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Leaving Cert Music Composing Guide

By Clodagh Murray - 5 minute read

Despite many students being left to their own devices to work out the composing section of the Leaving Cert Music paper, this section is worth equal marks to the listening section and worth half the marks of the practical exam. Ellen, who achieved a H1 in Leaving Cert Music, has written this guide to help you through  the process. Check out some extracts below!

Pre-Flight Checklist

Why not view this composition element of the paper as a journey. Before you take off on this journey, you must be aware of a number of essential elements and keep these in mind throughout the journey. Imagine them to be like safety procedures, demonstrated by you, for the benefit of your fellow passenger, the examiner. They are fundamental to succeeding in this journey. Check out Ellen's full guide to read the comprehensive pre-flight checklist.

Read the instructions carefully!

For the melody writing it is crucial to read the instructions! The first step of this part of the composition requires you to identify the key signature, one of the most important steps as it determines the entire melody! A major melody will always ask you to modulate whereas a minor melody won't. You can't take this as a given however, so create the habit of double checking by looking at the fourth bar, where the presence or absence of accidentals usually reveals a lot.

The steps involved in the Melody Writing

  • Step 1: Identify the key signature and choose your instrument.

  • Step 2: Work with what you've got! The first four bars contain all of the information you could possibly need. Break it down bar by bar, draw out your chord bank and write the relevant scale with its tonic solfa.

  • Step 3: Modulate. Even if you're in a minor key and aren't have to modulate, it adds an element of "wow!". Modulation always occurs in bars 7 and 8.

  • Step 4: The B Phrase. Each of the A phrases are similar but B is different. Avoid "winging it!" and instead build the B phrase using sequences.

  • Step 5: Saying goodbye. Teachers have different methods for finishing off melodies, there are guidelines but ultimately endings will be different. Keep the time signature in mind here when using long notes!

  • Step 6: Finishing touches. Before the final goodbye, add in and check your "wow" elements to grab as many marks as possible! These include dynamics, phrases, solfa, unessentials, markings, big steps grouping and accidentals.

  • Step 7: Finishing touches and cautions. This is the final step where you tidy up your answer.

Enter the exams with your eyes wide open!

The harmony question requires you to draw on your interpretation skills more than your composition skills. Your eyes need to be wide open as you enter the exam as there are plenty of traps you could fall into. Inevitably you will fall into some of these traps no matter how much you practise as you're human after all but, the more aware you are of them the less likely you will be to fall for lots of them!

Why not check out the full guide below. It's a thorough guide filled with advice and tips that we simply couldn't all fit into one blog post! It includes detailed answer breakdowns of State Exam questions, where Ellen leaves no stone unturned in showing the process to you along with lots of pro tips!

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