The aim of the St Mary’s Music curriculum is for students to become global citizens, with a deep understanding of music’s place in culture and society, able confidently to make music of their own, to appreciate the music of others, and to work creatively and collaboratively to achieve ambitious outcomes. We believe that every child has the capacity for music-making and seek to enable all to succeed.



Programme of a Schubert Concert given by the school in summer 1923.

Our school has a long tradition of outstanding music-making stretching back well over a century; the diaries kept by former Head Miss Matthews and Director of Music Miss Nesbitt are full of fascinating programmes and anecdotes of concerts given by staff and students, often with quite acerbic commentary on their quality. Today we continue this tradition of performance of the highest quality, supported by scholarship and understanding – though thankfully the repertoire has become a little more imaginative since Miss Nesbitt’s time!

St Mary’s is blessed with excellent music-making facilities in a purpose-built four-storey music school. A recital room with panoramic views and rewarding acoustics sits above 15 individual practice rooms, and we also have a dedicated computer suite and studio for composition and recording. The Chapel, at the heart of the school, is the main concert venue, and with each boarding house having a piano, music is heard in both formal and informal settings throughout the day.

Fourth Form (Key Stage 3) Curriculum
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All Fourth Form students study Music as a timetabled academic subject. The lessons centre around practical, skill-based learning and the curriculum is purposely diverse with a variety of music from different cultures being studied. There is a strong focus on the use of ICT at all levels and on building independence and creativity through small-group research, composition and performance. The curriculum and topics studied are under constant review to allow girls as varied, up-to-date and rigorous an experience as possible. The Music department regularly arranges activities for students in Academic Enrichment Week, such as visits to the Gamelan at Oxford University for the LIV, and a songwriting day based on the hip-hop musical Hamilton for MIV.

 LIV (Year 7) and MIV (Year 8) have timetabled Music lessons weekly. The LIV curriculum comprises:

  • The Elements of Music and an introduction to Western music notation
  • Baroque Music
  • Music of West Africa
  • Gamelan

The whole of LIV also sings in the Junior Choir, which meets weekly and performs in school concerts and services.

Students in MIV (Year 8) study:

  • The Blues
  • Samba
  • Programme Music
  • Indian Music
  • MIV Live Lounge (a song performance project)

Students in UIV (Year 9) can opt to ‘major’ in Music with a timetabled lesson each week, and their curriculum comprises:

  • Songwriting
  • Film Music
  • Reggae
  • Minimalism
  • Composing Variations

The remainder of the year group study a selection of these topics on a carousel system with either Art or Drama.

GCSE and A Level Music

Older students choose Music as an option, following the rigorous OCR specification at GCSE and Edexcel A Level. Academic results are excellent, the small class sizes (typically 8 or 9 at GCSE and 2 at A Level) allowing individuals to flourish and giving plenty of opportunity for challenge. Students regularly go on to read Music at Russell Group universities or to take up choral scholarships – regardless of their chosen subject – at Oxford and Cambridge.

The OCR GCSE course aims to develop students’ skills in musical performance, composition and appreciation through the study of a wide variety of genres. Western Classical music is covered from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries, alongside a wide variety of world music styles, popular music since the 1950s, and film and game music. The A Level course focuses on two core Areas of Study (Instrumental Music by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, and Popular Music: Blues, Jazz, Swing and Big Band) each with a set work, and two of a range of optional music-historical topics. In both qualifications, the disciplines of listening to and evaluating music and placing it in its cultural context are assessed in an examination worth 40% of the qualification; the remainder of the GCSE or A Level is earned through performance and composition coursework.

Music Theory

Students taking instrumental or vocal lessons are invited to Music Theory classes free of charge to support their practical learning and prepare them for ABRSM Grade 5 – a prerequisite for practical grade exams at Grade 6 and above. Theory classes run throughout the week to enable all to attend in small groups, and are taught by academic Music staff. There are opportunities for keen students to study higher theory grades if they choose; these higher grades focus on compositional techniques such as figured bass, counterpoint and melody writing and are highly regarded by university Music departments.

Dr Daisy Gibbs (Head of Academic Music)