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Examiners' Reports: August 2012 Theory

Grade 1 Theory

Most candidates sitting for their first theory examination scored very well, displaying a good understanding of the syllabus material and sound preparation.

The Pitch section was generally well answered, with few candidates finding problems with the varying styles of the questions – naming notes, writing notes and clefs and completing a ‘yes or no’ chart.

In Keys and scales, key signatures were sometimes incorrect, with flat and sharp signs not matching the clef. Marking each tone of the scale with a slur was not always managed well, with quite a few candidates marking semitones instead of tones. The scale degree numbers question brought problems, with candidates generally getting either full marks or no marks at all. An initial error can so easily be compounded as the notes proceed. Candidates should check and double-check that they are using the right clef, and that the initial scale degree is correct.

The third question, on Intervals and chords, saw a recurring problem with writing intervals using leger lines, especially writing a B above a G in the treble clef. Sometimes no leger line was used, sometimes two were drawn. However, there were no other common errors in this section.

Reading the question carefully is always important, and in the Time and rhythm section many candidates lost marks by using one, three or four notes to complete a bar, rather than the ‘two notes’ specified. Similarly, the question asking for bars to be completed with quavers sometimes saw answers with crotchets, etc. Few candidates had trouble adding correct time signatures to the given rhythms.

Transposition saw a disappointing response overall, with many candidates who scored very well elsewhere in the paper finding major problems with this question. The interval of transposition was frequently miscalculated and sometimes the transposition was in the wrong direction. Again, this is an answer which deserves checking, double- and even triple-checking to ensure that the new key is being achieved correctly.

In the Terms and signs question most candidates scored well. Some found problems when asked to give the letter name of a note, usually giving the rhythm value instead. Quite a few candidates, when asked for the English meaning for certain signs, gave answers such as ‘crescendo’ or ‘rallentando’. Giving answers which accord with the syllabus is the best way to ensure full marks. A number of candidates appeared to know what various terms and signs meant, but could not find the right form of words to give an accurate answer.

Grade 2 Theory

There were many very successful candidates in this series, with quite a few scoring 100%.

In the Intervals question the main cause of lost marks was confusion regarding quality but low scores here were rare. Scales showed some confusion between tones and semitones, and the absence of the raised 7th in the minor scale was quite prevalent. Naming scales and writing key signatures were generally well answered, though.

Chords were mostly well managed, with the main cause of lost marks being clef confusion.

Most candidates were able to identify the correct Time signatures but the completion of the beat in compound duple time (a quaver given) was often erroneously effected with a crotchet rest.

Transposition was mostly well managed, but the new key signature was sometimes omitted and transposing in the wrong direction also resulted in lost marks. It is important to note the requirement of UPRIGHT lines in the marking of accented syllables in the creative rhythmic invention question as other methods can be vague and thus unacceptable. Several alternatives were also possible here.

Grade 3 Theory

Most candidates handled the Scale questions well, although it was not always understood that an accidental is always required on both the upper and lower tonic in scales requiring accidentals. Naming scales was mostly well answered.

Intervals were correct for the majority of candidates and the question requiring circling an interval within a melody was well understood.

Chords and cadences provided challenges for some. There was occasionally a resort to key signature rather than accidentals for writing triads. Cadence questions were well answered on the whole, although four-part vocal protocols were not always understood.

Time questions involving completion of bars, despite the ease of arrow indications, are still troublesome to a number of candidates. A misreading of ‘notes’ or ‘rests’ led to a loss of marks. Time signatures were mostly well recognised.

There were troubles with the Transposition question firstly in the matter of direction, and then in the reinterpretation of the accidentals. There was a considerable number of notes involved in answering this question, and success was quite varied here. Those who attempted the writing of the melody in the Creative question often ignored the direction regarding phrasing. Many need a better understanding of the harmonic basis of their melody. The rhythm-only section was all too often a repetition of the same rhythm from bar to bar, without recourse to slurring a syllable or the use of a dotted rhythm for variety. The preferred triple rhythm lends itself to this approach.

Most answered Range and terms questions well, although there are some who have little understanding of what interval might represent the normal vocal range. Very few were able to give the Italian ‘ottava’ and a surprising number seemed unfamiliar with the term ‘main gauche’. Most were successful in recognising Rondo form and the one sequence. Be very clear as to terminology e.g. TINARY is neither one thing, nor the other, and again causes problems in the marking. Most candidates did, however, know their English meanings quite reliably. Care needed to be taken with the direction of the accent sign as reversal resulted in lost marks.

Grade 4 Theory

In the Creative question, the majority of students preferred writing the melody to that of the song. However, a large number completed this question by arpeggios and scale passages, rather than true melodic construction. Those who did the word setting overall did nice work and knew about word stress.

The questions about Scales and Intervals posed little problem for most candidates.

Four-part SATB writing in most cases contained a large number of grammatical errors, such as tenor and bass in octaves. Consecutive fifths were also liberally pronounced. Many had the soprano far too high; several expected the trebles to take top As Bs and even top Ds. Several candidates decided to change the key. Not a good move.

Transposition was, in most cases, very well done. General Knowledge was fairly well known except for the string questions that had some quite inaccurate answers. However, most of these are small comments in the overall assessment, because a large proportion of candidates gained a total of 85 plus.

Grade 5 Theory

In the Keys and scales questions, the melodic minor form was the most problematic, with accidentals for the 6th and 7th degrees often misplaced or missing altogether. B flat melodic minor was often incorrectly identified, and it must be remembered that at this level either ‘melodic’ or ‘harmonic’ must be included in any answer involving the identification of a minor scale.

The double sharps and double flats caused problems for many in the Intervals question.

Quite a few unusual answers to the Modulation question (or parts thereof), due to either misreading the original tonic, or involving possibilities outside the closely related keys expected for the grade (and which did not apply to the music in any case).

The melody Harmonisation is one of the most challenging questions of this grade, and most answers contained various problems. The better answers were able to show a good understanding of functional harmony, building towards the cadences with judicious use of inversions to create a harmonically strong yet still quite melodic bass line, and maintain smooth voice leading in the inner parts. Improper use of second inversions was a serious problem for many, as was missing the opportunity for the cadential six-four or mishandling the resolution of the same when used. Consecutive 5ths and 8ves were unfortunately all too common, as was disjunct voice leading and overlapping.

Regarding the pianoforte style harmonisation of Cadences, a surprising number of candidates completed this in the wrong style (four-part vocal style) or attempted something different to both altogether. A significant mark deduction was applied for answers set in the wrong style. The question specifies all four types of cadence must be used, and this requirement was not always met. Modulation to related keys was not always recognised, and missing the necessary accidentals was a common error.

There were a lot of creative and very musical settings of the given poetry, by those candidates who chose to set the words in the Creative question, which was pleasing to see. The basics such as accents, understanding hyphenation and the application of rhythm (melismatic and syllabic treatment) proved the undoing for quite a few attempts. Continuation of a given opening: the better answers were able to continue in the same style of the given opening without too much repetition. Continuing with material that is too dissimilar to the opening is not advised. For both options, modulation was often attempted, and not always with good result. Modulations should really settle at the cadence to be well defined, and the return to tonic shouldn’t be left too late. Please note that in this style it is most definitely preferable to return to tonic rather than end in a different key altogether.

The questions on Instruments were mostly well answered.

In the Form question, many struggled to give 3 typical features of a Scherzo by Beethoven. Answers explaining Recitativo Secco too often forgot to explain the recitativo part of the term (a very common omission).

Grade 6 Theory

The level of preparation required for this examination should not be underestimated. Candidates need a clear understanding of chord progression and harmonic function. Answers to the Four-part harmony question were unsatisfactory, with few students using the resources available to this grade and many workings consisting almost entirely of the primary chords. It was also disappointing to see so many basic errors, such as consecutive octaves and fifths, incorrect use of second inversion chords, leading notes doubled, and chord vii used in root position. Few candidates recognised all the modulations, to D minor, C major and B flat major. While some papers included an occasional passing note, there were few suspensions or accented passing notes.

In the Two-part writing, similar issues regarding harmonic progression and modulation arose. Most candidates attempted to imitate the style of the given melody line, but the bass line frequently lacked direction, and crotchets, minims and rests were sometimes used, possibly in the absence of inspiration. Dissonance in two-part work needs extra care, since it is more exposed, and students should understand the implication of perfect 4th intervals with harmony notes.

Nearly all candidates chose to continue the given opening in the Creative question with acceptable results in most cases. However, there were some unusual modulations, from B minor to G major for instance, and not all students were aware that the first modulation should be completed by the end of the second phrase. Unfortunately, many melodies still consist of movement by step, travelling up and down the scale.

The questions on the Set work were mostly handled competently in the first section, but the second section did not seem to be well understood, with few candidates able to discuss how the orchestration affected the texture.

The majority of candidates did quite well answering the questions on Form, although it was surprising how many thought Lully was an eighteenth-century composer.

Similarly, the question on Instruments was mostly well answered, though very few knew the name of the highest register of the trumpet.

Grade 7 Theory

Section 1

In the Four-part harmonisation, it was disappointing to see basic errors, such as chords without the third, overlaps, consecutives, etc., still occurring at this level, and surprising that modulations and sequences were not always recognised. Candidates should strive for a musical melody line in the soprano.

The Two-part writing was handled better when the need for imitation of the style was understood. Resorting to bars of dotted crotchets in compound quadruple time when inspiration fails should be avoided.

The style of the Accompaniment to the violin solo was not always continued, though candidates outlined the basic harmony. Opportunities for creating interest in the accompaniment were missed by the use of long notes and rests.

Section 2

A superficial knowledge was displayed in the History question, with insufficient reference to works and a tendency to write everything known rather than answer the question.

The question on Structures was handled well, but Instruments needed more careful study.

The Orchestral music and Set works questions were again handled very generally, and answers should be far more specific at this level.

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