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Leaving Certificate Music Programme

at Waltons New School of Music

‘Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret.’
– J.S. Bach

Our Programme

The New School’s comprehensive Leaving Certificate Music Programme includes:

  • Preliminary Course
  • Two-Year Course
  • Mock Practical Exams
  • Easter Revision Course
  • Pre-Exam Revision Workshop
  • Music Technology Workshop
  • Private & Intensive Lessons

See tabs for brief descriptions of programme elements, and Leaving Cert. Music menu for more in-depth information.

Preliminary Course

Our two-day Leaving Cert. Music Preliminary Course is designed for students who would like to take Leaving Cert. Music (either our own Two-Year Course or another Leaving Cert. Music course) without either Junior Cert. Music or formal study of music theory. Taking place over a single weekend in September, this intensive covers the fundamentals of music theory up to Junior Cert. standard as a preparation for Leaving Cert. Music study, either at the New School or elsewhere.

‘Very clear and informative. A must for music students.’
– M. Oliver

‘It’s amazing how much we learned in a single weekend. I feel much more confident starting Leaving Cert. Music now.’
– S. Fogarty

Two-Year Course

Running from October to May (29 weeks each year), our Leaving Cert. Music Two-Year Course covers all Core Listening and Composing activities of the Leaving Cert. syllabus at Higher Level. Although it does not include preparation for the Performing activity (students are responsible for their own work in this area, either at the New School or with a private teacher), students enrolled in the Two-Year Course are entitled to a 10% reduction in fees for 30-minute private lessons taken at the New School during both years they are taking the course.

‘Well explained, well organised, comprehensive and interesting course.’
– M. Gilligan

‘I liked the one-to-one attention and had a more rounded understanding of music after I did the course.’
– S. Melvin

Mock Practical Exams

Taking place on a Saturday in February, our new Leaving Cert. Music Mock Practical Exams provide students with the invaluable experience of performing before two ‘examiners’ in a formal setting and receiving written assessments of their performances – of both prepared pieces and unprepared improvisations – including areas that can be improved.

Easter Revision Course

Taking place over two days during the Easter break, our Leaving Cert. Music Easter Revision Course is designed to provide intensive preparation to students studying for this year’s Leaving Cert. Music exam. The course includes revision of all exam requirements for the Listening and Composing papers. The fee for the course also includes admission to the Pre-Exam Revision Workshop in June.

‘The course really helped to boost my music knowledge and helped me to revise over what I already know. The notes were succinct yet highlighted the most important parts. Overall, an excellent course.’
– J. Orr

‘A fantastic opportunity to go over the course with a lecturer who really knows his stuff.’
– J. Richardson

Pre-Exam Revision Workshop

Taking place on the Saturday before the June exam, our Leaving Cert. Music Pre-Exam Revision Workshop is designed to provide intensive final preparation to students studying for this year’s Leaving Cert. Music exam, either at school or on their own.

‘A great way to revise Leaving Cert. Music. I would recommend it to everyone!’
– R. Brown

‘It’s a really enjoyable workshop and very beneficial. The notes are excellent and very useful.’
– M. Branagan

Music Technology Workshop

Taking place in the New School’s Music Technology Lab, our Leaving Cert. Music Technology Workshop covers – through a combination of demonstrations and hands-on activities – all of the requirements of the Music Technology core activity at Higher Level (25% of total marks). The Workshop is available by group enrolment only and must be booked by the students’ or teacher.

‘I feel much more comfortable doing music technology for the Leaving Cert. now, and the teaching was great.’
– E. Cooper

‘A great workshop and very helpful.’
– S. O’Connell

Private & Intensive Lesson

We offer weekly private (one-to-one) lessons (30, 45 or 60 minutes in length), as well as one-off Intensive Lessons, on any aspect of the Leaving Cert. Music syllabus. See our Enrolment • Fees pages for more information.

The Syllabus

Click here for a downloadable copy (in pdf format) of the current Leaving Cert. Music syllabus.

Examined for the first time in 1999, the revised Leaving Certificate Music syllabus has seen a dramatic increase in the number of students taking music as a subject at Leaving Cert. level. 5,754 students sat the Leaving Cert. Music exam in 2010. The new syllabus has also put good exam results within reach of more students. According to the 2003 Chief Examiner’s Report:

  • 17.8% of students achieved an A1 or A2 grade in the Higher level exam
  • 74.1% achieved a B3 grade or higher
  • 97.5% of students achieved honours (C3 grade or higher)
  • there was only a 0.1% failure rate

The syllabus is structured into three Essential Activities – Listening, Composing and Performing – and assessed in relation to these activities by means of three categories of examination – aural, written, and practical. (The practical exam takes place in March/April of the exam year.)

The exam can be taken at two levels, Ordinary and Higher. At both levels, each activity is allocated a 25% weighting in the exam. At Ordinary level, students choose one of the three activities to represent 50%. Students at Higher level undertake additional studies – a Higher Elective – in one of the activities to represent 50%. This allows both Ordinary and Higher level students to gain up to 50% of their total marks in the activity that best suits their interests and abilities.


Students are required to analyse four prescribed works under such headings as historical context, style, form, texture, instrumental and compositional techniques (as well as production techniques, in the case of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and the Sergeant Pepper album). They also learn how to compare and contrast music from different periods and musical styles. In addition, they learn to identify and describe the variety of styles and contexts of Irish traditional music today. Aural awareness (e.g., identification of instruments, as well as melody, rhythm and harmonic cadences) is taught in the context of the prescribed works as well as other instrumental and vocal/choral works.

Students presenting a Higher Level Elective in Listening choose a special topic from an area of musical study. Five pieces are selected by the student, and a tape of ten extracts from these pieces is prepared in advance of the June exam.


The art of melody writing is taught both in the context of word-setting and as a continuation of a given phrase. Students are taught the rudiments of harmony and counterpoint in a variety of styles and contexts as the foundation for exam-type questions. As points of reference, composers and songwriters from Bach and Mozart to the Beatles are used, enabling students to compose using both guitar chords and more traditional forms of notation.

In addition to the core components, the Higher Level Elective in Composing requires the presentation of two short pieces or songs, in any style or genre. These are composed, arranged or orchestrated by the student and notated using conventional and/or graphic notation, together with a full written description.


Options within the syllabus are offered in a wider variety now than ever before. Music for performance may be chosen from classical art music, traditional Irish, ethnic, folk, rock, jazz, stage musical or other modern popular repertoires. The music chosen must show diversity in style and technique and be of ‘a standard consistent with two years’ study as a continuation of Junior Cert. music or similar programme’ (i.e. five years’ playing or singing in a classroom context). The Performing Activity also includes one ‘unprepared test’ from a choice of sight reading/singing or melodic/rhythmic repetition. (The syllabus also allows students, at both Ordinary and Higher level, to demonstrate as part or all of the Performing requirement ‘an ability to understand and to use micro-technology music-making systems’.)

Performing requirements vary for each student: three or four pieces, depending on one or two activities. Students taking a Higher Level Elective in Performing are required to perform either six or eight pieces, a further expansion of the Core Performing activity.

See Tuition Options – Leaving Cert. Music Practical Preparation for more information on performing activity options. (Students can be prepared for any of these options at the New School.)

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