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Examiners' Reports: August 2011 Theory

Grade 1 Theory

It was pleasing to observe so many candidates gaining high marks in their First Grade theory examination, reflecting careful preparation.

The questions on Pitch were mostly well handled, but the importance of position and shape of clefs, accidentals and key signatures needs to be carefully studied.

In the questions on Keys and scales, some candidates were uncertain of the pattern of tones and semitones. Others confused the term ‘accidental’ with ‘key signature’. When writing scale degree numbers, most candidates chose to number the tonic note as 1 or 8 which was marked correct but one over eight in small numbers written as a fraction was not correct. No marks were deducted for carets placed above the numbers.

The question on Intervals and chords was mostly well answered. Ordinal numbers (eg 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc) are used to name intervals but no marks were deducted for the use of cardinal numbers (eg 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc). Some candidates confused ‘tonic triad’ with ‘tonic note’ and did not write the full triad.

In the questions on Time and rhythm the main error in completing the bar with rests lay in writing rests in the incorrect order. Also the shape and placement of crotchet rests needs to be carefully studied. However, no marks were deducted if the correct rests were chosen. Some candidates confused the minim and semibreve rest. The completion of the bars with notes and time signatures was well answered.

For the question on Transposition, some candidates omitted the key signature or did not place it after the clef. Some candidates transposed down instead of up, and others lost marks by transposing into some other key or making pitch errors.

In the questions on Terms and signs, many candidates obtained full marks as the answers were precise and according to the syllabus. The placement of staccato dots at the note heads was not always accurate but no marks were lost provided the dots were clearly indicated. Some candidates confused decrescendo with rallentando.

Grade 2 Theory

Intervals and scales were well known and correctly answered. Time and rhythm caught a few people out, mainly on the mathematical side ie. not counting correctly. The Transposition question was very well done, and few miscalculated. Some went up a tenth instead of just a third which, although correct from a key point of view (F major), made it difficult for the candidate (multiple leger lines).

Many students did lose quite a few marks through not reading the questions properly, eg. the Creative question stated ‘put an upright line in front’ etc. Many put ticks on top or underneath or used two different signs Another question was to add three notes to complete the bars; one, two and four notes were quite often used.

Another area that lost a few marks was the use of a very faint pencil. This made reading the answer very difficult, or a note placed on a stave which could be on a line or space. Indeterminate notation also makes it difficult to assess.

However, many gained high marks and are on a good path towards Grade 3.

Grade 3 Theory

Generally candidates completed the paper well. Often marks were lost when not all parts of the question were answered. Candidates must also endeavour to be very clear with note heads and accidentals.

When marking tones in Scales, the augmented second in a harmonic minor scale is not a tone. Technical terms should be used. Musicians refer to a ‘unison’, not a ‘1st’. Likewise, grouping is an important part of the way scores are written. When note values are correctly grouped it makes performance, and especially sight-reading, much simpler.  Many candidates fell down in their Grouping of notes and rests. Again, many candidates erroneously thought 3/8 to be a compound Time signature.

In the Transposition exercise, while most candidates achieved most of the correct notes, again the setting out was often incorrect.  In this exercise it is important to change the direction of any note stems as appropriate after transposition.

In the Creative exercise, when writing a rhythmic pattern for the words, the stresses in the words and rhythm should agree. Words of more than one syllable must be divided with hyphens and their multiple notes unslurred. In the Melody writing, a number of candidates used an appropriate harmonic structure for their melody, but then presented a series of arpeggios. This does not constitute a pleasing melody which will use a combination of steps and leaps. The leaps should not be awkward or ungainly. Alternatively, many candidates used multiple repeated notes which, when not used to creative special effect, will tend to harm the flow of a melody. A good melody will have an appropriate melodic contour with a sense of climax and direction. Many candidates omitted the phrasing.

In Terms and general knowledge, candidates should be aware that 8va refers to playing notes an octave above where written. 8vb is used for an octave below. Opus can refer to a group of works or a singular one. Again, setting out is important and when marking the sections of the form of a work, the letters should be placed above the stave.  Marking sequences, the brackets should likewise be placed above the stave, as was directed in the question, but not universally followed.

Grade 4 Theory

Melody writing presented its usual share of problems, with the poor extremes either too scalic or too angular in shape. Repetition of notes/figures continues to hamper clear shape and sense of direction, and there is often a lack of awareness re the need to ensure clear cadential implications.

Keys and scales questions were generally well done but some candidates did not read 2B properly and omitted the semitones.

Rest groupings are still not understood by some, but generally questions requiring yes/no answers were successfully negotiated.

There were a few candidates who misunderstood the instruction to omit 5B (ii) – the second cadence question – and ignored the first cadence question as well. Unfortunately, this cost them 4 marks. Most used a good balance of root position and 1st inversion chords in the Harmonisation but consecutive and exposed 5ths and 8ves and incorrect spacing caused marks to be lost. Here, too, inappropriate chords at cadence points and an obvious inability to ‘hear’ what was written resulted in weak voice-leading and some very tenuous moments in the bass line.

Transposition was mostly well done with only a few moving in the wrong direction.

Terms and general knowledge exposed a few consistent problems eg when asked for the time signature of the Allemande, ‘simple quadruple’ is not acceptable. Candidates still seem to be having trouble interpreting the word ‘character’ as applied to dances of the suite. Form, rhythm, time signature etc. are not relevant. Examiners are looking for words such as lively, buoyant, sprightly etc. to earn the allocated marks.

In summary, there were few No Awards and most people earned a respectable Credit or above, with the highest mark being 99% .

Grade 5 Theory

On the whole this paper was well done. Many candidates scored full marks for the Scale questions, Intervals and the Modulation questions.

In the Harmony question a number of candidates did not understand issues of texture and fully harmonised all quavers in the given part. A study of harmonic rhythm would be useful here, as in rate of change in relation to the main beat of the bar ie. here as a crotchet. There is also a tendency to use 6/4 chords indiscriminately.

Many answered the Cadence questions well, the Bachian option being accepted for the final cadence. The protocol for interrupted cadence was not always followed.

Those who provided a word setting in the Melody question seemed to manage a good melody line better than the candidates completing the eight-bar melody. There needs to be an understanding of continuing in the given style and not introducing triplet and semiquaver movement extraneously. A minority attempted modulation. The question on Instruments was mostly answered well in Part A, but many candidates were unable to give the correct key signature and pitches for the clarinet in the extract. Many had difficulty in answering questions in the third section, especially in the question about the break.

In the first Form question, the operative word was 'describe'; many simply made a statement comprising four words. Some amplification was required to explain how variation in each mode was achieved. Questions on the scherzo were mostly well answered but minuet and trio attracted variable answers. Again a descriptive approach was required, not simply a statement. In the following section, the questions about recitativo secco were well answered by many students. While the final section attracted a number of good answers, many neglected to mention the use of the aria for vocal display in the da capo, and its use as a commentary on the action of the drama or a reflection on the emotional state of the character portrayed at that point. Most identified opera, oratorio and cantata as containing arias.

Grade 6 Theory

The Harmony question revealed a lack of understanding of some basic issues such as voice leading related to the leading note, spacing of chords, diminished triad treatment and inappropriate use of second inversions. There was not much evidence of a mature style using the resources of the grade, eg suspensions and unessential notes. Harmonic rhythm needs study as passing notes tended to be harmonised.

The two-part question offered some special challenges with the use of rests, an opening chord and much semiquaver movement. Tonality was also a challenge. Some sincere attempts were made, but few succeeded in producing a convincing answer.

The completion of a Melody attracted more answers, but few were really comfortable with maintaining the style given. The vocal range indicated by those completing the word setting showed a lack of understanding of reasonable limits. The use of slurs for lengthened syllables was not well managed. There are still a number who omit phrasing and do not follow the protocol of key signature on each line and time signature on first line only.

A comprehensive grasp of the first movement of the Eroica symphony was not much in evidence. Candidates need to refer to exact terms of the question. This is a demanding movement and does require close study of all aspects of its construction and musical nature. The significance of the Scotch snap eluded many candidates as signifying aspects of a military funeral march.

The details of the History questions were not always addressed. Some discussion of overture form was required and a number were unable to give an example. In the second part of that question there were a fair number of correct answers but references were not always focused on the eighteenth century with Haydn and Mozart. In the third part, there were sometimes references to a symphony instead of a piano work. A fair number of candidates answered this satisfactorily.

The questions on Brass instruments were on the whole well answered but the trumpet was not always identified as the B flat instrument.

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