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GCSE music suitability

Discussion in 'Music' started by Jenkibubble, Dec 3, 2019.

  1. Jenkibubble

    Jenkibubble Occasional commenter

    My son is currently in year 8 and at his school they start their GCSE course in year 9 .
    He did some clarinet at primary school (not currently though) and we have inherited a piano from in-laws which son really enjoys practising scales / chords on - does this out of interest/ enjoyment .
    My question is, given he enjoys it ,!would he struggle given that he doesn’t have ‘graded exams in any instrument ‘ but does have access to piano and clarinet .
    My husband seems to think that a grade 5 in an instrument is the equivalent of a GCSE pass and therefore my son should rule out the subject !
    If anyone could shed light I would appreciate it !
  2. muso2

    muso2 Occasional commenter Community helper

    When I was at school it was suggested you needed to be grade 5 to consider GCSE music. This was later deemed to be elitist and off-putting and the reformed GCSE specs put more emphasis on musical accuracy/fluency and interpretation/musicality of performance rather than just in difficulty level. Though to access the very top marks you need to be performing more difficult pieces of music well.

    So I've taught students who have literally started playing their instrument in year 10 and been able to achieve a high grade in year 11 without ever doing a grade. (But with lots of commitment and practice, and instrumental lessons the school provided)

    That said, he will need to record two performances, including one group. And compose two pieces of music for the other controlled assessments. So he will need to not just enjoy occasionally playing the piano, but want to learn to play a range of pieces and develop his musical theory knowledge to help with his composition too. Plus a listening exam, focusing on set styles of music from different countries and eras. In short, yes it's possible, but will require him to be really 'into' music and motivated to practice and progress quickly.
    Other colleagues may be in schools where they're advised to refuse students who don't already have instrumental lessons.
    I'd suggest he speaks to his music teacher. And that you do too do you know what their approach is at his school.
    ViolaClef likes this.
  3. Doitforfree

    Doitforfree Star commenter

    Loads of children do GCSE music with far lower achievements musically than your son. He has about two and a half years to get to the required standard which is plenty of time. To get the highest marks you have to play harder pieces, but not all that hard. I would advise him to have clarinet lessons and to choose a teacher who understands what he'll need for his performance. A savvy teacher will help him choose pieces that fit the difficulty criteria more easily, if you see what I mean.
    ViolaClef likes this.
  4. ViolaClef

    ViolaClef Lead commenter

    I suggest you find out from the Head of Music if the school has any guidance or advice for pupils choosing Music GCSE. Every school is different.
    To access the highest grade for Performance my understanding is that candidates need to be able to play a piece of Grade 5 standard. I would recommend that your son has clarinet lessons and that you follow @Doitforfree’s advice. I would say that progress is likely to be swifter on clarinet than on piano, which is a far more complex instrument than many people think - reading in two clefs with multiple notes played simultaneously. Piano will help with his understanding of chords and harmony and could be useful in Composing.
    @muso2’s comments are very valid. The net for GCSE Music is now cast very wide. I have known of candidates who played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on a xylophone for their Performance - that was all they could manage.
    The theoretical knowledge and listening skills required need to be thoroughly taught - they are not a piece of cake.
    It’s great that your son enjoys music and feels positive about the subject. To do well and understand at GCSE level I think he will need to be prepared to put in extra work (practising an instrument every day) and have a conscientious approach.
  5. lisa_mayers1

    lisa_mayers1 New commenter

    Happy New Year Jenki,

    I might be a bit late to the party but good to hear about your son's interest in GCSE music! I am glad most schools dropped the elitist Grade 5+ performance standard for suitability. It's good that the net has been cast much wider to make the course accessible to all. Practising his scales out of enjoyment is DEFINITELY a great sign! (I mean who DOES scales out of enjoyment?) And although he can pick up more marks the more technically/expressively advanced the music, he would probably need a tutor but the right tutor, as it would be a shame to sap the love of playing out of him, unless he relishes an hour of practice every day without being reminded. I guess it depends on him.

    I think even if his pieces are not a virtuoso but something where he can demonstrate expression he could still pick up quite a good mark. With regard to the appraisal and composition parts of the course , the scales are already a great foundation for him composition-wise, but like ViolaClef said, in order for your son to fully access the learning he's going to need a fairly thorough understanding of the theory. YouTube can be great and things like musictheory.net but the school I've just worked in provides additional intervention one-to one tuition for some of the year 10 students who need basic theory lessons. Hopefully that's something his school can offer?

    Again, it mostly depends on what he's like, some of the boys in my GCSE class who've had less formal training tended to gravitate together and be more disengaged. They need a lot of encouragement on tasks because they say they're "less musically gifted" than the girls who are all advanced in the grades on at least 2 instruments and in theory and want to answer all the questions. If he's resilient, conscientious and not the type to be intimidated by others' ability. He could do very well.

    Good luck with it all!

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