Music plays a central role in the life of George Watson's College. Many pupils are attracted to the school because of the considerable opportunities that exist in Music and the other arts, both in the curriculum and in a vast range of extra-curricular activity.

Central to the work of everyone in the Music School is a desire to encourage pupils to give of their very best at whatever level they can achieve. The result is an enormous number of pupils involved in musical activity of one kind or another, and very high quality in all of that activity, culminating in the almost professional standards of many of our most able pupils.


Music SchoolThe Music School was built in 1964 to a design by Michael Laird on the eastern side of the campus, and was enlarged at the amalgamation of the Boys' and Ladies' Colleges in 1974. It was further extended in 2001 and now contains four class music teaching rooms, 22 practice rooms used for individual lessons and private practice, and a 215-seat Auditorium with its famous hyperbolic parabaloid roof. There is a music staff room, and offices for the Director of Music, other full-time staff, and the administrator.

There are also two class music teaching rooms for primary school music lessons in the Lower Primary building. In addition there are eight practice rooms in New Myreside House which are primarily used for individual lessons for primary school pupils, and the offices and teaching rooms of the Pipe Major and Drum Major as well as an ensemble room.


The School owns a large stock of orchestral and other instruments which are available for pupils to hire in return for a small annual charge. There are also a number of pianos, guitars, keyboards, percussion and other instruments which are used for class lessons. There is a three manual organ in the Assembly Hall and a new two manual organ in the Music School. Three of the classrooms are equipped with a class set of acoustic guitars, some electric and bass guitars and a drumkit. Another room has a class set of Yamaha keyboards. There is also a considerable variety of classroom percussion instruments, including djembes, congas and tabla.

Two of the teaching rooms in the Music School are each equipped with 20 iMac computers, and all four teaching rooms have Apple TVs. All computers run Garageband, and Sibelius 7 software. All teaching rooms are equipped with CD and DVD/video players. The department owns a variety of recording equipment.


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
Accompanist for concerts and exams, teacher of piano and flute Shonagh Croal BMus, LGSM
Pipe Major Iain Simpson
Drum Major Mick O'Neill
Drama/Music Technician  Mr Becc Dishon

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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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.


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.


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
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
  • 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
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.

International Baccalaureate

Pupils studying Music at IB S level choose an option from Creating Music, Solo Performing and Group Performing.  At H level they study both Creating Music and Solo Performing. At both levels pupils study Musical Perception, writing a 2,000 word Musical Links investigation, and including the study of two prescribed works.


The extra-curricular life of the Music Department is very rich, providing many valuable opportunities for those studying music at all levels to experience the excitement of live performance. The aim of the department is to provide an opportunity for as many pupils as possible to perform in an ensemble of some kind appropriate to their ability. Auditions for some of the groups are held at the start of each session, but there are many other groups that are open to all without selection.

There is a weekly rehearsal programme before and after school and during the lunchtimes each day, and a huge number of pupils are involved in musical activities of one kind or another.

Weekly Rehearsal Programme (log in required)


Subject Information - Music