Our Lady's Abingdon - Music


Overview of the Music curriculum at OLA

Music is central to the life of OLA, and the school community is enriched by a vast range of musical performances and activities. Many pupils study Music as part of the curriculum and all take part in the annual House Music Competition. Large numbers of pupils participate in concerts and other musical performances and rehearse regularly in school ensembles. About a third of OLA pupils have individual music lessons at school (instrumental and singing) and our instrumental and vocal ensembles are growing and thriving both in numbers and in quality.

There is at least one major concert or musical event each term which provides a showcase for the music pupils make in lessons and in choirs, the orchestra and other school ensembles. There are usually several smaller lunchtime or teatime concerts in which a large number of pupils also participate. Music is featured prominently in assemblies, in school Masses, and in school events such as Prize Giving and Open Day.  Groups from OLA also participate in Music competitions outside school and go on tour.

Music Exhibitions are offered to talented musicians at age 11, 13 and 16; pupils who successfully audition for a Music Exhibition are offered free tuition on one or two instruments at school. The school has a very strong team of Visiting Music Teachers (VMTs) who offer tuition on all the major orchestral instruments as well as piano, organ, guitar, drum kit and singing. Instrumental lessons are charged to parents directly by the VMTs. Many pupils also take Associated Board examinations in Music at school.

The curriculum for class music lessons is varied, practical and engaging. The department is well provided with instruments and other resources for classroom use. We have a dedicated Music ICT room equipped with all new Apple Mac’s in September 2017, running a good range of up-to-date score-writing and music production software.  There is a large Music classroom which is also used as a choir and orchestra rehearsal room and several smaller rooms used for individual music lessons and small group work.  All pupils study Music in Years 7 and 8.  In Year 9 it is a popular option.  GCSE and A Level are taught in small classes.

Co-curricular Activities in Music

In Music co-curricular activity is often arranged with pupils and students from a variety of age groups.

The Music Department runs activities in lunchtimes and in the Club times after school.  These activities offer additional learning opportunities to pupils at every age and stage of musical development. There are a large number of concerts and other performances each year, in which all OLA pupils take part at some point during their time here.

There is always an orchestra and at least one choir at OLA. Other Music clubs on offer in recent years include:

1. Junior Choir
2. Sixth Form vocal consort
3. Clarinet ensemble
4. Percussion ensemble
5. Theory club
6. Soul band
7. Advanced Musicians’ group
8. Brass band
9. OLA Choral Society (a choir for pupils, parents, staff and friends)

OLA also has a great deal of informal music making based on pupils’ own initiative. They are encouraged to meet in small groups to rehearse at lunchtimes or after school. There is at least one major school performance each term and usually several smaller ones as well. The following performances feature regularly on the calendar:

The Carol Service

A traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols, in one of several local churches.  Carols are performed by the school choir, soloists, and most Music classes (especially Years 7 and 8), as well as by the congregation.

The Spring Concert

This features work rehearsed in class Music lessons (including the Year 7 Windband), as well as by all the main school musical ensembles.  The second half is a performance by the OLA Choral Society, a choir comprised of pupils, parents, friends and staff, performing works from the mainstream choral repertoire.  In recent years this has included Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Part II of Handel’s Messiah.

The Summer Concert

A less formal concert, featuring a wide range of music. Since many older pupils are busy with public examinations during the summer, this concert has more opportunities for younger pupils to perform solo and group items.

The Music Exhibitioners’ Concert

An annual concert in which all the Music Award Holders perform.

The School Production

Every two years, there is a joint performance with the Drama Department of a major Musical.  In February 2017 we performed Little Shop of Horrors.  In 2014-15 the school production was The Sound of Music.

Lunchtime and teatime concerts

Throughout the year there are regular informal concerts during the school lunch break, or in the early evening, in which pupils perform instrumental or vocal solos or group items. All pupils who wish to can sign up to take part in these, and many prepare items for them with their instrumental or singing teachers.

Individual Music Lessons

All pupils who wish to may have individual Music lessons at OLA if there is space available. The potential benefits of these include the acquisition of lifelong skills which will enable pupils to continue to enjoy participation in music making after they finish school. Learning a musical instrument helps to develop learning skills including perseverance, resilience, resourcefulness and collaboration. Pupils may also pass graded examinations carrying UCAS points, which may improve their access to university courses. Research into how the brain works also indicates a strong link between learning a musical instrument, at least to an intermediate standard, and doing well in academic examinations.

To start individual Music lessons, parents should return an application form to the Director of Music. These are available from the school office or from the Music staff. If there is space to start lessons, the Director of Music will pass the application on directly to the teacher concerned, who will contact the parents to arrange the first lesson. The Visiting Music Teachers are self-employed, and invoice parents directly for lesson charges. Most of them currently charge £20 per half-hour lesson, and there are approximately 10 lessons per term.

The school hosts Associated Board Music examinations three times per year, and pupils are able to take the examinations in school. In some disciplines pupils are also entered for Trinity College or London College of Music examinations. Taking grade examinations is not a compulsory element of learning an instrument, or taking singing lessons, but many pupils find that it offers a useful measure of progress that is encouraging and motivating.

Music Scholarships

Pupils who can demonstrate ability in Music can apply for a Music Scholarship.  These are offered to pupils in Year 6 (to start in Year 7), Year 8 (to start in Year 9) and Year 11 (to start in the Lower Sixth Form). Music Scholarships will fund lessons at school on either one or two instruments, depending on the terms of the award made. The deadline for applications is published on the school website and is normally in November of the year before the commencement of the award. Auditions are held at the beginning of December. When assessing candidates for Music Scholarships, staff look for musical potential and a genuine interest and commitment to involvement in Music at school.  Awards are reviewed each year, and subject to good progress and participation in Music at school, the award may be renewed throughout the holder’s time at OLA. There is no requirement to have passed any particular examination, but as an approximate guide, Year 6 candidates should be able to play at roughly Grade 4 standard, Year 8 candidates at roughly Grade 5 standard and Year 11 candidates at roughly Grade 7. Candidates can audition on up to three instruments, or two instruments plus singing.

Years 7 to 9 Music Curriculum

The lower school Music curriculum is wide ranging, covering a lot of different musical styles and disciplines. Pupils listen to many different styles of Music and respond to it, developing their own critical listening skills and musical vocabulary. Performance and composition are the other core learning activities and pupils will develop their skills using different resources and styles. Pupils will learn standard musical notation as well as playing by ear and from other types of notation such as guitar tab. Pupils also use ICT as a tool for composing and notating music. At some point all pupils will participate in a public performance of their work. Pupils’ work is assessed in various ways, including through written tests, recordings of practical work in class and assessment of compositions produced on computer.

In Year 7, all pupils learn a woodwind or brass instrument in their class Music lessons as part of a class wind-band. Pupils are able to borrow school instruments (at no charge) and to take them home to practise. This takes up approximately half the curriculum time.  In Year 7 they also learn about Gospel Music and other historical styles of Vocal Music used in church. They learn how to improvise and compose melodies and they learn about Samba Music. These topics involve a mixture of listening, singing, instrumental performance (including percussion) and composition.

Topics covered in Year 8 include Dance Music, Music for Westerns, Blues and Reggae. As part of these topics, pupils will listen to examples of these styles of Music and learn about the musical concepts and vocabulary involved in them, including chords and time signatures. Class performance continues to be a central activity and pupils are also taught how to use sequencing software to compose and record their own Music. In the Blues and Reggae topics, pupils will also learn some simple guitar chords while pupils who can already play the guitar can do something more challenging at the same time.

In Year 9, Music is an Option, which means it is taught in smaller classes than in Years 7 and 8. This creates some opportunities to tailor the content to pupils’ interests and skills and material for class and group performances is normally chosen to suit the particular class. Pupils will develop performing and composing skills during this year with the aim of creating a good foundation for studying Music at GCSE should they opt to continue with the subject in Year 10.

Years 10 and 11 Music Curriculum

This is a broad-based practical and academic course that covers a variety of different musical styles, and which can accommodate many different types of musician. The three modules in the course are Performance, Composition and Appraising (listening, describing and evaluating).

Pearson Music GCSE Specification Code 1MU0


Pupils have to perform as a soloist and as part of a group.  The minimum total duration of music they have to perform is 4 minutes.  They can perform on the instrument of their choice (including voice) and have a completely free choice of repertoire, in any style.  In order to achieve a good GCSE grade, pupils should, as a guideline, be performing pieces of Grade 4 standard or above.  However, GCSE Music is a very different syllabus from a graded instrumental or vocal examination, so there is no requirement to have passed a certain grade before starting a GCSE course.  It is most important that pupils opting for Music GCSE are active musical performers (in any style and instrumental/vocal discipline) and have a real interest in Music.

Assessment: Two coursework recordings (one solo and one ensemble) which are recorded during Year 11.


Compositional skills are at the heart of the GCSE curriculum.  Pupils study pieces in a wide range of styles and learn about their musical building blocks of chords, scales, harmony, melody, and structure.  They also apply this knowledge to composition and improvisation tasks.  Through this they develop the skills and understanding to produce their own compositions.

Assessment: Pupils have to produce two pieces of composition coursework (minimum combined length 3 minutes). One of these must be based on a brief from the Awarding Body; the other is a free choice.

The department is well resourced with Music ICT equipment, including a suite of computers running up-to-date sequencing and notation software which many GCSE candidates use to create and record their coursework.


The Appraising component is based around four Areas of Study which are: Instrumental Music 1700-1820, Vocal Music, Music for Stage and Screen, and Fusions. Within each area pupils study two Set Works and learn about the techniques and styles within each area through wider listening to a range of music. The choice of music is deliberately broad, and includes instrumental and vocal works from the Classical tradition, pop music, musical theatre, film music and music from various non-Western cultures.

Assessment: Paper 1: 1 hour 45 minutes taken at the end of Year 11.

Sixth Form Music Curriculum

Details of Sixth Form Music