A review by Matt Allen.
It’s options time and young Albert wants to take Music GCSE. But he plays guitar and can’t read music. And the new exam specifications demand at least a rudimentary operating knowledge of staff notation. As his teacher, what can you do?
Step Up to GCSE Music is the answer. This book is designed to get readers from total beginners right up to the standard required to access the GCSE exams, no matter what exam board has been chosen. There are 14 sessions – so it can be used for a three-week intensive course or spread out over time. Each session adds another layer of understanding, fully explaining each theory aspect. Along the way there are regular “Activities” which work as assessment checkpoints making sure content is both learnt and understood.
It is extremely well laid out with excellent use of colour and an almost “web page” feel that students will find easy to access, including “Step Up” boxes with pithy facts, summaries or extended knowledge.
It is also clearly written by an expert who has “been there” in terms of teaching music theory from scratch, making sure that every detail is covered and explained in order to reach the required standard for GCSE courses.
The book divides into two clear sections: “Theory” and “Knowledge”. The first section looks purely at the way music staff notation works. This includes: staves and clefs; time values, signatures and beaming; dotted notes, ties and triplets; tones, semitones and scales; accidentals, key signatures and modes; intervals, chords and cadences; modulation and tonality. Each session introduces the topic, demonstrates examples and then runs an “Activity” to check learning.
There is a lot of content to cover in each session – it’s possible but you might find students need to spread out the learning a little more, particularly if they find certain concepts a struggle. The book allows for this, giving you the flexibility to plough through or to take a more measured pace.
The “Knowledge” section looks at wider topics – terms and signs; musical structure; texture; compositional devices; voices and instruments and historical periods. Such content would be extremely difficult to squeeze into one “session”. There are no activities to break up the presented facts in this section. You might even leave this section to work as a straightforward music dictionary to dip into when necessary. There is a larger scale activity at the end of the book, acting as a “Knowledge” summary – a bit like the final extended question you might find in an ABRSM theory exam.
In conclusion, this book is perfect for use at home or in school. Either working alone or in a teaching group, students will be able to learn everything they need to know to access the staff notation and theoretical concepts that underpin in the 9–1 Specification GCSEs.
You can use this as a homework source or as a teaching manual with lesson-based tasks. You could even work through this book bit by bit throughout key stage-three lessons, slowly building up to that options evening but this time with an equipped Albert, rocking out on his guitar but also strong in the realm of music theory.