Tag Archives: tips & tricks

AMusTCL – Topics for Section B

Trinity LogoTaken from the past papers (2009 sample, 2010 and 2011 so far), here are a list of the topics which have been covered by previous essay questions in Section B: Stylistic Development – Set Works.

Schubert Symphony no 5 in Bb major

  • Relationship to music which came before and after
  • Treatment of sonata form
  • Chamber-like nature
  • Hallmarks of the classical symphony
  • Markers of later symphonic form

Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms

  • Novelty of orchestral features
  • Use of orchestration to provide colour
  • The setting of the text
  • Innovation in the music
  • Neo-classicism
  • Latin as a language choice

For details of the full questions, the past papers can be purchased from Trinity. I have no insider knowledge, so this is by no means a guarantee that these topics will come up again. However, it should give an idea of what kind of areas to focus on in preparing.

I hope this is helpful if you are preparing for this exam. I’m hoping to get a resources post up soon with links to websites I’ve found useful.

Choosing an Instrument – A Practical Guide (Keyboard & Percussion Edition)

Perhaps singing isn’t for you? Or you feel your child is too young to start formal singing lessons? Maybe you just want to explore all your musical options? The first and most important reason for learning an instrument should be that you want to learn it, but even then, it’s good to think about practicalities too. Here’s some ups and downs of your keyboard and percussion instrument choices to help you out:

Piano handsKeyboards in general

+ Versatile skill with nearly all genres open to you
+ Teaches harmony and both bass and treble clef
– Not really a collaborative instrument, unless you want to accompany
– Mostly very expensive
– Rarely able to take and play your own instrument at any venue


PianoPiano – Really, it needs no introduction. The Pianoforte, child of the classical age, has become central to Western music.

+ Most versatile instrument around
+ Often need some piano skills for higher level musical study
+ Makes learning theory much easier as uses bass and treble clef and introduces harmony
o Digital pianos have the facility to plug in headphones
– Very slow to start with, taking a long time to get to Grade 1
– Complicated as requires multiple notes to be played together


Organ – Technically a woodwind instrument, the organ one of the older keyboard instruments usually found inhabiting churches and concert halls.

+ Amazing sounding instrument with fantastic repertoire
+ Great employment opportunities in churches as organists are thin on the ground
– Very difficult to get going as a beginner, some teachers will only take students with piano experience
– Usually have to practice in a church, as small home electronic organs are expensive


KeyboardKeyboard – The cool cousin of the piano, keyboards generally make use of a range of electronic synthesising functions as well as playing the keys.

+ Easier to play than the piano
+ Quicker to access popular repertoire
+ Cheaper than a piano to buy
– Doesn’t give the depth of skills that piano lessons will
– Limited range of styles


Percussion

 

Percussion in General

+ Great for anyone with anger or frustration problems
+ Some can be a really good workout
– Not cheap to buy
– Very noisy for the neighbours


Drum Kit – The zenith of percussion’s evolution – a collection of things to hit that all make sounds that work together

+ Great for getting rid of frustration
+ Really good workout
+ Widely used in popular music
o Moderately expensive at £280 upwards
– Where notation is used, it’s usually kit notation, rather than standard staff notation
– Very noisy, even with pads, and electric kits are a poor substitute for regular practice with a full acoustic kid
– Not remotely melodic, so can be dull to practice
– Not very portable, so often have to use what’s at the venue


TimpaniTimpani & Orchestral Percussion – A bit of a hotch-potch category, as orchestral percussionists usually have to be able to play everything from the timpani to the triangle, sleighbells to cannons (in the 1812 Overture, anyway…)

+ unusual instrument, so in demand for group music
+ great for anyone who wants variety
o although individual items may be cheap, it’s not cheap to build up a collection
– often very dull in orchestral music
– limited solo repertoire
– sometimes uses unconventional notation
– timpani are difficult to have and store at home
– can be hard to find a teacher


GlockenspielTuned Percussion – think glockenspiel, xylophone and the like.

+ hardly anyone plays
+ more interesting than most other kinds of percussion
+ reasonably good number of solo parts and pieces
o each one is not too expensive, but buying several can add up
– can be hard to find a teacher


 

So there you have it, a quick run down of the main members of the keyboard and percussion family. There are, of course, many other keyboards such as the harpsichord, clavichord and more, but most people who move into early keyboard instruments start out on the piano. Percussion is almost unlimited, but most people train in either kit or orchestral.

Still confused? Click some of the links below for more options, or have a look at this handy flowchart from Sinfini Music.

[Woodwind] ♦ [Strings] ♦ [Brass] ♦ [Why take singing lessons?]

Choosing an Instrument – A Practical Guide (Brass Edition)

Perhaps singing isn’t for you? Or you feel your child is too young to start formal singing lessons? Maybe you just want to explore all your musical options? The first and most important reason for learning an instrument should be that you want to learn it, but even then, it’s good to think about practicalities too. Here’s some ups and downs of your brass instrument choices to help you out:

Brass-instrumentsBrass in general

+ Wide range of styles
+ Less popular than other woodwind, and so more opportunities for collaboration
+ Less ‘mechanical’ than other woodwind as they’re essentially just a tube
– Difficult to get to the stage of really playing melodies
– Fingering on all instruments is difficult
– Can be quite grim due to all the spit
– All are very expensive


TrumpetTrumpet – The highest pitched brass instrument, the trumpet can be heard everywhere from the Messiah to sounding the Last Post

+ Regularly gets to play the tune so a great selection of music
+ At the cheaper end of brass instruments at around £200-300
+ Can be used with a mute for practicing so less awful for the neighbours
– Very difficult to get going as a beginner
– Loudest instrument in the orchestra requiring accuracy and control
– Transposing instrument


Trombone – For the more adventurous, the trombone uses a slider to change pitch.

+ It slides in a way the vast majority of instruments just can’t.
+ Not a transposing instrument
+ cheaper than other brass instruments at £200-£300
o Uses bass clef
– Much larger than some other brass instruments, awkward to carry, and gets in the way of the music/other instruments/everything when playing
– Not a very interesting role in orchestras – lots of 80 bars rest…


French HornFrench Horn – Works in a similar fashion to the trumpet, but not as high in pitch. Usually provides orchestral harmony.

+ unusual instrument, so in demand for group music
+ also offers a wide range of styles, though limited solo music
– often very dull in orchestral music
– limited solo repertoire
– transposing instrument
– not cheap at all, cost is easily £500 upwards


Tuba

Tuba – the big Daddy of the brass instruments, with a sound that could probably cause a mild earthquake

+ hardly anyone plays
+ not a transposing instrument
o uses bass clef
– very expensive, costing around £1000 plus
– very little solo music, and usually very dull bass parts or long rest periods


 

So there you have it, a quick run down of the main members of the brass family. There are, of course, many other options which include the didgeridoo, and the cornet, but most other brass instruments are very similar to one or more of the above.

Still confused? Click some of the links below for more options, or have a look at this handy flowchart from Sinfini Music.

[Woodwind] ♦ [Strings] ♦ [Other] ♦ [Why take singing lessons?]

Excercises for Beginners: Sirening

One of the very first exercises I do with a new student is sirening. It’s a great way to warm up your voice and start exercising, as well as a good way to me as a teacher find out a student’s basic range and diagnose problems.

Sirening is really simple. The safest way to try it is to make the sound “ng”, like the end of “ing”. You should be making a vocalised sound, but it’s mostly going through your nose rather than your mouth. Have a try! Take a nice deep breath (see my article on square breathing for tips on good breathing) and then sing the word “sing” and elongate the “ng” part at the end.

DownwardsArrowNext, sing onto the “ng” sound, and then drop the pitch down. Just relax and let it slide on down into your boots. You want the pitch to move just like the arrow to the right.

 

Once you’re happy, try going the other way and sliding up. You want a smooth slide up as high as you can go. Try to imagine you’re throwing your voice up to the sky.


Finally, put it all together. This time, you’re aiming to go as high up as you can and then as low as you possibly can. You want to go up and down a couple of times in each breath, going further and further each time:

That’s why it’s called the siren.

When you’re confident with the pattern, you can siren on different sounds. It works really well on “ah”.

I hope you’ve found this exercise fun and useful. For more help with exercises to help your singing, do look for a qualified teacher in your local area as they will be able to give you advice and training suited to your body and voice. If you’re based in the Edinburgh area, why not contact me?

Choosing an Instrument – A Practical Guide (Strings edition)

Perhaps singing isn’t for you? Or you feel your child is too young to start formal singing lessons? Maybe you just want to explore all your musical options? The first and most important reason for learning an instrument should be that you want to learn it, but even then, it’s good to think about practicalities too. Here’s some ups and downs of your string instrument choices to help you out:

Strings in general

Strings+ loads of opportunities for group music especially in orchestras
+ widest range genres other than for piano
+ no spit involved
o some don’t use conventional notation, but TAB or chords instead
– not the cheapest of instruments, and replacement strings etc can make it even pricier
– can be heavy to carry around


UkeleleUkulele – The latest fashion in classroom instruments, the ukulele has quite a following for something that is essentially a very tiny guitar

+ cheap for a string instrument at under £30 for a starter instrument
+ very easy to get going with simple chords
– not likely to encourage learning of notation
– usually only taught in large group lessons
– limited options for progressing past beginner level (exams are only offered by Victoria College)


ViolinViolin – The classicly popular cut-gut strung instrument. Sounds rather like you’re strangling said cat for a while in the beginning, but gets beautiful.

+ plenty of opportunities to play with others – orchestras need lots of them
+ wide range of styles from renaissance to modern as well as folk music for “fiddle” styles
+ great opportunities for young players through Suzuki method etc
+ uses conventional notation
o starter violins are reasonable to buy (around £100-150), but they quickly become pricey
– harder to get a good sound out of than woodwind and can be unpleasant to listen to
– needs a good ear, or training, to really be pitch accurate



Viola
– the butt of many a musical joke, the viola is an essential instrument in orchestras and string quartets.

Viola01

+ unusual instrument, so in demand for group music
+ also offers a wide range of styles, though limited solo music
+ uses conventional notation
– more expensive than the violin with entry level instruments around £50-£75 more
– challenging to start with, and needs a good ear for accuracy
– uses the alto clef which may be confusing to begin with
– teachers may be violinists doubling up


Cello – bigger, floor-resting stringed instrument with much lower, richer tone.

Cello+ often considered to have the most pleasant sound of all strings as similar in range to the human voice
+ good for group music, though less in demand than violins
+ has a good range of styles including plenty of solo music
+ uses conventional notation
– very expensive with outfits starting around £400-£500
– similar need to have good accuracy in pitch to other strings
– uses not only the bass clef, but switches to the tenor clef at times too


DoubleBass

Double Bass – the grandaddy of all strings, and a stalwart fixture in all kinds of music

+ an in demand instrument as not many people play
+ essential in a wide range of styles of group music
+ uses conventional notation, albeit bass clef
– very large and a pain to carry around
– expensive with outfits starting around £750+

– not terribly exciting roles in group music, and limited solo music
– teachers may be cellists doubling up


ClassicalGuitar

Classical guitar – not to be confused with acoustic guitar, classical guitar is the acoustics slightly geeky cousin. Uses plastic strings and is primarily plucked.

+ more interesting than the chord strumming of the acoustic guitar
+ reasonable in cost to buy starting at under £100
+ uses conventional notation
– not terribly cool
– primarily a solo instrument
– not a popular choice, so teachers may be harder to come by


AcousticGuitarAcoustic guitar – the hip relative of the classical guitar, the acoustic uses metal rather than plastic strings and is generally strummed as well as plucked

+ the height of cool in instrument terms
+ reasonable starting cost of £100 upwards
– doesn’t teach conventional notation as primarily uses leadsheets, TAB or aural learning
– limited range of genres


Electric GuitarElectric guitar – the out-there rock and roll dude of the string family. Uses the plucking techniques of the classical guitar combined with modern amplification to produce face-melting solos

+ coolest of them all
+ use of an amp means it can be practiced with headphones
– more expensive than most guitars, and an amp is required as well so you’re looking at £200+
– doesn’t teach conventional notation
– limited range of genres of music
– not very useful as a solo instrument – much better in a band


BassGuitarBass guitar – if the classical is the geeky cousin, the acoustic the hippy and the electric the wild child, the bass guitar is the slightly dim but solid one

+ simple to play most things (though I am assured being a really good bassist is hard!)
+ use of an amp means it can be practiced with headphones
– more expensive than most guitars, and an amp is required as well so you’re looking at £200+
– doesn’t teach conventional notation
– limited range of genres of music
– can be very dull to play as not really a solo instrument


So there you have it, a quick run down of the main members of the string family. There are, of course, many other options which include the harp, and the viol, but they are substantially more unusual.

Still confused? Click some of the links below for more options, or have a look at this handy flowchart from Sinfini Music.

[Woodwind] ♦ [Brass] ♦ [Other] ♦ [Why take singing lessons?]

Choosing an Instrument – A Practical Guide (Woodwind edition)

Perhaps singing isn’t for you? Or you feel your child is too young to start formal singing lessons? Maybe you just want to explore all your musical options? The first and most important reason for learning an instrument should be that you want to learn it, but even then, it’s good to think about practicalities too. Here’s some ups and downs of your woodwind choices to help you out:

Woodwind Instrument PileWoodwind in general:

+ many among the cheaper instruments
+ easy to learn to play
+ smaller to carry around
– lots of spit involved – though not as much as brass
– not many of each one in orchestras (one flute, thirty violins…)


RecorderRecorder – simple wooden or plastic wind instrument with a range of about two octaves. Popular during the Renaissance period, but has since dwindled in popularity as an orchestral instrument. Comes in four sizes, but most start with the descant.

+ cheap to buy – a starter recorder will cost under a tenner (though nice wooden ones cost a lot more)
+ very easy to get sound out of and start playing melodies
+ helps with learning to read notation
– sounds an octave above the notated pitch so can be, uh, piercing
– limited options for progressing past beginner level as not many teachers specialise in recorder


elkhart-100fl-fluteFlute – metal instrument played in the same fashion as a milk bottle (broadly speaking!). Popular orchestral instrument throughout history, and considered a good instrument for young musicians to learn. Has smaller and larger versions for the adventurous.

+ light and easy to carry
+ quick to get playing real melodies
+ teaches notation
+ opportunities for collaborative playing
o moderately expensive at around £150
– doesn’t teach multiple clefs or harmony
– very popular, but not many needed in orchestras


ClarinetClarinet – originally wooden, but now plastic single reed instrument (reed vibrates against the body of the instrument rather than another reed). Used in orchestras since Mozart.

+ light and easy to carry
+ quick to get playing real melodies
+ teaches notation
+ opportunities for collaborative playing, including more styles than the flute
o moderately expensive at around £150
– transposing instrument, so it sounds differently to the notes on the stave – can result in some tricky keys for group playing
– doesn’t teach multiple clefs or harmony
– very popular, but not many needed in orchestras or bands
– noisier than a flute and prone to random squawks


SaxophoneSaxophone – newer metal instrument, appears in the later romantic period, and not used in most orchestral music. Comes in a range of sizes – most start with the alto sax

+ quick to get playing real melodies
+ teaches notation
+ opportunities for collaborative playing
+ transferable skills to/from the clarinet
o limited styles of music
– quite expensive at £280 upwards
– very popular, but not many needed in orchestras or bands
– on the nosier side


Oboe – the first of the double reed instruments (two reeds vibrating against each other). Popular in orchestras throughout history. Has older siblings in the form of the Cor Anglais and Bassoon.

+ unusual choice, so lots of options for collaborative playing
+ wide range of styles and genres of music
+ teaches notation
+ opportunities for collaborative playing
– difficult to play as double reeds are hard to get sound from and require strong lungs
– reeds break easily and aren’t terribly cheap
– very expensive at £700+
– very loud as it has no ability to be muted for practice


BassoonBassoon – also a double reed instrument, the bigger brother of the oboe. Popular in orchestras throughout history.

+ very unusual choice, so lots of options for collaborative playing
+ wide range of styles and genres of music
+ teaches notation, including bass clef
+ opportunities for collaborative playing
o young children may need to start on a mini bassoon
– difficult to play as double reeds are hard to get sound from and require strong lungs
– harder to find teachers for
– reeds break easily and aren’t terribly cheap
– very expensive at £1000+
– not a very wide range of solo music
– very loud as it has no ability to be muted for practice


Bagpipes – ancient traditional instrument popular in celtic countries. Not generally used in orchestral music.

+ engages with traditional culture
+ variety of sources of income, such as playing for weddings etc
+ practice chanter means it’s actually pretty neighbour-friendly to practice
o finding a teacher may be difficult depending on location
– expensive with a good set costing around £400 (and the costume to go with can cost much the same if not more!)
– double reed instrument in the UK, so has the associated challenges including the need for strong lungs
– limited range of musical genres (you’re scuppered if you like Mozart…)
not tuned to equal temperament so can sound jarring to modern ears


So there you have it, a quick run down of the main members of the woodwind family. There are, of course, many other options which include many traditional instruments like the ocarina and the tin whistle. However, there aren’t many teachers for the ocarina. Victorian College do offer exams in the subject though!

Still confused? Click some of the links below for more options, or have a look at this handy flowchart from Sinfini Music.

[Strings] ♦ [Brass] ♦ [Other] ♦ [Why take singing lessons?]

Singing Through the Summer

It’s school holidays from this week, up in slightly sunny Scotland, and it won’t be long before the schools are off in England too. That means lots of music teachers are on holiday too. Some teachers take the whole summer off and most of us will take a couple of weeks.

So, how do you survive the summer as a music student? Here are some of my favourite things to do to keep myself motivated without weekly lessons.

1. Read some books about music

As things quiet down over the summer, it’s a great time to pick up a book about music. If you’re off on holiday yourself, a good book is a must to pack into your suitcase. Join your local library to get books for free. If you’re under 16 (mainly aged 4 to 11), you can also join in the national summer reading challenge at your local library and get rewarded for reading!

There are loads of choices for all ages. You could pick up a composer biography, a book on the history of musical styles, or one about instruments. What about a scientific book about how music works, or one on the psychology and neuroscience of how music works? Amazon even has a selection of classic texts on music available free in kindle format.

I’m just compiling my reading list for this summer (more later in the week), but in the meantime, check out my book recommendations page.

2. Head out to a concert or festival

Music happens all year round, but in the summer it’s usually mild enough that musicians venture outdoors. There’s a huge range of outdoor concerts that take place throughout the summer, from national events like Proms in the Park, to the bandstand in your local park. Keep an eye on national sites like The List as well as your local listings for opportunities, especially family friendly ones with the option to picnic while you listen.

For the more adventurous, summer is the time for festivals. Urban festivals often showcase local talent, while weekend events in fields give a more intense and cosmopolitan environment. These aren’t the cheapest option, but often offer a wider variety of styles of music. I’ll be reporting back from Greenbelt later in the summer which offers a huge range from classical opera to punk rock all on the same site.

If you really can’t find anything locally, check out coverage on the BBC of the various music festivals from Glastonbury (last weekend) through to Leeds and Reading (at the end of August). They also broadcast lots of concerts from the Proms on radio and TV.

3. Make some music with others

I nearly titled this one “take part in a concert” and I would definitely recommend that as one of your considerations. If you have a local festival, why not consider participating? It might be too late for this year, but you could use your summer to plan for next year.

If you’ve got some more free time over the summer, why not touch base with some musical friends and get together to play? You could even head for the park and make music outside, or try busking (check out your local council’s by-laws before setting up just anywhere). Making music with others challenges all kinds of skills like sight-reading and aural perception, and it’s loads of fun. I love getting together with my duet partner to rehearse new songs.

4. Take part in a summer school

Summer schools for music come in all shapes and sizes for all ages and abilities. Local events are often short and affordable. Come-and-sing events often crop up over the summer, as do workshops for kids run by local music groups. I was lucky, as a teen, to take part in summer workshops with a local opera society, for example. Non-residential summer schools are often run in vacant school buildings for local kids, while boarding schools often host residential weeks for more advanced children.

For adults, the range goes even further with Conservatoires opening their doors to a wider audience. There are also many residential events, some of which involve travelling overseas to French country lodges or Mediterranean hotels. You can get a taste of what is on offer here.

5. Set Yourself a Challenge

Why not set yourself a challenge? Your teacher might have left you a list of things to do, but if you’ve got some extra time (especially if you’re on school holidays) why not set yourself something totally different to do? The summer break is a great way to hit the T of SMART by making your challenge one which is “time-bound”.

You could set a goal of learning anything from a single song you don’t know up to a whole song cycle. I’m toying with learning all the mezzo arias from the Messiah as my musical challenge while my teacher is on holiday for a month.

To take a different angle, why not consider the challenge of composing something? Set a favourite poem to music, or muck around on an instrument (anything from piano to recorder) and write down a melody all of your own.

6. Think about what you want to do by next summer

Maybe you need to take some time to refocus on what you want out of music lessons. We can often get stuck in one track in music, like getting from one grade exam to the next without really thinking about why we’re doing exams. It’s important to think about what you’d like to do in the future and summer is a great time for blue skies thinking (well, on the three days when the skies are actually blue anyway!).

Think about what you’ve achieved up till now. Is it what you’ve wanted to do? Are you happy with all of it? What would you change?

Then think about what you’d like to do in five or ten years with music. Do you want to go to conservatoire, or be a teacher? Do you want to sing in amateur musicals? Or just to be able to sing to your kids?

I try to spend time with my students at the end of the summer talking about what we’ve achieved and where we’re going together. Watch out for more on this later in the summer.

7. Don’t stop singing!

Whatever you do, don’t stop singing all together. Just as when you stop exercising for a month, going back to the gym is unpleasant to say the last, so if you don’t sing over the summer, your voice will get out of condition! So keep singing. Even if you’re on holiday on a Spanish island, do your warm-ups in the shower to keep your vocal chords in check! Remember, too, that just like athletes, singers need to be wise about things like drinking too much and sleeping too little…

 

All in all, though, have a great summer and enjoy taking a more relaxed approach to music for a few weeks. If you’ve got any of your own tips as to what to do over the summer, why not comment below with your ideas.

Theory Exam Top Tips

With the ABRSM (and other boards’) theory exams only weeks away, I thought now would be a good time to offer up some of my top tips for revising for the exam, and then for what to do in the exam room.

What to do BEFORE the exam

Too many books!Revision is a word which strikes fear into the heart of anyone who has ever sat a written exam, but thankfully music theory exams are not revision heavy. If you’ve worked carefully through whichever materials your teacher has given you to use, you should know all the information and have a good idea how to attempt the questions which will be on the paper by this stage (three weeks before the exam). In the last few weeks, here are my top suggestions:

  • Practice taking the exam – Complete at least one exam paper under the same conditions you would have in the exam. Find some space away from distractions and go for it. Going through the paper like this will show up anywhere you have serious problems, and help you get an idea of which questions you’re confident on, and which you’re not.
  • Work on learning the vocabulary – While the list of terms for ABRSM is so extensive that no one remembers all of them, even a small amount of time spent working on the terms tested means a) you have a better chance you’ll know the answer to that question, b) you’ll have more choices for the “compose a melody” question and c) you’ll know more terms when you come across them in music. Click here to access my Quizlet page for ABRSM exam vocabulary (I hope to get a Trinity one up soon).
  • Get familiar with symbols – Make sure you know what all the symbols which might be used up to Grade 5 mean. You need to be ok with naming ornaments, phrasing and articulation marks and a selection of other things. Mymusictheory.com has some great flash quizzes to help with revision.
  • Practice drawing a piano – it’s really useful to be able to map out a piano keyboard on the top of your working paper in the exam. Click here for a visual guide.
  • Make sure you are sure about cadences and chords – not only will this make the chord identification question guaranteed marks, but it will help you with the underpinning of your “compose a melody”. Practice working out what the triads are for I, IV and V in any key. Practice creating melodies over these chords. I hope to put up some information about this in the future, but you can get some great advice over at mymusictheory.com in the meantime.
  • Know your orchestra – just like with the chords and cadances, knowing the vital statistics (range, phrase markings, clef, family) for standard orchestral instruments means both marks on the question direcly testing this, and more marks on the “compose a melody” question. Again, mymusictheory.com has some great information. In future, you can also check out my resources pages for more revision tools.
  • Decide if you’re doing the “compose a melody” for instrument or voice – it might seem like a good idea to wait and see what’s there, but, in reality, it’s much better to pick one and put all the effort into that question rather than dividing your energy over the two.

Revision is best done little by little, so carve out ten minutes a day in the weeks leading up to the exam to revise. If you can rope in a friend or family member, they can test you on vocabulary, ornaments and the instruments of the orchestra. Don’t forget on the day to make sure you have a couple of pencils, a sharpener, a ruler and a good quality rubber/eraser with you. Leave anything with musical images at home.

What to do IN the exam

2B or Not 2B PencilsI always advise my candidates to tackle the exam in this order:

  1. Read the whole paper cover to cover. Make a note of anything that looks tricker than expected, or super easy.
  2. Turn next to the compose a melody question. It’s the part most candidates are most worried about, so tackling it first gets it out of the way while you’re fresh. Decide which one you’re doing in advance, to take off some of the pressure on the day. Do the question using the method you’ve practiced at home.
  3. Go back to the rest of the paper. You can tackle the questions in any order, though I usually then go for the score reading question as a break from the technical work and then do the rest in the order it’s printed.
  4. Attempt every question. A blank space cannot be awarded any marks, but if you make an educated guess there’s a chance you’ll have the right one.
  5. Once you’ve written an answer for everything on the paper, go back to the compose a melody. Hum it through in your head, try to imagine how it sounds. If there’s anything that sounds awkward, you can change it. Only do this if you are really sure, though. Make sure you’ve put in appropriate tempo markings, volume markings, phrasing, articulation and ornaments. Check you’ve written everything neatly and there’s no ambiguity as to what note you’re writing.
  6. Go back to the front cover of your paper. Read through every answer you’ve given and check you’re happy with it. Take a final look at your compose a melody as part of this.
  7. If you feel content you’ve given the best answers you can under the circumstances, it’s time to hand in your paper and head out of the room.

This shouldn’t take you more than the time allowed (it’s very generous), but if you are finding you’re taking almost all the time, make sure that when you see there’s 20 minutes left, you stop writing and move on to the checking stages. Give yourself around 10 minutes for stage 5 and 10 for stage 6.

What to do AFTER the exam

  • Piano hands

    Image from Robert Couse-Baker on flickr

    Do something nice for yourself. Get coffee, or cake, or just chill out at home.

  • Try not to worry about what you wrote – it’s ok to look up the answers to questions when you get home if that will help you to let go, but don’t do it if you’ll just be more worried.
  • Remember why you’re doing this – it’s because you love music, and want to play your instrument well. Treat yourself to some fun practice time, playing the music you love.

Good luck, everyone. I know you can do it! If you have any more tips, why not comment below, and I’ll add the best ones into the post.