KS3 Music

a professional development programme



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  • Video 1a Samba lesson: focus on contextual learning
  • Video 2a Samba lesson: focus on the first lesson of a unit




Task 1: The current focus on understanding: a pupil perspective (30 minutes)

Talk to small groups of pupils in Year 7, 8 and 9 (you may wish to use, or adapt, the questions provided in Appendix 1). Ask them about the extent to which they feel they currently learn and can demonstrate the aspects of musical understanding listed in the pupil section of the Recognising impact statements.

(These statements are based on the rationale, definitions and model of musical understanding described in the Good practice section).

If you have completed the audit in the Leadership guide, compare the pupils’ responses with your own assessment of the extent to which current teaching and learning focuses on musical understanding.

Are there differences between your perceptions and those of your pupils? If so, in which aspects of their learning?

Note those aspects where pupils report least confidence in their learning for understanding. As you work through this unit, these will need to be the focus for development.

Task 2: Defining the focus of a unit according to style, genre or tradition (20 minutes)

Take an existing unit from within your Key Stage 3 scheme of work.

List the characteristics of the music being explored that might reflect aspects of a style, genre or tradition (i.e. film music might be identifiably within a horror movie style; be part of a genre for enhancing dramatic mood; and be part of a tradition which uses clichés to over-emphasise meaning).

Now consider which of these characteristics is the one that you want to make the predominant focus for the unit – the one that will define the nature and focus of the musical thinking (and therefore musical understanding) for the pupils. Is it:

  • closed (as in a style, focusing on consistent and particular use of melody, rhythm, instrumentation, etc.);
  • guided (as in a genre, focusing on broad musical features determined by a contextual purpose, the roles of audience and performer, etc.);
  • open (as in a tradition, focusing on techniques that can be used in a wide variety of ways to create any form of music)?

Consider how you might be able to adapt the current delivery of the unit to:

  • explore the richness of the music being explored – do pupils understand how the music works on a variety of levels?
  • refine the focus of learning for pupils so that as the unit develops, the form of musical thinking required for the main part of the learning – and the reasons for it – are made absolutely explicit.
Task 3: Considering breadth and balance: styles, genres and traditions (20 minutes)

Look at your current scheme of work for Key Stage 3. Complete the grid below, showing for each year group the specific styles, genres and traditions covered.

Styles Genres Traditions

Year 7











Year 8







Year 9







Is there a balance in each year? Is there a balance across the whole key stage?

What areas might be over- or under-represented?

The outcome of this review will be returned to later in the unit, but you might already begin to consider how any imbalances might be addressed: what styles, genres or traditions could you include to improve the range of experiences for pupils, or how could you adapt existing units to re-focus on a different form of musical thinking?

If you wish to explore this notion in more depth, you can also look at Unit 5: Challenge in music, which explores how, over time, a department can build a more comprehensive range of styles, genres and traditions.

Task 4: Exploring musical thinking (15 minutes)

Look at the composer’s notebook from this unit.

Composers Notebook

An important aspect of this example is that it contains a variety of musical starting points, enables a range of compositional techniques to be explored at specific expectations, and guides pupils towards expressive possibilities by the inclusion of text and poetic lines. This differentiates it from many units on Variations, which unless carefully designed can require pupils to explore limited compositional ideas with closed outcomes lacking a sense of aesthetic communication.

Identify the range of musical starting points (scales, melodic and rhythmic fragments, structural possibilities, chords, words that communicate meaning).

If these represent appropriate expectations for most Year 9 pupils, what would enable more-able pupils to explore similar processes at more advanced expectations?

Task 5: Understanding abstract music (45 minutes)

In order to develop better understanding of the tradition of abstract music, first study Document 1f Microsoft Word 62kb. This is a unit of work designed to help Year 9 pupils explore the conventions of abstract musical thinking in contemporary classical music. It uses the game of chess as a starting point to explore a range of ways of organising musical ideas and sounds; but then branches out to explore how contemporary classical composers use abstract techniques to structure their ideas. As a support, it uses a resource from the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group – ‘Exchanging Notes’.

You can then either:

a) take an existing unit which is already close to the idea (perhaps a unit on cyclical musical forms: ostinato, ground bass, riffs), and adapt it to focus more clearly on:

  • a wider range of starting points;
  • specific compositional techniques with clearly defined expectations to challenge the pupils;
  • providing some kind of steer towards a sense of communication without losing the abstract nature of the work;


b) for a particular year group, devise your own version of SCAA’s Optional tests and tasks, Unit 2: Musical ideas.

Task 6: Refining a unit’s title (5 minutes)

Decide whether you are going to:

a) rework an existing unit;

b) create a new unit based on a style, genre or tradition that is currently not well represented in your scheme of work (see Task 3 within the Challenges section for more on this).

Once you have decided, make sure that the title reflects or is reworked into the new format: ‘Understanding the conventions of …’

Write this title into the relevant box at the top of the planning template available as Document 1b Microsoft Word 49kb.

Task 7: Clarifying the detail of musical understanding (25 minutes)

Read the statements and exemplification for each stage of musical understanding in detail.

Note the characteristics of each stage by reading across the columns in the statement table and then reading the exemplification for that stage.

Identify the progression through the stages by reading down the separate columns in the statement table: this can help to clarify the difference between each stage of musical understanding.

Task 8: Applying the progression to unit planning (5 minutes)

Select the stage of progression that most closely matches the current understanding of the pupils who will be undertaking the unit identified in Task 6.

Copy either the stage of progression summary, or the objective for understanding bullets from the statement table into the relevant box in the planning template (Document 1b Microsoft Word 49kb).

Task 9: Articulating the context of the music (15 minutes)

Define the context of the music selected in Task 6: brainstorm everything you know about the music’s context, using the aspects listed above.

Now refine the list so that it can be summarised either in a sentence of 15–20 words, or in three or four bullets. When doing this you should decide the following.

  • What are the contextual influences that have the strongest impact on the music, and that pupils will learn and understand most readily?
  • How can the learning of these contexts be refined further so that they are matched to the stage of understanding already established for the unit?

You may want to use one of the following stems to articulate the context:

  • Learning why, how or that music is: (or)
  • Learning that the purpose or function of music is:

Add these statements to the relevant place in the planning template.

Task 10: Making the contextual link (10 minutes)

Given the contextual learning already identified, identify an activity that you could use to ensure that the music’s context is relevant and clear to and for all pupils.

What parallels are there between the music’s context and the everyday life of pupils or others?

How can pupils be helped to empathise with the musicians who make this music?

Is the link best made through a musical activity or a non-musical activity?

If it is a non-musical activity, how can the link be made back to the musical learning that is to follow?

Make a note of the activity or activities that you have thought of: you will need to return to them later.

Task 11: Defining the conventions and the practical experience (15 minutes)

List as many as you can of the key conventions for the musical style, genre or tradition that is the focus of your chosen unit.

Make sure that these include the most distinctive features that, when combined, create the unique sound world of the music.

Make sure that these do not just refer to aspects of the music that demonstrate a particular use of a ‘musical element’: be sure to include relevant processes and devices, including performing and/or composing techniques that are distinctive to the music.

From the ‘long list’ you have created from your own knowledge of the music, identify a maximum of five that will be the key focus of learning for the pupils.

You may want to use one of the following stems to articulate the conventions:

  • Learning how music uses: (or)
  • Learning that the key characteristics of music are:

Given these conventions, now identify the most likely focus of the practical activity by which pupils can access and develop their understanding of the conventions. This will be broad at this stage – performing, composing, listening and reviewing and evaluating will be appropriate, though you may already be able to refine this further (ensemble performing, for instance).

Note your decisions in the relevant section of the planning template.

Task 12: Identifying learning (10 minutes)

Refer to the unit from Task 6.

Identify one or two significant features of musical elements that pupils will need to learn about in order to develop their knowledge and thereby improve their understanding.

Identify one or two significant skills that pupils will need to learn and improve in order to access practically the main conventions of the music being studied.

Task 13: Identifying learning outcomes (30 minutes)

Identify the range of learning outcomes you want pupils to achieve in respect of overall understanding, features of musical elements and development of musical skills.

Add these statements to your unit plan.

Task 14: Sequencing the learning (45 minutes)

For your chosen unit, identify and sequence the learning through practical activities that will:

  • introduce pupils to the style, genre or tradition and identify the essential conventions, processes and devices that will be explored;
  • enable pupils to acquire necessary knowledge about features of musical elements;
  • enable pupils to develop necessary practical musical skills;
  • enable pupils to apply this learning in an extended practical task that gives them the chance to explore the convention in context.
Task 15: Reviewing the unit (30 minutes)

Review the unit of work undertaken by answering the following questions.

  • Did pupils acquire relevant knowledge about features of a musical element, and did this support their knowledge of relevant conventions, processes and devices? What evidence do you have?
  • Did pupils learn how to improve their practical musical skills, and did this support their practical exploration of the genre, style or tradition? What evidence do you have?
  • As a consequence were pupils able to articulate and/or demonstrate practically their musical understanding? What evidence do you have?
  • Consider the progress pupils made in learning about features of musical elements and developing musical skills: was this less than, equal to or better than progress normally made? What evidence do you have?
  • Consider the impact on pupils’ motivation: was motivation lower than, equal to or better than usual? What evidence do you have?


Extracts and references to the National Curriculum in Action web site (www.ncaction.org.uk/subjects/music) and Creatvity: find it, promote it (2004). © Copyright Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Used with permission.

Trinidad 2005 (image 1) photo used by kind permission of Nigel C. Hewitt, President of CarnivalPower.com. © CarnivalPower.com

Recordings of Samba pieces. © Jenny Rankine, Bottisham Village College. Used with permission.

Recordings of Tango pieces © Cromwell Community College. Used with permission.