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GCSE Music advice please

(80 Posts)
runforthehills65 Fri 03-May-13 12:16:50

My son showed no interest in playing an instrument until Year 7. He is now in Year 8 and about to take Trinity Grade 1 piano.

He practises a fair amount at home and does seem to be able to play pieces by ear quite easily.

I am not musical at all and wondered whether this level is too low to do GCSE Music? His music teacher said he should ideally be grade 3 level but thinks he will cope.

Anyone whose DC has taken GSCE Music and how hard is it?

He's got to chose now for Year 9 and I don't want him taking this if he will really struggle and could chose another option, ie. geography or 2nd language.


circular Fri 03-May-13 12:46:59

Depends when he is likely to need to do the performance element, and what grade he would want from the GCSE.

The performance is 30% of the marks overall, grade 3 generally the minimum standard. Extra marks are awarded for difficulty, so for a grade 5 piece it is possible to get full marks with a couple of slip ups.

Composition makes up 30% so if that is his strong area can get extra marks there.

The listening and appraising paper is worth 40.

If he is a piano player, the keyboard skills will give him an advantage.

My DD is in yr11 taking GCSE music and says it is the singers that struggle the most with the non performance elements.

BackforGood Fri 03-May-13 13:27:53

My dd is in Yr9 so just chosen her options.
She has grade 3 in both piano and flute, but regularly plays pieces that are more difficult, just doesn't like the whole scales / aural stuff for the exams yes, I was surprised when she said she wanted to take GCSE music too. The music teachers said that she would be OK.... in the same breath they also said that she would be working at Grade 5 level when she takes the GCSE, so from Grade 1 in Yr8, it's going to be much harder work for your ds, but probably do-able.
OTOH, my niece, who is an excellent guitarist, and can play a bit of piano by ear, but not read any music at the end of Yr9, is just about to take her GCSE and doing fine with that. I don't know if different boards put an emphasis on different aspects of the music ?

webwiz Fri 03-May-13 15:49:41

DS is in year 11 and is taking music gcse, it will probably be his lowest grade out of all his gcses despite the fact that he's grade 7 on the guitar. He just hasn't got to grips with the composing, finds the listening paper very difficult and he ended up recording his solo performance when he wasn't ready to do it (long story!). He's enjoyed the course but it has been appearing on reports as "not on track for target grade" for the last 18 months now so we are resigned to whatever grade he gets.

eatyourveg Fri 03-May-13 16:44:54

Criteria in dc's school is the potential to reach at grade 5 by exam time

Leeds2 Fri 03-May-13 17:00:11

My DD doesn't do Music GCSE, but I have just checked the notes we were given when she made her choices and it says that a student should be aiming to be of Grade 5 standard by the summer term of the exam.

BackforGood Fri 03-May-13 18:12:33

Seems fairly consistent then... that might be a tall order for someone who is just about to take Grade1 3 years before?

circular Fri 03-May-13 19:10:38

Backforgood When DD chose her options 2 years ago, she was told it would be the first year that Edexcel music syllabus had made it compulsory to be able to read music.
I don't think the other boards did then but they may well do now.

gobbin Fri 03-May-13 19:46:22

It's not compulsory to be able to read music to do Edexcel GCSE Music but the compositions must be notated. Some schoold may ask their pupils to do this by hand. We use computer programme Sibelius which all our kids handle from Yr 7 and isn't difficult to be creative with. In fact, I would go as far as to say that any school which insists on its pupils writing out their work longhand is doing them a disservice, especially weak pupils.

This year we have a pupil who is a very weak performer and has had to work really hard to grasp much of the listening element (in line to get an F or E on a good day) but her first composition was magic.

runforthehills65 Fri 03-May-13 20:02:08

Thanks for replies. Just looked at his school and they do Edexcel GCSE Music. When I spoke to his music teacher about my worries at his level she said if he does well in grade 1 he can skip to grade 3 straightaway. His 1st exam is June so this is all very new to us.

I guess we need wait and see how he does in this exam, if it all goes wrong maybe he can still change to another subject for his option. He does seem to have really taken a shine to music though.

MTSCostcoChickenFan Fri 03-May-13 20:17:07

runfor - unless your DS hates the alternatives I suggest that he picks one of those options and pursue his music via the music gradings route. That way he gets a GCSE in Geography AND a Grade x in Piano. He can even take a grading in Music Theory.

We had a look at uni admissions and some unis do give you credit points for grades passed. I am of course talking about grade 5 or above.

gobbin Fri 03-May-13 20:28:17

Music GCSE is so much more than performance though MTS and, whilst I agree that having GCSE Music isn't the be-all and end-all of music education, a child that has this qual together with graded performance and theory exams is the more rounded musician.

UCAS points start at Grade 6 and it's worth 20 points. Handy, but not a dealbreaker in unimadmissions.

circular Fri 03-May-13 20:35:08

Gobbin You have a point there re the Edexcel.
Although they were told that about the reading music, there was nothing they did within the syllabus where it seemed vital.
For composition, they had the choice of using software or writing out by hand.

stillenacht Fri 03-May-13 20:42:02

Hi as a music teacher I have pupils at GCSE from grade 1-8 in yr 11. Grade 3/4 is the expected grade for an A* in the performance part of the exam only...if your child is in yr 7 and about to take grade 1 hopefully with concerted practice he should be able to get to grade 3/4 by year 11. However the performance only makes up 20-30% of the overall GCSE depending on the board.

Startail Fri 03-May-13 20:56:45

DD1 who is doing OCR reckons grade 4 when you start.
She is a grade 4 singer and hopefully will have 5 by the time she starts Y11.

She'll certainly get a C, and a B on a very good day. I think it would be easier if she played an instrument, but she's dyslexic and reading the music, remembering the fingering and coordinating both hands at once is just more than her working memory can cope with.

Most of all you have to be enthusiastic and happy to have a go at anything, DD was playing base guitar the other day to give someone else the vocal part.

MTSCostcoChickenFan Fri 03-May-13 21:03:30

gobbin - I accept that there is more to GCSE Music than performing but based on admitedly just a few words from the OP, the DS doesn't seem to have a passion for the subject. If that is so then the DS should IMO go for the subject he had the greatest chance of getting a good grade.

Schmedz Fri 03-May-13 21:32:54

If he is now keen on music, practising regularly and ...actually ENJOYING it, why shouldn't he aim for GCSE music? He will have a lot of catching up to do in regards to the performance side of things, but there is no reason he couldn't cope with the listening and composing elements of the course.

If he is already in Year 8 and doing grade 1, he would probably need to aim to take about two grade levels a year in year 9 and 10 to put him in an average level of performance skills for GCSE (as a general guide at our senior school the children are usually at least grade 6 in their first instrument and often a similar level in a second and even third) however as other posters have pointed out, the performance component is only about a third of the overall grade AND it is possible to give very good quality performances at lower levels of difficulty.

Surely there is some scope to choose GCSE courses based on what you will actually really enjoy studying, rather than just what you think might give you a good mark?

BackforGood Sat 04-May-13 00:14:18

Yes, but as Stillenacht says ^

.if your child is in yr 7 and about to take grade 1 hopefully {and} with concerted practice he should be able to get to grade 3/4 by year 11.

IME (3 dcs with 6 instruments between them) most children are enthusiastic and willing to practice to begin with, it's after the initial enthusiasm has worn off, it becomes more of a chore.
So I guess it's a bit down the your dc's personality and determination to achieve in music, as much as their actual musical ability.
To my mind, it would depend on what the other options are though, and how close a decision it is between doing music and something else.

Wuldric Sat 04-May-13 00:24:09

I've been working on the basis of a grade a year, although this has not actually been true of either of my DCs (DD took two years over grade 4 and DS two years over grade 3).

Both are doing music GCSE and as an unmusical parent I thought my DCs should need to be aiming at Grade 4ish by year 11 to do really well in the exam. Doing Grade 1 in Year 8 means that your DS should get there given concerted practice etc.

From the outside looking in, Music GCSE is not a soft option at all.

FranKatzenjammer Sat 04-May-13 00:44:04

Could he take up a second instrument? On some woodwind and brass instruments, it is possible to make more rapid progress in the early grades. The clarinet, cornet or trumpet might be a possibility if he has the aptitude for it.

Schmedz Sat 04-May-13 16:33:55

Stillenacht...surely grade 3/4 is not the standard level for an A* in performance. That seems very low ( I stand by my comment that you can perform well at that level but surely there is some allowance for the difficulty of the repertoire to get that very top mark?)

BackforGood Sat 04-May-13 17:01:22

Not everybody except on MN expects / needs / presumes their dc will get A*s for their GCSEs though Schmedz. There are lots of other grades available wink

mysteryfairy Sat 04-May-13 18:45:22

My DSs were encouraged to play pieces well below the level they were working at for their GCSE music performances as apparently playing a lower standard piece flawlessly gets a better mark than a more difficult piece with any error in. DS2 dragged out a grade 5 piece for his solo performance recently and I'm not even sure that was the easiest piece either of them entered. DS1 has A* and DS2 predicted A*.

The GCSE performance for DS2 (AQA) involved one solo and one ensemble piece. The music department at his school were not supportive in pulling an ensemble together and DS2 had to sort this out himself and get the others he had commandeered to rehearse at lunch etc. He played trombone for other people's ensembles in return... Don't know how he would have fared had he not been a desirable performer to swap with or had the musical experience to organise and rehearse his ensemble. DS1's school have a much stronger music department who organise all the ensembles - might be worth finding out how much support your son would get in this. DS1's school had their entire senior swing band in at 8.15 am a couple of weeks ago for his AS performance. DS1 is a grade 8 pianist but chose to play bass for this, claiming it's too hard to do well in this element on piano - again might be worth checking if there is any truth in this (v possible DS1 just fancied playing bass and said something to shut me up).

My DS2 is a very unmotivated student though a good performer and the composition has been a complete pain to get him to finish. They did two pieces, one had to be a certain style and one could be anything. I'm sure they were given directed time at school but we had to stand over DS2 reluctantly doing hours and hours of it at home. We bought Sibelius (£200ish) to enable this. It's obviously not required to have but across both schools my DSs are at I'd say most students had it, though some had a cheaper student edition. This element has definitely taken up more time than coursework for other subjects so I think worth making sure your son is keen on this element and will enjoy it.

Schmedz Sat 04-May-13 21:55:24

BackforGood I wasn't commenting on whether A* are expected/needed/presumed by anyone, only that Stillenacht had mentioned grade 3/4 was the expected standard to get an A* in the performance component. I am a junior school music teacher and quite a few of my Year 4 students are playing at that level, so it surprised me that what they can do would be considered A* at GCSE...that's all. Personally I think that is way too low a standard to gain such an outstanding mark at GSCE.
You might also have read that I think you shouldn't choose your GCSEs based on what you think will get you the 'best' grade but what you actually are interested in studying.

MTSCostcoChickenFan Sat 04-May-13 22:02:16

I'm a parent of a DC taking GCSE Music as opposed to a teacher but from reading various forums grade 3 to 4 does not equate to an A*

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