Music

At Watson’s, we give our pupils the freedom to perform and our Music School provides an exceptional platform.

As well as a broad, thematic-based approach to curricular learning through Preschool to Senior 2, we offer SQA courses at National 5, Higher, and Advanced Higher.  

A-Level music is also available and recommended for pupils considering reading music, beyond school. 

The Music Department is led by David Elliott, who is responsible for all music learning at George Watson’s College. He is supported by a range of staff including Junior School specialists, although Senior School staff also deliver lessons to pupils in Primary 1 to Primary 7, as part of ensuring continuity. 

Pupils benefit from outstanding facilities, including the Jack Martin Music School, first built in 1964 and extensively renovated since then. It includes four classrooms and 22 individual tuition rooms. 

One thing which has not changed is our auditorium. Its hyperbolic paraboloid roof is designed to reflect the shape of a harp. It sits as if suspended in the air and enables formidable acoustics. A new Steinway Model C grand piano, donated by a former pupil, is the beautiful encore to a magical performance space. 

In the Junior School pupils learn in two bright, new classrooms in the recently opened John Martin Building; there are six individual tuition rooms.

Our Pipes and Drums have dedicated space to practise in New Myserside House, opposite the Upper Primary building. 

Watson’s also owns a large stock of instruments, many of which can be hired to pupils where needed (for a small annual charge). Pianos and keyboards, electric, bass, acoustic guitars, percussion and other instruments are used in lessons. Two of our classrooms are kitted with iMacs which run the latest music-making technology. We have a two manual organ in the Music School, and in 2020 a stunning new, three manual organ was installed in the Senior School Hall.  

Every week, we deliver over 1,250 individual music lessons, with tuition provided by 50 specialists in their instrument.  

We are also one of the few schools in Scotland to offer the Suzuki method of music education. Suzuki tuition is available on violin, viola, cello, and flute. Learning music this way is an immersive experience based on the celebrated Japanese musician, Shinichi Suzuki which connects the learning of an instrument to a child’s overall development. 

Pupils as young as four may start to learn an instrument, and as soon as they are confident they will find a music group, ensemble, quartet, octet, band, group or orchestra to suit them. Some require an audition, but many others do not. 

If your child enjoys singing there are choirs throughout the Junior School and half a dozen in Senior School. Ex Corde (Senior 1 and Senior 2) and the College Chorus (Senior 3 to Senior 6) do not require an audition. 

Our culture within music reflects the school’s values: we encourage as many of our pupils who want to, to join in.

And when they do, you will see and hear at countless performances each year, which will amaze you. Whether on our campus, at major venues across Edinburgh, internationally or closer to home in our local community, our pupils perform with freedom and skill that is encouraged from their first days with us.

Staff List

Staff
Director of Music David Elliott MA, BMus
Assistant Director of Music Steven Griffin BA
Head of Junior School Music Katharine Jones BMus
Head of Strings Claire Docherty BA
Head of Wind and Brass James Chamberlain BMus
Class music teacher in the Junior School Katherine Edmonds MA
Class music teacher in the Senior School Douglas McCallum BEd
Class music teacher in the Senior School Sophie McNeil BA
Accompanist for concerts and exams, teacher of piano and flute Shonagh Croal BMus, LGSM
Coordinator of Lower Strings Lucy Gillan GRNCM, GSMD
Pipe Major Iain Simpson
Assistant Pipe Major Ross Harvey
Drum Major Mick O'Neill
Assistant Drum Major Arthur Cook
Drama/Music Technician  Jarad Gatton

In addition to permanent teaching staff there are over 50 visiting instrumental teachers who deliver over 1,200 lessons per week.

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Curriculum

Music in the Junior School

All pupils in the Junior School, from Nursery to Primary 7, are taught Music by specialists in purpose built rooms in the Lower Primary building.  Pupils experience music through singing, performing on instruments and listening.

Through Music children learn to cooperate and share by contributing to class performances, they gain confidence by learning differentiated material that suits their level of achievement, they take responsibility for creating group and individual compositions and learn to successfully recreate a composer's intentions.

 In the Junior School the Music Department material used ties in with year group projects.  For example, when P7 are studying the Second World War they listen to and appraise recordings of music from the Swing era of jazz, perform arrangements of Glenn Miller tunes on tuned percussion and sing songs from the era.

At several stages in the Junior School a whole year group production helps to bring all aspects of the curriculum together with the common purpose of a public performance.  Children in Nursery to P3 prepare Nativities or Christmas Assemblies to perform to their families.  The P3 and P7 year groups also stage a musical each year.

Pupils are encouraged to start an instrument while they are in the Junior School.  The instruments offered in P3 are violin, viola, cello, piano and recorder. Pupils may start to learn Suzuki violin, viola and cello in Nursery, P1 or P2 with our specialist Suzuki teachers.
 
Later in the Junior School, tuition on other instruments is offered including other strings, woodwind and brass, plus clarsach, bagpipes and Highland drumming.

All pupils are encouraged to take part in extra curricular activities.  Children who receive instrumental tuition are placed in an appropriate ensemble by their teacher.  At present, ensembles in the Junior School include:
Chamber Orchestra, String Orchestra, Woodwind Group, Trumpet Group, Recorder Group and Pipe Band. Several other ensembles meet as required.

Singing is an important part of curricular and extra-curricular work. The P3 choir meets in Term 2 and performs at an informal concert in Term 3. In P4 and P5 children may join the P4/P5 Choir and children in the final two years of Junior School can join the P6/P7 Choir.  The Caritas Choir is selected from the P5, P6 and P7 year groups.

There are a number of regular public performances throughout the year. The Christmas and Spring concerts highlight the work of our larger choirs and ensembles, and there are a number of more informal presentations to allow pupils to perform as soloists and in small ensembles. In addition groups have appeared in venues around Edinburgh including the Usher Hall, the Queen's Hall and the Churchill Theatre.

Music in the Senior School

The study of Music encapsulates the ideals of the Curriculum for Excellence and employers and universities are increasingly recognising that the skills of musicians are transferable to many other disciplines in academia and the workplace.

All pupils follow courses in Music during S1 and S2. Courses in these years develop skills learned in the Junior School but also introduce new ideas and skills so that pupils who are new to Watson's in the Senior School are not disadvantaged. All topics studied are relevant to SQA National 5 Listening examinations.

S1

Broad courses are followed linking composing, performing and listening: Using the Voice; Orchestral Music; Blues; and Scottish Dance Styles.  Skills taught include keyboard performance, guitar chords and melodies and the use of ICT for creative work.

S2

Two broad courses are followed which complement and extend the skills learned in S1 and places music in an historical and cultural context. Music for Dance investigates popular dance styles of the early to mid 20th century, whilst Music for Film looks at the role of music within mainstream movies.  Both courses integrate the use of practical skills on musical instruments with creativity using ICT.

S3 & S4

The SQA National 5 course is followed in S3 and S4. Pupils learn about a wide variety of music from the late 1600s to the present day and have the opportunity to listen to, perform and compose music from these styles. Music is also available as a non-certificate core subject in S4.

  Performing Skills Listening Skills Composing Skills
SQA
National 5
  • 4 minute recital on 1st instrument
  • 4 minute recital on 2nd instrument
  • grade 3 minimum
45 minute question paper portfolio of 1 or 2 compositions

S5 & S6

SQA Higher and Advanced Higher

These courses are a direct continuation from National 5 and are taught in a similar manner.  A wide variety of styles are encountered, ranging from Baroque concerti and jazz-funk at Higher level to fugue and contemporary jazz at Advanced Higher level, and pupils are expected to develop a high level of aural awareness.

  Performing Skills Composing Skills Understanding Music
SQA
Higher
  • 12 minute recital spread between two instruments or one instrument and voice
  • minimum of 4 minutes on one instrument or voice
  • minimum of 2 pieces per instrument
  • grade 4 minimum
  • series of compositional exercises based on class listening topics
  • personal choice of styles for completed composition
  • personal investigation into the style chosen for composition
  • 1 hour question paper
SQA
Advanced Higher
  • 18 minute recital spread between two instruments or one instrument and voice
  • minimum of 6 minutes on one instrument or voice
  • minimum of 2 pieces per instrument
  • grade 5 minimum
  • series of compositional exercises based on class listening topics
  • personal choice of styles for completed composition
  • personal investigation into the style chosen for composition
  • 1 hour question paper

A level

Some pupils choose to study music at A level. This course particularly suits those who wish to study music at tertiary level or those who wish to go into greater depth in the study of harmony, composition and musical analysis. The course consists of three units - performing, composing and listening/appraising. Performing can be on one or two instruments, solo or in ensemble in any appropriate style. Two compositions are submitted, one to a brief supplied by the A level board and one as a free choice. In the written exam there is analysis of both familiar and unfamiliar pieces with set works in classical, popular and jazz styles. Pupils taking the two-year A-level course will also usually be entered for SQA Higher music at the end of S5.

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