I have read a few comments over the last few months about how to get students to engage with the set works – both at GCSE & A-Level. I think all exam boards have set works now and I am working with the Edexcel courses so I know all about set works. The various threads and comments I have read have got me thinking.
I think Set Works are great, but that is because I don’t really necessarily view them as that. I love listening to music and I love listening to a whole variety of music. Whether it be a bit of Puccini, a blast of Oasis or a burst of Hamilton, I just love listening to music. So for me, the set works are a chance for us to do the very thing that we are all about as music teachers/students – listen to music.
I think the way we view set works is important and getting this right will affect everything. I think for some they view them almost as a burden – oh my gosh how are we going to get through all of these pieces and how are students going to remember it all. Now don’t get me wrong, I have those thoughts as well, but they aren’t really all that helpful. As music teachers we need to be excited by this music and we need to ensure that our students are excited. Students need to also remain “excited” about them as they enter the revision period otherwise it is going to be hard to keep them listening to them.
And so we must “Sell” the set works to our students through our enthusiasm for them, coupled with the raw need to embrace them in order to take the course. But what we mustn’t do is reduce them to laborious pieces that are going to be over-whelming. We need to make the set works just part of what we do in lessons and take the students on a journey through the music.
I guess you need some clear ideas on how to truly sell them! My first point is obvious:
- Be passionate about what you are teaching and don’t for one minute convey to the students that studying “all this music” is going to be anything but wonderful. They are music students, what did they expect! It would be like an English student complaining about reading books. We have to be positive and sell it as an opportunity.
- We mustn’t reduce the set works to just random pieces that are plucked out of no-where. The set works are our window onto another time period in music. They are a chance for us to truly understand what was being created at that time and get a snapshot of the cultural life of that era. Students are much more likely to engage and buy into the set works if they see them as more than just a piece.
- As teachers we need to be leading lessons where students get to hear and engage with loads of music. Sometimes we can talk too much or over-plan tasks when listening would be a great approach. Some lessons we just listen to music, loads of it , and I jump from piece to piece, from genre to genre. Obviously this relies on good streaming services, but it is a great way to engage them.
- Link revision to listening and encourage students to see the revision process not as a “head stuck in a textbook” exercise but more of a listening exercise.
- If possible take them to see live performances of set-works to bring them to life.
- If a live performance isn’t possible then consider linking set works to arrangement or composition and create a class performance of a piece or a small section of a piece. This is really much easier with the GCSE set-works which are often shorter, but hey, why not try doing a class performance of something a little more tricky.
- Get them to research the people behind the pieces so they realise that they were all different, interesting and living in different places and times. The music needs to be more than just the notes but also the social, historical and contextual.
- Gain your own passion for the pieces by listening to them yourself at home when you are not teaching.
- Try and listen to different performances or interpretations of pieces, youtube is great for that. Make sure that you keep it interesting by looking at how music is interpreted.
- Don’t spend too long on them. There are often a lot to get through – 18 with Edexcel – and I think we can sometimes spend too long on a piece. Spend some time on it, then leave it and come back to it. Or later on see if you can link back to it.
Just some thoughts on Set works. I am loving teaching them this year, but it is also daunting and hard at times. But as teachers we have a job to do and I would love to hear how others are selling the set works and bringing them to life!