Transitioning to A-Level Music

During this difficult lockdown period students will be thinking about their future. In this blog I look at the process of Transitioning to A-Level Music. My aim is to provide teachers with some ideas on how they can help their GCSE students prepare for the next step.


I want to start with a word of caution on this topic. In education we can sometimes get bombarded with ideas, initiatives and requests. Not only are we dealing with the current climate but we are being asked to think into the future. I agree that our Year 11 students can start to think about A-Level music, but we need to be careful not to worry or panic them.

Our job at the moment is to teach our classes and deliver a curriculum. It is a very difficult time and so I think that worrying about Transitioning to A-Level Music should not rank too high on our agenda. The worst thing we could do is put students in Year 11 off the subject by giving them tasks that they find difficult. I am so concerned that during this lockdown crisis teachers are inventing ideas and creating new things when in reality they need to focus on what they know.

Having said all of that though, I think that anything we can do for our students will be much appreciated by them. Just take care and make sure that you are not over-doing it or putting yourself under more pressure. These ideas will hopefully help and will ease any pressure. They may also help with any box-ticking that your school might be asking of you. I think some schools are panicking and wanting to make sure that Year 11 are doing something…I get it of course, but there are so many challenges for us at this time.

1. Listening

One of the easiest ways that we can engage our Year 11 students who are taking A-Level music is to get them listening. Creating a Spotify, YouTube or Apple Music playlist has never been easier. Create playlists with a range of music on and get them to commit to listening to something every day. Don’t worry about questions or worksheets, just get them listening. Throw in a couple of set works maybe, or just put a range of pieces in there.

2. Playing their Instrument

Performing is a huge part of A-Level music. So why not challenge year 11 to practise their instrument for 30 minutes every day. Those taking A-Level will want to be looking at Grade 5 and above pieces. This might be the perfect goal for students to aim for over the coming weeks. Transitioning to A-Level Music is all about transitioning on our instrument from one Grade/Skill level to the next. So this will really help students and it isn’t a bad use of time.

3. Extended Writing

If you are looking for some written work then why not set them a nice open ended piece of extended writing – a project style piece of work. This could be to focus on a composer, piece or style of music. They could create this in any way that they wish – podcast, song, powerpoint, essay, mind map etc. You might like to set the whole group the same task:

“The greatest composers were all born in the 18th Century”

“What is Jazz”

What’s the point of having music in a film”

“Serialism is pointless”

“Popular music isn’t really music”

Music is about Sound & Silence only”

You can pick any title or topic, but maybe think of something that is going to get them intrigued and interested and maybe providing some listening.

4. Watching

There is currently a wealth of online material that students can tune in to. Not only do we have the gift of YouTube, but during lockdown a number of places are streaming content for free. Encourage students to watch concerts, musicals, operas, performances and lectures. They might like to then do a short review and send it to you.

Mozart Opera Online with ROH

The Shows Must Go On – Andrew Lloyd Webber

There are probably lots more, so please share your suggestions in the comments below.

5. Reading

Some students will be potentially more driven to learn and study during this period. This is great news, although we still need to make sure that they are looking after themselves. For those students, why not recommend some Wider Reading. Here are a few links to books that I have enjoyed reading:

The Story of Music by Howard Goodhall

How Music Works by John Powell

Music: A Very Short Introduction by Nicholas Cook

Listen to This by Alex Ross

If you have any other recommendation then please put them in the comments below. I personally won’t be asking Year 11 to read anything about the set works. Nor will I be giving them notes from the exam board or anything like that. My worry that it won’t be at all helpful for them and could put them off..

6. Podcasts

Admittedly this is listening again, but instead of music they are listening to podcasts. There are so many out there, but I have put links to a few below that might get them started. They can listen whilst they do their daily exercise or help around the house. I love listening to podcasts and audio books as I feel I can learn a huge amount.

The Listening Service BBC Radio 3

San Francisco Symphony: Programme Notes

Composer of the Week

7. Composing

This is hard during lockdown and will depend on what they have at home. I have a number of compositional ideas on this blog that students could investigate to keep them composing whilst at home. Here are some links to blogs that might be useful.

Ultimate Goal

Our ultimate goal as teachers is to keep students engaged. For Year 11 this will be tough as we are not with them. But I believe that setting them challenges for listening, reading and practising will really help. I don’t believe, and this is just me personally, that we should start a heavy A-Level programme with them. But if they play, listen, read and discover something every day, then I think we are on to a winner. Imagine if Year 11 came back into Year 12 with a great repertoire of music that they can play. Imagine students being able to describe music having listened to more of it. Transitioning to A-Level Music is going to be hard during lockdown, but there are things we can do.

I think we need to support students in whatever way we can, and so I hope these ideas might help. There are possibly loads more ways we can help, so please share them in the comments below. And remember that you can’t do it all and we have to focus on getting through this period in the best way we can.

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  1. Hi there, I’m a singing peri supporting GCSE and A level students (as well as younger ones). How useful would you say working towards grade 5 theory is in bridging the gap between GCSE and A level, please?

    1. I think that it can be really useful, but I always base this on the student in front of me. If a student is looking for something to focus on now then G5 might be a great idea. But I guess theory knowledge is great and all very well, but if they aren’t listening to much music then this is a big issue too. I guess it is to be considered in light of the student you are thinking of. But having said that, if every Year 11 had Grade 5 theory when they started A-level that would not be a bad thing. It is always just weighing it up for the students. I think that for some it wouldn’t help. If they are an electric guitar player following Rock School and playing at Grade 8 and writing songs etc then will it help them? You might like to look at the Rock school theory stuff as well.

      1. Thanks, in the main they are following ABRSM performance exams, so it would always be relevant to the work they are doing with me. I’m always keen to support the classroom staff as much as possible without straying from my main role as singing teacher!

      2. One thing to support teachers would be to ask them questions about musical features, particularly stylistic ones. Also showing the range of vocal music and how it has changed. I think that would be helpful!

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