Music GCSE involves controlled classroom assessment and so can be difficult to arrange for private candidates. You would need to find a school or exam centre willing to accept the student for all controlled assessments. Nonetheless, some families have reached an agreement with a school to allow children to attend just for music GCSE lessons, with the help of the Local Authority.
There are some opportunities to take music GCSE, usually at the end of a course of lessons, through music colleges or Conservatoires, eg Blackheath Conservatoire in SE London. NB the Blackheath Conservatoire website can be confusing, so do call or email if what you see online looks confusing. For instance, the same class may be listed under '18+' and '5-16'!
Home-Ed Partners in Monmouthshire offers music GCSE including controlled assessment.
You may find that there is no practical way to arrange music GCSE in your area. This is also the case for some school students, as not all schools offer music GCSE. Sixth forms usually understand this and are generally flexible about admissions requirements. Many students choose to focus on music grades and theory exams as an alternative to music GCSE.
Music Grades as an alternative to GCSE?Edit
ABRSM Grades 4 or 5 are accredited by OFQUAL as Level 2 qualifications, ie GCSE level. However, this doesn't mean it's the same as a music GCSE; they are different things.
Grades 6 and above attract UCAS points. Grades 5 and below do not, but then neither do GCSEs. See UCAS tariff tables for music exams
Wikipedia ABRSM entry is useful on this, on ABRSM. It is probably the same for Trinity (except that the theory exam is not compulsory), but do confirm this for yourself.
"Graded music exams provide a structured framework for progression from beginner to advanced musician. In the United Kingdom, ABRSM graded examinations are QCA-accredited at three levels in the National Qualifications Framework: Grades 1–3 at Level 1 (Foundation: equivalent to GCSE grades D–G), Grades 4–5 at Level 2 (Intermediate: GCSE grades A*–C) and Grades 6–8 at Level 3 (Advanced: A-Level). Most subjects are offered from Grades 1–8 and have three standards of pass: a straight pass, a pass with merit and a pass with distinction. Candidates may enter any Practical or Theory exam grade without having taken any other, though there is a requirement to have passed Grade 5 Theory or Grade 5 Practical Musicianship or Grade 5 in a solo Jazz subject before Grade 6–8 Practical exams can be taken. Passes in Grades 6–8 in either Theory or Practical exams may be used as part of the UCAS tariff in obtaining a university place in Britain."
A member of HE-Exams, who is a former music teacher, comments:
"Years ago, ABRSM Grade 5 Practical and Theory were seen as a decent substitute for O Level / GCSE for students wishing to study at A Level who had not done school music before. The theory and practical combined were good preparation for A Level, although did not cover as much composition etc. as GCSE. However, I don't think they have ever really been seen as entirely interchangeable - rather, at a time when some schools couldn't offer specialist music teaching, and takeup at GCSE was sometimes so low that classes weren't run, ABRSM was an alternative and necessary route for some. I know at least one student that went this route and went on to study Music at university.
Speaking as an ex-music teacher, I'd say that there is definitely some point to studying ABRSM theory, even if GCSE has already been completed. It's a while since I taught A Level, but my recollection is that GCSE does little to prepare you for some of the more complex theory at A Level (such as 4-part harmony, score writing and reading etc.), whereas I seem to remember that the ABRSM contains a lot more of that sort of thing. And.. you need Grade 5 Theory if you want to take ABRSM practical exams above grade 5.
If you want to pursue studies in Music beyond GCSE, it might be worth working through the ABRSM Theory books, even if you don't bother with the exam. I really do think it covers useful areas that GCSE is lacking in."
There is a discussion on this topic which you might find interesting on the ABRSM forum.
Higher Level Music Qualifications Edit
Diplomas in music performance and teaching are offered by Trinity (London College of Music) and ABRSM at several levels. They are accredited by Ofqual at levels 4-7 of the Qualifications and Credit Framework, meaning from first year degree-level upwards. You can do them in a range of musical styles and in music teaching, and theory and composition. They entitle the holder to use letters after their name, eg Diploma of the London College of Music (DipLCM)
Trinity Diplomas - some home-educated students have taken these. They offer Diplomas in Performance, Teaching, and Theory and Composition.
ABRSM Diplomas - at least one member of the HE Exams group has completed the ABRSM Diploma and Licentiate.
A parent comments:
"90% of the Trinity diploma is for performance and 10% for programme notes, whereas ABRSM is more rigorous on the notes and interview, with also sight reading included, so your performance can be a bit iffy on the day and your other work can carry you through. A poor performance with Trinity and it is going to be ever so hard to make the grade."
"Why take a music diploma?" - useful article discussing the content .
A-Level Music Edit
Because of the practical assessment aspects, you cannot normally take A-level music as an external candidate. Some music colleges may offer it via a course of classes, eg the Blackheath Conservatoire in South London.
Added: May 2016 Blackheath Conservatoire are no longer offering A-Level Music or A-Level Music Tech.
In theory, a willing exam centre might be able to offer A-level music to external candidates for the new syllabus from 2018. For instance, the Edexcel specification includes a recital and a solo performance which must be recorded and then submitted to Edexcel for assessment. Because it doesn't involve the exam centre marking the performance, in theory this could be done for an external candidate. However, the challenge is likely to be finding an exam centre to agree to this.
Music Theory ExamsEdit
Some resources recommended by members of HE-Exams:
Dorothy Dingle has now published an answer book for her Pass Grade 5 Theory Book. It is priced at £4.95 + £1.50 p&p and is available from www.dinglemusic.com
Mind Blowing Music by Michael Cox - from The Knowledge series, which is like Horrible Histories. Lots of facts in a fun format.
The Violin Den - Grade 5 Theory resources
Music Theory for Young Musicians, by Ying Ying Ng - one book per grade.
Trinity Rock College Rock and pop music exams
Practical Musicianship - exams which can be an alternative to Music Theory for some.
"Musicianship is a broad concept that covers a complex range of musical abilities. For the purposes of this syllabus, it is loosely deﬁned as the ability to ‘think in sound’. This occurs when a musician is able to produce music which they perceive internally and in the imagination, whether through playing by ear, singing, reading from notation, or through improvisation.
ABRSM’s Practical Musicianship exams give students opportunities to develop their ability to ‘think in sound’ and perform spontaneously. While the other graded exams focus on aspects of performance that are prepared in detail in advance, here the playing (or singing) is in response to immediate challenges and stimuli, presented both aurally and via notation."