Many a theory student has reached the dizzy heights of passing ABRSM Grade 5 theory and thought ‘I’m enjoying this, why not do more?’, only to fall at the first hurdle by buying the wrong materials to learn with.
If you, or someone you know, would like to take ABRSM Grade 6 theory, here are my tips and book recommendations:
- The exam format changes dramatically from grade 5 to grade 6, and many say it’s the largest leap. Have a browse through a past paper at a music shop to familiarise yourself with where you’re going.
- Allow plenty of time to study for it – I would recommend at least a year.
- Start with more general workbooks on harmony before trying to tackle the exams. This is not an exam which is simply regurgitating facts any more!
- Listen to plenty of music, and get to know more about styles and composers as this will help with the score-reading questions.
- Make time for learning musical terms and instrumental names throughout your studies.
- If in doubt, find a teacher. You are best to look for someone who specialises in theory at advanced level, so use a resource like ISM’s musican directory to ensure you’re going to someone who knows their stuff.
- Harmony is Fun (Maureen Cox & Claire Liddel) is your best starting point. Although these books don’t look like much, they review all the core harmony content from Grade 1-5, and then introduce more advanced building blocks with fun illustrations which will help you remember Mother chord, and Father chord for many years to come. Link is to the Boosey & Hawkes shop listing for the first book.
- Harmony in Practice (Anna Butterworth) is a mighty tome, and can appear both dense and dull on first reading. It is kinda both. However, you will never forget how to write out all the chords you might ever need since there are extensive practice exercises. Answer book is sold separately. Link is to Amazon listing.
- Practice in Music Theory (Josephine Koh) provides the best ‘graded’ introduction to the skills required to pass the exam itself. These books work through the new harmonic vocabulary and key concepts before seamlessly moving onto tasks which echo the exam questions. There is one book for each grade, and the link here is to Grade 6 on Musicroom.
- My Music Theory.com isn’t a book, although you can buy their lessons as a pdf, which sort of counts. They do, however, provide a careful introduction through the theoretical concepts leading towards the exam questions int he same way as Practice in Music Theory. Well worth using, though there’s nothing for 7 and 8 yet. Link is direct to the grade 6 page.
- Theory Workbook (ABRSM) gives a more exam-direct approach with each question as encountered on the exam itself being broken down into manageable steps. The authors work the questions slowly and methodically from start to finish, with working shown at each stage and then a selection of examples to practice. Again, there is one book for each level and the link is to Musicroom.
- AB Guide to Music Theory (Part I & Part II) (Eric Taylor) are recommended reading for all theory exams. The information contained in Part I covers up to grade 5, and is recommended as a reference book from the start. Part II goes on to cover useful information like the names of instruments in multiple languages, which is required at grade 6 and above.
Hopefully, I will add to this list over time, but if you have any suggestions of things you’ve used and found helpful, please let me know!