VCE Music Performance is an amazing subject, especially for those who enjoy it fully. However, there are no doubt some challenges with this subject, just like all others. Below are some of my top tips for studying VCE Music Performance – hopefully these will help make your music experience less stressful and more enjoyable.
Well, VCE Music Performance can be split into two main areas – theory and performance – and these into smaller areas again. Despite this, it is important to not view these areas as entirely separate. Often, the work you do in your theory classes works hand in hand with your performance and vice versa.
The first thing you want to do is to identify your target areas. What are you great at? What area do you tend to lose marks in? Whatever your target area is, it is vital to break it down into smaller chunks. (How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.) For example, say Music Analysis was your focus area, what you need to do is break it into smaller sections and focus on them both individually and as a whole. What’s important is that you work not only on your main focus areas, but all of your subjects a day. Whether it’s 5 minutes of aural theory as you walk to the bus, or spending an hour breaking down an analysis question, it makes a huge difference. You could even record your progress over a couple of weeks to identify the areas you continuously struggle in (or excel in!).
For the performance section of this subject, you will be required to play a set number of pieces from a prescribed list for your specific instrument. All things you have heard before right? But how do you tackle such a big task?
To get the most out of your pieces for VCE Music Performance, the first thing you need to do is break it down. For me, this started when I selected my pieces (make sure to do this early on and make sure they are from the prescribed list from VCAA!). What I did was make sure I found a variety of recordings from different performers of my piece, and then I sat, with my sheet music and listened to them all, identifying any areas where there might be a challenge. This gives you a rough idea of which pieces might be more challenging. This technique should continue throughout your practice over the year. Every month or so, record your pieces and reflect to identify any errors or challenges. By identifying challenging areas, you give yourself something to focus on when you practise.
With VCE Music Performance, there is a specific set of criteria you are marked on. Working with these criteria is extremely important. You need to know how to approach your pieces to get the most marks from the given areas. For example, criteria 8 is “Skill in presenting an informed interpretation of a range of styles”. This means you have to research and find this range of styles, making notes from these performances. This ensures you have been informed by a range of styles. As the criteria can often seem quite broad, you need to focus on each criterion and identify the main parts of it, then plan your practice and development of ideas to these main points.
So, as the saying goes, practice makes progress. Over the year, the key to making progress is to be consistent with your practice. I struggled with this in the beginning, but I found that having a plan was awesome, and it changed the way I practised. Once you have a plan for practice, not just when you will practise but also what, the next step is to reflect on your practice. It is important to track your progress so you know where to go, and so you aren’t wasting precious time practising little things. If you like, the 80/20 principle explains this in a better way. Basically, by reflecting on each practice session, you know where to put your effort to achieve maximum results.
The second section of this subject is the theory aspect. While this is not as important as your performance exam in terms of weighting, it’s still vital to helping you understand how your instrument works and plays a role in understanding your pieces.
I’m going to begin this section by talking about Outcome Two. This is a SAC that will happen in both Unit 3 and Unit 4 of the course. I’m not going to go into details of the assessment, but I will give some of my tips for making this outcome worth your time. Firstly, start early. I mentioned earlier about finding the parts of your performance pieces that may be hard. Use these and formulate exercises to improve these areas.
The second tip is to ask your teachers what they want. My teacher from Units 1&2 wanted very different things to that of my teacher from Units 3&4. Make sure you ask your teacher how many focus areas they want, and what type of exercises. My last tip is to make these exercises relevant to areas that are not the specific piece. You want to make sure that you show how your exercises can be used outside of this task. If you do these things, you should be fine. This task can often seem overwhelming, but if you have any questions always ask your teacher.
The most important tip I have for nailing this part of the course is to practise, as much as you can. Any time listening to intervals, chords, etc. will be beneficial to your result. If you need to, start with the basics, like perfect intervals and make your way to harder ones. Try and record your progress, keeping track of which areas are more challenging for you. Develop strategies, and find what makes it stick for you. In regards to written theory, the key is to just keep writing and practising. Find a music notation book and spend 10 minutes a day writing out various chords, intervals, scales, etc. As long as your practise, you will get better and better, and by the time you get into the exam, you will be flying through the questions.
So, some final tips from me before I leave you.
→ Always ask your teachers for help. They, above all, are your most valuable resource. Especially when doing SACs, the teachers know exactly what you need to do.
→ Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s from your teachers or a community like ATAR Notes, people are always willing and happy to help you.
→ Use extra resources. Extra resources are always helpful, not just for music but for your other subjects as well. They can often provide extra clarification on anything you are unsure about, but always use your teacher as your main source of clarification.
→ Start early. The key to performing well in this subject is to keep on top of your work. If you start early, you can get a head start, ensuring you will never be behind in learning something.
→ Most importantly, have fun. You are doing Music Performance because you love it, so enjoy it, and make the most out of the experience to grow both as musician and as an individual.