Musical Guidance


In this section a few examples and links to information about Cuban music are provided. But not every song has to be in a Cuban style. For some numbers that are very dramatic, like the finale song and the victory song before the interval, a more dramatic, orchestral style would be more appropriate to create a stirring number.  There may be many songs with a Cuban theme, but we do not want every song to sound the same. It is also quite easy for an arranger to orchestrate a song and steer it towards a particular style at a later stage if need be. In fact if your song is chosen, you may find that the final version, once it has been rearranged and orchestrated, may sound quite different to what was submitted.

Lyrics: We already have a lot of songs which focus on ‘revolution’ and ‘victory’ and we don’t want song themes to be too repetitive. So try to say something specific to the relevant scene in your lyrics beyond the ideas of revolution.

Teachers could allocate each student a song theme or some scenes to write a song about. A brief for each song theme is provided to provide useful background information and ideas. But focus on one idea, don’t try to include every song idea in one song or it will lack coherence. The script is currently about four times longer than it needs to be. This is in order to provide enough material to develop lyrics. There may be cases where one musical number can cover the information in several scenes and replace the script. So the final script will depend upon which songs are chosen and what is covered in the lyrics.

You are allowed to submit an instrumental number, or one that has minimal lyrics e.g. just the odd cry,  and this might be appropriate for the battle scenes where there is a lot going on in the stage, but not much talking. In this case, instead of submitting lyrics you should submit details of what is going on onstage so we can see how the music reflects the action. Assuming it is not an instrumental number, you will increase your chances of having your song chosen greatly if you include a sung vocal line.


You do not have to have a completely orchestrated song as the main judgement will be based on the melody and how the song as a whole conveys meaning. So it is fine to submit a simple song that is not highly produced. However if you do have the facilities to produce and orchestrate your song, that is also fine. If you don’t, you can include any ideas you may have of how you think the song could be orchestrated or what instruments might work where and what your vision is for the song in the accompanying paragraph. Again for the vocals, if you have a chorus number and you or your teacher can organise a chorus, that is great, but we don’t expect that, and just one person singing should be enough to convey the melody and you can write in your paragraph that you envision the song to be a chorus number.

Songs often focus on core instruments such as piano, guitar, bass and percussion. However this is not an absolute, for example the victory song might have a higher emphasis on brass instruments. If you are aiming for a different sound, and do not have the necessary instruments to hand, you can specify your vision for the song in your accompanying paragraph and we can add additional instrumentation, should the song be chosen, at a later stage. We anticipate the orchestra might include the following:

  • 1 double bass or can double on electric bass
  • 1 cello
  • 1 viola
  • 1 second violin
  • 1 first violin
  • 1 nylon string guitar or can double on electric guitar
  • 1 piano
  • 2 percussionists sharing in a variety of traditional salsa percussion instruments (clave, congas, cowbell, timbale, guiro)
  • 1 trombone
  • 1 trumpet in B flat
  • 1 clarinet in B flat
  • 1 flute

The typical song from a musical is between 2 and 5 minutes. If your song is more than 6 minutes you should provide an explanation as to why in your accompanying paragraph. An example accompanying paragraph is here.  Also try to make it clear who is singing the song. Is it a particular character,  or is the song a conversation between two or more characters or is it more of a chorus number? Songs in musicals often give an insight into a characters interior dialogue, so the script may show what the characters say to each other, while the song might how what the character is really thinking and feeling. Sometimes that can be conveyed within a song, for example the verse may describe an inner dialogue while the chorus conveys what is said to all, or vice versa.

In the following sections there are examples of songs from Cuba to give a flavour of Cuban music and then from musicals which may provide a guide to how a musical number differs from a pop song. The examples may also provide inspiration in terms of how to capture a particular theme, character or topic within a song – both in terms of the musical style, but also in the lyrics. However you are encouraged to be creative – these are simply for guidance, and you should not try to copy anything presented.

Cuban music

Not all songs will be in Cuban style, but many will be – including at least one dance number. You can access a 3 min video introduction to writing Cuban music here. You can also get ideas and information by exploring YouTube and look for how to write/play Salsa/Latin music or look for key Cuban rhythms such as the ‘Montuno pattern’, examples of this style played on piano is here or here.

There are already some Cuban classics that relate to the plot, for example here is a link to a song about the death of Che Guevara

Here is one about Fidel Castro and the way he stopped the gravy train for the rich:

These songs are by Carlos Puebla.

Gibson Bothers – Cuba, this is a classic Cuban sound wrapped up in 70s disco

An example of typical Cuban style is:

Also check out Buena Vista Social Club – probably the best known Cuban group internationally.

The best known Cuban song is Guantanamera – the clip below also gives some good views of Cuba

For a more academic insight into the history of Cuban music a relevant textbook is Moore, Robin (2009) Music in the Hispanic Caribbean. Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. (Oxford: Oxford University Press). You can take a look at the sections relating to Cuban music – click here 

Songs from musicals

This is a dramatic story and some songs will need to capture great emotion and leave the audience stirred, especially the songs before the interval (victory song) and the final number. I think one of the best examples of a song that stirs the emotions and leaves the audience uplifted with a smile and also tears in their eyes in ‘you’ll never walk alone’ from Carousel.

Les Miserables also has some stirring numbers that both have a very simple and engaging hook in the key melody, but also stir the emotions through the swelling orchestration see for example ‘I dreamed a dream’ and ‘One day more’.

Stephen Sondheim is known for his witty lyrics, which are great at setting tone, and explaining context and plot. For example, his musical Pacific Overtures is about when Japan first made contact with other nations and has some good examples of how the lyrics and the musical style illustrate the Japanese context, the autocratic regime and the plot, for example Chrysanthemum Tea.

Also from Pacific Overtures, the songPlease Hello’ demonstrates different musical styles according to which nation is being portrayed, and also ‘Next from the same musical is an example of how you can convey a speech in a song and also statistics.

The musical Legally Blonde gives a very different example of how style and lyrics embody context, plot and humour, for example in the song ‘There! Right there’! where they debate whether a key character is gay (see from 2:45)

But not all lyrics have to be complicated. For example the lyrics in ‘Let it go’ in Frozen are very simple but the phrase ‘let it go’ along with the swelling music taps into people’s emotions as we all feel we can relate in some way to the idea of ‘letting go’.

Another well-known lyricist is Tim Rice who write lyrics for many musical including Evita, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Lion King. One his best known songs is Don’t Cry for me Argentina from Evita. This is really a speech given as a song and so is a useful example as there are many scenes in the musical where Fidel Castro is giving a speech. Will I am’s ‘yes we can’ gives another example of how you can set a speech to music – Fidel Castro was known for his epic speeches so this may provide some inspiration

In this musical there will be conversations about policy, values etc. some of these may work well in a song. A recent example of this kind of discussion type musical number is I’ve got a theory/ Bunnies/ If we’re together’ from the musical episode of Bunny ‘Once more with feeling’.

Songs like reviewing the situation’ from Oliver are a good example of how internal decision making processes can be revealed through song.

The song ‘Why can’t a woman be more like a man? from My Fair Lady covers themes that could be covered in a bromance song between Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.

Example paragraph providing description for music

Write 75-150 words explaining the musical style and tone and where you think it might fit within the overall plot. In this paragraph you can present your vision for the song, for example what instruments could be used where, how it can orchestrated etc. We expect submissions to be between 2 and 5 minutes long. If you strongly believe your song should be much longer (i.e. between 6 and 9 minutes) you should provide a justification for this in your accompanying paragraph.  Example accompanying paragraph for music here

Example paragraph providing rationale for lyrics

Write 75-150 words explaining the rationale for the song and what the lyrics are intended to convey. If submitting to the misc category, an extra 50 words is allowed to explain how the song fits into the overall plot, and where-about the songs could go. It is fine for one song to be relevant at several points during the musical as it is common in musicals for songs to be reprised. Click here for an example rationale for the lyrics.

Music Score

Secondary level applicants need to include a ‘piano vocal score’ (pdf, sib, logic) which is the typical format for musicals (you can submit an acoustic guitar score instead if it is more appropriate for your song). A piano score is a vocal stave with a two-stave piano part underneath and chord symbols above. Here is an example from the Lion King:

Students at higher education level should submit a piano (or acoustic guitar)  score and full orchestra score.

The piano (and orchestra score if you have it) should be uploaded with your submission. If you submit without any score, we may have to get back to you to ask for one if the song is amongst the winners

Teaching support and help creating the score from an expert in composition may be available depending on where you are based, click here for details.