HSC Performance Preparation

The most important thing to remember is that when preparing a student for HSC performance requirements it is a very different process of repertoire choice to an AMEB exam or Trinity exam where you are choosing from set lists of works.  Information regarding the HSC syllabus requirements is readily available and a trip to the Board of Studies website will provide you with everything you need to know.  There is, however, a lot of information to be waded through on this site and you would do well to get in contact with the classroom teacher and others who have taught HSC before if this is the first time you have taught the course.  In a nutshell, there are three Music Courses offered by the Board of Studies, each with different performance requirements:

  • Music Course 1, often chosen as a less rigorous option but nevertheless a course that you can choose to present quite a sophisticated program if you wish
  • Music Course 2, a course which would suit a student of around 6th or 7th Grade standard
  • Extension, should probably only attract students of around 7th Grade and above. The Extension Course is completed in conjunction with Music Course 2.

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Syllabus Performance Requirements

Music Course 1

Every student presenting for this course must present at least one performance as a Core requirement.  In addition to this they must do three Electives which can be chosen from any of the areas of performance, composition and/or musicology.  Thus, your Course One student will be preparing anything from one to four pieces depending on how they have chosen to spread their Electives.  Some of these may be ensemble pieces as long as the candidate’s part in the ensemble is ‘prominently displayed’.  Additionally, those pieces must come from any of the student’s three chosen areas of study.  Those areas of study are selected from set topics listed in the Board of Studies Syllabus.  For Course One students the choice is broad and repertoire choice can be quite wide ranging.  Some of the topics include:

  • An Instrument and it’s Repertoire
  • Australian Music
  • Baroque Music
  • Jazz
  • Medieval Music
  • Music of a Culture
  • Music of the 18th Century
  • Music of the 19th Century
  • Music of the 20th Century
  • Popular Music Theatre

and the list goes on…

but, as you can see, so long as the three pieces chosen for someone doing a performance major fit into three different areas of study, the performance criteria will be met.  However, there is one catch that all should be aware of, Candidates are supposed to focus on three different areas of study in Year 12 to those studied in the Year 11 preliminary course.  As a general rule, when performance assessments fall due in Year 11 take care not to use a piece or a topic that you are likely to want to use in Year 12.  For example, if you have a student fantastically gifted at Jazz, don’t use up this topic in Year 11.  Again, talk to the classroom teacher as they should understand the requirements fully.

In Summary:

A Course One Student will be required to perform at least 1 piece and as many as 4 pieces depending on their elective choices.  The choice of repertoire must reflect the 3 topics the student has chosen to study in Year 12.


Music Course 2

The performance requirements for this course are considerably more proscribed, with the candidate needing to choose their pieces from a narrower repertoire base.  Each student must perform one piece from their Mandatory Topic, Music of the Last 25 Years (Australian Focus).  This piece will be a maximum of 5 minutes in length.  If a performance Elective is chosen, an additional 2 pieces will be performed.  One of these pieces at least must come from an additional topic chosen for study by the candidate.  For Course Two students the list of additional topics is narrower than for Course One.

Course Two Additional Topics are:

  • Music of a Culture
  • Medieval Music
  • Renaissance Music
  • Baroque Music
  • Classical Music
  • 19th Century Music
  • Music from 1900 to 1945
  • Music from 1945 to 25 Years ago.

The Core Performance of the Mandatory Topic must be 5minutes or under.  The performance of the Elective pieces can total 10 minutes.

In Summary:

A Course Two Student will perform, at the very least, 1 piece reflecting the Mandatory Topic of Music of the Last 25 Years (Australian Focus) or 3 pieces (2 Additional topic pieces and one Mandatory or 2 Mandatory Topic pieces and one Additional).


Music Extension

Music Extensionis a Course undertaken in addition to Course 2 requirements.  The completion of an Extension Performance Major or Elective in Extension requires 3 contrasting pieces to be played, one of which must be an Ensemble piece.  The total performance time will not exceed 20 minutes.

In Summary:

An Extension Student will be required to play six pieces, one at least which must be an ensemble piece.  3 of those pieces will follow the Course 2 guidelines and three will be Extension pieces.


Important Points to Remember

  • DO take the time to fully digest the syllabus demands and remember to keep asking if anything is unclear.  Students will not necessarily understand the big picture and some may piece together their performance needs as the course unfolds.  This is not really satisfactory, especially as, at some schools, an assessment using all the required pieces may not happen until very late in the year.  Additionally, sometimes a classroom teacher may be teaching that course for the first time and may not have a complete handle on the requirements themselves, although it is to be hoped that this won’t be the case too frequently!
  • DO work with the classroom teacher.  Always strive to have a positive relationship with them.  Sometimes there are areas of conflict between classroom teacher and studio teachers regarding repertoire choices and these can escalate and become a source of great stress for the student and everyone concerned.  Keep lines of communication open and be prepared to listen to those who are at the coal face.  That said, there may be occasions when a teacher advises a Course of study that you consider inappropriate for your student.  You know their capabilities as a performer so it is essential that you communicate your concerns as soon as possible.
  • Keep abreast of assessment dates, even requesting to be copied into e mails regarding assessments.
  • Make sure the school knows that you are taking your part in the process seriously and that you all share the common goal of satisfactory outcomes for the student.

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When to begin choosing repertoire?

Ideally we should be thinking of HSC repertoire from the beginning of Year 11 so as not to make the mistake of throwing away a great Year 12 piece on a Year 11 assessment.  Your program should be pretty well in place by Term 4 Year 11, and the first performance assessment will take place in this Term.

However, if some pieces are not working you are free to change your choices at any time.  Keep some alternative pieces up your sleeve.  It is a common problem that repertoire can become stale, particularly if the same 3 pieces are concentrated on all year, so depending on the student, consider starting with a number of pieces and narrow down the choices as the exam approaches.

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What sort of pieces should be chosen?

This will depend on the student’s capabilities and the course they are undertaking.  Generally seek pieces that are appropriate to the standard they are at the end of Year 11.  Apart from the rare exception, Year 12 is not the year in which your student will want to be hyper extending themselves.  Pieces played comfortably, which accurately show the student’s strengths will be most appropriate.  More notes does not necessarily mean a better piece, especially if a student is struggling to cover them.

It is a powerful incentive to some Year 11 students to tell them that whatever standard they have reached by the need of Term 3 will determine the standard of repertoire they will present for their HSC!  Try to choose pieces from places other than the AMEB syllabus.  Something that may not have been heard before and something that is accessible and has easy appeal to the audience of examiners. (You may need to be firm with students and parents who think that the HSC will be about dazzling, virtuosic pieces and nothing else.)

Marking criteria for the bands of marks are also on the Board of Studies website if you want more insight into what the markers are looking for.  A variety of character, style and instrumentation is essential.  If you have a particularly capable student, an unaccompanied work will provide an excellent contrast in the program. (Beware of using these works for less natural performers as it take a good deal of musical confidence to make an impression with an unaccompanied piece).  An accompaniment provided by guitar , for example, or a string quartet will often enhance a performance so long as the accompanying musicians are of a high calibre.  A quirky, atmospheric or unusual piece will often grab the attention and be most effective.

Do give some regard to the stamina required to play the program you and your student choose.  An Extension performance exam can be both mentally and physically demanding and you should take time, in preparation, to perform the whole program without stopping many times before the day of the exam.  With this in mind think carefully of the order of the pieces.  Perhaps consider requesting that their sight singing happens in the middle of the program.  Make sensible decisions with careful consideration of your student’s needs and capabilities.

Perhaps one of the main pitfalls in repertoire choice is that of presenting works that are either too difficult or just too boring.  Try to present a program that is instantly engaging and displays the student’s strengths, not their limitations.  Above all choose those pieces which can most easily display the expressiveness of the student’s work.  Choose flute repertoire rather than transcriptions of other instruments works.

Take care that the pieces you choose fit strictly within the topic you have matched them to. Check the dates of compositions when in doubt.

Sources of repertoire are many and varied.  Look at other syllabus material such as Trinity College.  Go to concerts and Masterclasses and hear what others are playing.  Go to the Encore concert at the beginning of the year to hear what the State’s best students have used.  Or listen to them on the Board of Studies Encore site.

Talk to others who are experienced in teaching HSC repertoire.  The Australian Music Centre is a great resource for Australian Works and the staff there always helpful.  CDs such as Eat Chocolate And Cry (recorded under the Fluteworthy label) are a great resource for Australian pieces and a great way to inspire students into hearing the value of great Australian repertoire.  Fluteworthy’s web address is: www.fluteworthy.com.au

Ensemble pieces need to be chosen with a view to highlighting the candidate’s part in a leadership sense.  They should be seen to be directing the ensemble.  When deciding on ensemble repertoire make sure some account is taken of the financial situation of the candidate.  Paying for a string ensemble of quality players for example can be quite a costly operation.

Ensemble combinations might include:

  • 2 flutes and piano
  • Flute and guitar
  • Flute, clarinet and piano
  • Flute, violin and piano
  • Flute, violin and cello
  • Flute and strings
  • Flute quartet

Be creative but be mindful of your student’s role in the group.  It needs to make them look their best.  For this reason never use supporting musicians of lower ability than the candidate.

When you have chosen your repertoire, take care to think through the order in which it should be played in the exam, as this can also have an effect on how the program is received.

What about the student who comes to you late in the piece, e.g. At the beginning of Year 12?  There is little you can do in this situation except to choose repertoire that fits the student’s ability when you first encounter them.  Take time to assess not only their capabilities but also their own assessment of their abilities.  Assess their openness to your teaching, any changes that need to be made to technique may need to be put on hold.  You cannot gamble on the assumption that their playing will change in the few months preparation time you have.  Choose works that they can play comfortably and that will best demonstrate the musicians they are now not the musicians they might possibly be in 4 months time if everything works out well.  Their HSC Year is not a good time to make such a gamble.  There will come a point at which you will have to focus only on those things which can actually make a difference to the exam performance at the last minute such as communication and stage presence.

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If you’re lucky, you will work in a school or your student will attend a school where a good accompanist is readily available and is used regularly.  This is not always the case however, and it may be up to you to find the right person for the job.

Many accompanists are very busy at assessment time so make sure you have established your student working with an accompanist of your choice early in the process.  It may be expensive but it will inevitably make all the difference in the performance.  Be wary of the classroom teacher who says they will accompany their students, make sure you know the quality of their playing before you agree to this arrangement.  If your student is at a school where a few kids are needing accompanists, try clubbing together with the other students and asking an accompanist to play for all of their performances, making it well worth the accompanist’s while to stick with you all.

Finally,  find as many performance opportunities for your students as you can and watch them perform so you can have a clear insight into how they present as well as them having the experience of playing under pressure.  The HSC year goes all too quickly, but, given judicious choice of repertoire and attentive and encouraging teaching, most students should have a positive experience.

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About the Authors

Jocelyn Fazzone

Jocelyn Fazzone has a multi-faceted musical profile. She is a Sydney based flutist, pianist, educator and examiner, and has a passion for being able to combine these different roles in her work. In particular, working as associate artist (pianist) with flute players is one of her most rewarding areas of work.

Jocelyn teaches flute at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, the Australian International Conservatorium and Wesley Institute, she is Woodwind Advisor and senior examiner with the AMEB NSW, and she is a member of Windfall Sextet. As a teacher, her students have achieved great success in auditions and competitions, and she has been awarded the AMEB NSW shields for achieving the highest exam results for 6 out of the last 9 years.

Jocelyn’s current work includes the creation & publication of resources for flute players and teachers under the Fluteworthy label. This has comprised the teaching reference book “Starting Out”, collection of studies “99 Solos & Studies”, CD “Eat Chocolate & Cry”, with several more projects due for publication imminently.

Jocelyn has worked as orchestral flutist with a number of major orchestras, including the SSO, AOBO, QSO & TSO; she continues to be an active performer of chamber music; she is a frequent guest masterclass presenter for student workshops and teachers’ sessions; she is current vice-president of the NSW Flute Society.

Her early flute studies were under the renowned masters Maxence Larrieu, Bob Willoughby, David Cubbin & Nancy Salas in Sydney, Canberra, Switzerland & the USA.

Kellie Grennan

Kellie commenced music studies at the age of 3 and went on to graduate from the Queensland Conservatorium of Muisc in 1995 with a Bachelor of Music (Honours), studying flute with Gerhardt Mallon and piano with Regis Danillon. Since then, she has undertaken further flute studies with James Kortum and David Leviston and has participated in lessons and master classes with several internationally renowned flautists including John Wion, Peter Lloyd, Alexa Still, Paul Edmund- Davies, William Bennett, Keith Underwood and Elena Duran.

From 2002 until 2008, Kellie was president of the Flute Society of NSW. She currently teaches flute and chamber music at The King’s School in Sydney, and for the University of NSW, in addition to her commitment to a large private teaching practice based in Summer Hill. Her passion for flute pedagogy and chamber music has led to her establishing several award-winning flute choirs and ensembles around Sydney, and she herself performs regularly with a variety of chamber ensembles.

Kellie is the director of Windworks Woodwind Specialists.


Jude Huxtable

Jude Huxtable began teaching flute at Abbotsleigh School in 1975. During a long teaching career working at various Sydney schools, as an adjudicator and AMEB examiner, she has amassed a wealth of practical experience in the practice of nurturing young flute players to reach their potential in their music making endeavours.  Along with Jocelyn Fazzone, she has recently co authored a book about teaching flute, which presents the authors’ collective tips and advice on setting novice players off on the right track in their playing journey.

In the course of many years continuing work at Abbotsleigh and in her private studio, Jude has taught countless HSC performance candidates in Course 1, Course 2 and Extension Music.  Her understanding of the Course requirements is bourne not only of years of teaching experience, but also of a close working relationship she has always maintained with the academic staff at the school.

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If you have any questions about this article or other HSC performance preparation related questions, please contact us and we will be happy to either answer your questions or put you in contact with the authors as appropriate.

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