Exam Board: Pearson Edexcel

What is the GCSE about?

For Music at GCSE level, breadth is key. Pupils are expected to perform music on an instrument of their choosing (or sing), both on their own and as part of a duet or small ensemble.

In addition to performing the music of others, creativity plays an important role too. Pupils are required to compose two short pieces of music, one of their own choosing, and a second to a general outline brief supplied by the exam board.

Finally, in preparation for the written paper pupils are exposed to a wide range of musical styles, and study eight set works in focus as well as learning about the history and context of each. Pupils will learn to write perceptively about each, and make appropriate comparisons to music in similar styles.

What does the GCSE consist of?

Performance (30% of total marks)

  • Solo performance of 2-3 minutes
  • Ensemble performance of 2-3 minutes
  • The total length of both performances must be no less than 4 minutes in total
  • Performances can be recorded in as many takes as needed at any time during the course
  • Final deadline for submission is February of the second year of the course

Composition (30% of total marks)

  • Free choice composition of 1-2 minutes
  • Composition to a brief, also of 1-2 minutes
  • The total length of both compositions must be no less than 3 minutes in total
  • Final deadline for submission is February of the second year of the course

Listening (40% of total marks)

  • 1h45 minute paper on the eight set works outlined below (total marks: 80)
  • 6 multiple-choice style questions on the pieces studied (marks available: 52)
  • 1 question on an unfamiliar piece related to one of the pieces studied (marks available: 8)
  • 1 question on aural dictation (reading/writing music) (marks available: 8)
  • 1 essay-style question comparing one of the pieces studied with another piece in the same or similar style (marks available: 12)

Area of Study 1: Instrumental Music 1700-1820

  • Set Work 1: Brandenburg Concerto No.5 (3rd mov’t) JS Bach
  • Set Work 2: Beethoven Piano Sonata No.8 (1st mov’t) Beethoven
  • Area of Study 2: Vocal Music
  • Set Work 3: Music for a while Purcell
  • Set Work 4: Killer Queen Queen
  • Area of Study 3: Music for Stage and Screen
  • Set Work 5: Defying Gravity from ‘Wicked’
  • Set Work 6: Star Wars Main Theme John Williams
  • Area of Study 4: Fusion
  • Set Work 7: Release Afro Celt Sound System
  • Set Work 8: Samba Em Preludio Esperanza Spalding

Whom does the subject suit?

Anyone who already plays an instrument will have a significant head start in the Performance element of the course, with the recordings of performances by the end of the course expected to be at around Grade 4 standard.

Pupils performing pieces of Grade 5 or above able to access additional bonus marks for difficulty. Pupils performing at this level are regularly awarded full marks in this module, which is worth 30% of the total grade.

Candidates who do not play an instrument but are prepared to sing as their performance will be able to access the course by joining the school’s Chapel Choir, where they will learn enough music of an appropriate standard.

What skills should I have?

Prior instrumental or vocal experience, as well as a knowledge of how to read and write musical notation, are useful skills upon entering the course, although it is not too late to pick up the required skills if you are willing to spend some extra time and effort in this area.

What might the subject lead to?

Furthering a musical career at university might consist of a straight Music degree or a joint honours course: Music and Maths are a popular combination, or a modern language, especially for singers. Music Conservatories in the UK or abroad will specialise in undergraduate and postgraduate performance degrees on a particular instrument. For those interested in modern music production techniques may prefer a Music Technology, Music Production or Sound Engineering degree.

The professional music industry has a wide range of roles within it, ranging from working with artists as a promoter or agent or acting as a music supervisor or producer for TV, radio or theatre. Music therapists work within the NHS, music teachers are always in high demand, and music lawyers working on areas of copyright and intellectual property law.

Recording engineers and video/sound engineers are important careers in the music industry as well as in television and film. Music agents, producers and publishers are all important roles, with musical directors and conductors being on the forefront of managing large teams of musicians, singers, dancers and actors, depending on the production.

Composers are needed for all areas of music production, from blockbuster films to indie video game studios, TV shows to mobile phone ringtones, symphony orchestras to K-pop bands all require composers to produce music.

What trips are involved?

There are regular trips to Oxford and London to hear live concert performances in a range of musical styles, as well as an annual trip to the West End and biennial behind-the-scenes tour of the Royal Albert Hall as well as regional venues.

What else should I consider before choosing?

As previously mentioned, for the Music GCSE course, breadth is key. You will be studying a wide range of music, which is likely to include music you may be passionate about as well as music in styles you are less familiar with. Being open to finding out about (and immersing yourself in!) styles, genres and periods of music you may not know well is key to success.

What books should I read?

  • John Williams’s Film Music Emilio Audissino
  • Bach, Beethoven and the Boys David Barber
  • A Very Short Introduction to Music Nicholas Cook
  • A History of Film Music Mervyn Cooke
  • 40 Years of Queen Harry Doherty
  • Musical Theatre: A History John Kenrick
  • The AB Guide to Music Theory Eric Taylor

Who will teach me?

Mr Chambers is responsible for teaching the GCSE course, although your peripatetic music teacher will continue to work with you to develop your instrumental skills and help prepare you for the Performance module.