Author

Jonny Martin is Chair of Examiners for Edexcel GCE Music Technology and GCSE Music. He has been Head of Music in two comprehensive schools teaching across the secondary age range. He has also been a peripatetic guitar teacher, teaching electric, classical and bass guitar. Alongside his education activities, he has always maintained a performing schedule, regularly performing around the country in a number of different ensembles. He is co-author of Edexcel GCSE Music (with John Arkell) and is a music consultant for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. He has a passion for music education, delivering workshops and training for teachers and students across the UK.

Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank Michael Lovelock for his work on the illustrations, Chris Duffill and Mortimer Rhind-Tutt for their advice and suggestions, and Matthew Hammond and Ben Smith of Rhinegold publishing for their editorial and design work.

Contents

                   Information Page

Unit 1A      Sequenced Realised Performance

Unit 1B      Multi-track Recording

Unit 1C      Creative Sequenced Arrangement

Unit 2         Listening and Analysing

Unit 3A      Sequenced Integrated Performance

Unit 3B      Multi-track Recording

Unit 3C      Composing Using Music Technology

Unit 4        Analysing and Producing

Glossary

Introduction

Edexcel’s GCE in Music Technology is a challenging and exciting specification, designed to introduce you to the skills and knowledge you need to work in the music technology industry. By following the course you will develop your practical skills and your ability to listen analytically to music so that you can ensure your work meets the highest standards. You will have opportunities to express yourself musically through creative use of music technology and using the technology as a performance tool.

This book will guide you through every aspect of the course, giving you definitive advice on how to tackle each element of the practical work and how to prepare yourself for the written examinations. It gives insights into what the examiner is looking for in your work so that you can avoid common pitfalls, present your work in the best possible light and maximise your potential. It is intended to contain sufficient information to see you through your AS and A2 courses, but is not a replacement for a skilled teacher. Your level of success will depend on how much work you are willing to put into the course but, if you follow all the guidance given in these pages, you will give yourself the best possible chance of success in the qualification.

Edexcel GCE Music Technology)

Structure of the course

Units 1 and 2 are worth 100% of the AS level and 50% of the full GCE.
Units 3 and 4 are worth 100% of the A2 level and 50% of the full GCE.

This guide will take you through each of the units in turn, explaining the requirements of each unit and how you might best go about meeting them.

Unit 1A – Sequenced Realised Performance

Before undertaking any task for an examination it is vital to consider the following:

What does the task entail?

The sequencing task requires you to listen to an original track and to try and recreate the track in your sequence. There are marks available for creativity, but this is more about how you creatively solve the problems inherent in the completion of the task rather than adding any of your own creative input to the original stimulus.

The golden rule, and something you should constantly remind yourself, is: the original audio track is the standard by which any sequence is judged. Everything you do should resemble the original audio track as closely as is humanly possible. Do not do anything to try and improve the original track; copy it, warts and all.

The skeleton score provided by Edexcel as a stimulus is a useful starting point and contains a lot of information which you can directly copy into your sequence, but no score is ever 100% accurate to the performance it represents. If you listen closely you will hear all sorts of tiny timing differences and slight tuning issues in the original performance that haven’t been captured on the score. The original audio track is the standard by which any sequence is judged. The skeleton score is just a helpful guide to get you started.

What is the examiner looking for?

The best way to find out the answer to this question is to look at the mark scheme. All examiners are trained how to apply the mark scheme to any work they are required to assess. In order to achieve the highest marks it is important for you to learn how to take a step back from your work and judge it according to the mark scheme criteria, just as an examiner would. Try for a second to distance yourself from all the hard work you have done and listen to the sequence with a critical ear. You may feel that, since you have put so much time into the work, examiners will be able to overlook the strange pitch clashes going on in bar 37, but they won’t. Their job is to apply the mark scheme to every piece of music they hear in a fair and even-handed way, so all they care about is the quality of the audio they are listening to. Be your own harshest critic so that the deepest satisfaction comes from the knowledge that you have fulfilled your own extremely high expectations.

The mark scheme is split into four sections – accuracy of note input, mix, musicality and general music technology skills. Each section is subdivided into two criteria looking at specific aspects of the sequence.

The language used in the mark schemes makes more sense from an examiner’s perspective than it will for someone who is actually doing the task, so the following is a paraphrase of the actual mark scheme.

It is possible to get zero marks in any criteria, but it is to be hoped that by reading this book you will avoid this possibility, so a mark of zero has not been addressed here.

1. Accuracy of note input
Pitch 8 Completely accurate. The sequence sounds just like the original track. There are no pitch errors at all.
6 – 7 There may be a few pitch errors in the sequence. 7 marks would be awarded for where there are only two or three errors. 6 marks will be given when there are a few more errors, but the piece still sounds good. This category is used when there are errors, but they are tricky to spot.
4 – 5 When there are more obvious errors that can easily be spotted or if there are repeated errors (such as a section which has been copied and pasted, but the original was wrong or an accidental has been consistently missed) the piece will fall into this category.
2 – 3 When the errors start to make you cringe then the sequence will fall into this category.
1 When only some of the track is accurate – there are more errors than there are correct notes, or there are sections of the piece which contain some very serious pitch problems.
Rhythm 8 Completely accurate. The sequence sounds just like the original track. There are no errors in rhythm input at all and the track sounds musical – there is a human feel to it rather than all the notes falling on the grid lines.
6 – 7 The piece may be 100% accurate, but it feels a bit mechanical and unmusical: 7 marks. A few errors in the rhythm input, but these are quite hard to spot – they don’t take anything away from the sequence.
4 – 5 Errors are quite easily spotted, but the piece still sounds OK. If the different parts feel like they are playing out of time with each other then the sequence will fall into this category.
2 – 3 Rhythmic errors make the sequence sound unmusical. There may be some serious errors that are repeated a lot (e.g. a repeated drum loop is wrong throughout in addition to some other rhythmic problems).
1 When only some parts are accurate – there are problems in all or most parts.


Tuning is not marked in pitch – if there are tuning discrepancies between the original stimulus track and the skeleton score and you successfully sequence these in some way then you will gain credit in section 3 (Musicality) or 4 (Music Technology Skills), but you will not be penalised in pitch if they are not present. Any timing issues that are present in the original will be dealt with in the same way.


If parts are missing from your sequence then the examiners will penalise the piece in some way – they may mark as normal but take off a percentage according to how much is missing. Do not leave tracks out, even if they are tricky parts. The skeleton score will always have all the parts present in the piece listed in the first system of the music.

2. Choice and mix of sounds
Timbre 4 All the chosen sounds are very close to those used in the original track. Presets have been edited in some way to make them sound more like the original track. Note: You can only score 4 marks if there has been some editing of the preset sounds (refer to this in yourlog).
3 All the chosen sounds are very close to those in the original track but there has been no editing of preset timbres. Or, there is some editing of presets, but there is the odd dodgy choice of timbre.
2 Most of the sounds chosen are good, but there is the odd dodgy choice. Be particularly careful of your choice of sound for the vocal track or it is likely to fall into this category (avoid vocal or choral ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’).
1 There are several poor choices of timbre or the timbres chosen are in the same sort of family, but they sound nothing like those on the original track (e.g. synths have been chosen for the synth tracks, but they just don’t come close to sounding like the original).
Balance and Pan 4 All the parts have been balanced and panned just like they are in the original track (including any odd balancing or panning in the original).
3 The balance and panning are good, but may be different from the stimulus.
2 There are some important parts that can’t be clearly heard (e.g. some solo parts are too quiet or some background parts are too loud) and/or some of the parts have not been panned properly.
1 There are several problems with the balance that make the sequence sound muddy or unclear and/or none of the parts have been panned.


The timbre category is marked according to the appropriate choice and editing of sounds. To some extent it is not important how good your sound module is, but you will have to do more editing to get the best from a poor quality sound source.


Make sure the instrumental parts are panned just like those in the original track. The mix should be like the original track as well, even if you think that one of the parts was a little loud or shouldn’t have been panned the way it is.

3. Musicality
Dynamic 4 The dynamics are a faithful reproduction of the original and include volume swells etc. during notes (dynamic shaping) in addition to velocity changes.
3 The main dynamic contrasts are present in the piece, but there are not many examples of dynamic shaping. Or there is a good deal of dynamic shaping etc., but it is not faithful to the original.
2 It is clear that there has been some attempt to recreate the dynamics of the original, but there are some places where they are unsuccessful (e.g. crescs and dims are too sudden, grainy, or extreme).
1 There has been some attempt to input dynamics, but most of those that have been programmed are either too subtle to have any effect or are unmusical (perhaps because they are too extreme or ‘lumpy’).
Articulation and Phrasing 4 The parts have been programmed so that they sound musical – the articulation and phrasing makes it sound like live musicians have performed them. Any of the obvious staccatos/legatos/tail-offs at the ends of phrases etc. of the original have been convincingly recreated in the sequence.
3 Most of the phrasing of the original has been attempted but it is not entirely convincing or there is some musical phrasing and articulation, but it does not relate to the original track.
2 There are clear attempts to edit the length, start times and relative strength of notes to create phrasing and articulation, but it sounds a little robotic.
1 There has been little attempt to include any aspects of phrasing or articulation. Any attempts are either overly mechanical or actually take away from the success of the sequence (e.g. frequent evidence of very short staccato, notes audibly overlapping or unmusical pitch-bends).


It is particularly important to ensure that the vocal track or any main parts with exposed solos (e.g. a guitar solo) are carefully edited for musicality. Try to make the line ‘sing’ like the original through careful programming.

4. Music Technology Skills
Style and Creativity 4 A musical sequence. Any particular challenges posed by the stimulus material have been met. FX are appropriate and add to the piece. There is convincing use of pitch bend, modulation (vibrato) etc. to recreate elements of the original. Any tempo shaping adds to the piece. There is a feeling that the style of the original has been captured in the sequence.
3 A consistent sense of style with some attention to musical detail resulting in a generally successful sequence.
2 Where tempo shaping has been used, there may be one or two problems that have been introduced. FX have been used, but not always in a way that is suitable for the stimulus material. Some work has gone into editing the sequence, but it still doesn’t really sound musical. A workmanlike attempt at making the piece sound like the original, but it hasn’t quite hit the mark.
1 The piece sounds quite robotic, with few obvious attempts to make it fit within the style. Any FX which are used are not really appropriate and, if tempo shaping has been used, it takes away from the success of the sequence rather than adding to it.
Quality of recording 4 The final stereo recording has no blemishes in any way. The recording level is high without distorting and there is no evidence of clicks, hiss or clipping at any point in the track.
3 There are one or two small blemishes in the final audio recording: e.g., it clips once or twice, there is a little hiss audible during silences or the playout is slightly too long. However, the recording is still good quality.
2 There are several issues that take away from the success of the final recording: e.g., the beginning or ending may be chopped, there may be noticeable hiss throughout or it may distort occasionally.
1 The final audio track is of poor quality. There may be a very long playout or a long silence at the beginning of the track or it may be mastered at a very low level.


Style and creativity is a catch-all section for any aspects of sequencing which have not been dealt with elsewhere, e.g., appropriate use of FX, coping particularly well with a tricky guitar part, successfully programming a tempo change or matching the odd tuning discrepancy in a vocal part.

What are the rules for completing the task?

All practical work is to be completed under controlled conditions. There are certain rules you must adhere to in order to meet these conditions. Only the time you spend actually inputting, editing and mixing the actual sequence – writing time – falls under controlled conditions. Any time you spend preparing for the task falls outside of these conditions and is called preparation time.

‘Preparation time’ will include the following:

Any of the above may be undertaken in school/college or at home – it does not need to be directly supervised.

When you do any work to the file that will eventually be mixed down into a stereo track for submission to the examiner it is considered ‘writing time’, so you must observe the following rules:

  1. All work must be your own. It is not acceptable to use any work that has been programmed by someone else (e.g. professional MIDI files or loops).
  2. You must complete all the input, editing and mixing of the sequence under supervision by your teacher or another member of staff.
  3. Your sequence must stay on the school/college premises at all times (you can’t take it home or access it from home).
  4. Any preparation work you bring into school/college must be checked by your teacher/supervisor before you restart ‘writing time’.
  5. You can access the internet during your preparation time, but not during inputting, editing and mixing of your sequence
  6. You must complete the input, editing and mixing of the sequence within 20 hours (this does not include any preparation time).

How can I best use my time to complete the task?

Plan your time carefully!

There are 20 hours available to complete the input, editing and mixing of the sequencing task, so it needs to be used wisely. How you divide it up will depend on where your strengths and weaknesses lie as a music technologist. If you have good keyboard skills or are particularly good at playing tracks into a sequencer using a MIDI instrument then you will probably load your time towards data input – you will need to spend less time editing your sequence. If your strengths do not include keyboard skills then you will need a lot more time to edit your sequence in order to make it sound musical and to include the level of detail that is required to score top marks.

Data input

No matter how weak (or strong!) your keyboard skills are before you start the course, you are strongly advised to spend some time working on them so that you can play a simple melody with a good sense of musical phrasing (even if it is at a slow tempo). You will never be required to sight-read in this qualification or to perform with both hands playingsimultaneous, independent parts, but you should spend some time learning to play a convincing tune with one hand. You don’t have to be able to perform a Rachmaninov concerto!

As you continue with your music technology career, either as a hobbyist or in a professional capacity, you will find that keyboard skills will come in handy, no matter how rudimentary they are.

It is possible to complete this task using a mouse to input the notes into a piano roll-style grid, but you may find it much more difficult to create the sense of musical phrasing required for the highest marks. A combination of playing in some parts and step-inputting others will probably be the best approach.

How can I make best use of the equipment available to me?

Learn how to use your software! Learn how to use your hardware!

At the start of the course you may have some time before the stimulus material is published. Do not waste this time. Experiment with the software your school/college has made available to you. Experiment with the sound sources available to you. Do not just play the sound sources in their normal range – experiment with them over the entire audible range and see how they respond to different controllers, pitch bend, different velocity levels etc. Which types of sound are most realistic? Which timbres would need serious editing to make them sound good? Do you have a string sound that doesn’t have a long attack time? Do you have a realistic distorted guitar sound? What sort of synth sounds do you have? Do certain timbres have pre-programmed effects? What effects do you have available? Will you need to make use of external effects in the audio domain instead of using the internal reverbs generated by the sound source? If so, ask your teacher how to go about doing this and experiment to see what results you can get. Learn how to use your plugins and automation facilities.

To summarise; learn the strengths and weakness of the equipment you have access to. Play to the strengths and learn how to overcome the weaknesses.

Completing the sequencing task

Preparation

It is highly likely that if you are taking GCE Music Technology you have already put in quite a lot of preparation for some of the tasks you will undertake during the course.

Have you ever:

If you have ever taken part in any of these activities then you already have some of the skills in place that you will need to complete the Music Technology Portfolio. The more music making and creation you are involved in, the more honed your skills will become. For AS Music Technology you will hone some specific skills and target these so that the examiner can see the results of your efforts in the best possible light.

The first activity that falls under the umbrella of ‘preparation time’ proper is transcribing the audio for the sequence. Note that this can be completed under light supervision (your teacher should make regular checks of your progress) and it can be done either in your school/college or at home. Work at this stage can be taken into and out of the centre at any time.

Transcription

Immediately on publication of the stimulus material for Unit 1 you should start deciphering the audio track for the sequencing task. The act of writing down the parts from the audio track is called transcription. You do not need to produce a full score, and a great deal of the information will be on the skeleton score provided by Edexcel, so you do not have to do everything from scratch.

For some people, transcribing the audio material will be second nature as they frequently learn songs from CDs. For everyone else, there are a few techniques that will greatly speed up the process.

1) Become intimately familiar with the track

Listening to the track once or twice does not mean you know it. You should listen to it so that you can recognise every nuance of every part. Listen to the track a few times without any deep analysis (without reference to the skeleton score), then listen to the lead vocal, ignoring the other parts, then listen just to the drum track. Listen again to the synth and/or guitar parts. How many parts are there? Can you identify the effects on the different tracks? Listen to the production values of the track. What sort of reverb is on the snare? Are the drums far forward in the mix? Are there any backing vocals and, if so, how are they mixed? Is the timing metronomically accurate or does it groove? Does it microscopically anticipate the beat (it feels edgy) or does it almost imperceptibly lag behind the beat (it feels laid back). What type of bass guitar is used? Is the vocal double-tracked? These are the sorts of questions you should have all the answers to before you start writing out any music. Understanding the groove, style, instrumentation and structure of a song puts everything else into context and will inform many future decisions you make. You will know that you have absorbed the track properly when you can press the play button in your head and listen back all the way through without the assistance of a pair of speakers or headphones. Write down all your observations.

2) Build a framework

All music hangs together by means of a structure, no matter what the genre. Structure in music is like the framework on which everything else is built. With the aid of the skeleton score, write out the structure of the song. Put it in a table with sufficient space for the annotations to follow.

For example:

Intro

Verse 1

Chorus

Verse 2

Chorus

Instrumental

Chorus

Chorus

Now add the bar numbers for each of the sections as given in the skeleton score. Listen to the audio and count the bars and beats within the bars. Ensure you can hear where each section ends and the next begins.

Beside the bar numbers, add the timings of the sections in minutes and seconds:

Section Bar Timing
Intro 1 – 4 0’01”
Verse 1 5 – 12 0’09”
Chorus 13 – 20 0’25”

3) Identify where each instrument is used

  1. Take a blank piece of A3 paper in landscape orientation – this is going to be a ‘screenshot diagram’ representing the arrange page of a sequencer
  2. Rule a column down the left-hand side for the list of instruments
  3. Rule a row across the top and bottom for bar and beat numbers
  4. Rule a second row across the top for structure markings
  5. Rule a series of vertical lines to represent bar numbers as appropriate to the length of the song (one vertical line per bar would be ideal) – if there is insufficient space then continue onto a second or third sheet of paper
  6. Number every fourth bar in the row reserved for bar/beat numbers e.g. 1 – 5 – 9 – 13 etc.
  7. Divide the sheet into rows, each of which represents one part as listed in the skeleton score
  8. List the instruments down the left-hand column in the same order as they appear on the skeleton score
  9. Transfer the information in your structure table to the second row of your sheet – you may wish to colour-code each section in this row
  10. Make the barlines which separate the sections clear (perhaps by ruling in a different colour or with thicker lines)
  11. By comparing to the skeleton score mark in the row reserved for the vocal track where the lead vocal actually sings – be very precise and thorough
  12. Starting with the part you automatically gravitate to (if you are a drummer it is probably the drum part or, if a guitarist, the guitar part), listen carefully through the track and mark on the screenshot diagram where it plays
  13. Repeat this process for the other parts being very careful to differentiate between like instruments i.e. if there are two synth parts, be careful not to mix the two up

You should end up with a screenshot diagram containing information about the timings of every part used in the song. Ensure that you have left enough space to annotate further with more detailed information. See the example below:

4) Start with what you know

Many of the important riffs and patterns have already been transcribed for you in the skeleton score. Develop a key to identify when these riffs and patterns occur on your screenshot diagram. For example, you might highlight the notated four-bar drum pattern in orange, so when this pattern is played in the song, highlight the appropriate space on your screenshot diagram in orange. If a second drum pattern is notated in the skeleton score, highlight this in a different colour and transfer the information to your screenshot diagram.

Again, start this process with the instrument you would normally gravitate to and repeat for the other parts. You may wish to write additional performance and/or production information in the appropriate spaces, e.g.: ‘played aggressively’ or ‘slapback delay added’.

5) Fill in the blanks

There will be regions that have not been notated in the skeleton score you will have to work out for yourself. Develop a system of notating what you hear – this does not have to be staff notation. You may simply learn the parts on the keyboard and keep the notation very simple as a memory aid. Some may find it easiest to start with a line representing the melodic contour that can be gradually refined to represent the individual pitch names. If you struggle to notate rhythm, just learn to clap or tap the rhythms at a given point and use some form of shorthand as a memory aid (perhaps a series of dots, dashes, spaces and lines). Remember that some parts do not always have a clearly defined pitch, especially when considering certain styles of vocal delivery, so some graphic notation may actually be the best way to notate examples of this. You may be able to directly transfer the graphic notation to performance on the pitch bend wheel.

It will be best to transcribe parts on a separate sheet of paper, only transferring to the screenshot diagram written annotations about performance/production detail along with a key to represent where each riff or pattern occurs.

Practising

Learn as many parts as you can on the keyboard, particularly exposed or solo parts such as the main vocal line or a guitar solo. You do not have to be able to play it up to speed but, if you slow it down, remember to slow down all of the part proportionately (don’t play the tricky bar slowly and the rest up to speed). Practise the parts in short phrases that make musical sense. Practising the parts on the keyboard is still part of ‘preparation time’, so it will make life much easier when it comes to data input and editing (which falls under ‘writing time’) if you have learned to play some parts accurately and musically.

Data input

Any data input must be completed under supervision – it cannot be done outside the school/college. Work cannot be taken out of the centre and you must not access the internet while working on your sequencing file. It is perfectly acceptable to split preparation and writing time into blocks – you do not have to complete all your preparation and then ‘start the clock’ for the writing time. It may be best to practise small sections as preparation and then input these sections under supervision, then repeat the process for other sections.

It is not acceptable to use audio in this task in any way, except in the form of single-hit samples (see below for more information on appropriate sound sources). Audio loops can only be used if clearly stated in the rubric on the front cover of the stimulus material for Music Technology Portfolio 1, otherwise they must not be used at any point in the sequence. The voice part for the song must be sequenced using an appropriate instrumental timbre – it must not be a live audio recording of the vocal part.

What software is acceptable?

Edexcel neither recommends nor prohibits the use of any sequencing software. The specification states that “a computer-based sequencing program” should be used [paragraph 1, p25] and the Getting Started guide has the following to say about software choice:

“There is no set restriction on which software may be used for the completion of Task 1A. However, students will be significantly disadvantaged if they are not able to access a full range of facilities with which to edit their pitch, rhythm and controller data. It is possible to use a range of different software packages for different stages of the task as long as all the work is the unaided work of the candidate.”

[Edexcel GCE Music Technology, Getting Started: p. 9]

This means that it is possible to use any sequencing software that suits your working style as long as you are able to edit data appropriately. It would be acceptable to input notes in one package and then export to another for editing. It would also be acceptable to input one type of track (e.g. drums) in one package and export into the main file. This is not necessarily to be recommended as there may be some synchronisation or transfer issues introduced, over-complicating the task.

What sound sources are acceptable?

The specification states that you “… may use a range of available sound sources and programming techniques. These could include GM (General MIDI) soundsets, hardware/software sound modules and synthesisers, audio loops and samples, virtual studio instruments and sample libraries.” [last paragraph, p25]. However, as mentioned earlier, audio loops may only be used if explicitly stated on the front cover of the stimulus material published by Edexcel for the year of your examination. There is no guarantee that if audio loops are allowed one year, they will be allowed the next. Stay clear of using loops unless you are 100% certain that the stimulus material says you are allowed to use them. Other than this, most other sound sources are acceptable.