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By Rhys Lett

Mastering VCE Music Group Performance Exam

Hi I am Rhys Lett, owner of the Eastern Suburbs School of Music and a music instructor with over 20 years experience. I have helped hundreds of students over the last 15 years find amazing success in their VCE Music group performance exam. Much of this is down to understanding “the rules”. In other words, which the criteria you are marked on.  It is my belief you do not have to be the greatest guitarist/drummer/singer in the world to earn great results in this exam. Through understanding how to feature what the examiners are looking for you can achieve better results than you expected.

This article will help break down the confusing language written in the exam criteria. Importantly it will help you highlight what examiners are looking for in your playing. The VCE Music Group Performance criteria can be found here. When reading my article note which songs off your list will earn marks in certain criteria.

vce music group performance

Boronia College students rehearsing @ ESSM for VCE Music Exam

These notes are solely my own opinions that have assisted students enormously.


1. Compliance with the task

Perform two songs from different categories from the VCE Music Group Performance song list and this criteria is ticked off. Simple as that. As a result, you are on the scoreboard for the exam!

Tip: place the list songs in your first 3-4 songs. There is a time limit on the exam. In short, don’t run out of time before you have played your list pieces.

2. Skill in performing accurately and with clarity

Are you playing the right chords? Are you singing the melody in pitch? Does the rhythm you are playing reflect the style of music you are performing? Does your part fit in with the other instruments rhythmically? As a result of making sure you are in key and in time you will score in this criteria.

Tip: don’t rely on one internet source such as Ultimate Guitar for the right music. Therefore, check with skilled musicians and teachers to ensure your chords and riffs are correct.

3. Skill in performing a range of techniques with control and fluency

Using the elements that make a rock song different to a jazz or reggae song. Study and understand the very typical things that put a song into the categories. The VCE Music Group Performance subject is designed to expose you to a variety of styles. Subsequently you will need to learn the traits of each genre . Show within each song you understand the differences. You can read many styles guides on our website like this example of rock playing for all instruments.

Example: a bass player using space and arpeggios in a reggae bass line in comparison to a rock song where they will play quavers (8 to a bar) using root notes.

4. Skill in producing a range of expressive tonal qualities

Are you demonstrating the typical things that your instrument does in certain styles? Do you perform a jazz song with the style and sound elements required? The VCE Music Group Performance exam is designed to make you think about how to produce different sounds that are appropriate for each style. So make sure you listen closely to many recordings in that style to craft your tone.

For Example: the guitarist playing jazz will use a clean tone (switch those distortion pedals off!!) using the neck pickup with the tone dial wound back. A drummer might use brushes instead of sticks, or change sticks to a lighter set in comparison to what is used for rock songs. Singers must understand how to alter the character of their voice. Think of your set list order as well to help you maintain control of these skills and shift in styles.

5. Skill in expressive communication through articulation and phrasing

This is one of the few categories I believe that does go into how skilled you are on your instrument. The thing that edges a student up from being the average is usually their attention to doing something more than just playing the right notes and chords. The next level after this I believe is adding the finer detail.

For Example: a guitarist correctly pitching a bend a using vibrato to sustain note to sufficient length

6. Skill in placing instrument appropriately in group

This has nothing to do with your instrument playing skill. This is about your volume in the performance. Firstly, can you be heard? You cannot be assessed if you are not audible. Second, are you overpowering the rest of the band? Last, at times when you are featured in the song do you have the ability to boost your volume slightly to be the focus of the song? Therefore, know your gear, practice necessary changes.

Tip: guitarists watch your distortion sound. Often “metal” pedals can suck all the life from your tone and volume. No matter how loud you turn them up they never seem to cut through the band. This is because certain frequencies are lowered by these pedals in trying to emulate the metal sound. With their lack of mid-range you can disappear from the mix when switching from clean to distortion tone.

7. Skill in presenting an informed interpretation of a range of styles

Does your playing do the typical elements your instrument will perform in the chosen style? Get to know how your instrument performs rhythmically, melodically (notes) and harmonically (chords) in certain musical styles and play that. As mentioned previously, the The VCE Music Group Performance exam is designed to expose you to many forms of music and techniques. As a result you will gain appreciation of how to play and perform within these styles.

For Example: For your rock song is the guitarist playing power chords, bass playing chugging root notes, drummer opening hi hats in the chorus and your singer placing a slight growl in their tone. Take time to study what makes each style you perform unique.

8. Skill in performing as a member of the group

How are you making a contribution to the group in the performance? This includes verbal or non-verbal communication between band members. For example, signal changes in sections in the song, queuing a solo and making sure everyone knows the song is ending. The more you take charge in this area the more you can pinch some easy marks. This includes count ins and introducing the song. However you must be supportive and inclusive of all members of the band. Their success will enhance your success.

For Example: You introduce the song over the microphone “the next song we will perform is by Muse it’s called Hysteria”, count the bass player in, give the drummer a nod when they are meant to come in, point like a rock star to the guitarist before they start the solo, raise your hand in the air to signal the last riff in the outro of the song. These gestures greatly increase your marks and are on the table for any member to take.

9. Skill in performing with musicality through creativity and individuality

How do you make the song performance your own? If the guitar solo is too difficult to play note for note can you combine parts that you are able to play and then find licks that will compliment that. In other words, don’t play a cringe worthy take on something beyond your current skill level. If you are creating or improvising a solo make sure it shows the elements of the style.

For Example: a blues guitar solo should demonstrate string bending skills, a jazz solo should have zero or minimal string bends but a lot of arpeggios.

10. Skill in presenting a musical program within appropriate performance conventions

Staying in performance or gig mode. Look like a band, think of what you are going to wear. Don’t look like school kids, in a month you no longer will be anyway. Plan who will introduce songs and script what will be said. Pay attention to the group set up; stay in tight together even if given a big stage. Step forward when it is your solo time, interact and smile between members. Performers that look like they are having a good time are infectious for the audience (your examiners) and the band members. In conclusion, have fun!

Tip: It is a celebration of years of rehearsing and practicing. Make it a celebration just as much it is an exam. Above all, make sure you can say you gave it your all.

Best of luck with all of your exams at the end of the year. I hope this will help you confidently approach your VCE Music Group Performance exam and put on a great show.

For further assistance and information feel free to contact us via the contact form or call Rhys on 0421 705 150. We take bookings to as apart of our Rock Band Workshop program to assist with the rehearsal of your group and have helped many schools be better prepared for the VCE Music Group Performance exam.