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Music A level at Esher College

Course description

This qualification is for any musician who wants to develop their musical knowledge and understanding through improving performing, composing and appraising skills.

Performance accounts for just under a third of the course, as does composing. Listening and analysis, which involve studying a given set of scores, account for just over a third. The listening and analysis unit also includes some study of harmony, in the form of basic Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass (SATB) writing.

Course content

In the first year listening and analysis skills are developed through the study of a wide range of music including vocal music, film music, instrumental music, popular music and jazz, fusions and new directions in 20th and 21st century music.

The first year set works include Vocal works by Bach, and Mozart’s Magic Flute, Symphonic music such as Vivaldi’s Concerto in D minor, Piano music by Clara Schumann, Film Music by Danny Elfman, and Rachel Portman, Modern music by Debussy, and John Cage, and Popular music by, Kate Bush and Courtney Pine.

Opportunities for performance take place regularly inside College and in public. You will study different styles of musical composition, including popular styles, and compose two original pieces of music.

In the second year you continue to build on your performance skills, in the form of a recital; composition using a range of techniques and harmonic styles; extended listening techniques including dictation and chord identification, and analysis of set scores, demonstrated through comparison style essay writing.

The second year set works include songs by Vaughan Williams, Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique, songs by the Beatles, Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho, Anoushka Shankar’s Breathing Under Water fusion, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Entry requirements

The minimum entry requirement for study at Esher College is 5 GCSEs at A* - C (or 9 – 4 in Maths and English).  We encourage students to aim significantly higher than this to ensure that study programmes are successfully completed.

Aside from the general entry criteria that the College requires, you will also need to achieve Performance at a minimum level of Grade 5 (you don't have to have taken the Grade 5 exam, but you have to be able to perform at that standard); and the ability to read standard notation, NOT just tab or other notation. It is essential to have studied Music Theory to Grade 5 standard. The opportunity to take this examination will be offered in the first year to anyone without the qualification, but you must have already spent some time studying Grades 1-4 Theory of Music.

The skills demanded for A Level are very different from those required at GCSE, and Music GCSE is not a requirement.  

If you do not have a grade 4 in either GCSE English Language or Maths and you qualify to follow a study programme at the College, you will be required to retake one or both of these subjects in your first year.  A lack of GCSE English Language at grade 4 will significantly restrict study programme options.


A Level assessments are 30% recital performance, 30% composition and compositional techniques, and 40% written and listening exam.

Performance and composition are assessed as coursework, and composition will be produced during a set number of supervised hours. The A2 recital is 8 minutes playing time. Listening, analysis and harmony take the form of written papers. You can play solo or with a small ensemble of up to 4 players.

Future opportunities

Many employers are interested in Music for its artistic and creative aspects, which can lead potential employees into fields such as media and marketing. Other careers stemming from the study of music are teaching, professional performance, and studio-based work including sound engineering (although you may need to undertake relevant work experience or particular studies to secure studio work). The Music Department enjoys a progression agreement with a local Music Technology higher education provider. Music at degree level is incredibly varied from institution to institution, so it is necessary to consider which element of music you want to pursue. Some courses focus largely on performance, some on composition, some on academic, analytical and historical study and some on popular music, jazz and world music styles. If, for example, you love performance but you're not keen on academic music, you might want to apply for a performance diploma at a music college rather than a degree. If you're not a strong performer but you enjoy analysis, a traditional university may have a course which suits this balance. There are many career opportunities in the music industry for music composers, song-writers and those with creative flair.

How to apply

If you want to apply for this course, you will need to contact Esher College directly.

Last updated date: 12 October 2016
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