Why Choose the Cheshire Specialist Music Course?

This A-Level course is aimed at musically-gifted Year 11 students of Grade 7/8 standard who are aiming towards a future in which music plays a significant part. The course is open to young musicians and vocalists from all over Cheshire, its focus is to facilitate the progression from A-Level to university or conservatoire.

Students will take part in a wide variety of performing opportunities, with regular chamber music forming part of their timetable alongside a range of School based and external performances.

Participants work with high calibre staff and receive top-up lessons from tutors at Manchester’s world-renowned Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM). The course itself covers a wide range of musical skills, both academic and practical, and includes the compulsory A-Level in Music and, in some cases, the Diploma of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (Dip. ABRSM).

Course Content

Component 1 – Appraising Music (Exam paper with listening and written questions using excerpts of music. 40% of A level Marks)

·         Listening

·         Analysis

·         Contextual understanding

Component 2 – Music Performance (Externally assessed. 35% of A level marks)

Solo and/or ensemble performing as an instrumentalist, or vocalist and/or music production (via technology).

A minimum of ten minutes (no more than twelve minutes) of performance is required

Component 3 – Composition (Externally assessed. 25% of A level marks)

Composition 1: Composition to a brief (25 marks)

Composition 2: Free composition (25 marks)

A minimum of four and a half minutes (no more than six minutes) of music is required


The additional timetabled hours (10 hours) for specialist music students include: CSMC Choir, Chamber Music, Keyboard Harmony & Aural. The total number of timetabled sessions 20 (the equivalent time of two A levels)

In addition to A-Level music, all CSMC students generally take an additional two subjects.

Methods of teaching, learning and assessment

·         Listening and appraisal skills will be taught through research, performance and aural practice of styles in each Area of Study. Students will keep an online file of all the styles studied including audio excerpts and practice questions. Component 1 will be assessed through regular homework tasks which will include: research, analysing suggested works, extended listening questions and essays. The additional Aural and Chamber choir lessons lessons will give extra practice on identifying key musical features and devices through a practical approach.

·         Composing for component 2 will be taught practically through singing and performance. Short exercises will be approached in lessons with homework tasks supporting the development into the briefed and free composition tasks. The additional keyboard harmony lessons will be practically taught in a specialist music room.

·         Performance will be regularly done throughout the course through the study in both components 1 and 2 but additionally students will be expected to have peripatetic 1 to 1 lesson with an instrumental tutor throughout the course. Students will prepare a programme for the component 3 module which will be supported by classroom workshops and mock performance recitals. The additional chamber music lessons will give students the chance to work on challenging repertoire in small groups.

Opportunities for learning outside of the classroom

Through the partnership between the RNCM and Love Music Trust, students have fantastic opportunities to attend masterclasses with distinguished musicians, benefitting from constructive criticism. Recent masterclasses include Allen Vizzutti (trumpet), George Shelby (saxophone), Craig Ogden (guitar), Sally Wigan (piano), Adrian Spillett (percussion), and the Northern Chamber Orchestra (strings). Students would be regularly performing in chamber music concerts – Sandbach Concert Series – Love Music Trust concerts – Cheshire concert societies and clubs – Charity events. The RNCM is a world-leading conservatoire located in the heart of Manchester, with a reputation for attracting talented students, teachers, conductors and composers from all over the world. CSMC students will regularly be invited to the College to observe or participate in RNCM events including a range of festivals, instrument-specific performance days and concerts.

Quotes from current/ex-students

‘Hooked is an understatement. Since leaving Sandbach School, I have gone on to perform, write and record regularly. Due to my development under the staff at Sandbach School, I was one step ahead when starting my higher education, and I have enjoyed all the music I’ve been involved with since.’ Josh Savage

‘The wealth of opportunities at Sandbach School within the Music department, gave me a truly inspirational start to my musical career. Concerts found us playing alongside some of the UK’s top session musicians; tours led us to the Edinburgh Fringe, Boston, New Zealand, Singapore and time spent rehearsing with like-minded, passionate and creative peers has created memories, friendships and connections to last a life time. Jamie Sharp