How to get an A* in GCSE music composition

I look back on GCSE Music now as a great time! I don't miss the stress of composition deadlines though, so I thought I'd share my advice for anyone trying to write something good for their GCSE.

Here are the two pieces that got me an A* grade back in my GCSE year, if you fancied a listen:

jazz composition

musical theatre composition

And now, some advice!

compose for the areas you listen to most
In my syllabus, there were options of several different genres to write for. But as I'm more likely to be plugged into Les Mis and Louis Armstrong than Moby or Mozart, musical theatre and jazz are what were easiest for me to write. 
You pick up a feel for the genre and its typical chord progressions by listening to it, which will make it a lot easier to write for. You can even borrow little melodic ideas, which leads me to...

feel free to be heavily inspired by others
In my musical theatre piece, you can hear the blatant plagiarism nods to other musicals. Staccato chords borrowed from "The Wizard and I". An excited feel reminiscent of "Something's Coming" and "For the First time in Forever". Singing animals, a la Snow White. And a catchy chorus essentially copy-pasted from the "something incredible" section of Book of Mormon's "Two by Two". I'm not endorsing stealing from other songs, but a pinch here and there can prompt you to write more of your own.

know your syllabus, and box-tick
The boring part; if your syllabus wants dynamic variety, or stylistic instrument choices, or a contrasting minor key section, or a sexy bass solo, deliver it. Your fab piece might be hindered by not doing what your syllabus wants. But a pretty much universally-appreciated thing is to...

include contrasts
They show that you're a versatile writer. Here are some ideas: 

a key change, instrument solo, quiet section, tempo change, introduction of a new melodic theme, shift in tonality, syncopation or straight rhythms, new subject for lyrics, section without drum beat, staccato or legato section, change in time signature. 

for jazz, use your juicy chords
I'm talking those 9ths, 13ths, 7ths. Throw them into chords, it adds interest. 

don't get too precious about lyrics or song titles
I found out very last-minute that my song needed lyrics, so I was stressing myself over it. (I mean, it includes the gem "look at the woodland birds/ harmonizing in thirds". Really.) But from my eventual good result, and the fact that another A* entry in our class was given the last-minute title of "chocolate chip sundae with sprinkles and cherry sauce", I can assume that this doesn't really matter too much.

get your teacher to check frequently
So important! Teachers, or even friends, can pick up on little crap notes or areas for improvement that you wouldn't have noticed. If you're lucky, your teacher might even re-write little sections of your piece as that deadline approaches! So it's always worth giving them a shout to make sure you get the mark you deserve.

I hope this (long) post was useful to you. Do feel free to holler in the comments and give me a follow if I helped you out in any way, it would make me very happy indeed to know. 

Best of luck, musicians!



  1. Outstanding music composition. Like it alot! Even though, I am not even close to doing any kind of GCSE, I do know a friend who is doing her GCSES in Music. Therefore, this shall be a lot of help to her! So all is not lost, right?

    #sweetreats xxx www.bakingboutiquebirds.blogspot.co.uk/

    Ps: I admire your blog. How long have you had this blog?

    1. Hi!!
      Thank you so much! I hope it does help your friend. I've had this blog for around 4 months now, yours is so pretty, makes me hungry though haha! Keep up the blogging <3
      - liliana x

  2. I am so in love with your jazz composition! It sounds great. I've got quite a problem since I am currently struggling with composing jazz and my deadline is pretty soon and I Am iN sUcH a MeSs ahh.
    Trying to listen out for some inspiration and yours brought some motivation to keep going xx