Flipping Music Lesson!

These new GCSEs are certainly giving us lots to think about and talk about. There seems to be a great deal more to cover and the still requirements for coursework. Set Works are great, but they need to be approached very carefully and I for one am still seeking out the best way to teach the set works.

At both GCSE and A-Level students are required to learn about several pieces of music. This is possibly a new thing for a lot of students and I guess it would help to adjust how we approach Key Stage 3, but that is for another blog. In order for students to succeed in the exam, it strikes me that true analysis is needed and so I am moving away for just going through the pieces and the key terms and I am flipping that all on its head.

It is great for students to learn key terms and it is important that they do so. But for me, it isn’t really very useful to just plod through the set works and go through everything that happens bar by bar. It is great to follow the score, mark up the score and learn about the music. But this alone won’t help in the exam – so I am flipping that on its head and trying to aim for lessons where deeper and more useful analysis is taking place.

What is he on about I hear you say!

Well lets take “Music for a While” from the Edexcel GCSE spec. This is a great piece with loads of features, but for the exam what I want the students to be able to do is comment on what makes it a successful piece of English Baroque vocal music. They therefore need to be able to take the knowledge of key terms and apply them to such an understanding.

In my lesson the other day I asked the students to give me a sub-heading for this piece that encompassed a clear description of exactly what it is. They came up with the following:

  • Baroque
  • Ground Bass
  • Vocal
  • For a play
  • Ternary Form

These 5 became our categories that we were going to use to unpack the music.

I then split the class into groups and gave them some post-it notes. Their task was simple – go through the piece and work out which key terms belonged to each category:

Ornaments – Baroque

Lyrics – For a Play

Change in tonality – Ternary Form

Hopefully you get the idea.

They then wrote these key terms on a post-it and came and stuck them on the whiteboard under each category. I gave each group different coloured post-its so that I could track which group added what. The lesson worked really well and it is always nice to get them doing group work and also getting up and down out of their seats. Having different colours also brought in an element of competition as they saw some groups adding more to a certain category.


(This photo was taken early on in the process and rest assured the yellow and pink teams did catch up!)

What I found is that students were now moving away from simply thinking about key terms and they were starting to apply them. The result is that they now explain what makes it a Baroque piece or what makes it suitable as incidental music for a play. This is much more useful for the exam and it is also a deeper level of understanding. Of course there was a need to explain some key terms, but flipping the analysis on its head meant that they more fully understood these key terms.

Going back to my previous blog about being “Pointless”, I also pushed students to think about key terms that were much more sophisticated, and they were now able to talk about the music with much for fluency.

It was a fun lesson and I think the approach to study was good for the students. There is no right or wrong way, but this might be something that you want to try. The next step is to get them writing about the music and applying this knowledge and understanding – application is always a challenge. I am hoping that as I move through the set works they will not only learn about the key terms but they will also understand the actual music and the language of the music in much more detail. Let me know how you get on and get down to the shops and buy a load of Post-It Notes!


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