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Examiners' Reports: August 2013 Musicianship

Grade 1 Musicianship

This paper presented few problems to the candidates.

The Pitch question on naming notes and adding clefs was satisfactory; in writing notes some did not note that the question required notes to be written above the staff, or that the tenor B below middle C could be regarded as above the bass staff.

Keys and scales was less well done. Writing key signatures was mostly correct, but writing scales attracted a variety of answers. Although clearly set out in respect of individual requirements, the scales were often incorrect in some respects. In the last part of that question, most were successful in nominating scale degree numbers.

Intervals: naming of intervals was mostly correct, as was writing intervals, due to the fact that accidentals were optional. In writing Triads a number of answers did not include triads, or simply gave tonic notes.

The Rhythm of the given line of poetry proved challenging, and more than one option could be regarded as a satisfactory scansion of the text. Writing Time signatures was fairly well done, but once again completion of a bar with rests rather than notes proved difficult for some. Many used a minim rest to complete a bar of 3/4 and some obviously were not familiar with the use of the semibreve rest for a whole bar of rest.

Transposition was obviously not easy for some, and the need to write at the same pitch escaped notice in a number of papers. Some wrote two octaves below. The use of leger lines for this answer may have been intimidating.

The recognition of English meanings of Italian Terms was mostly correct, although andante elicited a variety of interpretations. The meaning of allegretto was also a challenge, and the recognition of opportunity of a tie over a barline was missed by some.

Grade 2 Musicianship

Keys and scales was answered well, generally. Errors mostly seemed to come from not reading the question carefully. Common problems included: marking semitones rather than tones and inaccurate key signatures and some candidates wrote triads instead of scale degrees. The leading note required a natural, often omitted.

Writing Intervals by number was usually correct, whereas writing intervals by quality created problems for some. Accidentals were often omitted.

The raised 3rd for C minor V triad in the Chord question was often omitted. Key signatures were usually accurate and keys and triads were generally secure.

In the Time and rhythm question, many candidates gave incorrect groupings of rests but time signatures were generally well recognised.

Adding notes to complete the timing of the bar elicited such common errors as ignoring the anacrusis when calculating the final note value, and writing rests instead of notes when the bar concerned already contained rests. Generally the time signature chart presented no problems.

Most candidates carried out the Transposition task without problem.

For Rhythmic invention, many candidates accented the first syllable of ‘away’ and ‘along’ and relatively few candidates were able to find a suitable rhythmic pattern in 6/8 time. This was especially disappointing in cases where a successful accent plan in part A was completely ignored when constructing part B’s rhythmic pattern.

In Terms and general knowledge, a number of candidates seemed not to understand the term ‘relationship’ when referring to a new key and the original key. Terms were mostly well known.

Grade 3 Musicianship

For the Keys and scales questions, most candidates scored full marks for writing the scale but the writing of scale degrees posed a number of problems including misplacing key signatures, and writing triads or intervals instead of a single scale degree. Writing and naming intervals was generally well done but inverting and then naming the inversion elicited a mixed response. Both tasks (ie writing the inversion and then naming it) had to be correct for the 2 marks allotted to each question.  Another problem came with placing the minor second correctly, particularly knowing where to write the flat sign.

The majority of candidates were able to recognise the Triads and their positions. In writing the minor triad, however, the leading note was often omitted or incorrect; conversely most candidates were able to correctly write the major triad. However, many had problems with the Cadence question and errors included: writing the wrong cadence; omitting the leading note in the minor cadence; spelling of chords; and grammatical errors, particularly large distances between parts.

Time and rhythm caused the most problems and few candidates were able to gain full marks.

Completing the bar with the correct rests in the correct order was little understood and as with the interval inversion question, each answer needed to be correct for the 3 marks allotted to each part of the question. In the second part of the question, accents, grouping and beaming were the issues. Interestingly, many candidates tried to make their answers as complex as possible.

Overall, the Rhythmic invention question was well done, most candidates scoring full marks for an adequate rhythmic setting.  The Melody writing, however, elicited various responses, the majority of which had many faults and no candidate gained full marks for this question. Common faults included: simply writing a scale-up, scale-down melody; leaping about; leaping up to the leading note; setting the first section in a low register and the second in a high register so there was no sense of continuity and no climax; repeating notes for no real reason. Melodies need to have a smooth contour and a sense of direction. The anacrusis posed problems and was best as the dominant, moving down to the tonic to secure the tonality. It should be noted that phrasing is not required for this question and those who put phrase marks did so incorrectly. However, no marks were lost. Note too, that writing the melody in a key other than that specified, led to a loss of 50% of the mark.

In the Terms and general knowledge questions, most were able to correctly recognise and define da capo but when it came to naming the form, did not apply this knowledge to the given melody and incorrectly named ‘binary.’ To correctly mark a sequence, two brackets should be used as shown and the two parts of the sequence follow one another. Please realise that the instructions ‘Name’ and ‘Explain’ are different. This led to many candidates simply naming M.M but not explaining the sign. Many and varied were the responses to defining the terms, and candidates should refer to the AMEB syllabus for the correct definition of terms for this grade.

Note that Music Craft terminology is acceptable for musicianship and theory but not the reverse.

Grade 4 Musicianship

Aural section

Most candidates performed well in this section, most marks being lost in the Time and rhythm question.

Written section

Again, many candidates fared very well, most marks lost through carelessness and failure to check work closely.

As is often the case, the weakest topic was Melody writing. It was often very apparent that candidates were working to a formula and not hearing what they were writing. Hence some very angular and repetitive shapes that did not lend themselves at all well to singing.

Not reading the question properly also caused some loss of marks, especially in Scale questions and Form and history. A common error was when the character of the gigue was required, and copious answers lost marks because they described everything but.

Overall, a fair paper which most managed well.

Grade 5 Musicianship

This level of musicianship is a pre-requisite for the AMusA level. The overall standard was disappointing, particularly in the areas of melody writing and harmony.

Aural section

The question on Scales, notes, and cadences were quite reliable, the main weakness was the position of the triads. First and second inversions were written in reverse.

In the Rhythm question the 9/8 time signature often written as 6/8 and sometimes 3/8. The rhythmic dictation was very good. A few students used an anacrusis which then caused the bar lines to be misplaced.

A reliable section on the Composers which were almost 100% correct. Recognising the section in the Set works was not always accurate. Most students received six out of nine for this question.

Written section

The question on Lied was generally well prepared; however, there were some vague answers regarding the question on accompaniment.

The Scale questions were good; some incorrect accidentals written for the melodic minor scale.

The Instrument question was thoroughly prepared. However, there was a slight problem with the double bass compass, the top note written not always correct, and some students misread the question and wrote the tunings for this instrument.

Melody writing was a very disappointing section. Numerous students did not know how to construct an 8-bar melody shaping the melody to the words of the poem. Time and key signatures were written in reverse, with phrases omitted (marks deducted) the tonality was also very vague for the selected key.

The Harmony section also revealed very little understanding. Interrupted and perfect cadences were incorrectly resolved, the ‘1c’ chord overlooked at the final cadence. The remaining bass line was scattered with many 2nd inversion bass notes, and at times contained 7th leaps. The second part of this section was much more reliable, with a more satisfactory choice of chords.

Questions on History were well prepared. The area of development was misread regarding thematic material, keys and instruments, and these were omitted. The Vagabond question needed the introduction only. Many students discussed the song as a whole.

Grade 6 Musicianship

Aural section

Pitch – most candidates did well here. Melody dictation was the only part of the question which caused problems, and even then low marks were rare. Most candidates also did well in the Rhythm question.

In the Set works question, many candidates misunderstood the terms ‘work’ and ‘section’, so they gave (for example):

Written section

In the Form and history section, only three lines were given on the exam paper to describe three distinguishing features of the piano writing of Debussy or Chopin. So, there was no room for anything but specific details. Too many candidates produced generalisations without really answering the question.

The question on chamber music was generally well answered, though misconceptions sometimes showed (eg ‘chamber music is never performed in a concert hall’).

Almost all candidates answered the Woodwind instruments question well, although the written range of the Bb clarinet caused some problems.

Far too often the Melody writing question produced settings ill-fitting the words. The longer third line of the poem caused many candidates to engage upon extended melodies which often possessed little musical logic or balance. Many candidates did not mark the phrasing, as requested, so lost marks.

In the Four-part harmony question, many candidates did not display the expected harmonic skills needed at this level to add SAT parts to the given bass. The soprano part was not always well constructed, ensuring problems in the overall harmonisation.

Chord selection was often bizarre, and 6/4 chords appeared in places where they were inappropriate. Cadence points were not always harmonised strongly and simply. The overuse of passing notes and auxiliary notes created errors at times.

Overall, good workings of this question were rare.

Even rarer were satisfactory answers to the Two-part question. Many candidates produced a bass part which needed alto and tenor parts above it to make harmonic sense. Students need to think horizontally rather than vertically, and find melodic patterns which balance and enhance the given part. Too often there was no evident harmonic plan, so the LH part wandered along without a path to follow.

In the Set works question, many candidates could not identify the given Brahms theme and for the question asking how Brahms created contrast between the 1st and 2nd subjects, many candidates wrote generally about the music, but never got to grips with the specifics of the question. The section on Debussy elicited a wide range of responses, showing varying familiarity with the Préludes.

Grade 7 Musicianship

Aural section

In the aural paper, the most errors occurred in the inversions of triads and the melodic dictation. Rhythm was generally completed more accurately than pitch. The one-beat unit of a dotted quaver and three semiquavers in 6/8 was often beamed incorrectly, an error which is unexpected at this level. In the Set works questions, candidates must be specific about listing important aspects of orchestration. Strings and woodwind, for example, are used in both works and it is not uncommon for the first violin to have the melody. Candidates should be aware, too, at this level, that secondary lines may be played by second violins not violas.

Written section

There were many issues in the Melody writing question. The given opening sets a style which must be ‘continued’, to use the wording of the question. The subsequent phrases should adopt motives in pitch and rhythm as well as frequency of cadences, use of anacruses and the like from this given opening. Numerous candidates also had issues with accidentals in modulations and melodic minor. It is also important to give the melody a sense of direction with a climax and logical melodic contour.

In the Two-part writing, again the added part often seemed unmelodious, sounding more like a harmony part than a second melodic instrumental line. Most candidates took the hint of the given opening and its use of imitation but few continued to use imitation. The best workings made good use of the long notes to form cadences in the keys of modulation.

There were many basic errors in the Harmony question: consecutives, part crossing, unresolved chordal and scalic sevenths, unprepared dissonances, parts out of range, over an octave between pairs of upper voices, and so on. Modulations were often unsuccessful, full of errors in accidentals in particular, or ignored.

Questions relating to the Brass instruments, while generally well answered, many candidates ignored the use of the hand in muting the horn and the use of tenor clef in tenor trombone writing. In the History questions, numerous candidates missed the main role of the development section of a sonata movement work: to interpret the subjects. Definitions of the concert overture often lacked discussion of the form. Set works questions included the need to be specific when placing a theme in the context of a movement. With the paragraph answers, candidates needed to answer fully, addressing all parts of the questions which were very specific. Answers that ‘padded’ without stating facts tended to score poorly.

Generally, basics of harmony and counterpoint need to be well inculcated when tackling examinations at this high level.

Grade 8 Musicianship

Aural section

The aural paper was mostly well handled. The melody dictation was the most challenging part of the paper, with not only pitch but rhythmic issues causing some confusion. Preceding chords to cadences was another difficult area.

Written section

In the written paper, the given stanza for Melody writing was full of potential, though little was made of the word painting opportunities. At this level some correlation between the meaning of the text and the musical setting is expected. Modulation is a requirement, and should also be employed in a way that is sensitive to the text.

The Set works questions were mostly well answered, although quotes from the set works were not always well chosen in terms of illustrating the points raised in the answers given.  History was well prepared.

The Harmony question generally represents the greatest challenge for most, requiring diligence in technique and a good sense of musical phrase, cadence and modulation. Candidates should aim to display proficiency in all of the harmonic resources available for the grade, though not without sensitivity towards suitable placement.

In the Two-part writing,the use of alto clef for the upper part seemed problematic and perhaps affected the quality of answers on the whole. Modulations not always understood, and the integration of the given melodic patterns with the underlying harmony proved too great a challenge for some.

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