Music For Dummies?

Young students can get an A on their GCSE (general certificate of secondary education) music exams without being able to read or write a note, according to a report in The Times.

Research by BBC Music Magazine revealed that none of the main examination boards awards more than 20 percent of total marks for being able to read music.

The Times report quoted Julian Lloyd-Webber, the cellist brother of composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber, saying it’s like “trying to study a language without studying the alphabet.”

He said it’s ridiculous to ignore “a system of notation that has been developed over hundreds and hundreds of years and has stood the test of time” just to make exams easier.

Previous generations of 16-year-olds studying music as an academic subject at school were under much more pressure to demonstrate a proper understanding of written music.

An O-level music paper for the Associated Examination Board in 1978, for example, asked students to set a verse of poetry to music on a page of empty staves, with credit given for good accentuation of the words and an appropriate melody.

Now compositions submitted to examination boards including Oxford and Cambridge need only to be in recorded form.

Questions on notation account for such a small proportion of the marks that candidates can ignore them and still do well.