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Specialist music school vs mainstream school - how did you decide?

(28 Posts)
maggiethecat Tue 29-Oct-13 09:47:26

Dd (10) has expressed an interest (has for some time now) in going to music school. I think she quite likes the idea of being surrounded by music.

Dh and I have reservations. Neither of us had any music training and, for us, the idea of making music the focus of her formal education so early seems strange.

We went to see one school recently and they seem very keen on having her and so we think we will need to decide one way or the other.

How did you decide?

YDdraigGoch Tue 29-Oct-13 13:37:22

I haven't had to decide, but have a musical daughter.

Does your DD play any instruments? Has she shown any talent for music, or just "expressed an interest"? What is it about the school she likes?

I think I'd carefully consider whether my DC really did have a strong aptitude for music, and would be prepared to do all the practicing and the other involvements that being at a music school would entail. Because if she's not, it would soon be a pretty miserable experience for her.

maggiethecat Tue 29-Oct-13 19:47:23

Should have included a bit more detail. First instrument violin (5 years), second piano (2).
First time NCO this year and loved being immersed in music, chamber groups etc plus loved the fact that she did not have to explain her love of music to her course mates.
It was interesting to see a course mate (cellist) visit and how they locked themselves away each alternating accompanying the other on the piano.

No concerns about her coping with the music, it's making music the centre of her education so early that makes me wonder.

maggiethecat Tue 29-Oct-13 19:49:29

I suppose me entertaining her interest would have been rather whimsical had she not played an instrument.

spudmasher Tue 29-Oct-13 19:53:52

Not the same area of interest, but DD has been at vocational school since 12 yrs. She's 15 now and still loving every minute- it's what makes her get up in the mornings. Just academics would bore her rigid. Had she gone off her passion, we would have put her in a mainstream schoo, right away. I think yu just have to gonwith the flow and be prepared to be flexible if her interests change in the future, and try not to put pressure on her to continue if she really isn't interested anymore.

maggiethecat Tue 29-Oct-13 20:45:03

I hear what you say Spud. My over rational self says it would be indulgent to send her (why narrow her options etc etc). My heart begs to differ when I see her eyes shine with excitement at the idea of going.

spudmasher Tue 29-Oct-13 20:48:08

They are all individuals and who are we to stand in the way of their dreams and ambitions? As long as the child has a Plan B in case it doesn't work out, and the academics are kept strongly afloat, I don't see why a specialist school shouldn't be an option.

Latetothematch Tue 29-Oct-13 22:19:17

Have you considered a Saturday Junior Department Conservatoire such as RCMJD?

That way she can do normal school Monday-Friday, even if she goes for a music scholarship at a regular independent and has heavy music focus, then has all day Saturday doing music.

Therefore not completely limiting her options.

maggiethecat Tue 29-Oct-13 23:37:58

Have considered possibility and will have a look at nearest one next month.

YDdraigGoch Wed 30-Oct-13 09:53:54

Late is right - there are lots of opportunities to do music outside (and inside) of "normal" schools. But it does sound as if your DD would enjoy and benefit from making music the centre of her education. You'd be able to transfer her out if she decided after a couple of years that it wasn't for her - up to the point where she starts GCSE syllabus, so year 10.

noteventhebestdrummer Thu 31-Oct-13 16:32:11

Good advice about this on the ABRSM forum also smile

FastLoris Thu 31-Oct-13 21:47:18

A few thoughts. I'm a music teacher and also a parent of a very keen musician daughter a little younger than yours, so may be confronting similar decisions soon.

1. If there's any chance she might want to be a professional musician, having that experience of being surrounded by intense music making early is really invaluable.

2. School involves a huge amount of time wasting for most reasonably able kids. They have the capacity to do much more of substance with their early years.

3. Many specialist music schools also get very good non-musical academic results. When I looked briefly at A Level results of the Purcell School, they were a very high proportion of As and Bs. Not quite like a leading private or grammar school but well above most comprehensives. I suspect this is because musical kids learn so much about how to learn and use their time purposefully from pursuing their instrument. Even with the demands of hours of practice every day competing with their academic work, they still end up doing that academic work better than those whose other time is spent in front of the TV.

I'd say go for it. Much of the mainstream school system is a training ground for soulless mediocrity. If your kid has a spark that lets her live at a level above that, and is willing to do the work to feed that spark, then give it what it needs and see how it goes. If it's not, in the end, right for her professionally, then she'll sort something else out.

mamatamarind Wed 19-Mar-14 13:04:31

We have just accepted a place at Wells for my daughter. She just needs her liked minded peers who understand good music and not to feel different. We've also been finding her music workload is too much and hard to fit in the practice she needs, and feel at secondary it will be too much to balance social, academic and music one will have to give. We feel wells will give her all three and we can't. The school will giver her a better education then our local comp. We dismissed junior department, as although fantastic opportunity just adds more work, less weekend time and add in sunday orchestra no time for some of the other music schools she'd be one of only a couple her age. (she going into year 6 in Sept) at Wells she will get to other subjects with non music students...

maggiethecat Wed 02-Apr-14 23:49:04

mama, Wells sounds like a great place - good academics with good music and good social opportunities.
will postpone it for primary school but will pick up again for s1

Musicteenager Sat 05-Apr-14 22:58:26

I'm a 17 year old girl in year 12 at a mainstream comprehensive (I know, why am I on mumsnet?).
I am in the National youth orchestra, with 3 grade 8s and an ATCL diploma behind me, having been through 4 years of the NCO.
I campaigned for years for my parents to let me audition for Chets or Purcell but they wouldn't let me, which I see now was the best move.
Having not been in an intensive musical environment it has meant i have to motivate myself and I am absolutely certain it is what I want to do as a career - (In January I finally started at the Junior RAM after my Bassoon teacher suddenly fell pregnant, and living in deepest darkest musically deprived Dorset I could not find another good bassoon teacher, and with conservatoire auditions 11 months away i emailed the RAM in a panic, went up for a quick audition, then started a month later. (exceptional case as Bassoonists are in demand, JDs are not normally that accomadating!))
I'm really enjoying JRAM and am learning so much, it really was the best move, but i believe i have benefited a lot from being in mainstream education, socially and academically. It certainly hasn't limited my options for conservatoires and has made me more independent and passionate as i'm the driving force behind my musical development. I loved the idea of musical boarding school, but I have heard bad things about academics at Purcell in particular, and I've got my musical outlets at JRAM and NYO.

In conclusion, being locked up in a practise room 6 hours a day in a music school isn't the best, or only, way to get to conservatoire standard.

morethanpotatoprints Sat 05-Apr-14 23:06:54


Thank you very much for your honest and very articulately phrased post. Sounds like you are doing really well, and good luck thanks

I have a dd who is 10 and begging us constantly to let her audition for Chets. She had made her mind up she is going and nothing seems to stop her.
I thought a few visits would put her off and now she is more adamant.
We have definitely said no until she is older, but what do you advise I tell her? Do you have a message for her.

Musicteenager Sat 05-Apr-14 23:26:00

How my mum dissuaded me when I was still in stubborn campaigning mode was to challenge me to practise 4 hours a day for an extended period of time, as that would be the reality at a music school - 10 year olds don't have the ability to focus that hard for so long (and neither should they be expected to).
If she is looking to be with musical people who understand her, I loved my time in the NCO and it remains one of my fondest memories - and once she is old enough to travel there herself, a junior department is definitely worth it.

CURIOUSMIND Sat 05-Apr-14 23:43:47

Morethan, your DD is primarily a singer? Admission Policy might be different for singers in Chets.
I think music school or not, also depends on your main instrument. Orchestra instrumentalist can benefit a lot from NCO or other good orchestra. It's hard for pianist. Maybe that's the reason there are pretty large proportion of pianist in Chets.
Ten years old in Chets don't play 4 hours yet, 2-3 hours. Pianist working at diploma level at this age is not rare in Chets, 2-3 hours is normal, needed and expected.

maggiethecat Sun 06-Apr-14 10:29:01

That's really kind of you to share your experience Musicteenager. I know though that it depends a lot on the drive and determination to practise and do what is required even when few around you really get it and everyone else is doing other stuff. But I suppose you need drive and determination whatever the environment.

maggiethecat Sun 06-Apr-14 10:38:22

Musicteenager, do you think that part of that desire to go to music school was influenced by your peers at the NCO, some of whom may have been at music school or at JD's?

morethanpotatoprints Sun 06-Apr-14 11:19:04

Thank you Musicteenager

We are very close to Chets and RNCM, but she is adamant she wants to go full time and that RNCM isn't enough.
At present she is H.ed because she wanted to play more music. Her practice is usually 4 hours or 2.5 if she has a concert or recording etc. We have never had to remind her to practice, let alone nag and she enjoys it so much.


Yes, singing is her main instrument, but she knows she couldn't study this as a first instrument until 6th form at Chets, although she could choose it as a third She is a good standard on saxophone, violin and also plays piano, although not very good on this yet.

LadySybilVimes Sun 06-Apr-14 12:02:28

My daughter attends a specialist music school. It has been the making of her. She loves it. Like Morethans daughter I've never had to nag her to practice and now she loves the fact that her practice is timetabled into her day. She has grown in musical knowledge, confidence, and is generally happier.

If you have a child that lives, thinks and breathes music then I would wholeheartedly recommend music school.

Trufflethewuffle Sun 06-Apr-14 13:35:36

My dd is at a specialist music school too. I agree that the timetabled practice makes life easier and the transformation has been amazing. She probably ends up with 2-3 hours of practice daily split between early morning practice, after school practice and timetabled sessions during the day. She has more free time in the evenings than she had at a mainstream school because of this. She was asked to cut down the number of instruments when she started but was happy with that to concentrate on her main one. She does a bit less sport but I reckon her fitness levels are maintained by the running between locations that she does. She has become noticeably more disciplined about her approach to practice. We have no regrets at all. She wishes she had gone there earlier.

morethanpotatoprints Sun 06-Apr-14 14:06:27

LadySybil and Truffle

How old are your daughters and do they board?
Even though we live quite close (hour) away, several parents have told us she would need to board to get the full effect.
I know some people do go very young but there weren't many 8 - 12 year olds when we visited, they tended to be 12+, the highest being the upper school, GCSE and A level.

Trufflethewuffle Sun 06-Apr-14 14:23:55

Mine is 11 in year 7. She boards, we are about two hours away. She enjoys the boarding but we are aiming to move closer. She maintains that she will still board, and I think she will probably need to because of school commitments, but she will probably then come home at weekends or odd times if she wants to. She is in a boarding house that covers years 7-9 plus a few from the junior school. So plenty of her own age group around.

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