Secondary State School applications via a Music Scholarship place


Many parents will be starting to think about secondary school options for 2014. In the Southwark and surrounding areas, there are many state schools that are heavily subscribed, some receiving up to 10 applications per place. Fewer than six-in-10 children got into their preferred school in Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Southwark, Wandsworth and Merton.

Across the capital, a third of children missed out on their first choice and more than one-in-10 were turned away from at least three schools.

It came as figures showed many of the Government’s academies and free schools – independent institutions run free of local council interference – received the most applications. 

Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College – an academy in south-east London – had more than nine applications for each of its 161 places. It was forced to turn away 1,356 pupils. Habs admits 10% of students on a music scholarship each  year.

Many parents of students at the SE22 Piano School choose to enter their children for the Music Aptitude / Scholarship program which uses a test or interview system to select 10% of entrants. We prepare students two or three years in advance for scholarship entry as the competition is extremely tough and the calibre of students applying on music scholarships is second to none.

Who should apply for a music scholarship?

Students that play one or more instruments to an intermediate standard should think about applying. A love of music is vital – you will be interviewed and asked about your musical background and understanding.

Most schools expect a very high level of proficiency on one instrument. It is very common for students to apply that are around Grade 5 level or above. Occasionally, students of other teachers enquire about lessons in the run up to the scholarship applications. Many of these students have only been playing the piano for a few months, yet the parents would like to enter them on music scholarships. This always strikes me as an odd proposition as a student at a beginner level would be grossly disadvantaged when pitted against students who have been learning for a lot longer. I feel there is some confusion about the definition of ‘musical aptitude’ from the parents’ point of view. I would broadly say that a child that has a love of performing and playing, with a track record of achieving very high marks in festivals or exams, is the ideal candidate for the scholarship. A child with a few passes at low grade level exams, or indeed no exam passes or performance credentials, is unlikely to be the type of student that the schools are seeking. Orchestral instruments and singers are always preferred to pianists! Remember – passes and merits are absolutely fine, but scholarship students must stand head and shoulders above others, so a Distinction at your most recent grade really is mandatory. 

What piece should I play at the audition?

You usually have the chance to play two pieces. It is a good idea to present two completely contrasting pieces at audition – how about one classical piece and one jazz/contemporary piece? Be fully informed about the composers and the style of the piece and expect to talk about your choice of piece. To say “my teacher told me to play it” isn’t the kind of answer the interviewer wants when they ask you why you chose this piece.

Under no circumstances should you turn up clutching the graded exam book for your audition. This looks very amateur and many other students will be turning up and playing the same pieces so that won’t help you stand out from the competition. Where possible, you should play from memory. Do bring a copy of the book for the interviewer. Make sure it is free of pencil markings. 

If you want your audition to be memorable, then pick a piece that is by an unusual composer – something off the beaten path, and something with an unusual character. Composers to consider for unusual repertoire are Bartok, Prokofiev, Ginastera, Kabalevsky, Shostakovich, Copland.

Useful links

See here for sample Music Aptitude Tests:
See here for suggested audition repertoire for pianists:


About Lorraine

Head Teacher at the SE22 Piano School, a private piano teaching practice in East Dulwich, South London. I work with a fantastic team of teachers offering piano, harpsichord & music theory lessons to adults and children from the age of 4.
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3 Responses to Secondary State School applications via a Music Scholarship place

  1. Barry says:

    I think the only thing I’d add is that if your highest grade is 6-8 on application, then you’ll quite possibly get away with less than a distinction – but that’s only going to apply to a very small number of candidates anyway!

    • Baz, you’d be surprised how many students have Grade 6 or higher at audition for state schools. You heard the variety of students at the 2pm concert – at least two or three will be sitting Grade 5 before age 10!!

      • Barry says:

        I have (pretend) money on one or two being grade 6 plus (and I won’t mention names here!). Even so, I suspect the higher the grade, the less essential the distinction is (in this particular case – when you get to certain music college/university auditions, the distinction can become more of an issue). Much will depend, as you quite correctly say, on being utterly informed on composers etc. , a flawless audition, and an excellent practice ethic.
        Really agree re. the ABRSM books, too. I tell mine that the blue clarinet and yellow flute books are banned for such auditions 😀

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