We all experience music in some form in our daily lives. The Music Department at Ashlyns recognises the importance of this and aims to develop our students’ understanding by experiencing and investigating a wide range of genres through the three key areas of performing, composing, and listening and appraising. Those who wish to can then progress to study the subject at GCSE and A Level.

Key Stage 3

Our Key Stage 3 curriculum is designed to be accessible to all students regardless of their musical background or ability. Through practical involvement they discover music from the ‘inside’. The Music Department has excellent resources including a wide range of percussion, electronic keyboards and music software that are used for classwork. The students’ learning is consolidated through focused, guided listening to their performances and compositions, and to the music of established artists and composers.

Students experience the study of music through as much practical work as possible, allowing them to truly experience music in many of its forms through application.

Year 7

Students begin with the core study of the importance and significance of pulse in music, and follow this with a closer examination of music from the medieval period, including an investigation of instruments from this time period. They then move on to study the different elements of music, including pitch, dynamics, tempo, duration, timbre, and silence, and to explore the orchestra.

Year 8

Students begin with a study of African drumming skills learned through oral tradition, and follow this with a study of British folk music. Practical skills learned in Year 7 and in the first unit of Year 8 continue to be developed here through performance and arrangement. Students continue with studies of fusion, gamelan, Latin American, and reggae music, enhancing their understanding of music from different cultures.

Year 9

Over the course of Year 9, students undertake studies of music in film and its significance, jazz music, and minimalism and dance music. The focus on practical application continues throughout.


Key Stage 4

Music is an option subject at GCSE. The GCSE course is open to all musicians, from all musical backgrounds, and of all musical abilities. Students wishing to take the music further, however, must be committed towards taking their interest to higher levels.

We follow the OCR exam board syllabus. This course continues to focus on performing, composing and listening and appraising. There are five areas of study.


Students will perform and compose music

  • 1 solo performance
  • 1 group performance
  • 1 free composition
  • 1 composition to a set brief

Performances and compositions can be in/on any style and on/for any instrument/voice


Students will study the concerto and its development from 1650 – 1910

  • The Baroque solo concerto
  • The Baroque concerto grosso
  • The Classical concerto
  • The Romantic concerto


Students will study the traditional rhythmic roots of music from four geographical regions

  • India and the Punjab
  • Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East
  • Africa
  • Central and South America


Students will study music used in films

  • Music composed specifically for film
  • Western classical music that has been used in film
  • Music composed for the gaming industry


Students will study popular music from the 1950s onwards

  • Rock ‘n’ Roll from the 1950s and 1960s
  • Rock anthems of the 1970s and 1980s
  • Pop ballads of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s

Solo artists from the 1990s to the present day

Key Stage 5

Music at A level is a specialist academic subject; students opting for this will need to be at Grade 5 standard in their performing and theoretical understanding at the start of the course.

The A level music course is designed around the WJEC/Eduqas Specification. Here is a brief outline of the course.


A solo recital performed to a visiting examiner


Two compositions:

  • One is a free choice and can be in any style
  • The second is in response to a brief set by the board and must reflect the techniques and conventions of the Western Classical Tradition

Listening and appraising

Three areas of study:

  • Area of study A: The Western Classical Tradition
    • The development of the symphony 1750 – 1900
    • Two set works:
      • Haydn: Symphony No. 104 in D major ‘The London’
      • Mendelssohn Symphony No.4 in A major ‘The Italian’
  • Area of Study B, C, and D – choice of one:
    • AOS B: Rock and Pop 1960 – 2000
    • AOS C: Music Theatre 1950s onwards
    • AOS D: Jazz 1920 – 1960
  • Area of Study E: Into the twentieth century
    • Two set works
      • Poulenc: Trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano Movement II
      • Debussy: Three Nocturnes, No.1 ‘Nuages’

Learning beyond the classroom

Extra-curricular music is thriving at Ashlyns school. Students may learn an instrument and tuition is provided by specialist music teachers from the Hertfordshire Music Service. We currently have a team of 13 peripatetic staff who visit the music block throughout the week. Tuition is available on all string, woodwind and brass instruments, as well as classical guitar, electric guitar, drum kit, piano, classical voice and rock/music theatre voice.

The peripatetic staff also run ensembles and these groups then feed the school orchestra and choir. The music block has a suite of practise rooms which fill up every break and lunch time with student musicians. Students are also encouraged to form their own groups and ensembles.

There are concerts and events throughout the year including informal half-termly concerts, a Christmas Carol Concert, formal recital concert, a musical production every two years and a Showcase Concert in the summer term. Ashlyns musicians also venture out into the local community. You may have heard our Samba drummers at events in Berkhamsted and our orchestra and singers performing at the Petertide Fair. Every two years we take 40-45 musicians from Years 10 – 13 on a music tour to the Rhine/Moselle region of Germany.

Challenge Curriculum

At Ashlyns, we believe that the development of students’ love of learning is of central importance in our curriculum. In order to give students every opportunity to develop this, we have developed a Challenge Curriculum which provides the opportunity for students to enhance their learning across the subjects. The activities contained within the Challenge Curriculum are for students to undertake independently, and take lots of forms, including watching films or clips, visiting museums, conducting independent research, listening to podcasts, and watching lectures online. They are by no means exhaustive, and we encourage all activities that enable students to engage with subjects beyond the classroom and further their learning. Students should let their teachers know which activities they have completed, and are able to earn merits for doing so.

View the Music Challenge Curriculum