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A Level Music

A Level Music at St Edmund’s College is a rewarding course, supported by inspiring teachers and filled with performance opportunities.

As a Sixth Form student, you will benefit from our dedicated A Level Music teaching room, which has a PC for each student, equipped with industry-standard Sibelius software.

You will also be able to create and compose in our recording studio (new in 2017) which offers a vocal and instrumental booth, and a connection into a larger recording space.

Enrichment opportunities at St Ed’s include:

  • Solo and ensemble performances at recitals, concerts and mass
  • Ensembles include Orchestra, Jazz Band, Schola Cantorum and Senior Choir
  • Leadership roles in the House Music Competition and in The Chapel
  • Rhetoric Music Society
Head of Academic Music Ms D Wainwright BMus (Hons) (Birmingham) PGCE (Leeds)
Syllabus AQA


Course structure

Topic 1 (compulsory): Western Classical Tradition (1650 – 1910)

Students pick two of the following:

  • Topic 2: Pop Music
  • Topic 3: Music for Media
  • Topic 4: Music for Theatre
  • Topic 5: Jazz
  • Topic 6: Contemporary Traditional Music
  • Topic 7: Art Music since 1910

Assessment for all three components is completed at the end of Rhetoric II (Year 13).


The three assessments are broken down to written, performance and composition.

Component 1 – 2.5 hour written (40%)

Appraising music: listening, analysis and contextual understanding.

  • Section A: Listening: Students must answer three sets of questions in this section. They are assessed on their ability to analyse and evaluate the music heard in the exam and demonstrate knowledge and understanding of musical elements and musical language to make critical judgements.
  • Section B: Analysis: In this section students will be required to answer two sets of linked questions on two extracts of the set works from topic 1: Western Classical Tradition 1650–1910. Students will be able to access the excerpts relevant to their options digitally on an individual basis.
  • Section C: Essay: Students will be required to answer one essay question on one area of study from a choice of topics 2-7.

Component 2 – performance (35%)

A solo and/or ensemble performance as an instrumentalist, or vocalist and/ or music production.

Component 3 – composition (25%)

One composition must be in response to an externally set brief and the other composition is freely composed. Together, the compositions must last a combined minimum time of four and a half minutes.

Students will be able to choose from seven externally set briefs, which may include stimuli such as a poem or a piece of text, photographs, images or film or notation. The free composition need not reference any brief or area of study.



Reading list

There is no expectation that students purchase any of the below books; they are all stocked in the department and in the College library.

However, students may wish to use some of the texts to enhance and enrich their understanding of the course’s theoretical concepts. The list below is therefore intended to give a flavour of the course and provide a reference point if any topics prove particularly challenging.


  • ​Sturman, P.  Harmony Melody and Composition. Longman
  • Samson, J.  Chopin, the Four Ballades. Cambridge Music
  • Goodall, H. Big Bangs. Vintage
  • Osborne, C. The Operas of Mozart. Gollancz
  • The Cambridge Companion to Chopin. Cambridge UP
  • Blume. Classic and Romantic Music. Faber
  • Mortimer, R Music Technology from Scratch. Rhinegold Education
  • Redwood, G. Creative Musical Techniques
  • Lowe, D. How to Write Great Music (
  • Denny, J. The Oxford School Harmony Course (Vols 1 & 2) OUP
  • Morris, R O. Foundations of Practical Harmony and Counterpoint. Macmillan
  • Morris, R O. The Oxford Harmony (Vols 1 & 2) OUP
  • Butterworth, A. Harmony in Practice (ABRSM)
  • Boyd, M. Bach Chorale Harmonisation and Instrumental Counterpoint
  • Benham, H. A Student’s Guide to Harmony and Counterpoint. Rhinegold Education
  • Benham, H. AS/A2 Music Harmony Workbook. Rhinegold Education

Area of Study 1: Western classical tradition 1650-1910

  • Bukofzer, M. Music in the Baroque Era Read Books
  • Benham, H. Baroque Music in Focus. Rhinegold Education
  • Keele, S. The Cambridge Companion to the Concerto. Cambridge University Press
  • Price, C. Purcell Studies. Cambridge University Press
  • Adams, M. Henry Purcell. Cambridge University Press
  • Rosen, C. The Classical Style. W.W. Norton
  • Carter, T. W A Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro. Cambridge University Press
  • Hunter and Webster. Opera Buffa in Mozart’s Vienna. Cambridge University Press
  • Le Nozze Di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro): (English National Opera Guide 17)
  • Rowland, D. The Cambridge Companion to the Piano. Cambridge University Press
  • Samson, J. Chopin: The Four Ballades. Cambridge University Press
  • Samson, J. The Cambridge Companion to Chopin. Cambridge University Press
  • Matthews, D. Brahms Piano Music. BBC Music Guide

Area of study 2: Pop music

  • Ventura, D. Understanding Popular Music. Rhinegold Education

Area of study 3: Music for media

  • Cooke, M. A History of Film Music. Cambridge University Press
  • Ventura, D. Film Music in Focus. Rhinegold Education

Area of study 4: Music for theatre

  • Everett and Laird. The Cambridge Companion to the Musical. Cambridge University Press
  • Terry, P. Musicals in Focus. Rhinegold Education
  • Banfield, S. Sondheim’s Broadway Musicals. University of Michigan

Area of study 5: Jazz

  • Whyton, T. Jazz Icons. Cambridge University Press
  • Kernfield, B. What to Listen For in Jazz. Yale University Press
  • Berrett, J. Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman. Yale University Press
  • Green, E. The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington. Cambridge University Press
  • Rattenbury, K. Duke Ellington, Jazz Composer. Yale University Press

Area of study 6: Contemporary traditional music

  • Astor Piazzolla: A Memoir (Natalio Gorin) Amadeus Press
  • Le Grand Tango: The Life and Music of Astor Piazzolla Oxford University Press
  • Lavezzoli, P and Shankar, R. The Dawn of Indian Music in the West. Continuum
  • Agawu, K. The African Imagination in Music. Oxford University Press
  • Elliott, R. Fado and the Place of Longing: Loss, Memory and the City. Routledge
  • Winter, T and Keegan-Phipps, S. Performing Englishness. Manchester University Press

Area of study 7: Art music since 1910 (A-Level specification only)

  • Fairclough and Fanning. The Cambridge Companion to Shostakovich. Cambridge University Press
  • Fanning, D. Shostakovich Studies. Cambridge University Press
  • Fairclough, P. Shostakovich Studies 2. Cambridge University Press
  • Ottaway, H. Shostakovich Symphonies. BBC Music Guide
  • Pople, A. Messiaen: Quatour pour la fin du temps. Cambridge University Press
  • Sholl, R. Messiaen Studies. Cambridge University Press
  • Dingle, C. The Life of Messiaen
  • Potter, K. Four Musical Minimalists. Cambridge University Press
  • Spicer,P. James Macmillan Choral Music: A Practical Commentary and Survey

Performance practice

  • Bruser, M. The Art of practicing. Bell Tower.
  • Gordon, S. Mastering the Art of Performance. OUP
  • Williamson, A. Musical excellence. Oxford
  • Evans, A. The secrets of musical confidence. Thorsons
  • Chaffin and Imreh. Practising Perfection, memory and piano performance.
  • Klickstein. The Musician’s Way. OUP
  • Havas, K. Stage fright. Bosworth.
  • Green, B. The Inner game of Music. Pan Books
  • Green, B. The Mastery of Music – Macmillan
  • Musical Performance, a guide to understanding. Cambridge
  • Sandor. On Piano Playing. Schirmer.

Wider musical understanding

  • Levitin, D. This is your brain on music. Atlantic Books
  • Storr, A.Music and the Mind. Harper/Collins
  • Kivy, P. Musical Language and Cognition. OUP
  • Rosen, C. Music and Sentiment. Yale
  • Snyder. Music and memory. MIT press
Department aims

Our aims are:

  • For the love of God and fellowship with all in the College Community to be celebrated and fostered though the making of and experience of music.
  • For all pupils to have opportunity to create, perform and enjoy music in a wide variety of styles, genres and cultural backgrounds.
  • To encourage and develop self-confidence, social skills, spiritual growth and sensitive communication from engaging in music making in the classroom, in individual lessons, ensembles, chapel and anywhere in the College.
There is music in the air, music all around us; the world is full of it and you simply take as much as you require.
Edward Elgar


Key skills developed
High level of performance in one instrument or voice Grade 6 at Rhetoric I (Year 12) and Grade 7+ at Rhetoric II (Year 13) Composition skills
Independent learning Team working
Ability to commit to practise and progression Performance and presentation skills
Analytical and essay writing skills Confience and self-esteem
Creativity and self-expression


Future pathways

Higher education and career prospects The course equips students to study Music in higher education and pursue a music-related career, as well as developing a lifelong appreciation and enjoyment of music.

Music students at St Edmund’s have progressed on to take music, music technology and music engineering as a degree, leading to working in the music industry performing, recording and teaching.

Music students taking different degree subjects participate in the musical life at universities and beyond. Outstanding musicians may qualify for higher education choral and organ scholarships.