The development of the symphony is an important element in A-level music syllabuses but it can be daunting to try to find fresh ways to approach the topic.

With the new school term upon us, many music teachers will be looking around for useful tips and advice to incorporate into their music curriculum.

Natalie Wild, co-author of The Symphony: From Mannheim to Mahler and Director of Research and Professional Development at the Music in Secondary Schools Trust (MiSST), has taught both GCSE and A-Level music for many years as Head of Music in various inner-city schools.

Here, she gives her top tips for approaching set works across the years and teaching the development of the symphony module at A-Level.

Approaching set works

When introducing a set work, try getting students to put together a class cover of it. Everyone can be involved – those who don’t play an instrument can sing or do some body percussion!

Listen to the work a lot but focus on different elements each time. I like to encourage active listening with movement. For example, if you’re concentrating on structure, get your students to stand up as soon as they hear a new section; if focusing on melody, they can mime the instrument playing the melody. This is an engaging way to develop listening and understanding all at once.

I also like to build quick-fire quizzes into the start of each lesson. These are a great way to build in retrieval practice as you can make sure that any questions that aren’t answered as confidently get carried over to the next lesson’s quiz.

 

Teaching the development of the symphony

Avoid the temptation to teach symphonies purely chronologically. This will limit students’ ability to engage critically with the subject and to draw together contexts, materials and ideas. Instead, select symphonies based on how they progressed or disrupted the ‘status quo’. This way, we can not only teach students about the subject matter, but also how to approach the genre critically and analytically.

Pick out key themes in the symphonies your students are studying and dedicate a lesson or two to exploring how to play or sing them. This will create a tangible memory which will help give students something recognisable to listen out for.

Lastly, build in some quick-fire starter activities to help students to make links between symphonies and topics. For example: ‘Which three symphonies would be the best examples to use when discussing programme music/sonata form/patronage? For each example, give a reason why'.

The development of the symphony is an important element in A-level music syllabuses but it can be daunting to try to find fresh ways to approach the topic. By using these ideas we can set them up not only for success at A-level, but also provide them with invaluable tools for further education.

 

For further reading, case studies and support, The Symphony: From Mannheim to Mahler by Christopher Tarrant and Natalie Wild, is available now.

The Symphony: From Mannheim to Mahler

The Symphony: From Mannheim to Mahler

The Symphony: From Mannheim to Mahler is a fascinating and accessible guide that considers the development of the symphony from a number of different perspectives: analytical, historical, and critical. Exploring important milestones, touchpoints, events, key works, and the composers that surround the genre, it also includes a composer timeline, detailed case studies and comprehensive music examples. This handy and informative book is ideal for GCSE, A-Level, and undergraduate music students, as well as anyone wanting to study and learn more about the genre.

Christopher Tarrant is Lecturer in Music Analysis at Newcastle University. He received his PhD from Royal Holloway, University of London and now teaches and writes about concert music of the long nineteenth century with a special emphasis on theory of form and the Nordic symphony. Christopher is also a violinist and conductor.

Natalie Wild is Director of Research and Deputy Director of Music at the Music in Secondary Schools Trust (MiSST). Her research focuses on the role a classical music education can play in breaking down social barriers. Natalie has taught both GCSE and A-Level Music for many years as Head of Music in various inner-city schools.

Find out more
The Symphony From Mannheim to Mahler: a guide to the development of the symphony

The Symphony From Mannheim to Mahler: a guide to the development of the symphony

Available to buy now, Faber Music has published The Symphony: From Mannheim to Mahler by Christopher Tarrant and Natalie Wild.
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