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Examiners' Reports: August 2012 Musicianship

Grade 1 Musicianship

It was gratifying to see so many students attain such high marks in this paper; the work was tidy overall and very well prepared.

The second part of the opening question Writing notes saw a number of students not reading the instruction ‘use leger lines’ and writing the three notes on the stave. The remaining questions were well answered.

In Keys and scales, writing the harmonic minor scale required the 7th note, or leading note to be raised. Numerous students omitted the accidental, and quite often semitones were incorrectly placed, the loss of one mark resulted in many students receiving 99%.

The questions on Intervals and Triads were all very well done. Almost 98% of candidates were correct in the Time and rhythm, Accents to the poetry and placement of Time signatures.

There were, however, slight problems with the placement of bar lines; many candidates took the crotchet and minim as the anacrusis, which then caused misplacement throughout. Completing the bar with rests was mainly accurate, but there was confusion with the whole bar rest, and the incorrect placement of same. Some students mistook the minim rest for the whole bar rest.

Unfortunately, the Transposition was a problem for some, in so far as the answer required the candidate to write the notes at the SAME pitch. Numerous answers were given one octave lower or even 2 octaves lower in the bass clef. Some sharps were misplaced also in the same question.

The Section on Terms and signs was very good. The odd answers re tie/slurs were confused, as was the meaning of ritardando, slower not softer in the grid. In the fourth section of that question, a sign was required for the notes to be played smoothly; the mark was lost if the word 'legato' was written.

Grade 2 Musicianship

The Keys and scales questions were mostly well done, though clef errors were the most common mistakes found here. The fourth part of this question found some candidates confusing requested scale degrees with triads.

For Intervals, abbreviations of major (M) and minor (m) as chosen by some candidates were not always clear. It is best to make an obvious difference between upper and lower case, or simply write the quality in full to ensure full marks are gained.

The question on Chords requested primary triads but at times this elicited a similar response but in reverse to the scale degree question and these were sometimes misinterpreted as single scale degrees.

Compound Duple time was clearly the weakest area for candidates who lost marks in the Time and rhythm section, often confusing it with simple triple time. Many candidates were unable to recognise 3/8 as simple triple time.

Transposition was mostly well handled, even though minor errors were common. Major errors included transposing in the wrong direction, starting on the wrong scale degree (usually through a misinterpretation of the tonality of the original melody), or forgetting to change or add the new key signature.

In Rhythmic invention, placing accents in the poetry was generally well done. Setting the words to rhythm, even when the accents were correct, proved challenging for many candidates. Hyphenations were often missed, and when bar lines are misplaced the effect was often very poor. It was also common to find rhythms lacking in variety, consisting of the same repeated pattern all the way through, even though there were no technical errors. It is desirable to create some variety and interest in the rhythmic setting without upsetting the natural flow of the poetry.

Terms and general knowledge was mostly well known. The most common errors were a result of not reading the questions properly – take special note as to whether the name or meaning of a sign or term is required and to answer appropriately.

Grade 3 Musicianship

Candidates were mostly well prepared which resulted in some good results.

Keys and scales were generally well known, but many candidates omitted the raised seventh in one or both octaves of the harmonic minor scale which often resulted in some inaccurately marked tones. The augmented second interval is not a tone. Intervals were mostly well done with the more common errors occurring in the inversion.

More errors occurred in the Chords and cadences questions, with the raised seventh in minor scales again being regularly omitted. In cadence writing, candidates should bear in mind the vocal ranges and include note stems in the correct directions for SATB writing (four-part vocal style). The leading note must rise to the tonic when present, and contrary motion is to be encouraged.

Time and rhythm questions were mostly well answered. More errors occurred in the Rhythmic invention and Melody questions. Words can be accented by being placed on downbeats, but also by long notes and with syncopation. This should be borne in mind, as should the fact that candidates are setting a couplet of poetry: it has its own metre. When this is upset by the setting an undesirable effect is created. The melodies suffered from lack of direction, such as alternating between two pitches, or lacking an underlying harmonic outline. A sense of shape or contour, and the use of musical climax will help. Often too many leaps resulted in awkward or angular melodies. Many melodies simply did not flow, with intervals of a third moving the melody in odd directions when a step would result in a much more pleasing tune. When practising melody-writing in their preparation, it would help many candidates if they sang their compositions.

In the Terms and general knowledge questions many candidates did not recognise that the given melody had an anacrusis in the A sections but not the B section. Marking sections and sequences should be done above the stave. A pause sign does not mean the same as tenuto. 8va is not the same as 8ve. The former is the sign for ottava, the latter a short-hand abbreviation for ‘octave’.

Grade 4 Musicianship

Aural

For many candidates this was probably their first foray into the aural aspect of a musicianship examination. Congratulations are in order for the success with which this aspect was handled.

For the question on Pitch, marks were lost for incorrect scale notes (intervals).

The question on Motion also contained errors, mostly where contrary motion was needed.

In the question on Time and rhythm the beat value, minim, was referred to on the disc and given on the paper but some candidates still lost marks by answering 2/4 instead of 2/2. The Rhythm dictation question was mostly well answered.

The question on Expression and mood gave candidates a chance to show changes in touch and tone as they listened and to mark cadences and describe the mood. Staccato and dynamic change was mostly well marked in. Errors occurred in recognising the first cadence which could be heard and seen at bars 3 to 4. Many imaginative descriptions of the mood evoked were noted and duly accepted.

The question on Form seemed to cause uncertainty and an incorrect answer for a number of candidates.

Written

The question on Rudiments demanded knowledge of and careful focus on details, in order to place accidentals, semitones and key signatures in the correct position. Most students managed these questions successfully. Marks were lost where semitones and accidentals were incorrect or misplaced.

Melody writing provided scope to be creative and the majority of candidates had a satisfactory sense of key and where to place cadences and phrasing. Some candidates lost marks for incorrect note values in bar 8, forgetting that there was an anacrusis at the beginning. Establishing the key of G major at the beginning was important because the melodies of some candidates had a definite sense of E minor tonality. The use of a considerable pitch range, passing and auxiliary notes and suspensions increased musical interest and gained extra marks for some candidates.

The question on Harmony was mostly well handled. Marks were deducted for incorrect note values and for consecutive fifths and octaves when moving from chords IV to V.

In the first two questions on Form and history, candidates needed to be very familiar with the features of the keyboard suites of Bach. Marks were deducted for incorrect answers on tempo, time and in particular the character of the gigue or courante (both types). The character is what distinguishes one dance from another and mention needed to be made of the time signatures, texture, tempo, types of beats, notes and rhythms and any other distinguishing feature such as imitative entries, hemiola, melodic leaps etc. Marks were not lost for history, order in suite etc, providing character details were well described.

The sarabande and allemande extracts from Bach’s keyboard suites were well recognised by most candidates.

The question on Composers and works of Bach, Handel and Purcell was well handled by some candidates but many marks were lost by others who confused the works and types of works etc by Handel and Purcell.

Grade 5 Musicianship

Overall it must be said that the standard generally was quite high.

Aural

The aural paper gained good marks by the majority of candidates. The scales, cadences and rhythms were well known. The dictation caught several out, particularly the minor sixth upper leap.

Written

The Set works in the majority of cases had been well studied, although there were some strange changes in musical history! Quite a few students were confused when stating the required musical form: allegro or andante are not forms.

The Melody writing, which included setting the short verse, was competently tackled by most.

The Harmony question was probably the one which lost marks for the majority of candidates. In many cases they had not read or understood the question, and it would seem the concept of SATB part writing is alien to many. The Two-part writing, on the whole was better.

The overall impression that was gained by the papers was that students had studied the requirements and had learned all necessary impedimenta but lacked the practical experience of singing and playing, as evident in the creative answers. However, there was considerable evidence of good knowledge for this grade. All in all, well done.

Grade 6 Musicianship

While candidates generally had a good grasp of the instruments and general knowledge required for this grade, there was a disappointing lack of thorough basic skills. These included note stems and beaming, including bar lines at the end of systems and double bar lines, and knowing the order of clef then key then time signatures, and which are repeated on subsequent systems.

Aural

The aural paper was mostly well done, with marks tending to be lost on the melodic dictation and set works questions. The dictation recording gives the tempo but many candidates misinterpreted the pulse producing half-length note values or similar. In the Set works questions, candidates need to be specific in stating the section of the work from which the excerpt comes. Stating which Debussy prelude is not enough. Likewise, stating ‘Section B’, for example, is ambiguous. Something like ‘the whole tone section before the recapitulation of the opening theme’ is more specific.

Written

In the written paper, those who earned full marks stating characteristics of Chopin’s piano music identified elements peculiar to Chopin, not just traits of any mainstream Romantic piano composer. In the woodwind Instruments questions, explaining flutter tonguing and how it is used in the repertoire (eg fast passages), or giving the standard two meanings of ‘embouchure’ earned full marks.

The stanza of Poetry to be set as a melody was very descriptive, and the best examples were those with a sense of the text in the music or that used word-painting. Some candidates neatly reused the given opening later in the setting making it a stanza of music; and some had appropriate sequences. Most candidates modulated successfully, although there is still a propensity to divide words into more syllables than necessary. Numerous candidates omitted accidentals to return to the tonic after a modulation or to move to the next tonal centre.

The Four-part harmony exercise showed a general proficiency, although many candidates used far more consecutives and other basic grammatical errors than expected at this level. What must be sought beyond this is a flowing harmonisation, using inversions to create a smooth bass line. The required unaccented passing and auxiliary notes can aid the flow of the harmony, but may also create new consecutives and this should be checked by candidates.

The Two-part writing was better handled and some candidates made successful contrapuntal use of the opening given bass melody when the treble part entered. Many candidates lost marks by not appropriately using melodic minor and thus creating awkward melodic intervals such as augmented seconds. The final cadence was not a perfect one and a number of candidates tried to make it so. This created harmonic clashes. The interval of the fourth is a dissonance in two parts (although not in four) and must be prepared and resolved as such.

In the written Set works questions many candidates did not understand the term ‘texture’ even though they obviously knew well the prelude in question.

It is encouraging to see some budding composers creating some good melodies and exercises at this level. It is hoped they will continue to the higher grades where they may hone and develop those skills.

Grade 7 Musicianship

Many candidates did not have the necessary background in creative writing, harmony, two- and four-part foundations to build on the requirements of the syllabus at this level. The ability to relate aural skills to writing of harmony and counterpoint was frequently not explored.

Knowledge of Instruments and their qualities as well as analysis of Set works could be more clearly expressed. Handwriting was at times difficult to decipher. Some managed to impart a sense of structure in Melodic invention with logical modulation that was impressive.

A general comprehension of sonata form in terms of its components and history often required further investigation to be convincing.

Grade 8 Musicianship

Aural

The standard of preparation for the aural test was generally very high.

Written

In Melody writing the word setting was well done on the whole, with some very interesting ideas on display. Be aware that modulation needs time to settle to be convincing, though most were able to handle multiple modulations here without too much trouble. Choice of key is important, as one should always look to express the meaning of the text within the musical setting.

Set works were very well prepared, with candidates being able to quote important ideas from both works.

History was mostly well done, especially section A. The longer answer required for section B was more difficult to fulfil, and needed names of specific works by way of example.

A sophisticated level of understanding is expected in Four-part harmony here, but this was not always evident. Sometimes a candidate will try to do too much in a short passage of the music in an attempt to show what they can do. This often results in an overly complex setting that hides the true harmonic underpinning, which in itself was often incorrect. The best answers were able to show a good sense of the underlying harmonic grammar, adding more advanced techniques that vary and enhance this rather than blur and detract.

Two-part writing was generally disappointing. The combination of harmony and counterpoint in free imitation is a difficult task, and as well as some odd harmonic interpretations there were many problems with dissonance treatment and resolution in particular. Interaction between the two parts needs to be balanced, and a sense of the build-up and release of tension needs to be managed carefully, particularly with regard to rhythmic combinations.

This is a higher-level examination, and while most of the questions were very well prepared, the standard of the harmony and two-part writing was generally lower than expected for this grade.

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