Teacher Area

The Studio - Dance

GCSE and A Level set works and general themes | Composition starting points

In The Studio’s Teacher Area, we bring together the most relevant resources from across The Studio, alongside bespoke curriculum-based material, to support music teaching at Key Stages 3 to 5. Resources include:

  • written resources for teachers exploring GCSE and A Level set works and themes, including our BrightSparks resources. Further resrouces and performances of GCSE and A Level set works can be explored on Repertoire Unlocked
  • wider background to the use of music in film, dance and theatre, unpicking techniques and terminology
  • creative ideas to support composition in the classroom and for individual student projects, linking to GCSE and A Level composition syllabuses

We would love to know how you use these resources, and any ideas you have for material you would like to see developed in future. You can contact us with ideas or your students' compositions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


GCSE and A Level Music: set works and general themes


Written resources: GCSE BrightSparks concert February 2020
Our GCSE BrightSparks concert in February 2020 contrasts masterpieces of the Baroque era with 20th century innovation. The accompanying resource pack below includes analysis of the first movement of ‘Winter’ from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (Edexcel and OCR recommended listening), J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.5 (Edexcel), Copland’s ‘Saturday Night Waltz’ and ‘Hoedown’ from Rodeo (AQA), and the theme from Star Wars by John Williams (OCR, Edexcel). It also includes creative projects guiding you how to compose a programmatic concerto grosso, and how to create a minimalist piece based on Steve Reich’s Clapping Music (AQA Minimalism) with your students.

Download resource pack (PDF)

There are many other composing resources on our genre pages on The Studio, including new Film Creative briefs on our Film page.

Behind the scenes: recording a soundtrack to a video game
From the early bleeps and bloops of the 1980s to the symphonic soundworlds of today, video game music has developed hugely over the last 40 years thanks to advances in technology, and now orchestras form an essential part of this 21st-century genre. Last summer, the LPO recorded the soundtrack to a brand new video game, and we went behind the scenes to ask, what do composers think about when writing for video games? Is composing for video games the same as composing for film? And how does the recording process work? Video game music features on the GCSE Music syllabuses of both AQA and OCR, as well as on both exam boards’ ‘composing to a brief’ element for 2020.

Behind the scenes: recording a video game soundtrack

We go behind the scenes at a London Philharmonic Orchestra recording session at Abbey Road, to find out about music for video games.

Explore more

  • • Read about the evolution of video game music over the last 40 years, and how composers write for this genre, in this article from BBC Radio 3. 
  • • There are more Creative Briefs to be found on our Dance and The Stage pages, where students can compose for silent choreography or to theatre scenes.
  • • Find out how World of Warcraft composer Eimar Noone started out, what she loves about video game composing and what advice she has for budding video game composers

Playlist: Introduction to Narrative Film Music
What are some of the practical functions music can achieve in a narrative film (that is, any film that tells a story)? In this video playlist, Dr Vasco Hexel gives a lively overview of all the ways music can be used in a film, from setting the scene to creating characters. This is an excellent starting point for any students looking at film music for the first time.  This talk was recorded live in 2016.

Introduction to Narrative Film Music

Videos in the playlist:

• Introduction to narrative film music
• Setting the scene
• Linking scenes
• Emotion and meaning
• Creating characters


Composition starting points

At GCSE and A Level, students are required to compose, both freely and to a set brief. But how do you begin composing if you’ve never done it before? A blank page can be very daunting, not just for inexperienced composers. In the resources below, we offer starting points for composition, that we hope will build your students’ confidence and familiarity with composing, from Key Stage 3 up to A Level:

  • In  Melody 123 (pdf), composer Ailie Robertson has broken down three methods she uses to overcome the curse of the blank page and get some musical ideas flowing. This resource is suitable for students who have a basic grasp of musical notation, and some ability on an instrument (recommended for Key Stage 4).
  • In  Using war poetry to compose songs (pdf), music director and educator Ros Savournin offers a creative composition project, using poetry from the First World War as inspiration. This resource is aimed at teachers to lead a 5-7 session project for Key Stage 3.

Composing for strings
Presented by Dr Steven Berryman, this video offers an overview of some typical playing techniques for string instruments: from arco to pizzicato, sul ponticello to sul tasto and beyond. We hear each string instrument in turn, then hear how they sound playing together with different techniques in isolation and in combination.  Finally, we hear the quartet perform music with different textures, and how you might combine these in your composition. Whether you are composing for GCSE, A Level or just for the joy of composing, this video offers starting point for thinking about writing thoughtfully for strings.


Composing for strings: an introduction to typical techniques and textures

An overview of some typical playing techniques and ensemble textures for string instruments, with examples performed by members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

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Composing to a brief
In this video, composer, teacher and researcher Dr Steven Berryman discusses how a composer might approach writing music for a chase scene in a spy movie. Steven offers tips and questions to consider if composing to this brief, or when composing for any dramatic film or narrative in general. Musical examples are performed by a string quartet formed from members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Composing music for a chase scene in a spy movie

Dr Steven Berryman presents how you might compose music for a chase scene in a spy movie, including leitmotifs and other musical elements to consider. Featuring musical examples performed by members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, this brief is one of Edexcel's GCSE composing to a brief tasks for 2019.

Explore more

  • • If you'd like your students to practise composing for film, take a look at our Film Creative Briefs on The Studio Film page.  Each Creative Brief playlist contains a short, silent clip to be composed to, a "How to approach the Brief" guidance video from professional film composer Alex Harwood, and material created by young composers in response to the Briefs. 
  • • There are more Creative Briefs to be found on our Dance and The Stage pages, where students can compose for silent choreography or to theatre scenes.
  • • What did your students come up with? We would love to showcase their compositions on The Studio, and can feature submitted works in our video playlists, synced to the stimulus film clips. If you would like any of your students' music to be featured on The Studio, send their compositions as audio files to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. including the student's name, the names of anyone else playing on the track, the student's age/school/college if relevant and any comments about their piece they’d like to share
  • • You can find out more about the film music industry by watching videos in our Film Music - The Industry playlist 
  • • We ask all the composers we meet for their top tips for aspiring young composers. You can find out what they said by watching our Tips for Young Composers playlist
  • • Further reading/listening: A Field Guide to the Musical Leitmotifs in Star Wars (New Yorker)Complete catalogue of motivic material in Star Wars (Frank Lehman)NPR audio interview about Herrmann's Psycho with musical extracts