At this time of year music departments are full of students completing coursework. Like all practical subjects this is a time consuming and sometimes fairly stressful process. However I believe that we can ease the pressure and make this process easier through a healthy and varied extra curricular programme. If students are engaged in playing music and performing music on a regular basis, then the performance part of the exam is a doddle! If students are comfortable spending time in the music room (and the space is tidy and nice) then they are likely to come back at break and lunchtime to complete work and practice.
One thing I always ensure is that some repertoire covered in Extra Curricular rehearsals is suitable for ensemble performances. For example my Big Band play a couple of great pieces that include Trumpet and Alto Sax solos that are perfect for a demanding GCSE performance. When GCSE season comes along the band all sigh when I say we need to get out a certain piece – but those sitting the GCSE are very grateful. The piece is well rehearsed and sounds excellent. In choir I make sure that there are nice unaccompanied 4-part options for students to use with a smaller group of singers – these always sound really good.
I also encourage students to perform by ensuring that there are regular concerts of differing size and scale. I want students to get used to performing and enjoy performing – this will secure the best marks. Christmas is a great time to get students performing and also it is a good time to record performances. The exam season always seems a long way off in December, but students are performing potentially quite often. A 4 part carol sung by a small SATB group might be just the thing that a student needs to hit their target grade. So plan ahead and record everything!
For me Extra Curricular also ensures that students are developing as players and practising. They see older students playing at a top level and they are inspired to keep going and they set themselves goals and targets for their own playing. If they were simply coming to school and then performing for an exam without ever getting inspired by others then it might be a struggle.
So I would advise music teachers to look at how their extra curricular programme can really support what they need in the classroom. Having an open music room where students come to work, or running an extra music theory session can really help to boost results at KS4 & KS5.
One final thought. We can’t rely on instrumental and vocal teachers to take on the burden of preparing students. We need to work with our “peri” staff to ensure that they not only know the requirements but also keep updated on how students are progressing. Preparing for an ABRSM Grade and preparing for a GCSE are very different things. So get in touch with your Hub or music provider and make sure that you are having a solid open dialogue about instrumental and vocal teaching in your school.
Extra Curricular is at the heart of music in a school. It impacts the wider life of the school and community but it also impacts the curriculum.