"If you have this passion for music, you don't stop doing it - it chooses you and doesn't release you." -Tina Weymouth

If you ask your most musically inclined friends or read the biographies of the world most famous musicians, you will see a pattern: their undying love for music started very young. Many musicians claim to have been born with rhythm and would create melodies with everything that could make a sound.

However, to hone their craft and be viewed as the best in the business, many aspiring musicians spent countless hours practising in their garage or at the studio. It shows that to be good at something, a lot of effort and continuous action are required.

If you're living in the UK and are sure that a music industry career is destined for you, we highly recommend studying the GCSE music curriculum. 

Nonetheless, we're sure that you have loads of questions about the GCSE music course at a secondary level. Therefore, in today's article, we will make it our goal to answer at least one of those questions, what will you study in the GCSE music curriculum? Keep on reading to find out more!

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A Brief History of the GCSEs

As UK-based students are familiar with, the GCSE exams are taken between the ages of 15-16 years of age after two years of study in the relevant topics has been completed. To be even more specific GCSE subjects are taken in Year 9 and 10 of mandatory schooling, and at the beginning of Year 11, in England and Wales, examinations start.

Students need to select a minimum of five GCSE subjects and grasp a grade between 9 and 4 to pass their exams successfully. 

To keep the GCSEs organised, there are five examinations boards across England, Northern Ireland, and Wales that oversee state school districts depending on where the education centre is located. The five examination boards that supervise the GCSEs are as follows:

  • Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), 
  • Council for the Curriculum, Examinations, and Assessment (CCEA), 
  • Oxford, Cambridge, and RSA Examinations (OCR), 
  • Pearson of Edexcel, 
  • Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC). 

School and colleges have an entirely free selection between the previously mentioned boards for their students. It is essential to state that the examination boards offer the same academic disciplines in most aspects and may only slightly differ one from the other.

For instance, all of the examination boards across the UK offer a music GCSE, and the curriculum is nearly the same from one panel to the other.

Structure of the GCSEs in Music

creating music
In the first and second year of GCSE music, a composition aspect is worth 30% of the entire grade. (Source: Unsplash)

Like most crucial GCSE topics, the music programme is comprehensive and extensive, covering many issues relevant to musical instruments' practice and theory.

For example, at a glance, it is essential to state that no matter the examination board, the GCSE of music features three primary areas of study: Performance, Composition, Listening and Appraising. Students acquire knowledge about a wide range of vocal, instrumental, jazz, pop, fusion, and new music.

How much is each "main" category worth of the final grade? The following list explains how much each section is calibrated:

  • Performance: equal to 30% of the total grade, during the final examination, a student gives a musical interpretation of four minutes. Of those four minutes, one minute is dedicated to a group recital.
  • Composition: worth 30% of the final result, the composition is essential since, in the first year, students compose a piece of their choice. In the second year, pupils must write a piece set up by the examination board.
  • Listening and Appraising: valued at 40% of the GCSEs' overall score, the listening and understanding section is the most crucial of the three areas. The only structured "exam" of the course, all students must complete a one and half hour examination where questions are asked, essential parts of the music are listened to, and an explanation of what was learnt must be included.

Since GCSE Music is a course that takes place over two years in Year 9 and Year 10 of secondary school, students gradually acquire knowledge through the topics they study. Such as? Keep on reading to find out more!

Topics Studied in the Music GCSE

As we have previously mentioned, each examination board is different, and the music-based topics might slightly change. Therefore, to provide learners with an in-depth guide about what is considered in the Music GCSE curriculum, we shall use the AQA examination board's study plan.

With a little help from our friends at the BBC Bitesize, we'll look at the core topics of the GCSE Music curriculum and the subdisciplines encompassed within them. Let's get started!

Music Theory

Music theory can be defined as studying the practices and possibilities of learning music without playing the musical instrument. As an essential part of the GCSE music curriculum, music theory is quite extensive and features the following subtopics:

  • Melody,
  • Harmony and Tonality,
  • Structure,
  • Tempo, Metre, and Rhythm,
  • Dynamics and Articulation,
  • Sonority,
  • Texture,
  • Notation.

By analysing all of the previously mentioned subtopics, students of the Music GCSE curriculum prepare themselves to understand their instrument better and play it more majestically.

Western Classical Tradition 1650 to 1910

As the first of four study areas that a student must complete receiving their GCSEs in music, the Western Classical Tradition 1650 to 1910 is undertaken to equip pupils with essential aspects to comprehend better music such as musical elements contexts lyrical language.

Being familiar with a few different music genres is necessary to build a better repertoire of the styles of music we have in today's world. In this type of study area, the Western Classical Tradition, not so much a specific genre is taught but rather a period that shaped the world of music. Some example pieces that may be studied by GCSE students include the following:

  • Haydn: Symphony No.101, second movement, 
  • Handel: Messiah, 
  • Chopin: Prelude, Op.28, No.15, 
  • Verdi: Requiem. 

It is essential to state the options mentioned above provided by the AQA exam board in their music curriculum. Students may discuss the matter with their teacher if they would be interested in other music pieces. Also, while the acquisition of alternative music styles may not be mandatory, at least one of the areas of study MUST be a review of Western Classical Tradition 1650 to 1910 since it is obliged by the Department for Education.

Popular Music

Although not required, like the Western Classical Tradition genre from 1650 to 1910, it is much suggested to consider studying popular or pop music as one of the four mandatory areas of study in GCSE music.

Why is that? Popular music is all around us, and some of the best tunes of all time are categorized as pop music. Therefore, by gaining a broader context and passing through a rigorous study of pop music, an appreciation is developed. Some of pop music's most well-known tunes that be carefully reviewed in GCSE music include the following:

  • With a Little Help from My Friends by The Beatles,
  • Within You, Without You by The Beatles,
  • Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by The Beatles,
  • Someone Like You by Adele.

You'll be fascinated at how many tunes and melodies British artists have contributed to pop music genre!

Traditional Music

Also known as folk music, pupils may study traditional music in GCSE music. Categorised as a contrast between classical and popular music, the conventional genre covers a wide range of music types that are not massed produced and tend to focus more on the instruments.

Many of the songs analysed by GCSE music students in the traditional style are by famed guitarist Santana. It is also worth mentioning that pupils delve into the world of contemporary British folk music.

Western Classical Tradition since 1910

Of the four areas of study during the GCSE music curriculum, the only other mandatory music genre is that of Western Classical Traditional since 1910.

During this music review section, a lot of emphases is on 20th Century British composers and their most remarkable pieces. 

It is also essential to state that Aaron Copeland's work and the study of minimalist music take centre stage in WCT since 1910.

Music Technology

DJs and electronic
Learning about music software and technology is a necessary component of the GCSE music programme. (Source: Unsplash)

After the necessary four areas of study have been chosen and analysed, the focus of the GCSE music programme is on music technology. Students must understand the essential parts that make an instrument play and the advancing developments in music technology.

Secondary school teens analyse topics of music technology, such as the following:

  • Music software, 
  • Recording music, 
  • Turntablism,
  • Sampling.

The subdisciplines of music technology are very enthralling because, in today's world, many genres such as electronica, dubstep, house, techno, and trance music need modern machinery to make their tunes.

It is worth stating that the analysis of the four music areas, the review of music technology, and the study of music theory are all part of the listening and understanding section that encompasses 40% of the entire GCSE music curriculum.

Composition

As previously mentioned in the article, music composition in the GCSE music programme is crucial to success since it represents 30% of the final marks received.

In this section, students of GCSE music in their first year must compose/write a piece of music relevant to the instrument they are learning. The composition is then presented to examiners for a final result.

In the second year, pupils must compose a chosen song by the examinations board; it is usually from a list of options.

Also, in this part, some time is dedicated to a better understanding of music software.

Performance

learning music together
In the final year GCSE music performance, candidates must play their instrument alone and with others. (Source: Unsplash)

Last but most definitely not least is the performance. The moment that students have either been waiting for or dreading in their previous year of GCSE music is performing a piece in front of an audience.

In this last section of musical performance, candidates are evaluated by examiners on technical aspects such as the following:

  • Accuracy of Pitch and Rhythm, 
  • Interpretation, 
  • Confidence in Playing,
  • Musical Expression.

Students are expected to undertake a solo and an ensemble performance. GCSE music candidates may choose to recite a more traditional instrument or use modern music technology.

There you have it, folks, a complete guide to what is studied in the GCSE music curriculum! We remarkably suggest taking this GCSE course since it will hone many fantastic skills that can be used later on in life throughout various interest subjects. Let the playing begin!

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Brentyn

Avid movie-goer, reader, skier and language learner. Passionate about life, food and travelling.