The VCE Music Study Design outlines the nature and sequence of learning and teaching necessary for students to demonstrate achievement of the outcomes for a unit. The areas of study describe the specific knowledge required to demonstrate specific outcomes.
Teachers should use the VCE Music Study Design and Support Materials provided on the VCAA Music study page to develop a curriculum and assessment program that includes appropriate teaching and learning activities to enable students to satisfactorily demonstrate the key music knowledge and skills identified for each outcome, as well as assessment tasks that comply with the VCE assessment principles to assess students’ levels of achievement. Schools have flexibility in tailoring the teaching and assessment program to the school’s context and academic calendar.
In developing a program, teachers should design a range of activities that provide opportunities for students to develop and practise their musicianship and progress their musical knowledge and skills through performing, creating, arranging, improvising, analysing, recreating, reimagining and responding to music from diverse times, places, cultures and contexts, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, cultures and history.
Attention should be given to activities that are relevant, use contemporary resources and are meaningful to students’ current and future lives; activities that include a diverse range of local, regional, state and national contexts, and activities that use a variety of contemporary resources. Appropriate learning activities also include activities that scaffold student learning while encouraging independent learning.
Teachers should consider developing a weekly course outline for each unit. When developing a program, teachers are advised to ensure all units in VCE Music are constructed on the basis of at least 50 hours of class contact time, including assessment.
VCE Music provides considerable opportunity for teachers and schools to develop a program that meets the interests of students, accommodates teachers’ expertise, and provides pathways from Units 1 and 2 studies to the options for Units 3 and 4.
Further information can be found on page 9 of the VCE Music Study Design.
Underpinning this study is the development of musicianship. Musicianship is the unique and broad combination of musical knowledge, skills, dispositions and artistry that build students' agency as musicians. It can be loosely defined as the ability to think in sound and equip students to communicate and interpret meaning as artists and audiences. It is ‘a complex interaction of physical, emotional, cognitive, and psychosocial traits’ (Levitin, 2012) and as a social construct, it takes on different meanings across cultures, sub-groups, and individuals, and may be subject to change over time (Blacking 1971; Hallam & Prince, 2003). Musicianship is flexible and a long-term investment involving the ability to successfully navigate diverse music settings, inside and outside of school, and throughout life (Isbell and Stanley, 2018). In addition, Honing makes a distinction between ‘music’ as cultural products (songs, instruments, dance styles, etc.) and ‘musicality’ as the set of biological capacities underlying the creation of those products (Honing, 2018).
Students’ musicianship builds on the prior knowledge they bring to the study. It develops as they work in, through and across music as creators, listeners and performers in a range of contexts, styles and genres. Through engaging with sound and symbol systems in musical activities, students understand music elements, concepts, compositional devices and language, and cultural contexts.
The development of musicianship involves students:
- exploring, reflecting on and responding to the music they listen to, create and perform
- analysing and evaluating live and recorded performances
- learning to incorporate, adapt and interpret musical practices from diverse cultures, times and locations into their own learning about music as both a social and cultural practice
- studying and practising ways of effectively communicating and expressing musical ideas to an audience as performers and composers, and responding to musical works as an audience
- acquiring the practical foundation to compose, arrange, interpret, reimagine, improvise, recreate and critique music in an informed manner.
Rather than being topic-focused, the outcomes for the VCE Music Study Design are related to skill areas and are in sequence with the F–10 curriculum. Students build knowledge and skills through the integration of performing, music-making, creating, analysing and responding with the knowledge development of the elements, concepts and compositional devices, via a broad repertoire across time and cultures. Each outcome in VCE Music draws on a set of cross-study specifications listed on pages 13 to 19 of the study design. The development, demonstration and application of these specifications must be integrated into a teaching and assessment program, and applied using a range of repertoire.
Teachers are encouraged to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and perspectives in the design and delivery of teaching and learning programs related to VCE Music. VAEAI is the peak Koorie community organisation for education and training in Victoria. VAEAI has produced the Protocols for Koorie Education in Victorian schools and other documents (such as
Walking Together) to support teachers and students to learn about local, regional, state, national and international Indigenous perspectives.
VAEAI also provides Cultural Understanding and Safety Training (CUST) professional learning and resources for teachers to undertake when considering how they may best include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in VCE Music.
The VCAA has prepared on-demand video recordings for VCE teachers and leaders as part of the
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in the VCE webinar program held in 2023 which was presented with the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc. (VAEAI) and the Department of Education (DE) Koorie Outcomes Division.
Lisa Daly from Cultural Minds also provides some useful advice when considering how to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in VCE Music, in particular noting that:
‘… It is important to understand there is a distinct difference between teaching Aboriginal culture and teaching about Aboriginal culture. It is not appropriate for a non-Aboriginal person to teach Aboriginal culture, that is the traditional or sacred knowledge and systems belonging to Aboriginal people. For these kinds of teaching and learning experiences it is essential to consult and collaborate with members of your local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community. It is appropriate, however, for a non-Aboriginal person to teach about Indigenous Australia, its history and its people in much the same way as a teacher of non-German heritage might teach about Germany, its history and its people … As teachers, the onus is on us to learn about Indigenous Australia, in just the same way we inform ourselves about any other subject we teach …’
Other resources when considering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives include:
Dhungala Council: Choral Connection songbook
Mission Songs Project
Australian Music Centre
Koorie Heritage Trust
There will be other Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander histories, knowledges, and cultures and perspectives that are appropriate to include and consider from other Australian states in terms of a national Australian context, or other Indigenous perspectives from other countries that are appropriate from an international context.
A range of suggested activities that incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives have also been provided in the
Teaching and learning section of the VCE Music materials.
The Department of Education and Training has a useful website (Introduction to literacy in Music) where these differences are explained as follows.
Literacy in Music refers to:
- the listening, speaking, reading, viewing, writing, and creating practices that students use to access, understand, analyse, and communicate their knowledge about music as listeners, composers, and performers.
Musical literacy involves:
- interpreting and making meaning from aural and written musical texts, drawn from a range of cultures, times and locations which use conventional (Mills & McPherson, 2015) and graphic notation
- reading, composing, improvising, and performing musical texts using a range of acoustic and electronic instruments and digital technologies and modes.
Literacy in music and musical literacy are learned simultaneously and build on each other for holistic literacy and disciplinary learning in the school subject of music. For example, reading about a song and discussing its meaning using key concepts (such as the elements of music) leads to a deeper understanding of the effect of the sound on the audience and ways that this effect has been created. Conversely, musical notation communicates the sound to be performed and the sound itself speaks to the audience. The depth and complexity of building musical literacy knowledge and skills will depend on students’ prior experiences and the Units 3 and 4 pathways they choose, as well as the repertoire chosen for study.
Options for drill and practice to develop music language and aural skills can include a mixture of resources, including texts and online programs such as
Auralia. Technical exercises can be included in class time but students need to practise these skills regularly. Ideally, they could start off each of their practice sessions with some aural exercises.
Listening journals are a useful way for documenting regular work and progress. There could be weekly homework that combines practice and aural work during term time and / or holidays.
Past VCE examination papers can be a useful source for repertoire and ideas for listening journal tasks. Attached is a list of
VCE Repertoire and Examination Questions.
Students of Music contemporary performance should listen out for differences in later verses and choruses in songs that will lead into their reimagined work.
Students should choose listening journal pieces sometimes and always connect the listening journal with creating and aural work.
Listening responses presents several challenges for learners. The problem can be twofold: the task of responding to open-ended questions requires not only a high level of aural discrimination but also an ability to translate these aurally perceived observations into a coherent, written text. The challenges of translating aurally perceived music and sound into written English are even greater for EAL learners. Providing scaffolding for learners supports them to complete an activity that is unfamiliar or beyond their current ability. Over time, scaffolding assists learners to operate within their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD is the distance between what learners can accomplish independently and what they can do with adult guidance or in collaboration with peers (a More Knowledgeable Other). With support, learners are able to shift their current Zone of Proximal Development into their Zone of Actual Development (ZAD) and then access a new ZPD.
Using visual stimuli can help scaffold verbal and written responses to music, both previously heard and unheard. Students can provide more comprehensive responses to an open-ended task when assisted by visuals and diagrams. The pairing of visual-spatial is an effective aid for aural discrimination. As an example, students are asked to circle everything they can hear and then construct written sentences about what they have chosen.
Example: A basic listening chart for
Mission Impossible (original TV series) (Wilson & Jeanneret, 2021). The principle of this listening chart can be adapted to any repertoire and level of complexity.
(Also refer to Choosing Repertoire below).
When planning a performance stream for Outcome 1 in Units 1 and 2, teachers need to be mindful of not only the needs and interests of the students but also the option they will choose for Units 3 and 4.
Both Contemporary and Repertoire Performance are specific about developing ensemble skills and plenty of opportunities should be provided for students to participate in duos, small groups and/or larger ensembles.
In Unit 4 of both Contemporary and Repertoire Performance, students will include Australian work post-1990 in their performance program. The Australian Music Centre has repertoire lists for music from the last 25 years. (See Choosing repertoire.)
Sample weekly planner
When planning for teaching in such a way that the outcomes are approached in an integrated way, it is useful to start with an overview sketch of the unit and pencil in where key decisions need to be made and where the assessment tasks might need to occur. Below is a sample planner for Unit 1 which maps key points over 16 weeks.
|Week||Are of Study 1
||AOS 2 Creating||AOS 3 Analysing and responding|
|1||Choose solo piece|
Model for Practice Diary
|Teacher chooses a whole-class ensemble||
Free choice option: Another solo or a small group ensemble
performance or a
composition (preparation for Units 3 and 4 specialist composition)|
Short composing / improvising activities connected to listening and elements (If students choose composition for free choice then it is
Area of Study 2 and can develop into a full composition across 16 weeks)
Begin working with elements and response to a previously unheard work Response to previously unheard work threaded throughout these weeks
|Music language and aural skills development connected to works for elements, analyses and responding OR sequential development of music language. Ideally this is as practical as possible using creative activities and performing activities to develop music knowledge|
|3||Analysis of detailed work 1|
|4||Perform to class|
|5||Composition exercise related to Work 1|
|6||Analyse solo repertoire|
|7||Composition exercise connected to solo repertoire|
|9||Analysis of detailed work 2|
|10||Composition exercise related to Work 2|
|12||Public performance of solo piece, class ensemble, and optional small group/additional solo/composition||Submit composition folio of exercises|
|13||Commentary connected to Area of Study 1||Assessment: test on music elements (using previously unheard works) and music language|
Reimagining and recreating
Recreating is concerned with replicating and imitating an existing work and aiming to reproduce it faithfully. Reimaging is about taking a work and making it your own. The extent of the reimagination can be conceived of on a continuum with a cover version or reinterpretation that minimally changes the original (perhaps a change in instrumentation to suit the student cohort) through to a change in style, perhaps with additional material such as an improvised solo section added. Reimagining can be demonstrated in several ways, which may include but are not limited to creativity in interpretation; for example, Verse 1 and Chorus 1 are the same as the original and these are then changed in Verse 2 and later choruses. Changes in instrumentation might include a four-person rock band being reduced to an acoustic guitar/vocal duet. Listening examples to understand reimagining are encouraged; for example, Triple J Like a Version reimagines works each week.
Working with instrumental teachers
Where possible, ensure students have access to suitable instrumental teachers who are familiar with the current VCE Music Study Design, understand the assessment criteria and have the capacity to teach to a VCE standard. Establishing regular and effective communication between the classroom teacher and instrumental teacher is key, particularly if the instrumental teacher is not connected to the school.
A list of the elements and the definitions can be found on pages 17–19 of the VCE Music Study Design and this is what students should focus on. There is also a list of examples of concepts that could be explored depending on the music works and styles selected for study to assist teachers. Students could maintain a glossary of terms that is broadened as they build their analysing and responding knowledge and skills throughout their units of study.
‘Transition’ is a new addition for this study design and it simply means the shift from one musical idea to another. Transitions are frequently connected to form and there are many ways in which composers use this device. They can be:
- a bridge to somewhere else like another section; for example, a coda, an introduction
- within form; for example, a pre-chorus is a transition to the chorus, as is bridge, or a middle 8
- a coda is a transition
- connected to harmony, such as a chord progression
- a rhythmic sentence (longer than a rhythmic idea)
- related to tonality and modulation
- a metric modulation.
Repertoire selection, choice and purpose is fundamental to all levels of music learning and teaching, and initially effects student engagement and motivation. Some key considerations when selecting repertoire are as follows:
- What do learners need to know? What music knowledge is evident and connected to a single work or excerpt?
- How are all learners supported to complete the task?
- What have I put in place previously to support all learners to be successful?
- How am I recognising, incorporating and validating learners’ musical interests and expanding their musical world?
- What opportunities are there for extracting every possible learning opportunity from a single work or excerpt?
It is helpful to have a ‘tool kit’ of repertoire that offers teachable foci with good examples of melody, rhythm, and so forth. For example, the original
Mission Impossible theme from the television series provides an approachable example of 5/4, a bass line to improvise over, and a melodic dictation in the bass line as well as plenty to discuss in relation to the elements, concepts and compositional devices (see attached MI Analysis at a Glance for further ideas). Also look for opportunities for performance. Learners don’t have to perform a ‘score’ as written. The teacher can create a simplified arrangement.
Repertoire for listening:
- Previous examinations in VCE Music Performance and VCE Style and Composition are a useful source of examples (see
VCE Repertoire and Examination Questions).
The Australian Music Centre has a section devoted to teachers. It offers:
- The ABC offers a number of useful programs and podcasts. For example:
New Waves features new music by Australian composers including
First Nations composers
Specials Features such as the five-part series,
The Music of John Williams: Beyond the Silver Screen
Resources for Jazz such as
Jazz Meet Bacharach, which presents the ‘reimagined’ works of Burt Bacharach
Like A Version is a podcast from Triple j. Every Friday morning a musician or band comes into the studio to play one of their own songs and a cover of a song they love.
Repertoire for performance outcomes:
Australian Music Centre has a series of repertoire lists of Australian music composed in the last 30 years for most instruments. They will also follow up options for unlisted instruments on request.
- It can be useful to refer to previous Music Performance prescribed lists of Group Works and Notated Solo Works.
- An example of planning activities around a single work is provided in the Teaching and Learning section (see Unit 1, Detailed example 3).
Journals are a useful way for students and teachers to record thoughts and ideas generated through listening and practising, and to monitor progress. They should be tailored to the specific VCE Music unit and the key knowledge and skills being addressed.
Journals for performing
For example, in Unit 1: Organisation of music, Area of Study 1: Performing, preparing and performing solo and ensemble works could address the following key knowledge and key skills in Outcome 1:
- Effective practice strategies
- Strategies for developing instrumental techniques
- Identify performance challenges
- Demonstrate a planned approach to improving instrumental and presentation techniques.
Journals can take any of the following forms:
- Completed regularly; for example, weekly
- Video practice diary recorded on a device such as a phone or iPad uploaded to a Google Drive that is shared with the teacher
- Includes verbal reflection and playing to evidence the key knowledge and key skills
Journals could also take a written form and include audio recordings.
Similarly, a composition process diary or journal should be tailored to the specific unit and area of study being addressed. For example, in Unit 1: Organisation of music, Area of Study 2: Creating could address the following key knowledge and key skills:
- How elements of music, concepts and compositional devices have been manipulated
- Process documenting how creative responses have been developed and refined
- Describe the creative process and organisational approach
- Method of recording and documenting.
A composition process journal could be a video diary that includes musical examples, a written diary, and / or include audio recordings.
The VCE Music Study Design explicitly makes provision for students who chose digital modes of music. Unit 3 and 4 options that could accommodate these students are Inquiry, Contemporary Performance and Composition, depending on the particular strengths and interests of the student. It is suggested that less musically experienced students are best accommodated in Inquiry. Students with more developed musical skills could access Composition or Contemporary Performance. For the specialist Unit 3 and 4 options, careful consideration will need to be given to how digital musicians structure their performances and compositions to maximise their strengths for each criterion.
Performance in a digital music context includes live performance of a digital controller with pre-recorded tracks. Ensemble performance for digital musicians can include playing multiple parts live; for example, looping and playing over the top of it where the performer is both conductor and orchestra in this context.
- Digital audio workstation (DAW) platforms and software often have freely available educational resources developed by practising teachers. For example, Ableton Education Resources and Soundtrap for Education resources.
- Electronic Music School (Kuhn & Hein, 2021).
Teachers need to assume they will be teaching students from a wide range of previous musical experience, both formal and informal. Careful planning is necessary to ensure that all tasks are suitably differentiated to support both less experienced learners and those hoping to pursue Specialist Unit 3 and 4 options. Approaching differentiation from the perspective of a three-speed classroom may be helpful. For those with less musical experience, points of access need to be provided for those who are not involved in instrumental music lessons and will likely pursue Unit 3 and 4 Inquiry. A middle band of students might undertake any of the Unit 3 and 4 options depending on their interests. For those students who might be heading to tertiary music options, open-ended activities will require options for extension to challenge these learners to continue their musicianship in all areas of study in Unit 1 and 2.
To support all learners, the following model of musical differentiation may be helpful (adapted from Philpott et al, 2016):
Differentiation by content. Not all learners need to be working on the same tasks. For example, it might be appropriate for one group to be creating a cover version of a song while another group or individual creates a composition using a digital audio workstation (DAW).
Differentiation by resource. For example, having a range of musical examples available when completing a listening journal activity that students select from according to their musical interests.
Differentiation by task. Providing a range of options within a task to match students’ level of prior achievement and musical interests. In an ensemble this might be having more challenging and easier parts to play. In a composition task, it might be adapting the brief. For solo performance, it involves selecting repertoire at an appropriate level of difficulty for learners to access the full range of marks.
Differentiation by outcome. This involves setting a task that allows each learner to respond according to their level of musical development.
Differentiation by support and response. This is often an intuitive part of the teaching process and includes verbal feedback, musical feedback (playing with and for learners), diagnosing and problem solving. It might also involve masterclasses with visiting musicians and involving instrumental teachers to provide instrument specific support for higher achieving learners.
Blacking, J 1971, ‘Towards a theory of musical competence’, Man: Anthropological Essays in Honour of O.F. Raum, ed. E. DeJager, Struik, Cape Town, pp. 19–34.
Hallam, S and Prince, V 2003, ‘Conceptions of musical ability’, Research Studies Music Education (20), pp. 2–22. doi: 10.1177/1321103X030200010101
Honing, H (ed.) 2018, The origins of musicality, MIT Press.
Wilson, E & Jeanneret, N 2021 (July),
Classics for kids. Invited workshop at the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Melbourne Music Summit, online.
Philpott, C, Wright, R, Evans, K & Zimmermann, S 2016, Addressing Individual Needs and Equality of Opportunity in Cooke, C, Evans, K, Philpott C and Spruce, G (eds),
Learning to Teach Music in the Secondary School (3rd ed.) Routledge.
The VCE Music study provides students with the opportunity to engage in a range of learning activities. In addition to demonstrating their understanding and mastery of the content and skills specific to the study, students may also develop employability skills through their learning activities.
The nationally agreed employability skills* are: Communication; Planning and organising; Teamwork; Problem solving; Self-management; Initiative and enterprise; Technology; and Learning.
The table links those facets that may be understood and applied in a school or non-employment-related setting to the types of assessment commonly undertaken in the VCE study.
|Assessment task||Employability skills selected facets|
Written and oral responses
(analysing and responding)
Communication (reading independently; sharing information)
Problem solving (developing creative and innovative solutions; developing practical solutions; applying a range of strategies to problem solving)
Learning (managing own learning; being open to new ideas and techniques; acknowledging the need to learn in order to accommodate change)
Initiative and enterprise (being creative; generating a range of options; initiating innovative solutions; translating ideas into action; adapting to new situations)
Planning and organising (collecting, analysing and organising information; planning for an audience; planning the use of resources including time management)
Self-management (evaluating and monitoring own performance; articulating own ideas and visions; having knowledge and confidence in own ideas and visions; taking responsibility)
Technology (using IT to organise data; having a range of basic IT skills)
Initiative and enterprise (adapting to new situations, developing a strategic, creative, long-term vision, being creative, identifying opportunities not obvious to others, translating ideas into action, generating a range of options, initiating innovative solutions)
Planning and organising (managing time and priorities – setting time lines, coordinating tasks for self and with others; planning the use of resources including time management; collecting, analysing and organising information, taking initiative and making decisions)
Problem solving (developing practical solutions; testing assumptions taking the context of data and circumstances into account; solving problems in teams; developing creative and innovative solutions; applying a range of strategies to problem solving; showing independence and initiative in identifying problems and solving them)
Self-management (having knowledge and confidence in own ideas and visions; articulating own ideas and visions; taking responsibility; evaluating and monitoring own performance)
Teamwork (working as an individual and as a member of a team; knowing how to define a role as part of the team, working across different ages and irrespective of gender, race, religion or political persuasion; applying team work to a range of situations e.g. futures planning, crisis problem solving; identifying the strengths of the team members; coaching and mentoring skills including giving feedback)
Communication (sharing information; listening and understanding; empathising; speaking clearly and directly; negotiating responsively; writing to the needs of the audience; reading independently)
Learning (being open to new ideas and techniques; managing own learning; acknowledging the need to learn in order to accommodate change)
Technology (having a range of basic IT skills, using IT to organise data, being willing to learn new IT skills, having the OHS knowledge to apply technology, having the physical capacity to apply technology e.g. manual dexterity)
Using ICT in performing, creating and / or documentation
Technology (using IT to organise data; having a range of basic IT skills; being willing to learn new IT skills)
Communication (reading independently; sharing information; establishing and using networks)
Initiative and enterprise (initiating innovative solutions; being creative; identifying opportunities not obvious to others; translating ideas into action)
Planning and organising (planning the use of resources including time management; collecting, analysing and organising information; managing time and priorities – setting time lines, coordinating tasks for self and with others; taking initiative and making decisions)
Learning (being open to new ideas and techniques; managing own learning; acknowledging the need to learn in order to accommodate change)
Problem solving (showing independence and initiative in identifying problems and solving them; developing practical solutions; testing assumptions taking the context of data and circumstances into account; solving problems in teams; developing creative and innovative solutions; applying a range of strategies to problem solving)
Self-management (having knowledge and confidence in own ideas and visions; articulating own ideas and visions; taking responsibility; evaluating and monitoring own performance)
Teamwork (working as an individual and as a member of a team; working across different ages and irrespective of gender, race, religion or political persuasion)
Initiative and enterprise (generating a range of options; initiating innovative solutions; being creative)
Planning and organising (planning the use of resources including time management; establishing clear project goals and deliverables)
Problem solving (developing practical solutions; testing assumptions taking the context of data and circumstances into account)
Self-management (evaluating and monitoring own performance/composition/investigation)
*The employability skills are derived from the Employability Skills Framework (Employability Skills for the Future, 2002), developed by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Business Council of Australia, and published by the (former) Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training.