Discipline of Music

Popular Music Studies

audio producer * performer * songwriter * lyricist * sound engineer * journalist * broadcaster * researcher * entrepreneur * promoter * publicist * agent * music or arts administrator * manager * teacher * music publisher * music librarian * media consultant


We are already the country’s leading centre for the study of popular music. Members of our academic staff working in this field do research, write books and articles, produce recordings, compose songs, mount concerts. Many of our senior students write theses on popular music, and several of our graduates have become famous in the popular-music field (see General Information).

Popular music has an important place in our courses, and in our regular concerts. And we are the home of the celebrated Centre for Jazz and Popular Music. These circumstances set the stage for a crucial new development. Since 1999, our students have been able register for degree programmes specializing in the study of popular music. These are the first of their kind in South Africa – and indeed on the African continent.

For whom?

The programmes can be accessed in different degree-paths, and at different levels. For example:

If you are studying towards a Bachelor of Music (BMus) degree, you can specialize in Popular Music Studies. In addition to the required and optional courses in popular music offered to all our BMus and BA students, you will – if you choose to specialise in popular music – take electives that study the terrain in depth; you will also do ‘hands-on’ work in the Electro-Acoustic Music Studio. Moreover, in your instrumental or vocal studies throughout your degree, you will be offered much greater flexibility and range of stylistic choices than students in other specialized music streams.

  • If you are studying for a BA degree, you can make plans to concentrate on popular music at the Honours or Masters level, where the programme in Popular Music Studies allows you to structure your studies in this field around your own particular interests or career ambitions.
  • If you already have a primary degree (e.g. BMus or BA), you can make popular music the focus of your Graduate degree – by taking coursework modules in Popular Music Studies, or doing research in some aspect of popular music, or both.
  • If you are a Graduate student with an interest in popular music but not wanting to specialize in it, you can nevertheless take Popular Music Studies modules as individual options within other Graduate programmes.


  • Popular-Music Scholarships are available to selected students who register for Masters or PhD degrees in Popular Music Studies.
  • Graduate Scholarships are available to nearly all students who register for Masters or PhD degrees – in Popular Music Studies or any other field.
  • One Assistantship Bursary is offered each year to a selected final-year BMus or BA Honours student specialising in Popular Music Studies.


In our coursework modules, we cover areas such as the production of popular music; the music industry; popular music and the media; popular music and identity; the politics and sexuality of popular music; audiences, trends, subcultures, and fans. We also examine the history, politics and aesthetics of popular music production in southern Africa, and draw upon the contributions of local and visiting professionals (musicians, producers, and other industry personnel). And we offer ‘practical’ introductions to the modern recording studio and to computer applications in music production. Moreover, we provide for a period of ‘professional practice’, giving students the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of the popular-music industry. Students are placed at various ‘nodes’ in the industry (in a recording studio, for example), where they can observe its functioning, serve a student ‘apprenticeship’, and, through a process of reflecting on this, integrate theory with practice. In our research work, there is a strong but no means exclusive focus on theoretical and empirical investigations of popular music in South Africa.


Against prejudice of all kinds, the serious study of popular music has in recent years gained widespread respectability, and has secured a foothold for teaching and research in an increasing number of universities throughout the world. In introducing these programmes in Popular Music Studies, the School of Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal has maintained its local and international reputation as the most innovative centre of its kind in the country.

Whom to contact

For more information, please contact

Dr Kathryn Olsen.