Music as a subject at Leaving Certificate is, contrary to popular opinion, a demanding and challenging subject. However, it is also a thoroughly enjoyable subject, one that you will take with you for the rest of your life.
The music curriculum is designed using a triadic model of performing, composing and listening -- with an exam to cover all three. A music student must attend to each aspect with the same amount of attention and diligence.
Tips for the music practical
> You are not the first student in the country to get nervous, nor will you be the last! The experienced performer knows how to harness nerves or stage fright and even, in some cases, use it to their advantage.
> The examiner is not there to catch you out. Most examiners are music teachers and performers and they want you to succeed.
> Finally, you are not a machine, you are a human being. Humans make mistakes. So if you do drop a note or slightly lose your tuning, please, please keep going! Try not to make a face or look like the world is going to end. What is more important than the mistake is how you recover from it. Smile and keep the music alive.
> Over the next few weeks play for everyone and anyone. The more you play for other people the closer you are to recreating the atmosphere of an exam.
> Record yourself playing. When you are performing it is hard to detach yourself and ask simple questions such as, does this sound good? Am I playing the rhythm correctly? Is this what the composer/songwriter intended?
> Finally, try to play a few times in the venue where the exam will take place just to get used to the sound of the room and the environment you will play in -- think of it as a sound test. > When you enter the exam room, take your time to settle, acknowledge the examiner and start when you are ready.
> When you enter the exam room, take your time to settle, acknowledge the examiner and start when you are ready.
If you do get really nervous, try to remember why you started playing that instrument, the joy it gave you in the first few months or the performer who inspired you — this really helps, it can rev you up and motivate you to show the examiner all the hard work you have undertaken to get to this standard of musicianship.
But, of course, there is no substitute for hard work. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Playing from memory is so much more impressive and also more musical. If you are playing from memory, the music is emerging from somewhere inside you. You have learned the music and it has become a part of you.
Tackling the Listening Exam
For the purposes of this article I cannot do a detailed analysis of each set work or, indeed, look at the composing exam. Instead, I will explain an approach to the listening exam in relation to the Romeo and Juliet Overture by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and then you can try these techniques out with the other set works.
Romeo and Juliet is quite long -- just under 20 minutes. So it makes sense to break it down into smaller sections. DO NOT listen at home to the set works as one whole unit, because, trust me, your attention span will not last.
Romeo and Juliet contains three main themes/subjects:
> The Friar Lawrence Theme (Introduction)
> The Strife Theme (Exposition)
> The Love Theme (Exposition)
Of course, the three themes above reappear later in what we call the recapitulation section but before this, Tchaikovsky develops the musical subjects to create a section called the development section. Therefore, shape of the overall work -- Introduction, Exposition, Development and Recapitulation -- is a form in art music that we refer to as sonata form.
What you might do to make the 20 minutes of music seem a little less daunting would be to extract the themes one by one. For example, how many times does the love theme appear within the exposition, development and recapitulation sections? Extract these different statements of the love theme and compare and contrast them. Look for musical similarities and musical differences. Ask yourself questions such as:
There are so many questions you could ask of the music -- looking at past papers might help here to see the style of questions that are set.
> Which instrument(s) is playing the melody/accompaniment this time?
> Is the tempo faster than the last time we heard it?
> What is the texture like?
> Did we have strings in the first rendition of the theme?
> How would I describe the dynamics?
> What was the final cadence of that theme?
> Can I hear any specific instrumental techniques?
There are so many questions you could ask of the music - looking at past papers might help here to see the style of questions that are set.
Be wary of past papers. Yes, they are good for practising sample questions and investigating the style of questions asked but just because Bach came up as question 1 back in 2007, does not mean it will happen again. Furthermore, the exam excerpts are usually short samples taken from anywhere in the score, so spending excess time on excerpts that came up in past papers might be a waste of your time.
You would be far better off listening to the set works, following the score in small sections, covering the whole score over a few study sessions and making notes as you go.
After you have asked questions of the score you could reduce these notes on to one page, maybe drawing up a table for each theme so you can see the similarities and differences of each statement of the theme.
Remember, you are kidding yourself if you think studying the set works involves putting the CD on in the background while you do your maths homework. Your job is to listen and respond to the music not to just listen to it in the background and say things such as "that is nice".
The best of luck to everyone who is preparing for the Leaving Cert. If you are lucky enough to be studying music, enjoy the journey and try to enjoy the practical exam as, for most of you, this will constitute up to 50pc of your grade.