A level Music

Music is a unique subject where all students are treated as musicians in their own right. Ashbourne Music students are expected to adhere to a regular practice routine, and to take responsibility for their own time management inside and outside the classroom. They are expected to give regular public performances throughout the year to develop both their musicianship and their academic understanding of the subject.

Throughout 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 plethora of other occupations. 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.


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.

Watch Charli Eglinton, former Ashbourne student, perform her own composition I Am Actually Strong.


Who teaches the course?

Piers Tattersall

MA Music Composition (Royal College of Music); BA Music Composition (Royal Northern College of Music)

Piers has been composing for many years and his work has been performed widely including by the Britten Sinfonia, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, The Composers’ Ensemble and London Children’s Ballet.

Piers runs Ashbourne’s choir and music club and has been instrumental in the production of our popular annual Ashbourne Revue.

Music scholarships

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.

Recommended reading

Big Bangs – Five Musical Revelations by Howard Goodall
From the invention of musical notation to the first ever recording, Howard Goodall takes you on a journey through the history of western music via five significant developments.

Piano Notes: The World of the Pianist by Charles Rosen
American pianist and scholar Charles Rosen reveals the hidden world of piano playing and pianists.

Introduction to Counterpoint by R.O. Morris
Lessons on counterpoint by British composer and teacher, written in 1944.

Why Choose Ashbourne College?
All of the Ashbourne teachers are very kind and friendly. Our principle Mike really helped me a lot in my university application. I got many unforgettable experiences at Ashbourne such as UKMT Maths Challenge and UKMT Team Maths Challenge. I want to say thank you to all the teachers and staff who helped me in these two years
YanniElectrical and Electronic Engineering at Imperial College
My child has benefited from the amazing opportunities Ashbourne offers. He is respected as an individual and his education has been tailored to suit him. He has had brilliant tutors and the small class sizes ensures he is receiving personalised support in all his classes
I have had a very valuable experience working at Ashbourne. I feel lucky that I got such a great opportunity to deal with different kinds of jobs which include; document preparations, helping at some organised opening evenings or dealing with students’ enquiries. Having a chance to deal with these tasks I feel that I have already gained a lot of valuable improvements in the skills which are needed in a college administrative working environment. The Ashbourne staff are very friendly and helpful. They never hesitated to give me advice on the jobs I was doing and what I should and should not do. I can not thank them enough for such great help and experience during all those times I was working at Ashbourne
Kim Anh TranFormer Part-Time Administrative Assistant