So you’ve started A-Level Music and that is why you are reading this blog. I thought I would speak to students again because you are the centre of all we do as much teachers. My working life revolves around the students I teach, and A-level Music is such a crucial part. So you’ve started A-level music and I want to offer some thoughts on how you can start well, enjoy the journey and end well.
Let me firstly congratulate you on choosing to study music at A-Level. You have been studying music for your entire school career and now you can bring all of that together. It is a great way to end your time at school and study for something that you are no doubt passionate about. Your music teacher will be thrilled that you are in their Year 12 class and you can’t underestimate how important you are. A-Level music is something that is almost dying out in our schools. You have chosen to study it, and that is so important and special. Enjoy it, work hard and tell others how important it was for you.
Do you realise that you now have a new role in your school? You are the musicians that have chosen to fine tune your studies and commit to two years of A-level Music. Over the coming two years you are going to be performing more, composing with more vigour and studying more music than ever before. Your new role is to show others what the end goal of school music could or should be. I appreciate that for some, A-Level music isn’t offered in your school, and that is a grave shame.
But for those studying it, please understand that you are now leaders & role models. You have the chance to show the younger students what they can aim for in their musical studies. In your department you are the seniors and you need to shout from the rooftops about this wonderful subject. But you are also important on a national scale. As we see A-Level Music in decline, we need students like you to share why you study music and why you think other should.
So you’ve started A-Level Music, and now you need to see yourself as a role model, a leader and a valuable spokesperson for this nation.
For me, starting well means starting as you mean to go on. There is no point waiting a month or so before you really get down to the hard work. Starting well means a few things:
- Your instrument now needs to be even more a part of who you are than before. You are going to be playing more, performing in concerts and working towards your final exam. Start well by working out a clear practice schedule – and make sure you enjoy every moment with your instrument.
- Starting well means getting involved in school music like never before. Support your teacher, play in ensembles and maybe even start your own. Don’t wait to be asked, just start to make music happen.
- Composition has been part of your music education for a number of years. But now you’ve started A-Level music you need to become even more curious & creative. Writing music, arranging music and generally being creative with music, need to become part of your weekly music programme. The more you can work composition into your week the better.
- Listening to music will make the difference between one grade and the next. In fact I would go so far as to say that the more you listen to music, the more successful you will be. Deliberate Listening is key though, not just having music on. You need to chose what you listen to like never before. Sitting down with a symphony or taking a new rock album for a walk – as in listen when you walk. Carving out time to enjoy an opera or watch a musical on Disney+. You need a plan for your listening and you need to keep a diary of everything you hear. Enjoy listing to music, but make sure it counts by giving it time and space in your week.
- Don’t push music to one side because of your talent. Starting well will mean realising that music A-Level isn’t easy. You might have 3 Grade 8 certificates and sing in a county youth choir. But A-Level music requires time and dedication. And that is a good thing because we want music to be academically recognised. It is important to take it seriously and put the time in to the things that you may not find naturally easy.
The A-Level Music journey
Every A-Level is a journey, a course of study from Year 12-13. Along the way you will encounter exams, recitals, reports, parents evenings and mocks. The journey is sometimes hard, but there are ways of making it easier for yourself and those supporting you.
- Be consistent. All those things I have listed above, keep them up.
- Listen to all the advice you are given and don’t wait for reports or parents evenings to hear what you need to hear.
- Support everything you can in your school, especially your music teachers. They need you and you most definitely need them.
- Don’t think that you can pull a composition or performance out of the bag. Prepare for it over the whole course – it is a marathon and not a sprint finish.
- Go and see music as much as you can. There are so many ways that young people can access cheap tickets to great performances. Ask your teacher for help, but also, seek out things to go and see. English National Opera do a great scheme for young people and you can get discounted tickets at The Barbican. But of course you may not be in London, so do find local music venues to visit. Feel free to share links to similar schemes in the comments below.
How to end well
I am lucky enough to have run in two London Marathons, and they were amazing days. People who know me will know how much they meant to me, but also roll their eyes when I bring them up! Runners like to tell people when they have run a long way. I finished both of them and I think I ended quite well, with good times that I was proud of. The thing is, ending well was more than just finishing that race.
I was able to end those two marathons because I started well and I had a plan that I kept up. I followed the guide I was given and I focussed on crossing that line. But I had to keep everything going for 4 months in the lead up to the race day.
As you start A-Level music you will want to get the best grade you can. But you will also want to enjoy the journey like I enjoyed running 26.2 miles in London. You will want to “see the sites” along the way and get to share your experience with others. A-Level music, as I mentioned above, is like a marathon, where ending well will depend on how well you start and the plan you have. You don’t want to try and run too fast, and you don’t want to miss a vital water station to get rehydrated.
As you look ahead, make sure you have a plan and you stick to it. Ending well is not always about the best grade, but it is definitely about knowing you have done your best. I knew I wouldn’t win the London Marathon, but I wanted to make the journey there worth it. I wanted to know I gave my all. That is what I want for you in a couple of years time when you read the end of your A-Level music course. I want you to know that you left nothing to chance and did your very best.
My final advice to you is, enjoy it. School is a wonderful place to be, and studying your favourite subjects is fantastic. Enjoy your lessons, rehearsals and concerts. Make new friends, experience new things and most of all take every opportunity. You won’t regret any of this and I know your music teachers will give you all that they can. But you can give back to and the opportunities might be created by you and your classmates. Enjoyment of school is so important and that means that you will need to find ways to take music outside of the classroom and into the wider school community.
So you’ve started A-Level Music
So you’ve started A-Level Music and now it is down to you to enjoy it, get the most out of it and work towards the success you want. You are a role model for your school and I know your teacher will be thrilled every time they teach you. tell others why you love it and help us to keep music alive in our schools. I hope that this blog has given you some food for thought. I also wish you all the best for the years ahead and I hope that you enjoy the journey and finish well.