HE Exams Wiki


Music GCSE is hard to access for home-educated candidates, but music performance and theory grades are widely accepted for entry to music courses at college and sixth form.

Music GCSE

Music GCSE involves controlled classroom assessment and so can be difficult to arrange for private candidates.  You would need to find a school or exam centre willing to accept the student for all controlled assessments / coursework and performance elements.

For example, AQA say:

Music (8271) (new specification)

Exam series Restrictions/special conditions for private candidates June 2018 This GCSE qualification is available to private candidates with the following condition:

Non-exam assessment (NEA) components (8271/P and 8271/C)

The entering centre must supervise, authenticate and mark these components.

The new Edexcel GCSE Music (2016) comprises 60% coursework, which has to be marked by the exam centre and moderated by the exam board.

The vast majority of schools simply will not consider accepting external candidates for something which would place an additional burden on their teaching staff.

Nonetheless, some families have reached an agreement with a school to allow children to attend just for music GCSE lessons, with the help of the Local Authority.

Cambridge (CIE) IGCSE Music is the only IGCSE music option in the UK, but it also involves 60% coursework which is internally marked and externally moderated - and thus faces the same issues as the GCSE.

Where can you take GCSE Music as a private candidate?

There are some opportunities to take music GCSE, usually at the end of a course of lessons, through music colleges or Conservatoires. Ask on your local home ed networks as there is no central registry of places which offer this, and there may be opportunities in your area. Please help to keep this page up to date by adding anythng you find here, either by editing the text to add it below, or using the comments box at the bottom of the page.  

Here are some which home educators have submitted:  

Faregos Home Education Exam Centre in Titchfield, Hampshire - music GCSE classes and exams. Distance learning options available  

Trinity Laban in Greenwich, London. - GCSE and A-level music, taught at weekends.  

London College of Music, Ealing - IGCSE music on Saturdays. Price is £300 per term or £450 including music tuition, for a one-year accelerated course. These prices include exam fees and classes in composition and music appraisal.  

Home-Ed Partners in Monmouthshire offers music GCSE including controlled assessment.

Norfolk: The Garage - offers a FREE GCSE Music course over 18 months, paid for by Norfolk Music Hub. Course starts in October; as this is free, you should probably register interest early.

You may find that there is no practical way to arrange music GCSE in your area.   This is also the case for some school students, as not all schools offer music GCSE.  Sixth forms usually understand this and are generally flexible about admissions requirements.  Many students choose to focus on music grades and theory exams as an alternative to music GCSE.

Cambridge Home School offer an online course/ongoing assessment for GCSE music. Students would still be responsible fior finding their own exam centre which would accept external candidates for music GCSE exams.The online provider have mixed reviews among home edders, so do check that they can offer what you want.

Music Grades as an alternative to GCSE?

Music grades are widely accepted as alternatives to GCSE music for entry to A-level music or Level 3 music courses, but do check this with any sixth form or college you are hoping to apply to. For A-level music they may ask you to have performance grades of a certain level, plus grade 5 theory. ABRSM and Trinity Grades 4 or 5 are accredited by OFQUAL as Level 2 qualifications, ie GCSE level.  However, this doesn't mean it's the same as a music GCSE; they are different things, being of the same difficulty as a GCSE but a different amount of content. 

Grades 6 and above attract UCAS points for unversity applications.  See UCAS tariff tables for music exams and see our page on Filling out the UCAS form for how to enter these qualifications.

Wikipedia ABRSM entry is useful on this:

"Graded music exams provide a structured framework for progression from beginner to advanced musician. In the United Kingdom, ABRSM graded examinations are QCA-accredited at three levels in the National Qualifications Framework: Grades 1–3 at Level 1 (Foundation: equivalent to GCSE grades D–G), Grades 4–5 at Level 2 (Intermediate: GCSE grades A*–C) and Grades 6–8 at Level 3 (Advanced: A-Level). Most subjects are offered from Grades 1–8 and have three standards of pass: a straight pass, a pass with merit and a pass with distinction. Candidates may enter any Practical or Theory exam grade without having taken any other, though there is a requirement to have passed Grade 5 Theory or Grade 5 Practical Musicianship or Grade 5 in a solo Jazz subject before Grade 6–8 Practical exams can be taken. Passes in Grades 6–8 in either Theory or Practical exams may be used as part of the UCAS tariff in obtaining a university place in Britain."

A member of HE-Exams, who is a former music teacher, comments:

"Years ago, ABRSM Grade 5 Practical and Theory were seen as a decent substitute for O Level / GCSE for students wishing to study at A Level who had not done school music before. The theory and practical combined were good preparation for A Level, although did not cover as much composition etc. as GCSE. However, I don't think they have ever really been seen as entirely interchangeable - rather, at a time when some schools couldn't offer specialist music teaching, and takeup at GCSE was sometimes so low that classes weren't run, ABRSM was an alternative and necessary route for some. I know at least one student that went this route and went on to study Music at university.

Speaking as an ex-music teacher, I'd say that there is definitely some point to studying ABRSM theory, even if GCSE has already been completed. It's a while since I taught A Level, but my recollection is that GCSE does little to prepare you for some of the more complex theory at A Level (such as 4-part harmony, score writing and reading etc.), whereas I seem to remember that the ABRSM contains a lot more of that sort of thing. And.. you need Grade 5 Theory if you want to take ABRSM practical exams above grade 5.

If you want to pursue studies in Music beyond GCSE, it might be worth working through the ABRSM Theory books, even if you don't bother with the exam. I really do think it covers useful areas that GCSE is lacking in."

There is a discussion on this topic which you might find interesting on the ABRSM forum

A-Level Music

Because of the practical assessment aspects, you cannot normally take A-level music as an external candidate. You can take A-level music via a distance learning course, and attending the college for exams and coursework, via Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in Greenwich, London. A few music colleges may offer it via a course of weekend or evening classes; ask music colleges in your area.

In theory, a willing exam centre might be able to offer A-level music to external candidates for the new syllabus from 2018. For instance, the Edexcel specification includes a recital and a solo performance which must be recorded and then submitted to Edexcel for assessment. Because it doesn't involve the exam centre marking the performance, in theory this could be done for an external candidate. However, the challenge is likely to be finding an exam centre to agree to this.

Higher Level Music Qualifications

Diplomas in music performance and teaching are offered by Trinity (London College of Music) and ABRSM at several levels. They are accredited by Ofqual at levels 4-7 of the Qualifications and Credit Framework, meaning from first year degree-level upwards. You can do them in a range of musical styles and in music teaching, and theory and composition. They entitle the holder to use letters after their name, eg Diploma of the London College of Music (DipLCM)

Trinity Diplomas - some home-educated students have taken these. They offer Diplomas in Performance, Teaching, and Theory and Composition.

ABRSM Diplomas - at least one member of the HE Exams group has completed the ABRSM Diploma and Licentiate.

A parent comments:

"90% of the  Trinity diploma is for performance and 10% for programme notes, whereas ABRSM is  more rigorous on the notes and interview, with also sight reading included, so your performance can be a bit iffy on the day and your other work can carry you through. A poor performance with Trinity and it is going to be ever so hard to make the grade."

"Why take a music diploma?" - useful article discussing the content .

Music Theory Exams

Some resources recommended by members of HE-Exams:

Alfred's Essentials of Music Theory Complete Self Study Guide

Dorothy Dingle has now published an answer book for her Pass Grade 5 Theory Book. It is priced at £4.95 + £1.50 p&p and is available from www.dinglemusic.com

Memrise course on Grade 5 Music Theory

Memrise Music course

Mind Blowing Music by Michael Cox - from The Knowledge series, which is like Horrible Histories.  Lots of facts in a fun format.

Music Theory for Young Musicians, by Ying Ying Ng - one book per grade.

Music Theory Net

My Music Theory

Sheila Joynes Teaches Music Theory videos. (no longer available online but only as £50 DVD set)

Take Five and Pass First Time, by Christopher Dunn

The Violin Den - Grade 5 Theory resources

Other Resources

See also the music section on the Alternative Qualifications page

  • Access to Music Free open days and taster courses for various music tech courses.
  • Practical Musicianship exams which can be an alternative to Music Theory for some. "Musicianship is a broad concept that covers a complex range of musical abilities. For the purposes of this syllabus, it is loosely defined as the ability to ‘think in sound’. This occurs when a musician is able to produce music which they perceive internally and in the imagination, whether through playing by ear, singing, reading from notation, or through improvisation.