Maybe music is an obvious choice, music is our passion, an obsession and you may have ambitions to be a professional musician? Or your career aspirations lie somewhere else but you have always enjoyed making and listening to music and you chose music as your third or fourth subject to give your schedule some variety and breadth. A-level is an accepted qualification for entering music colleges and universities. Whatever your reason you will certainly enjoy the course, AS automatically leads into A-level and you will become aware of how music affects our civilization.
No previous study of these composers and artists is required, but a GCSE pass and an interest in music is essential. Every pupil will have to perform and compose so an instrument learned to Grade 5 at least would be beneficial. This does not, however, have to be a keyboard.
We study the AQA exam board. Both AS and A-level run jointly, studying the same composers and music with a few variations for A-level students. Western Classical music from 1650-1910 with such composers as Purcell, who was not only the greatest English composer of his generation, but the last major composer born in Britain until Edward Elgar in 1857. The operas of Mozart, especially Marriage of Figaro, play an important role as opera had been part of the European culture for the best part of 200 years. Mozart is one of the most celebrated composers in Western culture, he started with his career as a child prodigy. The Romantic piano music of Chopin, Brahms and Grieg are studied at A-level.
Pop music with performers such as Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and Daft Punk are studied at both exam levels as is Music for Media with Zimmer, Hermann and Newman.
Moving into the jazz field we look at Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. This area of study offers an opportunity to develop an understanding of sophisticated rhythmic ideas, complex harmonies and timbres.
Once again both AS and A-level students study the exciting and adventurous contemporary traditional music with artists Bellowhead, Anoushka Shankar and Touani Diabte, who in addition to his traditional music has worked with musicians from other backgrounds including the Icelandic Bjork on her 2007 album “Volta.”
A-level students have one final area of study in Art music since 1910 with such exciting composers as Shostakovich and Reich.
At both AS and A-level there are three components to the course:
Appraising music which is 96 marks 40% of AS in a 2 hour paper comprising listening, analysis and essay. A-level this is 120 marks and 40%.
Performance which is 50 marks 30% of the AS comprising performance as a solo or in an ensemble or IT production. For A-level this is 50 marks and 35%.
The composing element is 50 marks and is 30% of the AS and 50 marks but 25% of the A-level.
Where does it lead?
If you are looking to apply to university Music can be extremely useful. You not only acquire specific Musical knowledge, but also important transferable skills such as analysing sources and developing independent, critical and evaluative approaches. You learn to formulate and support an argument and develop a valuable understanding of musical cultures very different to your own.
Music is naturally valued by Arts departments in UK universities, often leading to the university-level study of Performing Arts, IT based music and Musical Theatre, Drama, English, History, History of Art, and more. Music is listed on UCL’s list of preferred A-level subjects and the UK’S Music Academies, such as Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music, Birmingham Conservatoire.
It is not only those looking to attend university who benefit from the study of Music. From the proven ability to write a well-structured extended response to the pieces heard, explaining how the use of musical elements enhances the audience’s understanding of the score, or how a studied named artist has developed a traditional style for a contemporary audience, using technical terms, Music puts students in an excellent position to seek employment and further opportunities.
We follow the assigned AQA textbooks to guide our learning throughout the course, published by Rhinegold. If you would like to do some advance study to pique your interest in the course content, there are many resources available online, such as documentaries, podcasts, and articles. There are many You tube videos of the operas plus performances from all the artists we will study.