Viva Voce Tips from a Music 1 Encore StudentBy Jamon Windeyer in Study
10th of August 2016
I want to start by saying I love writing stuff to help you guys with Music. Given that it’s a less popular subject than others, there really isn’t that much out there for support. This is especially true for a Musicology Viva Voce. An unpopular choice in a small course: Not exactly something that attracts a lot of attention. For that reason, I love writing stuff about it, because I love helping out in the areas that don’t always get the most attention.
I did a Viva Voce for Music 1 because, frankly, I was better at music theory than performance (the opposite problem to what most people experience). I did my guitar performance for core and it went really well (anyone looking for a good piece for guitar, John Butler’s Ocean is a fantastic choice). But the theory just came naturally to me, and part of that was learning about different styles of music. A Viva Voce was a great way to channel those interests.
In my opinion, a Viva Voce is more daunting than a performance. 10 minutes face to face with a marker, and they can press you on pretty much anything they like. They are, to a degree, in control! That is completely different to a performance where you are in complete control. It’s not something to take lightly.
That said, a Viva Voce can be really enjoyable, and doesn’t take any more time than a performance would to practice and perfect. My Viva is on the Encore Honour Roll for the 2014 HSC, recognized as one of the best in the state. Here are my tips on preparing and delivering a fantastic Musicology Viva Voce.
1. Don’t Rush the Viva Voce Summary Sheet
The Summary Sheet plays a very important role in the Musicology elective. The HSC markers come in and they don’t even know your name! They have no idea about you as a student, your pace, your ability, or any idea about what you will be talking about. Your Summary Sheet is the only thing they have to go off of. That sheet is what they will use to guide your discussion and frame the questions they ask you. For that reason, don’t rush it the morning before. Give it some proper thought.
On one hand, don’t give too much detail. If you put absolutely every aspect of your discussion on the sheet, then the marker thinks they have the whole thing figured out before you begin. They have no need to ask questions!
On the other hand, don’t give them nothing. Don’t just write loose words or piece names with no clear direction or structure; they won’t know where to go with that!
What you want is a basic level of detail; lay out the foundations of the discussion. Give the markers some direction, but don’t give them the whole story. Make it clear where your examples will be and how you want the discussion to be structured. They will go with whatever flow you want to establish.
For some examples on what a good summary sheet could look like, check out these examples.
2. Be Prepared for Any Question
Let me share a story about my Viva Voce.
I was chatting about the use of guitar in one of the pieces I had chosen, and explained the use of “power chords” as a typical aspect of rock music. I played a progression randomly on my guitar to demonstrate, and they stopped me and said: “What was that?” And I said, oh, it was just a I-IV-V progression in the key of A, and they were like “Major or minor,” and then I explained how it was neither, linked to the atonality of power chords, etc. I think I mentioned that they are very popular in rock music, and they asked why! Over a minute of discussion, completely off track from what I was discussing. You need to be ready for anything!
Your summary sheet should lay the foundation of the discussion, and you should direct it. However, the markers can and will press you on things you may not expect, and you must be ready for that. Know your examples inside and out so that no question will take you off guard. Know your concepts of music and terminology extremely well.
3. Show, Don’t Tell
It is very much a tip out of one of Elyse’s creative writing guides: Show, don’t tell.
This advice applies equally well to a Viva Voce. Showing your markers examples of what you are discussing is very important (and indeed, required in the criteria). Usually, this takes the form of playing your chosen excerpts, but it doesn’t have to (and it shouldn’t) stop there.
If you want to talk about the riff in your excerpt, don’t play it again. Play it on guitar.
Talking about a syncopated rhythm? Drum it on the table.
Describing how tone colour is affected by falsetto? Show them what falsetto is! My markers were probably divided between appreciating my demonstration of vocal techniques, and lamenting the fact that they didn’t wear earplugs.
The point being, practical examples are your best friend. Don’t restrict yourself to excerpts, hell, don’t restrict yourself to your instrument! Anyone can drum a rhythm on a table, or sing a rough melody. Do those things, and you’ll be more impressive to a Viva Voce marker than just describing what you hear.
4. Maintain Your Main Idea
Ensure that your main idea is sustained through your Viva Voce. Don’t fall into the trap of turning this into an Aural Exam. There must be a reason for what you are discussing. Usually, this is set up immediately in the title. Mine was something very similar to:
Exploring polystylism as a mechanism of musical interest in Progressive Rock Music.
So, my main idea was that styles are blended by Progressive Rock Musicians in order to differentiate from ordinary rock music. In my introduction, I give some social context (British roots, talk about Pink Floyd and The Who, yada yada), and then link to Muse as my modern example. Throughout my whole discussion, I link back to this idea of musical interest, that is what sustains my discussion! Ensure everything has a proper rationale, don’t just spew concepts of music.
5. All About Presentation
Although the focus is of course on your musical knowledge and the content of your discussion, you don’t want to be staring at your shoes the whole time, or come in with your Excerpt CD still burning in your laptops CD drive. Set positive prejudices from the start, and it will definitely work in your favour.
Enjoy your Viva Voce. You should be discussing something you are interested in, make that obvious to the markers. Be enthusiastic!
Answer questions clearly and methodically. Try not to go off on tangents (something I significantly struggled with). Be confident with your answers.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly; this is your discussion. You are the leader. If you want to move on to the next excerpt, be assertive about that.
“Okay, if it’s alright with you both I’ll move on to the next excerpt now, it’s one of Muse’s later works…”
Don’t let the markers lead your discussion. Of course, answer their questions and abide by their assistive cues, but it is up to you to take control.
6. What If They Ask Me Something I Don’t Know?
The big Viva Voce question I always get goes something like this:
Jamon, what if they ask me a question I can’t answer?
Look, this could very well happen. You can’t have the answer to absolutely everything, though of course that should be the main goal. You have two options here. If you think you know the answer with some level of confidence, go for it. Take a shot. The markers aren’t going to stop the discussion and bully your answer if it is incorrect.
If you do answer, or even if you don’t, be upfront: You aren’t sure. If they ask you a question that completely stumps, be honest:
“Hmm, that’s an interesting question! To be completely honest, I’m not sure, but ________.”
Then, fill in that blank with either an attempted answer or a redirection. That is okay! Absolutely, not being able to answer a question doesn’t ruin the Viva Voce in any sense. Further, the markers will appreciate your honest (but confident) response.
Do you have any last minute questions for your Viva? Want to chat with me about your topic, your excerpts, your structure, or any other part of Music 1? Come ask me here!
Information regarding the choice of piece(s) for performance linked to the study of the Topics and Contexts is provided in the following documents:
Music 1 Stage 6 Syllabus is available at the following link on BOSTES website:
Please refer to pages 11, 15, 20, 22–25.
Assessment and Reporting in Music 1 Stage 6 is available at the following link on BOSTES website:
Please refer to pages 6–10.
Teachers and students are advised:
- a performance must be accompanied unless composed otherwise. Accompaniments can be live or pre-recorded. If pre-recorded the part of the candidate must be clearly displayed and must not be included on the recording.
- the piece may be a solo or ensemble item. In the case of an ensemble item the part performed in the ensemble by the candidate must be clearly displayed.
- the choice and suitability of repertoire should involve discussion between the student and the classroom teacher who has an understanding of topic choices, as well as the musical requirements and interpretation of the marking guidelines for the HSC.
- AMEB repertoire may be used but must address topic representation requirements. Students should seek advice from their classroom teacher to decide on the best choices for HSC performance.
- where dates apply to a topic area a student cannot perform a piece written outside the stated years. This requires the piece to have been originally composed in the time frame referred to. The original composition date also applies to arrangements. The selection of repertoire should be made carefully to ensure it falls within the time frame indicated.
- students can present two short pieces of repertoire by one composer as one performance. Students may, for example, combine 2 movements from a work, or 2 songs from the same song cycle. The usual topic representation and time requirements will apply.