GCSE Music

GCSE Music

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 to give your schedule some variety and breadth.  Whatever your reason you will certainly enjoy the course. 

Entry Requirements

No previous study of these composers and artists is required, an interest in music is essential. Every pupil will have to perform and compose so an instrument learned to Grade 5 at least would, though not essential, be beneficial. This does not, however, have to be a keyboard.

Course Content

We study the Edexcel exam board. The entire exam is about the understanding of music. The Appraising section studies eight set works, starting with instrumental music from 1700-1820, with Bach’s Baroque “Brandenburg Concerto” no 5. Bach had a great reputation as a highly skilled keyboard player and one of the greatest composers of his time, though his compositions were not recognized until being rediscovered in the 19th century. Beethoven’s Classical piano sonata no 8,” Pathetique” is the second set work for study. This work was generally well received, although its violent energy, tragic passion and extreme contrasts were dismissed as eccentric by some of the more conservative composers of the day.

“Music for a While” by Henry Purcell is a vocal piece of incidental music for a play in 1692. Purcell was the leading English composer of his day and we study how he was famous for setting the English language to music.

In total contrast we study “Killer Queen” by Freddie Mercury which became Queen’s first international hit. Moving into music for the stage and screen are John Williams “Rebel Blockade” from Star Wars and Stephen Swartz “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked”. Music and drama have been partners since ancient times and are still closely linked today.” Wicked” begins where “The Wizard of Oz” ends with the death of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West and is one of the most successful musicals of modern times. 

Motion pictures did not have a soundtrack until the late Twenties and by the mid Thirties directors quickly became aware of the power of music within their films.” Star Wars” was released in 1977 with a powerful score by John Williams, who was keen that the visual impact of a strange, distant galaxy should be balanced by familiar, accessible music with which to draw the audience.

Fusion is non-classical music that combines different styles, originally jazz and rock, but now the term is used for almost any blend of different musical tradition from around the world. This area of study offers an opportunity to develop an understanding of sophisticated rhythmic ideas, complex harmonies and timbres. Afro Celt Sound System is a group incorporating Irish with West African music and their “Release” is our set work. Following this we go to Brazil and “Samba Em Preludio” performed by Esperanza Spalding, an American singer and multi-instrumentalist, who plays bass guitar on the track as well as singing the vocal line.

A solo performance is considered to be a piece in which the student’s part plays a significant or leading role, its contribution to the music is distinctive and clearly recognisable in its individuality. An ensemble performance must consist of two or more performers, playing undoubled and simultaneously sounding, independent parts, with or without additional backing track, or accompaniment as appropriate.

Composing is the creative process by which most of the music we experience came into being and students must submit two compositions. One will be in response to a brief set by the examining body whilst the other will be a free style set by the student.


At GCSE level there are three components to the course: 

Appraising music which is 80 marks 40% in a 1hour 45minute paper comprising listening, analysis and an extended response comparison between a set work and one unfamiliar piece. 

Performance which is 60 marks 30% of the GCSE comprising performance as a solo or in an ensemble. 

The composing element is 60 marks and is 30% of the GCSE

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.

The Edexcel course builds on the understanding developed in Key Stage 3, avoiding unnecessary repetition while also ensuring that students new to the subject are appropriately supported. The content allows students to develop their knowledge and skills of music, enabling them to progress into the AS and A-level qualifications in Music.

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.

Reading List

We follow the assigned Edexcel 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.