AS & A-Level Music

Enrolment for 2023-24 NOW OPEN! Contact the UCM Office!

A level classes are subject to cancellation if they are undersubscribed, but one-to-one tuition will be available (see fees page)

A2 Class of 2020 (7 June)
L-R: Ione Jennett, Rhiannon Mulligan, Sheya Chan, Oisin McDonnell, Nicolas Lilley, Cara McElvogue, Niamh McCloskey
Absent students: Tristan Sparks

AS Class of 2018 (17 May)
 Oisin McDonnell, Corey O’Loan, Sheya Chan
Absent students: Tristan Sparks

A2 Class of 2018 (15 June)
 Mitchell McCullough, Isaac Samson, Megan Pattison, Caoimhe Maguire

The Ulster College of Music is unique in Northern Ireland as being the only non-school Centre to offer AS and A2-Level Music. These courses take place over two academic years: the 1st year is for AS, and (if the student wishes to proceed) the 2nd year covers A2. Classes are generally quite small (maximum 8), giving students ample teacher input and support, and last for 3½ hours each week. They are held at the College and on Zoom out of school hours, which allows students to continue with their regular classroom studies whilst completing their course. Dr Declan Plummer and Dr Anselm McDonnell are the course teachers. Further information can be found via the CCEA website: or by contacting the College. The class follows the CCEA specification, which focuses on three elements:


1. SOLO PERFORMANCE (AS 32.5%, 13% of A-Level / A2 19.5%)

Largely this will be covered in students’ own instrumental or vocal lessons, though guidance can be given in selecting appropriate repertoire and explaining the guidelines that are detailed in the Specification. Students will be examined on the following:

  • a programme for solo performance (which should contain at least two contrasting pieces of music)
  • AS pieces should be a minimum grade 4 standard with a combined length of 5-7 minutes
  • A2 pieces should be a minimum grade 5 standard with a combined length of 8-10 minutes
  • a viva voce discussion with the examiner

All the details regarding the performance guidelines and possible topics of conversation with the examiner can be found in the Specification (particularly pp.6-7, 14, 27-28, 30, 46-48) under the Syllabus Materials section of this page. Make sure you read these pages and let us know if you need help. All A-Level students will need to be available for an assessed performance recital, organised for a Saturday in February (usually during half term).


2. COMPOSING (AS 32.5%, 13% of A-Level / A2 19.5%)

AS & A2 Music MONDAYS 5:00-9:00 (face-to-face at UCM) – students need to be available at some point during this time. Exact times to be arranged individually with Dr Anselm McDonnell.

Students will be taught composition techniques to assist them in their composition, which involves the following:

  • AS students must compose one piece of music lasting between 1½ and 2½ minutes 
  • A2 students must compose one piece of music lasting between 2 and 3 minutes 
  • All students will be expected to use a computer to create a notated score of their composition
  • All students may choose their own brief, compositional style and resources; they need to be able to create, organise and develop musical ideas, make consistent and effective use of harmony and demonstrate control of instrumental resources;
  • All students must submit their composition in the form of a recorded performance (audio CD);
  • Students at AS must submit an analytical and reflective written commentary, 1000 words maximum;
  • Students at A2  must submit an analytical and reflective written commentary, 1200 words maximum;

Students will complete this coursework in the College as it is controlled assessment.


3. RESPONDING TO MUSIC (AS 35%, 14% of A-Level / A2 21%)

AS Music Class THURSDAYS 4:00-5:45 (Zoom) – times can be altered depending on student interest)
A2 Music Class THURSDAYS 6:00-7:45 (Zoom) – times can be altered depending on student interest)

For each year of the course there are three areas of study, which are all compulsory: Music For Orchestra 1700-1900, Sacred Vocal Music (Anthems), and Secular Vocal Music (Musicals) are covered in the first (AS) year; Music for Orchestra in the Twentieth Century, Sacred Vocal Music (Mass/Requiem) and Secular Vocal Music (1600 to Present Day) are covered in the second (A2) year. There are two exams for each year:

  • Aural Test lasting 1 hour for AS and 1 hour 15 minutes for A2: includes mostly short-answer questions for familiar and unfamiliar music
  • Written Test lasting 2 hours for AS and A2: includes score analysis questions based on orchestral music, and extended essay-style questions based on Sacred and Secular Vocal set works

Students will encounter repertoire from the Baroque period right up to the present day: set works include music by composers as varied as Beethoven and Bartók as well as music from Les Miserables and West Side Story.

Enrolment Criteria

To enroll for the A-Level course you must meet the following criteria:

1. It is critical that you have a complete understanding of ALL the areas covered in Grade 5 music theory (ABRSM).

2. Ideally, you should already have a GCSE in music, however if you do not have a GCSE in music then you must have at least grade 5 practical in an instrument or voice and at least grade 5 theory. Declan will then make a final decision whether or not you will be admitted to the course.

3. For the ‘solo performance‘ part of the A-Level syllabus guidance can be given in selecting appropriate repertoire and explaining the Specification guidelines. However, this area needs to be covered in greater detail by you in consultation with your private instrumental/vocal tutor, who should have a much deeper insight into your performance technique and abilities and will be able to advise you accordingly.

4. You need to be able to attend all classes, participate in group discussion and class Q&A, complete homework assignments, and be able to print off any and all lesson materials published on the UCM website.

5. Most of your work and study will take place outside of the classroom. Therefore, you need to be able and willing to complete a large amount of private, independent research and study at home, in addition to any work provided by your tutor. The more you put into this course, the more knowledge and enjoyment you will get out of it!

If you meet the above criteria, then contact the UCM office and book a place in our A-Level Music course! Limited places available.

A level classes are subject to cancellation if they are under subscribed, deadline 3rd August.