Subscribe now

Keep up to date with current news and important information about AMEB (NSW) and examinations by clicking here

Examiners' Reports: August 2013 Theory

Grade 1 Theory

In questions of Pitch it should be remembered that while we say or write in words ‘F sharp’, in written music, we put the accidental before the note. The accidental does not require ledger lines but must be in the appropriate line or space of the note to which it refers. Many candidates wrote the ascending form of the pattern of tones and semitones in a major scale when the scale descended. Scale degree numbers should be written as cardinals while intervals should be written as ordinals.

In Rhythm questions, many candidates made errors with the grouping of rests, although identifying the time signature in a melody was mostly well done. The questions should be read closely to ascertain details such as completing the bar with just one note, or writing a pitch above the staff.

In the Transposition exercise it was the small errors where many candidates lost marks: omitting the time signature or double barline, omitting the dot on a note, or writing the key and time signatures in the incorrect order. Candidates should ensure the transposed melody has exactly the same rhythm as the original, and note the question’s instructions as to transposing up or down.

With Terms and signs, candidates should note the differences between those meaning ‘soft’ and ‘gradually becoming softer’, or ‘immediately slower’ and ‘gradually becoming slower’, or ‘fast and lively’ and ‘very fast’, for example. Care should be taken as to the placement of staccato dots and ties above or below the note as appropriate. Again, candidates must read the questions carefully, noting details such as the direction to make only the crotchets of a bar staccato.

Grade 2 Theory

Overall, the majority of papers showed an extremely competent standard. Keys, scales and intervals were wellknown; however, the Transposition posed problems for quite a few. The main reason for loss of marks in this question in particular was in not reading the requirements. The question asked for transposition down, and many candidates went up. The question said down to E minor, several had differing opinions on E minor, even though they had correctly identified E minor in a previous question. Another question requested the scale of D minor descending. Many went ascending. The Creative word setting question asked for a line in front of each accented word. Many put ticks over and under and in several cases very vague signs.Another point to watch is candidates who use a very faint pencil. It is difficult to give a mark if the answer is indecipherable. But, having said this, as stated earlier, overall many gained high marks.

Grade 3 Theory

It was pleasing to note that so many candidates gained high marks, thereby acquiring a sound knowledge of the basic principles underlying notational practices used in music today.

The question on Keys and scales was mostly well answered. Marks were deducted for omitted or incorrect accidentals, tones or semitones. In the question on Intervals, errors were made in the quality (major, minor or perfect) rather than the size of the interval. Some candidates lost marks trying to circle a perfect fourth between non-consecutive notes.

The question regarding Chords and cadences was well managed by a good number of candidates while for others marks were deducted for incorrect note values and key signatures, omission of the raised seventh leading note in triads and cadences (minor keys), incorrect position (triads) and incorrect style (cadences). The Time and rhythm question was mostly well answered although in a number of cases confusion emerged between simple and compound times and how to complete certain beats with notes or rests in the correct order.

It was pleasing to observe that the question on Transposition was well handled in most cases. Attention to detail was thorough, but there was some confusion about how to deal with the accidentals. Some candidates felt the need to add an extra D sharp to the melody in bar 7, not realising that the melody contained the descending form of the melodic minor scale. No marks were deducted for this. The Creative section of the paper (a choice of rhythm or melody), yielded many appropriate rhythms although some candidates found it hard to distinguish between strong and weak accents.

Many melodies revealed a secure sense of key and shapely phrases while others needed to establish a sense of D major early in the melody to avoid vagueness of key. Omitting phrase marks was a fairly common error for which marks were deducted.

In the question on Terms and general knowledge the melody for study was in rondo form and section C of the rondo began with an anacrusis in bar twelve observed by many candidates but overlooked by others. Marking the sequence appeared to prove confusing for some candidates who did not appear to understand that the sequential patterns need to sit side by side (bar three). Many candidates lost marks because the definition of terms was not precise or the meaning (including the function) was not made clear (eg in explaining Maelzel’s metronome).

Grade 4 Theory

Students were very well prepared for this examination, with many achieving full marks for questions on keys and scales, intervals, transposition and general knowledge.

Responses to Creative writing were generally disappointing. The majority of candidates elected to compose a melody to the given rhythm, but used it to write little more than scales or triadic arpeggios, frequently with a range of five or six notes, and only venturing to the octave for the last note of the penultimate bar.  Those who wrote a melody to the couplet were only slightly more adventurous, again remaining mostly within a limited range and with little variation in rhythm.

For Keys and scales, there were occasional errors confusing semitone slurs for tone slurs and vice versa in the first two sections.  Obsolete notation for the bass clef is no longer accepted, but there were few mistakes in writing key signatures.  Some candidates mistook the scale in the last part of the question, for major or melodic minor.

The most common error in Intervals was in inverting the intervals and then describing them, [both tasks had to be correct for the mark] but there were also some slips in naming intervals, and in writing intervals above the given notes.

Mistakes in the Time and rhythm questions included labelling the time 3/2 instead of 6/4 in the first section and adding rests throughout the second section. Candidates tend to write a crotchet rest after a quaver in compound time instead of two quaver rests.  Students need to be reminded that they must complete the beat correctly. There was also difficulty counting the number of beats required in compound quadruple time. In the third section, some students put a barline in the middle of the tie and some did not read the direction to create four bars.  Marks are deducted if students write time signatures as fractions.

The first part of the Chords and harmony question puzzled some students who did not realise the answer was simply Chord IV, in first inversion. The most common fault in cadences, was not to raise the leading note in chord V of F minor and to use ii-V, resulting in an augmented 2nd.  It was surprising how many students left out the key signatures or wrote the wrong cadence. 

Correct voice leading is critical in this whole question and it is most important for students to learn to move smoothly from one chord to the next.  Errors in writing five bars of harmony in vocal style, almost always included intervals of augmented 2nds and 4ths and 5ths, or diminished 5ths not resolved correctly. Possible interrupted cadences in bars 2 and 4 were not always recognised, nor the plagal cadence in the final bar. Frequent mistakes included consecutive octaves and fifths, more than an octave between soprano and alto and between alto and tenor, the 3rd omitted from chords, overlaps between alto and tenor or bass and tenor. The supertonic chord in minor, being a diminished chord, should be avoided, while the mediant chord is augmented and should similarly not be used except in specific cases in first inversion. The final two bars were often written as V-I-IV-I: the penultimate bar should not comprise a perfect cadence, and the final cadence should not be immediately preceded by its second chord.

Whilst the Transposition question looked substantial, it was in fact handled well by the vast majority of candidates with very few errors in notation. Mistakes with accidentals mostly comprised wrongly raising the leading note in the descending arpeggio, and inserting flats. Students should take note of the interval they are transposing, and not simply change an accidental, which affects two intervals. A large percentage of the mark was lost when students began the transposition on a degree of the scale other than the mediant, so while the pattern of notes was correct, most – and sometimes all – the intervals and accidentals were not. There were errors with key signatures, and a few students transposed into C minor instead of C# minor.

Modulation and general knowledge, held few problems for most students. Some looked at the first note of the melody in the modulation section and decided that was the key, rather than taking note of the raised 7ths. Others did not identify the dance in Section B as a gigue. The tempo of the Gavotte was often not correctly answered and the expected form for the dances of the suite simply required the answer ‘Binary’. The questions on String instruments usually achieved full marks.

Grade 5 Theory

In the Keys and scales question, many left out the full description of the scale (ie the answer required ‘harmonic minor’).

For Harmony, the choice of chords and grammatical errors limited many responses. ‘Make use of unaccented passing notes and auxiliary notes’ was confusing to many; also use of prescribed progressions was not taken advantage appropriately. Some consecutive 5ths and 8ves were caused by passing notes. Overall texture was often sparse.

Although the modulations were recognised, the accidentals were frequently overlooked when harmonising the Cadences in that particular question.

In the Instruments question, explaining the ‘break’ was a challenge to many. Similarly describing the tone of the oboe showed a limited comprehension.

In the Form question, the score of a minuet and trio was provided but many did not recognise keys and modulations and found differences that were not relevant. Naming scherzo distinguishing features was not always pertinent.

The remainder of the question on form elicited much writing but not all of it made sense and was often difficult to read. Essays are not expected at this level. Few recognised the contrapuntal style in the Handel Variations.

Grade 6 Theory

In the Four-part harmony question, many answers were lacking in the use of suspensions, and in use of the dominant seventh and its inversions. With regard to the newly available resources for the grade, candidates should seek to demonstrate proficiency in technique and musical sensitivity as to suitable placement. The modulation to the dominant was recognised by most, though not always successfully established (usually due to weak cadential areas and/or missing accidentals). Quite a few candidates still seemed unsure of the correct usage of second inversions.

The best answers in the Two-part writing showed a mature sense of the underlying harmonic progression, phrasing, and cadence as well as good melodic invention. The worst answers seemed to be based on little more than the progression of intervals, showing little regard for the harmonic implications of the given part. The application of accidentals in the modulating passages was often poor – sometimes resulting in dissonant clashes. Harmonic progressions in the pivot areas were also generally weak. Most candidates would do well to study further in the proper handling of dissonance.

Modulation is compulsory in the Creative question – substantial marks were deducted for non-modulating answers. It is also expected that a modulating melody will end in the tonic key. When setting words, make sure the musical phrasing matches the poetic phrase, and all necessary word-slurs have been added. The second option here of continuing the given opening unearthed many a formulaic approach, some of which were extremely repetitive and not very creative. It can be a good idea to repeat figures for the sake of unity, but a balance between repetition and variety must be observed or else monotony is the result.

The Set works questions were mostly well answered, though candidates would be well advised to read the wording of the questions very carefully, noting all aspects to be discussed in order to address the question satisfactorily and without irrelevant padding.

Again the Form question was mostly well answered. The table of tempi/form for the movements of the Classical Symphony required information for the first three movements only, which confused some who gave details more akin to the three-movement concerto.

Identifying Instruments from the given score was problematic, with a majority mistaking horns for trumpets. Elsewhere, the answers were quite good, though descriptions of sound production on the tuba were sometimes deficient, failing to mention any sort of vibration necessary (lips/air) to make a sound.

Grade 7 Theory

The Harmony and counterpoint paper (Section I) was not well done in this session. Many basic errors occurred in the harmony writing, often to do with the use of dissonance. Chordal sevenths were unprepared and unresolved. Odd choices of chromatic alterations were employed, sometimes resulting in weak cadences. Modulations are not always correctly diagnosed. Choral thirds and leading notes need careful handling with regard to doubling.

The Counterpoint and Accompaniment writing questions similarly suffered from misdiagnosis of implied harmony with weak cadences and odd chromaticism. In the accompaniment there were some very odd modulations which were inconsistently applied. Remember: open fifths need special handling in two parts.

Generally speaking, the basics of chord choice need to be well inculcated before attempting writing at this level where modulation is frequent and expected.

No candidates sat for Section II in this session.

top ↑