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Language, Music and Text-setting

Course 2017-2018

Admission requirements

Some prior knowledge of music theory is desirable, but not necessary.


This course is concerned with the relationship between language and music. We will examine their structural features as well as their interaction in the mapping of linguistic material onto musical structures in songs (so-called ‘text-setting’).

It has often been observed that language and music are structurally similar. Both display some kind of hierarchical organization, alongside a temporal and a melodic structure; moreover, they have a common timeframe of acquisition. In this course, we will review the main similarities and differences between the two systems.
Despite the similarities displayed by music and language at a very general level, little is known about their actual interaction in vocal music. Given the nature of the two systems involved, we would expect interactions to show up at one or more structural levels.
By means of examples drawn from different languages and vocal genres, we will examine the way features of speech such as stress, pitch and vowel length interact with analogous features in music, e.g. beats, intervals and durations, in singing.

Readings will cover topics related to the design and neurobiology of language and music, as well as current literature on text-setting.

Course objectives

Students have acquired the basic concepts and technical terminology related to the topic.
Students are able to compare language and music from a structural and functional perspective.
Students are able to identify the linguistic features relevant for text-setting.

Timetable and location

2017-2018, Second semester.

Lectures/workgroups, and the exam and re-sit exam, take place at the PJ Veth gebouw (Nonnensteeg 3, 2311 VJ Leiden), room 0.07, on Wednesday mornings from 9.45 to 11.15 hrs.

The first lecture/workgroup is on Wednesday 7 February 2018.
The final lecture/workgroup is on Wednesday 18 April 2018.
The exam is on Wednesday 25 April 2018.
The re-sit exam in on Wednesday 27 June 2018 (also in PJ Veth gebouw room 0.07, from 9.45 to 11.15 hrs.)

NB: There is no class on Wednesday 4 April 2018.
NB.2: Wednesday 21 March was added, due to the meeting cancelled in February.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


Written examination with both closed and short open questions.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Resit is possible only for the parts that were insufficient.


Blackboard will be used to provide students with course information and course documents

Required reading

Reading materials will be made available on Blackboard.


For further information please contact:


Register for this course via uSis.

For other courses in the domains of music and fine arts, please visit:
Elective courses music and fine arts

Language, Music and Text-setting open for, among others, all Leiden University (guest-)students and to all (singing or other studies) students of the Royal Conservatoire.