GCSE A-Level

A Clear Line of Argument

What do we want our music students to be able to do when it comes to analysis?

A parent asked me what I meant by “Analysis and Appraisal” the other day and it got me thinking. A music student does need to be able to analyse a huge range of different genres and styles and they need to be able to establish a clear line of argument.

This applies to both GCSE & A-Level and I am sure it isn’t just limited to my exam board (Edexcel). When we play students music we need them to form thoughts in their mind about what the piece is, what it represents and why. They need to have a line of argument that they can then pin their thoughts to and use as a basis for an essay.

Let me try and put some flesh to this just in case I am not making my point clear.

Lets take Berlioz “Symphonie Fantastique”.

  • Composed in 1830
  • Early Romantic
  • Programmatic Music
  • Symphony with 5 movements & fairly long for the period.

The points above are all lines of argument aren’t they. If students take one of these and then justify it they suddenly become a true analytical musician.

Bernard Hermann “Psycho”

  • Composed in 1960
  • Film Score
  • String Ensemble
  • Avant Garde

These points are springboards for an essay or long answer.

It is when they do the opposite that we encounter problems. Now of course, a year 9 student might find it hard to justify what features of the piece make it likely to come from 1830, but a GCSE student who you are pushing towards A-Level might find this more accessible. And for an A-Level student it is essential that they are not just able to list features, but link them to a WHY!

My A-Level students are focussing hard on creating a line of argument in their essays. I am getting them to not just list musical features but attach them to this line of argument. Take the Psycho reference above. When they write about Psycho they might comment on the instrumental approach. I don’t simply want them to list all the instrumental techniques but suggest how this is a more avant grade approach and very different to other film scores of the time. Their line of argument is that Bernard Hermann was doing something different – then they say how and why.

I think I mentioned in a previous blog that what we don’t want is for our students to just “catalogue events” that occur in a piece of music. This isn’t true and complete appraisal, it is merely a guide to the piece. But the danger is that we still need them to get the facts down. When arguing a point they need to use strong musical features and make sure that the main language they use is music.

So you might like to start giving your students the job of creating lines of arguments or justifying ones that you give them.

What we want to do is make our students aware that music has a style, or it comes from a certain period or genre. We then need them to be able to explain why and discuss what makes it a successful example of music from that period or genre.

If you are looking for a way in with Year 9 then maybe start with Film music and get them to start explaining why features are used in light of the theme of the film. For the Edexcel GCSE students need to be able to discuss the music from Star Wars and also the musical Wicked. We have a chance to really get them making strong musical points if we teach them to look at the reasons, story or motif behind a composition.

So lets get our students establish a clear line of argument in our class discussions and essays. They can then pin all of their musical points to this and come to an evaluative conclusion at the end. It is really helping my sixth from students and now when I start a new set work it is the first thing I talk about with them. What is this piece? What does it do that is different, or new and how is it a good example of music from that period of time. It is helpful to then google music from the exact year that the piece was composed so that you have other examples that are valuable wider listening examples.

Hopefully this approach will help your students! Make sure they stick to that line of argument throughout their work!


Leave a Reply