3.1 Understanding music

The areas of study provide an appropriate focus for students to appraise, develop and demonstrate an in-depth knowledge and understanding of musical elements, musical context and musical language. The four areas of study can also provide a rich source of material for your students to work with when developing performance and composition skills.

There are four areas of study:
  1. Western classical tradition 1650–1910
  2. Popular music
  3. Traditional music
  4. Western classical tradition since 1910.

3.1.1 Areas of study 1–4

Listening – unfamiliar music

Students must be able to listen attentively to unfamiliar music from all four areas of study to identify and accurately describe musical elements, musical contexts and use musical language (including staff notation).

Study pieces

For two areas of study (one of which must be Area of study 1 and the other a choice of one from Areas of study 2–4), students must also be able to critically appraise the music from the specified study pieces using knowledge and understanding of:

  • the effect of audience, time and place on how the study pieces were created, developed and performed
  • how and why the music across the selected areas of study has changed over time
  • how the composer’s purpose and intention for the study pieces is reflected in their use of musical elements
  • relevant musical vocabulary and terminology for the study pieces.

3.1.2 Area of study 1: Western classical tradition 1650–1910 (compulsory)

For the purposes of this specification, the western classical tradition is defined as art music of (or growing out of) the European tradition, normally notated, and normally intended for public performance.

Listening – unfamiliar music

Students must be able to listen attentively to unfamiliar music from the following styles/genres to identify and accurately describe musical elements, musical contexts and musical language:
  • The Coronation Anthems and Oratorios of Handel.
  • The Orchestra Music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.
  • The piano music of Chopin and Schumann.
  • The Requiem of the late Romantic period.

Study piece

Haydn: Symphony 101 in D major The Clock, movt. 2

Musical elements

The following table contains all the musical elements, for this area of study, that students must know and understand to answer questions in section A (Listening) and section B (Study piece). Marks will also be awarded for knowledge of other terms if relevant to this area of study in section B (Study piece) of the exam.

Element type

Element

Melody

  • conjunct, disjunct, triadic, broken chords, scalic, arpeggio
  • intervals within the octave
  • passing notes
  • diatonic, chromatic
  • slide/portamento, ornamentation including acciaccaturas, appoggiaturas
  • ostinato
  • phrasing, articulation.

Harmony

  • diatonic, chromatic
  • consonant, dissonant
  • pedal, drone
  • cadences: perfect, plagal, imperfect, interrupted and tièrce de Picardie
  • identification of major, minor and dominant seventh chords using chord symbols/roman numerals.

Tonality

  • major, minor, and their key signatures to four sharps and flats
  • modulation to dominant, subdominant in major or minor keys
  • relative major or minor
  • tonic major or minor.

Structure

  • binary and ternary
  • rondo
  • arch-shape
  • through-composed
  • theme and variations, sonata, minuet and trio, scherzo and trio
  • call and response
  • ground bass, continuo
  • cadenza.

Sonority (Timbre)

  • instruments and voices singly and in combination as found in music, including that for solo instruments, concertos, chamber groups
  • instrumental techniques such as arco, pizzicato, con sordino.

Texture

  • harmonic/homophonic/chordal
  • polyphonic/contrapuntal
  • imitative, canonic, layered
  • antiphonal
  • a cappella
  • monophonic/single melody line
  • melody and accompaniment
  • unison, octaves.

Tempo, metre and rhythm

  • simple and compound time
  • regular
  • anacrusis
  • common Italian tempo terms eg allegro, andante
  • pulse
  • augmentation, diminution
  • hemiola
  • semibreve, minim, crotchet, quaver, semiquaver
  • dotted rhythms, triplets, scotch snap
  • rubato, pause
  • tempo.

Dynamics and articulation

Gradation of dynamics as follows:

  • pp, p. mp, mf, f, ff including the Italian terms
  • cresc, crescendo, dim, diminuendo including hairpins
  • sfz, sforzando
  • common signs, terms and symbols.

3.1.3 Musical language (Area of study 1)

Students must be able to use the musical language appropriate to this Area of study in the following ways:

Reading staff notation

Students must be able to identify musical elements (as above) when reading short passages of unfamiliar music in staff notation of up to 12 bars.

Writing staff notation

Students must be able to demonstrate the ability to write staff notation within short passages of up to eight bars:
  • melodically up to four sharps and flats
  • rhythmically including simple and compound time.

Chords

Students must learn major and minor chords and be able to identify them in aural and written form. Examples of relevant types of chords can be found in the musical elements table above.

Musical vocabulary and terminology

Students must be able to identify and apply appropriate musical vocabulary and terminology to music heard and notated. The appropriate vocabulary required can be found in the table above.

For the purpose of this specification, popular music is defined as mainstream music including a number of musical styles and genres including rock, pop, musical theatre, film and computer gaming music from 1950 to the present.

Listening – unfamiliar music

Students must be able to listen attentively to unfamiliar music from the following styles/genres to identify and accurately describe musical elements, musical contexts and musical language:
  • music of Broadway 1950s to 1990s
  • rock music of 1960s and 1970s
  • film and computer gaming music 1990s to present
  • pop music 1990s to present.

Study piece

The Beatles: Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – the following three tracks:

  • With a Little Help from my Friends
  • Within You, Without You
  • Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Musical elements

In addition to the musical elements listed for Area of study 1, students must know and understand musical elements appropriate to this Area of study.

The following table contains all the musical elements, for this area of study, that students must know and understand to answer questions in section A (Listening) and section B (Study piece). Marks will also be awarded for knowledge of other terms if relevant to this area of study in section B (Study piece) of the exam.

Element type

Element

Melody

  • riff
  • pitch bend
  • melisma
  • hook
  • slide
  • glissando
  • improvisation
  • ostinato
  • blue notes.

Harmony

  • power chords
  • chord symbols eg C7
  • stock chord progressions eg I VI IV V.

Tonality

  • pentatonic
  • modal
  • blues scale.

Structure

  • intro/outro
  • verse
  • chorus
  • break
  • twelve-bar blues
  • drum fill.

Sonority (Timbre)

  • standard contemporary instrument types eg electric guitar, synthesisers
  • specific instrument types eg sitar, dilruba
  • instrumental techniques eg palm mute (pm), pitch bend, hammer-on (ho), pull-off (po), slide guitar/bottleneck
  • drum kit components and techniques eg rim shot
  • vocal timbres eg falsetto, belt, rap, beat-boxing, scat singing
  • specific instrumental techniques eg slap bass
  • specific instrumental effects eg amplification, distortion
  • specific technological recording techniques eg automatic double-tracking (ADT) and direct input transformer (DIT).

Tempo, metre and rhythm

  • bpm (beats per minute)
  • mm (metronome marking)
  • groove
  • backbeat
  • syncopation
  • off-beat
  • shuffle, swing/swung.

3.1.5 Area of study 3: Traditional music

For the purpose of this specification, traditional music is defined as music that takes influences from traditional sources including folk music and reinterprets them in a contemporary style, and traditional music from traditional sources and cultures that is performed as intended by the composer.

Listening – unfamiliar music

Students must be able to listen attentively to unfamiliar music from the following styles/genres to identify and accurately describe musical elements, musical contexts and musical language:
  • Blues music from 19201950
  • Fusion music incorporating African and/or Caribbean music
  • Contemporary Latin music
  • Contemporary Folk music of the British Isles.

Study piece

Santana: Supernatural – the following three tracks:

  • Smooth
  • Migra
  • Love of my Life.

Musical elements

In addition to the musical elements listed for Area of study 1, students must know and understand musical elements appropriate to this Area of study.

The following table contains all the musical elements, for this area of study, that students must know and understand to answer questions in section A (Listening) and section B (Study piece). Marks will also be awarded for knowledge of other terms if relevant to this area of study in section B (Study piece) of the exam.

Element type

Element

Melody

  • blue notes
  • pentatonic, whole tone, modal
  • slide/glissando/portamento, pitch bend, appoggiaturas
  • ostinato
  • riff
  • melody–scat
  • melisma
  • improvisation.

Tonality

  • modal
  • pentatonic.

Structure

  • strophic, verse and chorus, cyclic
  • call and response
  • popular song forms
  • structure–12/16 bar blues.

Sonority (Timbre)

  • generic families of instruments as found in traditional/world music eg steel drums
  • the use of technology, synthesised and computer-generated sounds, sampling and the use of techniques such as reverb, distortion and chorus
  • drone
  • vocal techniques eg falsetto, vibrato, rap.

Texture

  • a cappella
  • imitative
  • layered/layering.

Tempo, metre and rhythm

  • irregular, free
  • skank
  • bubble
  • clave (Bo Diddley type beat)
  • augmentation, diminution
  • anacrusis
  • hemiola
  • bi-rhythm, cross-rhythm, polyrhythm
  • shuffle beat
  • backbeat
  • syncopation
  • off-beat
  • bossa nova
  • samba
  • salsa
  • tango
  • habanera
  • danzón
  • merengue
  • cha-cha-cha
  • rumba.

3.1.6 Area of study 4: Western classical tradition since 1910

For the purpose of this specification, western classical tradition since 1910 is defined as music that comprises modern, contemporary classical music, experimental and minimalist music as well as other forms.

Listening – unfamiliar music

Students must be able to listen attentively to unfamiliar music from the following styles/genres to identify and accurately describe musical elements, musical contexts and musical language:
  • The orchestral music of Copland
  • British music of Arnold, Britten, Maxwell-Davies and Tavener
  • The orchestral music of Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók
  • Minimalist music of John Adams, Steve Reich and Terry Riley.

Study piece

Aaron Copland: Saturday Night Waltz and Hoedown from Rodeo

Musical elements

In addition to the musical elements listed for Area of study 1, students must know and understand musical elements appropriate to this Area of study.

The following table contains all the musical elements, for this area of study, that students must know and understand to answer questions in section A (Listening) and section B (Study piece). Marks will also be awarded for knowledge of other terms if relevant to this area of study in section B (Study piece) of the exam.

Element type

Element

Melody

  • ostinato
  • motifs
  • melisma.

Harmony

  • chromatic
  • dissonant
  • pedal.

Tonality

  • pentatonic
  • whole tone
  • modal
  • tonal ambiguity.

Sonority (Timbre)

  • specific families of instruments
  • use of technology, synthesised and computer-generated sounds
  • instrumental techniques eg vamping.

Texture

  • drones
  • imitative
  • layered/layering.

Tempo, metre and rhythm

  • irregular, free
  • augmentation, diminution
  • anacrusis
  • hemiola
  • rubato
  • bi-rhythm, cross-rhythm, polyrhythm
  • syncopation
  • off-beat.

3.1.7 Musical language (Areas of study 2–4)

Students must be able to use musical language appropriate to their selected area of study in the following ways.

Reading staff notation

Students must be able to identify musical elements (as above) when reading short passages of staff notation of up to 12 bars.

Chords and chord symbols

Students must learn major and minor chords and their associated symbols and be able to identify them in aural and written form. Examples of relevant types of chords and symbols can be found in the musical elements tables above.

Musical vocabulary and terminology

Students must be able to identify and apply appropriate musical vocabulary and terminology to music heard and notated. The appropriate vocabulary required can be found in the tables relevant to the area of study.