Monday, 30 November 2015

Grade 6 result

So got the percentage mark for my Grade 6 theory result it was a respectable pass 72% but way short of a merit so glad to have passed but slightly disappointed the mark wasn't higher. I will know in 2 weeks just what the breakdown in marks was and round about the end of January ABRSM  will publish the 2014 papers along with the model answers. So I will be able to learn from the experience

Grade 7 next depending on how it goes I will try and do it in June but at least by November of Next year

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Grade 6 Music Theory Debrief

Well yesterday I braved the gloomy Fog of Edinburgh and went to the darkest frontier of Sighthill to sit my grade 6 Music theory exam. I think it went reasonably well although there were one or two tricky bits. The exam consists of 5 sections and I had prepared myself by working through quite a few past papers upto 2014 over the past year or so. Also with the help of Victoria Williams my  music theory website and Udemy videos

A hint for those doing Udemy courses if you invest in one  then practically every week they will have course offers between £8 and £15 pounds. For grade 6 I did the Grade 6 melody course and the Figured bass course. Definitely worth investing in if you are contemplating doing the Grade 6 exam

So to the exam itself there are 5 questions

1 Given a melody can you work out an appropriate chord sequence or alternatively given the start of a melody with figured bass can you complete it.

I had got into the habit of doing the first question. To start with it is usual to start a melody with either an anacrusis leading onto the tonic chord or just usually the tonic chord so the first chord is either the tonic (Ia or ia) or if an anacrusis is used (Va-1a)

Usually the piece  ends with a perfect cadence (Va-Ia) if the melody ends with a descending scale figure ending on the tonic of the piece then it is possible to use the cadential 6-4 formula (Ic-Va-Ia)
So that is usually 3 or 4 chords that you can write down almost automatically.

The rest of the chords are worked out by first writing each possible chord that would fit (at this level there are only 3 that would work) and seeing if a logical sequence can be fitted in
 For example if in the middle of the piece 3 notes form a descending scale passage leading to the tonic then a good fit is a sequence in the opposite direction ascending upwards

Suppose we have (in the key of C major) the notes E D C then in the bass we would have C D E and the chords would be Ia -viiob - Ib or vice versa if the melody was ascending

Then it is usually possible to find a sequence which follows part of the circle of 5th's progression namely


So to some extent this question is a bit like a Sudoku puzzle you have certain clues and you have to fill in the rest of the grid. There are certain rules which one must follow, Never have the bass line or any of the other lines move in parallel fifths or parallel octaves with each other, So if the soprano line is G and you have chosen to use the tonic chord C if the next note in the soprano line is A do not make the note in the bass line D (a ii chord) One way to avoid this as far as possible is to ensure for the most part that the bass line moves in contrary motion to the soprano line.

Also never double the third of a major triad and a few other rules all explained brilliantly by Victoria Williams in her notes, sticking to these and learning a few basic chord progressions, usually gets you through. For this question you don't have to fill in the actual chords but just give the letters. One thing I find helpful in these exercises is to fill in the bass line making sure it doesn't give rise to parallel fifths or octaves with the Soprano line. If I were doing a full harmonisation I would always write the bass line first. Then fill in the other notes. One thing that is slightly odd about the ABRSM exam is that you can only label the chords by their letters or fill in the notes, So if you do leave the bass line in you will get marked down, So you end up rubbing out the bass line. A bit pointless in my opinion

The actual question worked out OK I think but I was a bit repetitive using far more Tonic and Dominant chords than I would normally expect to and also repeating the Ia-viib-Ib chord progression twice, I'll wait and see what the examiner thinks,

The second question was figured bass a topic which can be quite confusing but again explained brilliantly by Victoria in her notes and video. This is even more like a Sudoku puzzle in that the figures on the bass line tell the arranger or accompanist the type of chord to use, So example if there are no figures underneath the chord then the chord is in root position, If the note has a 6 below it is in first inversion and finally if it has 6-4 then it is in second inversion

Thus if the bass note were C with no figures under it would mean a chord of C major in root position C - E -G. If a figure of 6 were below it would be an A minor chord (A-C-E) in first inversion i.e with the note C as the bass note. Finally if 6-4 were the figures under the note then it would be the F major chord (FAC) in second inversion. Also there may be an accidental included. So the first thing to do is to work out which notes the figures are telling you to use. After this is done write out a soprano line which is interesting again trying for contrary motion with the bass line as much as possible and again making sure that the third of a major triad is not used.

Then comes a slightly trickier part filling in the Alto and tenor parts making sure that there are no parallel fifths or octaves between all 4 of the other parts. The only way to fully check this is to systematically work out the intervals between all the other parts. In the context of exam pressure this is really quite a tedious exercise to say the least. I generally trust to judgement and intuition hoping that provided I have no parallel fifths  or octaves between the Bass and Soprano lines no others will creep in. Generally speaking provided the alto and tenor parts just move to the nearest available note in the next chord then things should work out, But I have in my practice been known to let the odd parallel fifth creep in. I suspect the same would happen here. In order to make the Soprano part a bit more interesting then it is possible to fill in gaps with quavers so that suppose in the soprano part you had a descent from D to B then make the D a quaver and put in another quaver before the B.

The question was slightly odd in that there were quite a few quavers in the bass line needing a different chord. However provided I got the correct notes and didn't have to many parallel fifths or octaves then I should be OK (fingers crossed anyway)

The third question is to complete a melody of which the first few bars are given again Victoria explains how to go about doing this very well in her Grade 6 video. This often involves a modulation in the last few bars. If you plan out in advance the key points then it helps give a structure. Generally speaking a melody will have 8 - 10 bars and will move from the tonic chord to an imperfect cadence V on the 4th bar and then back to the tonic of either the same key if there is no modulation or to the new key. So again the first note of the 4th bar will be a note which fits the Vth of the given key and the last note will be the tonic of whatever key you have ended up with.

The examiner is looking for you to take what ever is given and use it again with some possible variations in rhythm. I generally try and sequence the second bar in the third bar by raising it up a tone and ensuring a movement by step to the dominant note in the first half of the 4th bar. Then using a logical sequence such as the circle of fifths to get to the modulation section usually with an inversion of the movement in the first phrase so if the first phrase has an ascending passage I will have a descending passage in the second phrase, If there is a large upwards movement then will have downwards leap and so forth finally if there is a modulation ending with a pivot chord from the old key to the new key and then V7-I in the new key. Where in the penultimate bar or half bar the notes of the new key are emphasised.

The question was a bit odd in that it involved a rapid scale like figure occupying 4 hemi-semi quavers and also a modulation from a minor key to the dominant of that minor key. Also despite being in 6/8 time the harmony of the second bar was static just oscillating about 1 note. The modulation caused me a bit of trouble but I managed to scrape something together hopefully it will be enough to get me through,

The last two questions are usually a bit more straightforward than the first 3 and I usually do them first to get them out of the way. They involve asking questions about 2 extracts of music the first one being a piece for piano or with piano and another instrument or voice. and the second a short orchestral extract.

In these questions you are generally asked to identify various chords and intervals the meaning  of certain terms such as Etwas Geschwind (Somewhat agitated, which I was before the exam), Also can you spot certain things such as a triad in first inversion and so forth.

The orchestral score question usually involves asking you transpose the music written out for horns in F or clarinets in Bb to how they would actually sound. If a horn in F plays what is notated as C it actually sounds like F so  you would transpose down a 5th,(7 semitones), Similarly for clarinets in Bb a notated C sounds like Bb  you transpose down a 2nd (2 semitones). So the easiest way to do this is to write out the notes of the chromatic scale of C major and underneath write out the notes of F major underneath it for horns in F or Bb for clarinets. Then write out explicitly the notes for each part as given and then under them the corresponding transposed notes. This can be a bit time consuming, also and I never got the hang of  this, if the original note has a flat attached do you transpose with the original note or with a sharp instead. Technically the notes would sound the same so Db is equivalent to C# but an interval with either C# or Db would have a different name. Thus Db - A is a 5th but C# - A is a 6th. As the interval questions on the orchestral score often involves one of the transposing instruments. It's not clear whether or not after you have made the correct transposition that you will get the correct interval

Anyway that was that I think I got most of the last two questions correct and hopefully will have done OK on the first 3. We'll just have to see. I await the examiners report with interest.

Next year provided everything went reasonably well I hope to do grade 7. For now upto Xmas I need to focus on my statistics course.

If you took the grade 6 exam or anyother grade theory exam I hope it went well for you as well

As a final comment it may seem to the average person that this approach takes the creativity out of music. However just as physicists or mathematicians can be creative within the context of a given framework (i,e the laws of physics or axioms of mathematics) so in music the laws of harmony provide a framework whereby some one can be creative. Of course if you are a Mozart or Beethoven then you can use the framework to construct quite different types of  pieces but the idea that is often floated that composers don't use the laws of harmony but just write whatever comes into their head is quite a misconception. They will usually have an idea of a melody either by picking notes out on a piano or something that they hear in their head, But those fragments will be developed into complete pieces only by following a given structure. I find it quite remarkable that provided you follow the basic laws of harmony and form you can write down a competent piece of music and that this craft can be taught.