#TandMchallenge 2 - just sound - modelling - teacher and musician
This week's challenge shouldn't be too tricky but it may take away some of the resources you use as a crutch and may even need you to reconsider the structure of your lesson.

#TandMchallenge 2 - Just sound

Last week, you took away your speaking voice.  This week, you can talk again but you can't resort to anything that's written down.  No handouts, no books, no sheet music, no projections, no tablets, no BYOD.  You're not allowed to have anything the pupils can use as a reference tool.  

This challenge is intended to get fine-tune your skills when it comes to modelling.  Some key questions to ask yourself before beginning this challenge:
  • How will you ensure that pupils know what is expected of them and how to get there without giving them reference materials?  
  • If you model how to play a phrase on a keyboard, how will you ensure that they retain that information when they practice on their own?  
  • How will you ensure that pupils have the musical material so well internalised that they can check their work aurally?  
  • If it's a singing activity, how will pupils remember the lyrics without a handout or projection?  
It's always worth checking that your modelling is working well and this is a sure-fire way to get some pretty instant feedback on it.  If pupils haven't internalised what you modelled, they'll soon let you know!  

Let me know how you get on with the hashtag #TandMchallenge 
edexcel draft gcse music specification - teacher and musician
This is the third post in a series looking at the new draft specifications for music.  As mentioned at the start of previous posts in the series, this isn't a comprehensive review of each specification but, rather, a first reaction to each.  You can see the other posts in the series by clicking here.  Today is the turn of Edexcel's GCSE.


The thing that strikes me most with this specification is how familiar its unit structure is.  Rather than try something bold and new, you've got three units with one each for performing, composing and appraising.  With the Ofqual requirements listing four areas of study, I was half expecting Edexcel to design their units with a more unusual structure.  The content of each unit is also very familiar:

  • Performing
    • one solo performance
    • one ensemble performance
  • Composing
    • one composition to a brief
    • one free composition
  • Appraising
    • a written examination
There's nothing wrong with this familiarity.  To use the words of a contributor to last night's MufuChat, however, it seems a little like a "missed opportunity".  

A two section exam

The appraising exam is divided into two sections, the first of which seems to be a pretty standard listening exam (mixing set and unfamiliar works).  The second section asks pupils to write a comparison between one of the set works and an unfamiliar piece.  

I do wonder if the Ofqual requirement to have unfamiliar music reduces the relevance of set works. Are the traditionally perceived benefits still there if there's also unfamiliar music?  Are we asking pupils to demonstrate two different types of musical understanding?  Definitely some thought required here.  

The areas of study

The expectation to have unfamiliar music has reduced the number of set works with Edexcel with only eight on offer this time around.  They're divided up as follows:
  • Instrumental Music (1700-1820)
    • Bach - Brandenburg No 5 (III)
    • Beethoven - Piano Sonata No 8 (I)
  • Vocal Music
    • Purcell - Music for a While
    • Queen - Killer Queen
  • Music for Stage and Screen
    • Schwartz: Defying Gravity
    • Williams: theme from Star Wars
  • Fusions
    • Afro Celt Sound System - Release
    • Esperanza Spalding - Samba Em Preludio
During last night's MufuChat, Anna Gower, described these set works as "tokenistic" and I have to agree.  I'm finding it hard to see these as a genuinely useful combination of pieces for students to learn about.  Of course, the unfamiliar music requirement will mean that pupils will be exposed to a lot of other pieces but the groundwork doesn't seem entirely convincing to me.  

On another note, it's interesting that fusion seems to be making a comeback from its hiatus between specification revisions!  

Nothing to complain about

In terms of a first reaction, I'm really leaning on the side of 'nothing to complain about'.  It would appear that Edexcel has gone for the 'does what is says on the tin' approach and, in many respects, it's important to have a choice that fits into that bracket.  Schools who want to feel a sense of continuity between specifications may well find that Edexcel sits well with them.  
ocr gcse music draft specification - teacher and musician
This is the second in a series of posts outlining my initial reaction to each of the draft specifications for GCSE Music published by the exam boards in May 2015.  You can see the first post (discussing AQA's specification) by clicking here and the whole series will be available here as each post is published.


Anyone who suggests that performing, composing and appraising can be learnt in an integrated manner will get a general nod of approval from me.  The fifth page of the specification says this very clearly and that can only be a good thing.  The unit structure, particularly the integrated portfolio, also appears to be designed with this in mind but isn't so rigid as to take away teachers' flexibility to adapt the course to the needs of individual pupils.  

Areas of Study

I've never taught OCR for music but I've always quite liked their willingness to be different.  While some of the areas of study are quite standard, the retention of the 'My Music' area of study is nice.  At GCSE, our subject can be quite removed from the experience of learning an instrument, so it's cool that pupils are encouraged to explore the capabilities of their own instrument.  This will, hopefully, give learners a sense of their own musical identity.  

I also quite like the focus provided by the second area of study looking at 'the concerto through time'.  Ofqual's requirement that one area of study be drawn from western classical music from 1650 to 1910 raised a few eyebrows at the time but focusing this on a specific genre and tracking its evolution seems quite elegant.  It also helps to provides structure to the course in a manner distinct from the boards offering set works.  Lending structure in a similar vein, the world music AoS focuses on rhythm, granting learners a crutch for exploring music that may be quite unfamiliar to them.  

Turntablism - again

It's in here!  All the more reason why I'm struggling to get my head around AQA's shouting about this in their press releases - not only is it not new but it's not unique either.  Again, please let me know if I'm missing something on this one!  

Continuing the discussion

There's plenty more that's worthy of discussion in this specification, so I'm looking forward to MufuChat tonight (Wednesday 20th May 2015 at 8.30pm), which is intended to promote discussion in detail.  
aqa gcse music draft specification - teacher and musician
I'm taking the time to have a look at each of the draft specifications that were published last week and write a few observations.  This isn't a comprehensive compare/contrast exercise so, if that's what you're looking for, then you'd be well advised to have a look at this document written by Alison Daubney for the ISM.  These posts are intended to be entirely subjective and may well create more questions than answers!  So, with your expectations well and truly managed, let's start with AQA's specification for GCSE Music.

A move to set works

A few years ago, I hated the idea of a set work.  I take issue with the idea that there's a canon of music that should be studied by all pupils and I'm uneasy with pointing to certain pieces of music as being 'the best' or even just 'the best examples of something'.  I still hold this aversion to canons but, almost paradoxically, I quite like the idea of set works.  There's one simple reason for this - set works are great for workshopping.

Workshopping a piece of music with a class is a great way to:

  • explore what makes that piece of music 'tick'
  • improve the performing skills of your pupils
  • give pupils a 'personal' experience of the music
  • model the process of composing a piece that's inspired by another
With set works, workshopping can be very easily targeted at the needs of both the pupils as musicians and the requirements of the course.  I was particularly pleased to notice in this document, that AQA intends to create 'classroom performance editions' of each piece (presumably a bit like a Kaleidoscope arrangement), which should be a great resource for teachers when planning how to workshop each piece.   

As pleased as I am that the Beatles were included in the set works, I'm surprised that they're the only artist recognised in this area of study.  I do feel that it may have been wiser to choose three songs by three different artists than three songs from the same album.  


Is it just me or has the press release mentioning turntablism been a bit overplayed?  I'm struggling to see how this is noticeably different from the current range of GCSEs.  If I've missed something, please do point it out to me.  

The layout of the specification

I must admit that I thought the specification was very clearly laid out.  I do like that each area of study had it's own list of vocabulary mapped against the elements of music and that the presentation of the mark schemes is a noticeable improvement on previous AQA specifications.  Similarly, definitions of each type of performance are much clearer than in previous years - this should be helpful for teachers.  

Annotation or Written Account?

In the guidance for what to include when submitting a composition, I did notice that 'annotation' and 'written account' are seen as two separate things and the latter is only acceptable for 'music production'.  
  • Written account - "Providing a detailed guide through the aural experience of the piece that will highlight structure and musical ideas, including the ways in which they have been explored."

  • Annotation - "Including details of the processes, devices and techniques used, showing how the areas detailed in the criteria contributed to the final composition."
These new definitions will need to be considered carefully by teachers and AQA should be sure to provide plenty of examples of each.  

More reactions

I'm looking forward to hearing how other people have reacted to this.  Tomorrow's MufuChat should be a great opportunity to discuss this and the post-chat is already live on Peer to Peer.  
ks4 class sizes - gcse btec rsl music - teacher and musician - survey results
Last week's survey asked you about the size of your KS4 classes and, it has to be said, the results are very surprising.  The biggest surprise is that the average number of pupils taking a KS4 music qualification was 15% (much bigger than the 7% that 2011 data say took GCSE music).  Perhaps equally surprising is that the average number of pupils starting music in September has increased to 16%.

Some caution has to be taken with this info.  A few factors to consider include:

  • this survey included non-GCSE qualifications (unlike the 2011 data)
  • the sample size was quite small (17 respondents after anomalous responses were removed)
  • teachers with larger class sizes may have been more likely to respond (eager to share their good news)
  • teachers with increasing class sizes may have been more likely to respond (again, eager to share good news)
One respondent reported remarkable percentages of pupils taking KS4 music (69% in the current Y11 and 50% in the incoming Y10).  Even with the removal of this response, the average percentages were 12% for current Y11 and 14% for incoming Y10.  

The average reported class size for Y11 was 20 and, for the incoming Y10 it was 29.  These averages are very impressive, especially the increase despite the impact of the EBacc.  

The survey responses here paint a hopeful picture but I must confess that I'm sceptical.  The information will only get more accurate with more responses, so I'll be sure to revisit this in a future post, so please feel free to add your response to the original post here.  
survey - which exam board will you choose?  - gcse - a-level - teacher and musician
With the new GCSE and A-Level (draft) specifications being launched on Thursday, it was obvious that this week's survey should focus on the topic.  There's plenty of discussion about the content of each course taking place on social media (including this week's MufuChat) but I try to keep my surveys as short as possible.  In that spirit, I'm going to ask the same question music teachers are likely to ask whenever they meet up, "Which board will you choose?".

There's a separate question for GCSE and A-Level (the latter of which is an optional question).  I'm not asking people to divide up AS and A-Level.  The final question is an optional space to explain why you've made your choices.  Exam boards are listed alphabetically.

The results will go live a week on Monday and you can see the data as it comes in here.

If you still need to see the various options available, then you can find links to each specification and the ISM's comparison document on the MufuChat page.