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Everything you need to know about Music Scholarships to State Secondary Schools in the UK

Hands up if you find the whole process of choosing the right secondary school for your child a daunting task?

I’m putting my hand up here too as my daughter is entering Year 5 and I’m looking into the Sports Scholarship admissions for her in 2020 and it’s an area I’m clueless about having spent well over 10 years prepping students for Music Scholarships! However I can help demystify the Music Scholarship process as it’s an area that occupies a large amount of my music teaching studio in South London, especially in the Summer months leading up to the Music Aptitude Tests & Auditions.

The Music Scholarship process to state secondary schools can be difficult to navigate at first glance so I’m going to summarise the structure of the Music Aptitude Tests, followed by what makes a successful audition and what, in my opinion and past experience, the schools are looking for in a music scholar. Here goes — although not in the order I’ve just listed!

What Does it Mean To Be A Music Scholar?
The word scholar implies that you are a specialist in your chosen field, in this instance, Music. However the Music Scholarship admissions for many state secondary schools say that you do not need any musical ability to apply under this criterion. This seems to be at odds with the idea of a scholarship if you gain an entrance place based purely on future musical potential, so it does pose the question, is this really how they select their intake?

In order for a state school to appear inclusive of all applicants, they must allow the test to be sat by anyone wishing to apply to the school. However, the test is usually in two parts, and whilst a talented non-musician could sit the Music Aptitude Test and potentially score highly enough to proceed to the second round, they would possibly come unstuck at the Audition round if they have not prepared two pieces to perform. Yes it’s possible to sing at the audition round, but this still requires preparation in advance to learn the tune and the lyrics, and perhaps prepare it with a backing track that you need to bring with you on the day. A student that is completely unguided in this process may find it all a bit confusing which is understandable!

What Are State Schools Looking For in Music Scholars?
As above, this is only my opinion based on the students that I have successfully prepared for many schools in the UK. I believe schools are looking for enthusiasm and an above-average degree of musical proficiency. This isn’t based on any particular exam grades as many of my students choose not to study graded exams and they are playing at a far higher level than students that follow the 1–2–3 exam system.

If you achieve a Music Scholarship, you may be expected to do some of these things in your time as a scholar:

  • Perform as a soloist or in an ensemble at School Open Days to a large audience
  • Speak to prospective students and parents about Music Scholarships and how you benefit from being a scholar
  • Learn new instruments such as djembe and steel pans
  • Sing in a choir
  • Sit Music GCSE
  • Fully participate in the musical life of the school
  • Inspire other students on their musical journey
A student at my teaching studio in East Dulwich preparing for the Music Aptitude Test

Should I Enter My Child for a Musical Scholarship?
I am often asked by parents of students playing at a beginner level, say around Grade 1, if they should try for a scholarship. My answer is always ‘yes’ to sitting the Music Aptitude Test, but not to feel dispirited if they then do not succeed at the audition round as competition will be fierce and only a small number will succeed. If you know that your child has previously performed in public and not enjoyed it, then do consider if the Music Scholarship process will be suited to them as they will have to perform at the audition, speak to the panel and then participate fully in all school musical events in order to keep their scholarship status.

My Child Has Passed Grade 1 Piano With a Pass. What is the Realistic Chance of Getting a Scholarship?
Based on piano playing experience, it may be a tough sell as you will be up against pianists playing at a much higher level but there are things you can do to help shine at audition day. Find a memorable and unique piece, not one from the exam book; have lots of amazing performance opportunities under your belt; research the ensembles and groups on offer at your chosen school and show willing to participate fully in all of these. Don’t forget that schools love singers, so if you have the confidence to sing a short piece, this will stand you in good stead at the audition, even if you don’t think it sounds that amazing!

Audio files to help familiarise you with the tricky Music Aptitude Test

What’s this Music Aptitude Test all about?
This is the Round One of the test for most schools. Schools are very secretive about what the Music Aptitude Test entails, but it’s primarily based on something called the Bentley Test which is 60 questions split into 4 parts of Pitch, Rhythm, Texture and Melody. The test varies from school to school so I have produced a set of tests that give you a feel of what you will hear on the day so that it’s not a complete shock to the system when you hear a lot of electronic beeps or unusual instruments being played to you on a CD with multiple choice answers. With a bit of preparation, it’s usually straightforward to ace this part of the Music Scholarship and proceed to Round Two, the Audition. If you want to read more about the Music Aptitude Test, please see my web site and scroll through the articles listed on the left hand side further down the page as there’s a huge amount of information about this online. I also have a Facebook support page where you can ask any questions about it.

What Happens in the Round Two Auditions?
In order to be invited back to audition, you’ll need to be in the top-scoring cohort. Some schools such as Kingsdale, combine the Aptitude Test with the audition so everyone gets to play their pieces. However this does not appear to be the norm and most other schools do a two-stage process on different days. At the audition, you will usually play two pieces (ideally on different instruments including voice) and answer some short questions you are asked by the selection panel. To succeed at this section, here are my Top Tips:

  1. Make sure your two pieces are on different instruments i.e. Piano and Singing; Trombone and Singing; Violin and Piano. The most commonly offered instruments are violin and piano so make sure you’ve picked some quirky pieces and never pick anything from the exam book if you want to stand out!
  2. Have a strategy to cope with nerves. Make sure you’ve practised deep breathing, how to keep your calm and stay focussed when you’re sat in a noisy warm-up room with 10 other musicians all practising their pieces. Stay away from the sugary snacks before the audition — eating a banana is the choice of snack of musicians pre-performance!
  3. Make sure you can play your pieces extremely well. They need to be fluent without hesitation and performed in public many times so you know you are going to play to your best on the day. If you make a mistake, try not to skip too many beats and always keep going forwards, not backwards. An accompanist will be available on the day, or for popular music, you can bring your backing track. Check beforehand with the school what format they can play — CD or .mp3 track on a USB stick should be acceptable for most schools but it’s vital to check to avoid any last-minute stress if you cannot play your piece.
  4. Check your music bag before you leave the house. Have you got every bit of music including the accompanist’s part and every bit of your instrument too? They should provide a music stand but it doesn’t hurt to bring one or any other specialist equipment you need on the day.
  5. Be ready to speak to the selection panel and have some answers already prepared for common questions. Above all, show enthusiasm and avoid giving “dunno” answers to questions or looking at your feet. Keep eye contact, greet people on arrival and give them a winning smile as you enter the room. A “thank you” and another smile on leaving always goes far! Here are common questions to think up answers to: What is your favourite style of music? What musical venues have you performed at? What second instrument would you like to learn? Who’s your favourite composer?
  6. Perform, perform, perform. I’ve already mentioned this above but I’ll mention it again. If you have only ever played your piece in your bedroom to yourself, then you may not feel ready to give it an airing in public. Avoid putting yourself in a high-stress situation on audition day and give yourself lots of chances to play to friends, family and classmates as often as you can. See below for tips on where to perform.

How Can I Get Performance Experience Before The Audition?
I plan lots of events to help my young musicians prepare for the audition day. They all perform their repertoire to the student that comes after them for a lesson. They also organise musical performances at home to neighbours so that they feel a bit nervous. All of my music scholarship candidates take part in music festivals such as this Informal Competitionon 29 September.


Need More Help?

I offer group Music Scholarship & Aptitude Test workshops in September and October at my studio in East Dulwich.
View Workshops

You can download my Music Aptitude Test training materials to help familiarise your child with the kind of tests they will hear on exam day.
Download MAT Tests

I have a free Facebook Support Group for parents that have downloaded my test materials.
Join Facebook Group

I am organising a free event to give you lots of tips and inspiration to keep your child motivated on their musical journey.
Get A Free Ticket

I organise lots of performance opportunities throughout the academic year for you to play in historic venues such as Handel & Hendrix in Bond Street, Clementi House in Kensington and also in less-historic but still lovely buildings in South London!
Find Out More


Some of the schools using the Music Aptitude Test (check with each school as criteria often change):

  • Abraham Darby Academy
  • Archbishop Blanch High School
  • Ashmole Academy
  • Brentwood Ursuline Convent High School
  • Bristol Cathedral Choir School
  • Bushey Meads School
  • Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School
  • Chancellor’s School
  • Chelsea Academy
  • Claremont High School Academy
  • Clement Danes
  • Cooper’s Company and Coburn School
  • Croxley Danes
  • Dame Alice Owen
  • Enfield Grammar
  • Haberdashers’ Aske’s / Prendergast Hilly Fields / Crayford Academy
  • Hertfordshire & Essex High School
  • Highgate School
  • King David High School
  • Kingsdale Foundation School
  • Langley Grammar School
  • Leventhorpe / The Bishop’s Stortford High School / The
  • Mill Hill County High School
  • Old Swinford Hospital
  • Ousedale School
  • Parmiter’s School
  • Prendergast School
  • Queens’ School (Bushey)
  • Rickmansworth School
  • South West Herts School consortium
  • St Anne’s Catholic School, Southampton
  • St Clement Danes
  • St Edwards
  • St Mary’s & St John’s CE School
  • St Marylebone Church of England School
  • St Paul’s Way Trust School
  • SW Herts Consortium Schools
  • The Hertfordshire & Essex High School and Science College
  • Twyford CofE
  • Uxbridge High School
  • Watford Grammar School for Boys
  • Watford Grammar School for Girls
  • West London Free School