I got to reading a post last night on Facebook about the new anthology and set works. I guess the overall picture was that none of us are too sure of the detail we should be going in to with regards the new set works. Now I have no insider knowledge but what I thought I would do is offer some thoughts and I would like to think that we could collaborate on this blog post and I will then add thoughts to a final document and we can then see what we all think. I do have a gut feeling that we are all maybe going into too much detail, but that is just a gut feeling. We don’t ultimately know yet and we are all just doing our best. But I do think we mustn’t get stressed and we must use what resources and samples we have to learn what we can.
The following thoughts have been derived through the study of the specimen paper and also the recent free sample from rhinegold – a preview of the upcoming listening tests (see below). Please do have a read and then let me know what you think.
- It would appear that students do not need to be able to reel off loads of contextual information. The textbooks give lots of background to the composers and the work, but it would appear that this is not explicitly tested on. However it is clearly important that they are aware of the genre itself. The longer answer question will clearly require more depth of knowledge, but in the time available there is only so much they can write for 12 marks.
- Much like past specification listening papers, knowledge of key terms and their definitions is the main focus. Being able to name musical features of a piece of music. Therefore when studying a piece it is obviously important to focus on the key musical features. Gosh what an obvious point, but I guess what I am saying is I don’t think we need to get too bogged down into memorising structures in massive detail for example – but that is just a thought.
- In the sample paper from Rhinegold there are a couple of times where students are asked to comment on the setting of words – Question 2d & Question 3b. I think it is important to focus on how words are emphasised and brought to life by the music.
- Students will clearly need to be able to comment on the style of the music and the mood/drama of the music. Question 3d from the Rhinegold sample paper asks for three ways in which the composer makes the music sound uplifting. Discussing mood in lesson as well as the style/genre I think is a great approach to really understanding the piece.
- Influences on the music also feature – “this piece is influenced by Samba – give three ways in which this is evident”.
- Musical Dictation – this is an unavoidable feature of the exam and in my opinion is something that needs to be regularly incorporated into lessons. In many ways it is something you can & can’t teach – regular practice is the real key. There are resources out there and I have added some to TES. But I think this section of the exam is something that requires as much focus as a set work if not more
- A great deal of the musical featured in the test can be taught through composition just as much as through the study of the set works. I personally like to teach students about mood in music by getting them composition short extracts of cinematic music. I think it is crucial that we bring the elements of music to life through the application of them as well as the analysis of them in the set works.
- Unfamiliar listening is again something that needs to be incorporated into lessons on a regular basis. But what I think is that students need to get used to listening to a piece and automatically tuning in on the key features – melody, harmony, tonality, texture etc. They need to be doing this at home as well as in lessons. In the example of the unfamiliar listening it does not appear that context is assessed, but that could just be the example that we have.
- Clearly the real contextual knowledge comes in at Section B where students complete more of an essay style question. I think wider listening is key here as well as a firm grasp of genre, style and musical history. I have been using the stuff on www.musicalcontexts.co.uk to help with this – download it while you can as i think it all goes on June 10th. Again I feel that we can step away from the set works and focus on how much has changed over time. They need a firm grasp of what Romantic, baroque or classical music really sounds like. They need to be able to identify features that define a genre.
- They need to be able to describe elements and not just define elements. This is something I am big on and I always get students to explain and describe what is happening rather than just using one word to describe say texture. It is an important skill and will put them in good stead for A-Level music
Ultimately we do want students to feel that they want to study A-Level music. And so I think it is good practice to get them used to really listening around a piece. I am encouraging my students to undergo as much wider listening as possible as well as asking them to complete questions and analysis on their wider listening. The examples in the specification and textbooks are a great place to start. What I am finding is that they are getting better at picking out and describing key features.
So there are a few thoughts and I would love people to chip in and offer their thoughts. Some things above are obvious!
And here are the free samples from Rhinegold if you haven’t got them yet. I presume it is okay to share them as they just emailed them to me as I responded to a tweet: