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Examiners' Reports: August 2011 Musicianship

Grade 1 Musicianship

Overall, this paper was well managed, with a high proportion of candidates gaining honours and several with 100%. It is important, however, that candidates give special attention to reading all the questions on the paper thoroughly to avoid unnecessary loss of marks.

In the Pitch questions the importance of positioning accidentals before notes rather than after and the use of leger lines should be emphasised. Ensure that the stem rule applies when drawing minims and crotchets.

Most problems arose in the Scale section of this paper where a common error was confusion between marking tones/semitones and accidentals/key signature. The raised 7th in the minor scales was often omitted and the marking of tones sometimes included the 6th-7th degrees which is 1½ tones.

Ordinal numbers eg 5th should be used to name Intervals even when the question asks for number only.

Candidates should note whether the treble or bass clef is indicated for the writing of Chords. When drawing key signatures, the placement of F# should also be accurately positioned.

In the Time and rhythm section an upright line must be placed before all accented words or syllables, not after. When completing bars with rests in ¾, two crotchets rests must be used, not a minim rest. Be sure to place the semibreve and minim rests accurately on the appropriate lines of the staff.

For the Transposition question, ‘using the bass clef’ was clearly indicated but some candidates transposed into the treble clef. Note values and stem direction should be adhered to so that marks are not lost for inaccuracy. A double bar line should also be included.

Thorough learning of English word meanings would be of benefit when answering questions on Terms and Signs. The meaning of Allegretto caused the most concern with many inaccurate responses. Be sure to position staccato signs appropriately and only to the notes indicated in the question rather than to all notes in the bar.

Grade 2 Musicianship

Neither Keys and scales nor Intervals presented problems for the majority of candidates.

In questions dealing with Chords, triads in the bass clef were often written as if in the treble clef.

Time and rhythm was difficult for some candidates, who had trouble correctly adding rests in 3/8 and 3/4 time. A common error was to add a dotted crotchet, ignoring the anacrusis.

Most candidates had no trouble with Transposition.

Rhythmic Invention was poorly answered by many candidates. Curiously, many who placed accents appropriately in part A chose not to use those same accents in part B, usually with unfortunate results.

The final question Terms and general knowledge was generally answered satisfactorily by most candidates, but common errors included giving pianissimo and crescendo as responses. The question asked for the English meaning of the terms but candidates missed this.

Grade 3 Musicianship

Candidates were well prepared for this paper and mostly achieved results of 80% or above.  Few had difficulties with the Keys and scales question.  Problems which did arise were the pattern of semitones in the descending scale; adding accidentals to notes as well as a key signature; failure to recognise F harmonic minor, and submediant and mediant notes.  There were few errors in the Intervals question.

The most common mistake in the first part of the Chords and cadences question was to name the key of the first example as A flat major.  Candidates did not then relate that answer to the next part and almost all correctly identified the triad as the subdominant.  In the cadences, incorrect voice leading was the most worrying error, followed by spacing – usually between tenor and alto, failure to raise the 7th and omission of key signatures.

With the Time and rhythm question, some candidates wrote notes instead of rests in part B, but many failed to complete the rests for cut common time.  While most correctly answered that 3/2 is simple triple time, many wrongly considered that 3/8 is compound triple.

Candidates lost marks in the Rhythmic invention and melody question as follows: in the first part, the spoken rhythm of words such as “sadder” and “morrow”, was not taken into account so a repetitious triple time rhythm of minims and crotchets, or similar in compound duple emerged.  There were also many instances of stress being laid on words such as “A”, “and”, etc., as well as on the second syllable of “wiser”.  There was also injudicious use of rests and the leading note was used many times without an understanding of the need for resolution.

For the melody, little creativity was apparent.  Many candidates used continuous movement almost entirely by step, which made the melody look and sound like rhythmic scales.  The key was often not well established in the first bar, and the melody was frequently confined in a narrow range, usually of six notes, with the same notes being repeated ascending and descending.

The Terms and general knowledge section was well answered, though there was some confusion about marking the ABA sections and sequences.  Precise answers were required for the English meanings and responses for da capo al fine and MM needed to be exact.  In the modulation section, candidates sometimes mixed up the original key and the new key and consequently gave the wrong relationship.

Grade 4 Musicianship

Aural section

In the Pitch section the questions were very well answered. The main area of weakness was identifying intervals which were often written as a 4th and 6th not a 3rd and a 5th. There were some slight errors in identifying motion, as well as tonality in the triads.

In the Time and rhythm section, many students lost marks in the naming of  the time as simple duple instead of simple triple. In naming the time signature section, a number of students wrote 6/8 time when a crotchet beat was indicated. The dictation question was very well answered.

The Expression and mood is always a difficult section to answer as most students are not familiar with the breathing and phrasing related to woodwind instruments, and a high percentage did not recognise the two note slurs, staccato indications, and the correct marking of the first cadence point. The anacrusis at the beginning of the melody was not taken into account at the end of the fourth bar.

Written section

In the Rudiment sections, scales were clearly recognised, the placing of semitones and leaving the 7th note without an accidental were the main problems in the first question. In writing key signatures, the 5th sharp was quite often misplaced. Revision on key signatures in both treble and bass clef is recommended. Naming of scales, tones and semitones was reliable.

Melody writing has improved overall. There is still a percentage of students who wrote in a ‘scale-like' manner, limiting the overall shape of the melody. Most students continued to add a well-balanced rhythm, adding tempo, and dynamic markings.

Cadences in Question 4 were the least successful, very few students knew how to resolve the Interrupted cadence correctly, with consecutive 5ths and 8ths appearing, A number of students did not observe the correct value of notes given.

The History section was quite well studied overall.  There were gaps in the description of the character of the dance forms, with anacrusis and metre often omitted in either one or both of the dances (Allemande and Courante) The remaining questions were answered well, including style and character of the Sarabande, Minuet, and the speed of the Gigue.

Works of composers showed some lack of knowledge.  Stage works (Purcell), oratorio (Handel) and two cities for Bach (countries stated, instead of cities).  The paragraph on the lives of Handel or Purcell made interesting reading, and generally a positive result for the individual paper. Most students secured a mark of 85 or above.

Grade 5 Musicianship

Aural section

Mostly well prepared. Candidates are best advised to give all necessary detail in identifying composers’ works in the excerpts.

Written section

Marking tones in the melodic minor Scale question was problematic.

In the Instruments section, the alto clef for the viola was occasionally incorrectly drawn.

Melody – generally well done, though there are always going to be issues with the word setting when the word accents are not well chosen. Candidates who forgot to mark the phrasing as requested lost marks unnecessarily here.

Harmony – the usual basic errors in harmony were readily apparent here (consecutive 8ves and 5ths, overlaps, spacing issues) and should really be under better control at this level. More understandably, the new material involving second inversions caused the most trouble, often used out of place in the wrong context, or with the cadential six-four not resolving correctly nor having the correct doubling in place.

In two-part melody writing 5ths and 8ves between the parts needed greater care on the whole and should not be used as freely or as often as many did here. Mistreatment of the leading note was relatively common, both in melodic direction and in doubling at the 8ve with the other part. Remember that each part should be a satisfying melodic line on its own, thus issues of range and melodic direction are just as important as finding the correct intervals between the parts.

The Set works section was disappointing on the whole. Many candidates were not able to answer the questions with specific reference to the works as required. There were too many generalisations given that were either so broad that they could have applied to almost any piece, or didn’t specifically apply to the set work in question. Quite a few candidates resorted to commenting on the vocal line when discussion of the accompaniment was required, and it should be noted that the existence of a particular key by itself does not count as a device used in the accompaniment unless it is made perfectly clear the connection between that key, the meaning of the text, and the role of the accompaniment in that part of the song.

The requested quotation of the 2nd subject of the Mozart quintet was not well known by many, and not at all by quite a few, whereas the question relating to the key scheme of The Vagabond suffered from the same vagueness as outlined above, often failing to make the link between choice of key and meaning of the text.

Grade 6 Musicianship

Aural section

Mostly well done. Surprisingly, the simple rhythm of Melody dictation was not always accurate, and some answers were presented in equal note values, ignoring the rhythm altogether.

With regard to Set works identification, the works must be identified with enough detail to specify that particular work over any other by the same composer. For example, “Piano Quartet”, or just “Quartet” will not do. At least one unique identifying factor must be included (for example, “Piano Quartet in C minor, 1st movement” or “Piano Quartet Op. 60, first movement”).

The identification of the Preludes was even more problematic. Each prelude counts as a separate work, even though they belong to the larger entity of the Preludes of Book 1. Some candidates appeared to treat “Preludes Book 1” as the work, and the individual Prelude as the section, which is not what is required here. The individual prelude is the work, and the section within the prelude needs to be identified as accurately as possible with reference to its own formal design.

Written section

In the Form and history section, answers regarding features of Chopin’s piano music were too often vague, and in some cases not specific musical features at all. Similarly the question asking for characteristics of chamber music in general was not answered as well as it should have been.

Transposition – errors here were common, and usually due to transposing in the wrong direction or involving key signature errors.

Melody writing – the word setting was often problematic here. The question asks for a balanced melody, so phrases must be evenly balanced. Rhythmic setting needs to strike a balance between unity and variety – some answers tried to include too many different patterns and note values at the expense of making sense both rhythmically and melodically. Modulation was problematic for many, most often not given time to settle and in some cases not modulating back to the tonic before the end. Modulation to the relative minor often involved poor use of the leading note and the augmented 2nd.

Harmony – the usual technical issues of consecutive 8ves/5ths, overlaps, augmented 4th leaps were present. The augmented 2nd was again a problem here being in the minor mode. In terms of harmonic language, second inversions were the most abused – some even resorting to secondary triads in this position. Opportunities for passing 2nd inversions were often missed, and resolution of the cadential six-four (a 5th grade level technique) was still an issue for many. Some candidates chose to attempt more advanced chords than required for this level (generally not advised), though the use of seventh chords (both dominant, secondary sevenths, and in some cases secondary dominant sevenths) usually displayed a lack of ability to handle them correctly. A better understanding of functional harmony is required by most candidates.

Two Part – combining two melodies in good harmony while still maintaining the independence of both is difficult, but that is exactly what is required here. Simply chasing after the harmonic intervals against the given part produced poor melodies here. Dissonance treatment was a major issue for many, with dissonances occurring on the beat, and leaps to and from dissonances. Most candidates need to take more care to avoid consecutive 5ths and 8ves, and indeed to avoid too many perfect consonances on the whole or else create a bare, empty sound.

Set works – the excerpt from the development section of Brahms was not recognised as such by quite a number of candidates. As for naming a rhythmic device used in the piano in the exposition, quite a few seemed not to notice the word ‘rhythmic’ in the question and suggested other non-rhythmic devices instead. Finally, with regard to “Keys/Tonality” of the Preludes: some candidates interpreted the word tonality to mean ‘tone colour’, and answered without any regard to tonality whatsoever. Note that tonal centres and scale forms should be specified, not just one or the other. For example, ‘D dorian’ rather than just ‘D’ or ‘Dorian mode’.

Grade 7 Musicianship

Aural section

This component was generally well done, with most errors occurring in two places. The first was in identification of the Triads, especially position. The second was in recognising the excerpts from Set works. Identification of the section of works the excerpt comes from lost the most marks, as well as in the comments on instrumentation. Here it is helpful to say which instruments have the main subjects in the extracts and any interesting features, such as the oboes and first violins double the subject at the octave.

Written section

The greatest problems in the written section occurred in the Creative sections, especially with modulation. Basic errors occurred in the melody writing, such as bars not adding up. With a sixteen-bar melody, it is easy to ‘waffle’ with no sense of direction. Longer phrases such as four bars will help, as do the modulations but also a sense of direction created with sequences and climax.

The imitative Two-part writing was most successful when not too overly complex. Interlocking rhythms between the parts was fundamental, as was creating convincing cadences. Again modulations and use of the melodic minor scale seemed problematic. It should be remembered that the interval of the fourth is considered a dissonance in two-part writing.

The four-part Harmonisation was universally badly done. Basic errors such as the inappropriate use of second inversion chords, consecutives, preparation and resolution of sevenths, resolution of leading notes, part-crossing and false relations were prevalent. At this level these techniques need to be more fluent so the candidate may concentrate on modulations and the use of ‘non-essential’ tones, both of which were not well dealt with.

Instruments were generally well known, although the transposing instrument question caused problems for many candidates.

The History question was better done, and generally so were the Set works questions where candidates had mostly appropriately prepared. When not prepared, the set works questions are very difficult. In quoting musical themes, there were many inaccuracies.

Grade 8 Musicianship

While few candidates sat this high grade, some comments can be made.

Aural section

This component was generally well done with only minor slips. The excerpts from Set works were well identified, including the section of the work from which they came, and appropriate comments were made on instrumentation.

Written section

Melody writing was creative, although a sense of musical direction and coherence could be achieved with fewer modulations and a strong climax.

Set works were generally very well known with mostly accurate musical quotations.

General music History questions were also well done, but candidates should not confuse verbose writing with the presentation of many facts.

While the four-part Harmony question showed some good attempts at modulation and the use of non-chordal tones, the cadences did not always come to a point of rest, even when correct chords were used. The final chords of cadences were over-decorated which minimised their effect. Some grammatical errors such as consecutives and unresolved leading notes and 7ths were surprising at this level.

The Two-part writing was not always imitative as required in the question.  Rhythmic unity and unusual use of rests often marred the independence of the parts. There was evidence of tonal uncertainty with grammatical errors such as consecutive octaves and false relations.

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