Electroacoustics) take A-level Physics as their starting point, and so a student without that level of knowledge would be struggling right from the start. We therefore require a full A-level in Physics, including the AS and the A2 modules, or a direct equivalent.

A4. Why do I need A-level Maths to study Music & Sound Recording?

Firstly, a good understanding of mathematics is important to be able to make practical use of the physical principles mentioned above. In addition, there are a number of other cases in which maths is important. In order to make the most out of digital audio you need to understand the effect of sample rates, wordlengths and dither. In order to specify a computer for digital recording and editing you need to understand the specifications of components and how they relate to audio. In order to make the most of digital signal processing (DSP) you need to understand how the algorithms work and what processor load it may entail. In order to decode and interpret digital formats such as MIDI, you need to understand binary and hexadecimal numbers. All of these topics are covered as part of the course, and you will need a good understanding of mathematics to be able to cope with them.

A5. What are the most relevant aspects of A-Level Maths?

Essentially, all of the pure parts, eg. sequences & series, polynomials, algebra & functions, logarithms & exponentials, calculus, trigonometry, quadratic equations, indices, curve sketching. Less important are statistics and mechanics.

A6. What are the most relevant aspects of A-Level Physics?

These are principally force, acceleration, velocity, elasticity, electric fields, resistance, capacitance, magnetic fields & electro-magnetic induction, ohms law & power, currents in circuits, basic wave motion & properties, SHM, oscillation & resonance. Less relevant are optics, materials, quantum mechanics, gravitation, astrophysics, nuclear physics, fluid dynamics, and thermodynamics.

A7. What are the most relevant aspects of A-Level Music?

These are principally classical music history, harmony, analysis and aural skills. Some compositional skills are useful. Musical performance proficiency equivalent to ABRSM Grade 7 is desirable.

A8. How can I tell whether I understand the relevant topics to A-level standard?

The A-level examining boards have example and past A-level exam papers on their websites: e.g. AQAOCREDEXCEL. By attempting the relevant sections of these papers, hopefully you will be able to get a good idea of whether you do have the relevant knowledge and understanding. Also, there are a range of A-level tutor books that will help you learn the topics and give you a good idea of the type of questions that may be asked and the associated answers.

To further help you assess your understanding, we have also prepared three sample tests (links below) in music, maths, and physics. Note that you should consider these tests as indicative of the types of questions you might get asked at interview, rather than a comprehensive disclosure of all of the relevant topics (i.e. you should make sure that you are well prepared on the subject, rather than study just enough to pass these sample tests).

A9. Is (i) Music Technology A-Level or (ii) Music Theory Grade 5 OK instead of Music A-level?

(i) Music Technology A-Level. Not as a direct replacement, no: A-level Music knowledge is required and so candidates taking Music Technology will need to have done extra-curricular work to bring themselves up to the required level. Music Technology doesn't include as much of the relevant subject areas (see A5) as the Music A-level does and so Music is preferred. If you were applying with Music Technology rather than Music A-level then you would need to be able to demonstrate on your application form and at interview that you had musical knowledge and ability to a good A-level Music standard in order for us to offer you a place on the course (whereas an applicant about to sit a Music A-level could possibly get by without being quite so musically impressive initially because we would be able to offer the place subject to a satisfactory A-level Music grade). We do have several students on the course currently, though, who have Music Technology A-level rather than Music. In order to decide what, if any, extra work you need to do in order to bring yourself up to A-level Music standard, please refer to A8.

(ii) Music Theory Grade 5. Not as a direct replacement, no: the content is significantly different from that of an A-level in Music. Extra work would be required to bring you up to A-level standard in all of the relevent areas.

BUT the two together—Music Technology A-level and Music Theory Grade 5—are acceptable as a direct replacement for A-level Music, and we can make offers subject to results in the two of these.

A10. Are AS-levels OK instead of A-levels?

No (except for pre-2001 Physics, since there are essential elements of each A-level which are not covered by the AS specification. However, it is the relevant knowledge that is important rather than the qualification, so it may be possible for you to take relevant AS-levels and independently learn the relevant material from A2. If you do this, you need to make it clear on the personal statement of the UCAS application and if we invite you to interview we will give you tests to evaluate your knowledge and understanding.

A11. I have AS-level Physics from before 2001. Is it worth my applying?

Your application may well be worthwhile since, although the vast majority of our students have A-level Physics, we did consider applications with AS-level prior to 2001 (when the A/AS structure changed), provided the topics covered included those which relate to sound recording and the Tonmeister course.

A12. I'm not studying the right subjects but want to do the Tonmeister course so I am considering changing my A-levels. if I change to Maths, Music & Physics, will you be able to offer me a place?

Studying A-level Physics, Mathematics and Music, coupled with your enthusiasm for Music & Sound Recording will make you a strong candidate but I'm afraid there is no way I can give you any guarantees. We get a large number of applicants each year who fulfil all of our basic requirements and it is only during and after the interview process that we are in a position to be able to offer any places. Sorry.

A13. Instead of A-level Maths/Physics/Music I'm doing a Diploma/BTEC/etc in Audio/Radio/TV/Music Technology/Pop Music etc OR doing an A-level in Technology/Electronics/Computing OR have lots of experience in Music & Sound Recording. Can I still apply?

Yes, you can certainly still apply, but your success will depend, in part, on your theoretical knowledge of Maths, Physics & Music. Knowledge of the relevant aspects of all three, to a good A-level standard, is required and none of the above, on its own, is likely to give you this. In order to get an interview you will have to convince us on your application form that, from some combination of your course / experience / private study, there's a good chance that you have this knowledge. In order to be considered for a place you will have to convince us at interview that you really do. Interviewees not offering Mathematics and Physics qualifications which we recognise as being completely equivalent to UK A-levels will normally be asked to take a short test, based on A-level examinations in these subjects, on the same day as their interview. All interviewees take a short Music test.

A14. I'm a mature student and already have my A-levels but they're not at very high grades. Is it worth my applying?

It would definitely be worth your while applying, yes, because we are interested in non-academic as well as academic qualities and have, in the past, offered places to applicants who don't quite make the grade exam-wise but who perhaps have other factors in their favour. If you have been working in a relevant field then there is a good chance that you will have improved your knowledge of relevant areas since A-level anyway. You would still need a reasonable academic ability in Maths, Music and Physics though, in order to be able to cope with the 1st Year modules on the Tonmeister course, and so you should check A8 before applying. Your age, in itself, will not affect our consideration of your application.

A15. I don't have ABRSM grade 7 or 8 performance. Are there any other qualifications that might be considered equivalent? Do I still have a chance of successfully applying?

We consider the Guildhall and Trinity performance grades only to be equivalent to ABRSM. However, while we do consider performance ability to be important, a qualification in musical performance isn't absolutely necessary: we will normally audition candidates to ascertain their performance ability if they do not have grade 7 or 8 from one of the above boards. Candidates taking A-level Music with a performance component will not normally need to be auditioned. Further information about ABRSM grades is available here.

A16. I do not have Maths / Physics / Music knowledge to the required standard but am very keen to do the Tonmeister course. What should I do? Does it matter if I take an extra year or two to get the relevant qualifications?

Study these subjects until you have reached the required standard and then take the relevant exams so that you can demonstrate this. I'm afraid there's no shortcut! By far the best way to demonstrate that you are at A-level standard in a particular subject is to get a good grade the A-level exam. We do not mind at all whether all of your qualifications were achieved at the same sitting or spread over two or three years. We have, on a number of occasions, given places to applicants who have taken an extra year or two to repeat A-levels or to study new ones which they did not take the first time round.

A17. Why do I need a performance qualification to study Music & Sound Recording?

We are probably less particular about this than about any of our other selection criteria but we do feel that it is important for all Tonmeister students to have a reasonable level of performance ability, partly because it allows for a greater understanding of music theory, and partly because we feel that it is important in many areas of the professional audio industry to have an understanding of musical performance.

A18. Do you consider my qualifications/experience to be equivalent to the required A-levels?

Unfortunately, due to time constraints and the huge number of qualifications available worldwide, we are unable to give specific replies to individual enquiries of this nature. The equivalences of which we are aware are listed elsewhere in this FAQ but other equivalences may exist and my advice to a potential applicant offering alternative qualifications/experience would be to look at the subject areas that we require knowledge of and decide for yourself whether or not you have covered or will cover the relevant material. We do consider each application carefully in conjunction with the detailed qualifications guidelines provided to us by UCAS but interviewees not offering qualifications which we are able to confirm as being completely equivalent to UK A-levels will normally be asked to take on or more short tests, based on A-level examinations in Mathematics and Physics or on the ABRSM Grade 5 examination in the Theory of Music, on the same day as their interview.

A19. I'm already doing the 3 required A-levels but want to take a 4th. Which would benefit me the most?

None will help you to get an interview with us. In terms of helping at your interview, if you are called for one, the only A-levels which might make a small difference would be Music Technology or Electronics: as part of the Music Technology course you would be making recordings about which you could talk in your interview; studying Electronics may help you to talk about sound recording equipment from an electronic point of view. In terms of helping you once you're on the Tonmeister course, Electronics or Further Mathematics may make some topics in one or two of our first year modules slightly easier for you. If you want to do an additional A-level then my best advice would be for you to do whichever one interests you the most.

A20. I've heard that you get thousands and thousands of applications, is there any point in me applying?

Whilst there is a lot of competition for places on the course, we don't get that many applications. To give you an idea, we usually get around 150–200 applications, of which we interview 80–100, from which we give around 35 offers for 28 places. In terms of the raw number of applications to places, this is lower than subjects such as Law and Psychology at the University of Surrey. However, due to the uniqueness and reputation of the Tonmeister course, most of the applicants really want to come here, so the conversion rate (offers to firm acceptances) is very high. The bottom line is, if you don't apply, you have no chance, so apply and use your personal statement to convince us that it's worth us interviewing you.

B. Admissions Procedure

B1. From my current course &/or past experience I have already covered much of the material from the first one or two years of the Tonmeister course. Can I go straight into the second or final year?

Unfortunately, for various reasons, it has never been possible for students to enter the Tonmeister course at any point other than the first year.

B2. I'd like to look round the Department and talk to staff and students before I apply. Can I arrange to do this?

This is only possible on Open Days (please refer to our Open Days page for details). We do interview all promising candidates, however, and each interview day includes a tour and a chance to talk with staff and students.

B3. Do I have to play any particular musical piece at audition?

No. If you do not have (passed or pending) ABRSM/Trinity/Guildhall grade 7 or 8 performance, or A-level Music with a performance component, then we will audition you at your interview by asking you to play a short (no more than a few minutes long) unaccompanied piece of your own choice on your own instrument. Choose whichever piece you feel best demonstrates your performance ability (i.e. we'd rather you played a pop or jazz piece well than a classical piece badly).

B4. What will the musical test at interview involve?

The test will last about 30 minutes and will help us to evaluate:

  • Your ability to notate music: notate a 4-bar melody which will be played to you (first bar already notated for you)
  • Your repertoire and analysis skills: comment on three short extracts of recorded western music in terms of style, period, instrumentation, compositional techniques, etc
  • Your harmony skills: either harmonise a short melody, identify harmonic features in a short score extract or realise a chord progression in standard notation

B5. What will the Maths / Physics test at interview involve?

These tests are only for candidates who do not have a Maths / Physics / Music qualification (passed or pending) which we believe to be equivalent to a good UK A-level pass in that subject (see other FAQ answers and Entrance Requirements). Each test will last about 1 hour and will use questions relevant to FAQ answers in the Entrance Requirements section, which have been adapted from past and example UK A-level examination papers.

B6. How can I improve my chances? What experience do I need? What can I do to prepare for the interview? Can you offer me any additional information or advice?

We're looking for people with the right qualifications who have 'engineering' minds (ie. who like to creatively apply their understanding of scientific theory in new situations and who are interested in how things work as well as in using them) and who have sufficient motivation and enthusiasm (for music and sound recording, theory and practice) to succeed on the course. Anything that you can do to demonstrate to us that you fit this description will help. No experience is necessary but if you have performed, composed, made any recordings, built or modified or mended equipment, read about audio, or even just listened critically to recorded music, then, provided you can talk about it intelligently, this can all help to demonstrate your interest. To prepare for the interview, just have a think about whether or not the above description sounds like you: this is what we'll be trying to find out.

We must stress, though, that the first thing we always consider when processing a new application to the course, is "Will this person have the prerequisite knowledge in order to be able to cope with all of our Level 1 modules?". This means that the most important thing for you to do is to ensure that you are at a good A-level standard in Maths, Music and Physics. After that, all of the other information and advice we can offer is in this document…

B7. I'm thinking of taking a "gap" year. How do you view these?

We have no strong feelings either way. There are pros and cons to taking a gap year before university and it's never easy to predict which will be the most significant. Some post-gap students have increased maturity and motivation; others have forgotten much of their A-level knowledge and find it difficult to cope with the return to academic study. The personality of the individual and the manner in which the gap year is spent both help to determine the outcome. We apply the same selection criteria to applicants for deferred entry as we do to those for current-year entry. In terms of your chances of being offered a place, there's really nothing in it. You must, however, specify at the time of your application which year you are applying for; once we have made an offer we cannot change that offer to another year of entry. You must also have met the conditions of any offer we make by the end of August in the year we make the offer, regardless of whether your intended entry point is that year or the following one.

B8. Should I send or bring examples of my recorded work?

No. It is our policy to not listen to any recordings as part of the admissions process. If you are called to interview, however, then we may well be interested to hear you talk about what you have recorded, how you recorded it, and what you learned from the experience.

B9. I'm currently deciding what subjects to study at school; what advice can you give me?

All of the advice that I can give is included elsewhere in this FAQ.

B10. It's extremely difficult (or impossible) for me to come to Surrey for an interview, is there any alternative?

Sorry, no. We are only able to offer places to applicants after an interview and we are only able to interview here at the University. We can usually be flexible with the interview date, though they are mostly between January and March on Wednesdays.