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By Rhys Lett

Mastering VCE Music Solo Performance Exam

Oh no, exam time is coming faster than you expected. How can you get all work and study completed in time for exams? Well, we are here to help you ace the VCE music solo performance exam.

There is no denying this is a very stressful exam. Unlike group performance where you have a team to rely on, the VCE music solo performance exam is you, a backing track and two examiners. The performance space is the most daunting you will ever face. I hope to eliminate some of that tension for you. 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 and help you instantly highlight what they are looking for in your playing.

For further assistance and information feel free to contact us via the contact form or call Rhys on 0421 705 150.

The VCE Music Solo Performance criteria can be found here. When reading my article note which songs off your list will earn marks in certain criteria.


1. Compliance with the requirements of the task

Understand how many songs you will need to perform for the VCE music solo performance exam. The song list is divided into categories. A certain number of songs have to be selected from each category. Performing the required songs in the allotted time will meet the demand of this criteria. Make sure you time your program in rehearsals. You are only allotted a certain amount of time to complete the exam task. It is very easy to obtain full marks in this criteria.

Example: Guitarists must perform 5 songs selected from 5 categories in a 25 minute time period.

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? Make sure you understand the structure of the song. This will give you great confidence moving through each song. Have it written down to create a map. Analyse each verse looking for variations and make notes against the song map.

Tip: Purchase the books that are listed as they will contain the prescribed backing tracks and the arrangements that are required. Reduce the score down to a one page cheat sheet.

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

Showing the elements that make a rock song different to a jazz or reggae song. Study and understand the very typical things that place the song into the category. To gain a greater understanding look over our articles on blues, funk and reggae. One of the main intentions of the VCE music solo performance is to expose you to various styles of music. Within each style learn the techniques required to deliver great performances.

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? How do you achieve this? Make sure your volume shifts are not jarring. Spend time in your set up to get to know the room your are performing in. Those amp settings that worked at home in your bedroom might not be appropriate for a large performance space. Singers and drummers listen for room reverb and use this.

Tip: run through your  loudest and quietest songs in the time for setting up before your exam, understand which songs these are in your program. This will help you understand the performance area.

Example: Listen to the amount of tonal variation in this isolated guitar track to Dani California. The variations are highlighting each section of the song. This is achieved through the guitarist changing pickups throughout the song and use of many effects pedals.

5. Skill in expressive communication through articulation and phrasing

More is required than just playing the right notes and chords. As noted in the previous criteria we need to understand the finer detail of each musical style. Even within a song you need to find the way a performer delivers a song. Are you approaching the chorus of a song differently to the verse? Study those details and understand how the instrument works in each section of the song.

Example: a guitarist correctly pitching a bend a using vibrato to sustain note to sufficient length. Does a vocalist deliver the verse with a different dynamic to the chorus.

6. Skill in differentiating the musical lines

Firstly, make sure that your parts balance with the backing tracks. Even with tracks you must interact with the dynamics of the song. Enhance sections with tone changes or volume boosts. Guitarists think of changing pickups from rhythm sections to solo parts. Drummers think of your hi hat use.

7. Skill in differentiating the structures and characteristics of each work

Know what the structure of a rock song is in comparison to a jazz tune. Each style of music has a typical format to the order the sections of music get performed in. Be able to show tone variations when moving from a verse to a chorus or from the melody to the solo. Make the signposts of change in section very obvious.

Example: This is the isolated drum track of Monkey Wrench by Foo Fighters. Listen for the subtle changes that spell out section changes. No other instruments are needed to understand how the song is progressing from intro to verse to chorus. It gives the song a clear sense of direction.

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

Performing techniques that are typical of the style. Learn what is typical in performing that style of music. Drummers bring different snares that will suit certain styles. Guitarists bring a variety of guitars. Singers understand the conventions of singing the blues compared to ballads. There is great contrast that with some research you will easily be able to add to your performance on the day. Simple awareness is all that is required.

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 how do you make it your own. Can you combine parts that you are able to play and then find licks that will compliment that. This is better than playing a cringe worthy take on something beyond your current skill level. If you are creating or improvising a solo make sure it is within the elements of the style. Metal licks won’t work in a jazz song.

Example: I have heard of situations where students will stop the backing track when they get ‘lost’ in where they are up to in the song, usually in solo sections. NEVER do this, work with your teacher to find a way around difficult spots, this criteria rewards this initiative.

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

Staying in performance or gig mode. Think of what you are going to wear. Plan how to introduce songs and script what will be said. Pay attention to your set up. Make your stage area look neat. Performers that look like they are having a good time are infectious for the audience (your examiners).

Tip: It is a celebration of years of rehearsing and practicing. Make it a celebration just as much it is the VCE music solo performance exam.

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 Solo Performance exam and put on a great show.