Ashbourne A level Music students are treated as musicians in their own right and are expected to give regular public performances throughout the course to develop both their musicianship and academic understanding of the subject. Over the course students will grow and develop technically, academically and artistically in a way that is an essential part of preparation for the musical profession as well as a wide choice of career pathways.
Ashbourne A level Music students
Former Ashbourne Music students have gone on to secure places at prestigious institutions including Royal Holloway, Birmingham Conservatoire, Russell Group Universities and the Royal College of Music, as well as moving directly into creative arts and music careers.
Charli studied A level Music, Drama and Film at Ashbourne. She produced some fantastic work in all three subjects, including her composition she is performing in the video below, and achieved outstanding A level results and awards.
“My experience of being a Music student at Ashbourne exceeded all my expectations. My passion and drive for Music was matched and encouraged through the exceptional teaching the college offers. Only now, having left, do I realise just how far I’ve progressed from when I first joined, in terms of technical knowledge and complex musical theory I have now actively been applying to my own work and compositions. I cannot recommend Ashbourne enough for anyone with a drive and a passion to succeed. You will thrive.”
Verena Koay started playing the violin from the age of three. She came to Ashbourne as an accomplished musician and went on to study at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Watch her perform Tango Por Una Cabeza arranged by John WIlliams, at the Royal College of Music in the video below.
“Honestly, I had the best two years of my life as an A level student at Ashbourne. Not only did Ashbourne prepare me extremely well for the A level exams, the music opportunities I was exposed to during my time really helped to develop myself into a better musician. We had at least one music concert every term, plenty of opportunities to play in ensembles as well as having our compositions performed by professional musicians! Ashbourne really focuses on bringing out the individuality and independence of its students.”
Aimee achieved her dream of studying Music at university after graduating from Ashbourne. She went on to study at the Royal Holloway University, London.
“My time at Ashbourne was incredible! I made lifelong friendships and learnt how to be independent and manage my time well. Ashbourne was a stepping stone between school and university where I was treated as an adult but was still given the guidance I needed to achieve the results that I wanted to get. I learnt so much, not just about my subjects, but about myself.”
Amy came to Ashbourne with a passion not only for Music, but Physics and Maths. This turned out to be a fantastic combination. After graduating from Ashbourne Amy went on to take a joint degree in Physics and Music at Cardiff University, followed by a masters at the same university in Astrophysics.
“My time at Ashbourne was a fun and exciting experience. It had a very relaxed atmosphere which helped me settle in very well. The college’s approach to teaching in the classrooms was very different to traditional sixth form colleges and a lot more informal, which I believe was a great aid in developing my skills in independent study. My teachers and other staff members were very supportive of my passion for Physics, Maths and Music and were an incredible assistance in helping me find an ideal course at university which catered to my interest.”
Why study Music?
A level Music offers students a sophisticated and technically demanding perspective on an art form that reaches across numerous cultural and linguistic divides and into all walks of life. The course takes in a broad range of musical styles from the 18th century to the present day as well as performance and composition units which take students’ own musical experiences and repertoire as their starting point. Academically A level Music shines a light on the technical ingenuity of composers, performers and instrument makers, while also giving an account of our emotional, psychological and spiritual engagement with human creativity.
Which syllabus do we follow?
Ashbourne follows the AQA specification for Music AS level and A level.
What is covered on the course?
Students will explore three main areas of study: the Western Classical Tradition, Jazz and Music for Media. They will develop their appreciation and understanding of music through context, musical elements and language. This equips students with an excellent foundation for them perform and compose. GCSE music is an essential requirement for this course and it is assumed that students will already have a secure grasp of music theory and musical terminology to around Grade 5 level. Most students will have already taken the grade 5 ABRSM theory exam before taking the A level.
The course is split into three parts:
Listen, analyse and contextualise
This is the largest of the three units, accounting for 40% of the A level, and takes in a wide variety of musical styles and approaches.
The unit consists of three areas of study including Western Classical Music (1600-1910), Music for Media, and Jazz. Through the course they will develop their aural and written skills through listening, analysis, class discussion and written work. At the end of the course all students will sit a written exam lasting 2 hours and 30 minutes covering listening, analysis and essay writing skills.
Central to the written component of this unit is the division of music into factual observations, and music’s ‘affect’ or what we experience when we listen to music. Students will learn how to give an in-depth account of stylistic developments and historical context, while offering their own accounts of musical listening.
Practice, Perform, and Observe
Performance makes up 35% of the A level assessment and students should be at about Grade 7 level by the time they reach year 13. Students are encouraged to draw on familiar repertoire and throughout the year there are opportunities for students to give public performances at St Mary Abbots Church, Ashbourne’s annual Revue and our Creative Arts event in the Spring.
We welcome all styles of music in our events and over the years we’ve had performances of music from Handel to Hendrix, and from Boulez to Clean Bandit.
The student run College jazz band (the House Band) performs regularly with singers at the Revue and Creative Arts event. Through the year students are encouraged to explore repertoire for their own instruments both to broaden their knowledge and progress technically as performers.
Wait, expiate and create
This is worth 25% of the assessment and is divided into two parts – composition to a brief (Bach Chorales) and Free Composition where students can write in any style (or even several styles in the same piece). Students can draw inspiration from other composers and use their contextual understanding to create their own pieces.
At Ashbourne all students will compose for the Edison Ensemble, our professional ensemble in residence conducted by our director of music. Student compositions are workshopped and performed in a recorded concert at The Warehouse.
Who teaches the course?
MA Music, Historical Musicology (King’s College, London); BA Music (King’s College, London); PGCE Harpiscord and Conducting (Guildhall School of Music and Drama); PCGE Secondary Music (Institute of Education, University of London)
Yat-Soon is a professional musician, conductor and musical director who has performed extensively as a solo harpsichordist and in ensembles at many prestigious and historic venues in the UK and Europe. He has also conduced widely acclaimed productions of baroque opera and vocal music including for the London Baroque Opera and is musical director with Opéra de Baugé in France.
Yat-Soon has been sharing his love of music and wealth of professional and educational experience for many years as teacher and director of music at schools, including St Paul’s Girls and Lady Eleanor Holles, and Birmingham University.
Ashbourne offers a limited number of Music scholarships to talented students.
Beyond A level Music
A level Music is a requirement for all Music courses at university and is a well respected qualification in itself. Pathways into a music career are many and varied. You could train as a professional musician and perform at the Royal Albert Hall, compose for the English Ballet, sing at the Royal Opera House, produce blockbuster movie soundtracks, become a rock star, singer songwriter or pop star, compose and record your own tracks, conduct your own orchestra, offer music as therapy, sign up new bands, become a famous session musician, rock the house as a club or radio DJ, write about music, teach and much more.
Big Bangs – Five Musical Revelations by Howard Goodall
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Piano Notes: The World of the Pianist by Charles Rosen
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Introduction to Counterpoint by R.O. Morris
Lessons on counterpoint by British composer and teacher, written in 1944.