There are three tests at this grade:

Note: Grades 1–3 aural tests are similar in structure but the tests change to a different format at Grades 4 and 5

4A – Repeat a melody (echo singing)

You will hear a key chord and then a two-bar count-in, for example, 'One, two, One, two' or One, two, three, One, two, three'. Then you have to listen and sing back a phrase, like an echo. You may sing any sound (such as 'Lah lah' of 'Dah dah') or you could hum or whistle if you prefer. Aim to keep in time with the pulse (beat) of the music as well as singing the right notes. There is only one phrase to sing at Grade 4 but it is longer and a little more challenging to remember than the Grade 3 tests.

4B – Singing five notes from the score

You have to read the notes from a score in this test and sing them. You will be given the key chord and starting note first, which will be the tonic (the last note in the score will also be the tonic). The tonic is the 'home' note, such as C in a C major chord.

Sing slowly as this will give you time to think and also the examiner will be able to help you by playing the right note if you get a note wrong.

This test may feel challenging if you have never sung notes from a score before, but the key to improving is simply practising doing it. There are a limited number of ways of arranging only five notes one after the other, so if you practise a lot you will start to remember the patterns.

Treble clef or bass clef: Which should you choose?

Some of the ABRSM sung tests allow the candidate to choose the clef they prefer. Most girls and women will choose treble clef simply because the treble clef corresponds with their voice range and because treble clef is the most widely used clef for instruments. Some men and older boys will want to choose bass clef because they have low voices.

However you may choose whichever clef you are more comfortable with reading. If you are a girl who reads bass clef for playing the cello, you may prefer to read in bass clef but sing an octave higher. Similarly, if you are a man who reads treble clef for clarinet but you have a low voice, you could choose to read in treble clef but sing an octave lower.

4C – Listen and notice musical details and time recognition

First: Listen and notice musical details

You will listen to a short piece played on the piano. Afterwards you will be asked two questions.

One question will be about one of the following:

  • Whether the music is in a major key or a minor key.
  • Whether speed (tempo) of the music changed, or not.
  • Loud or quiet playing.
  • Smooth or detached notes.

These are rather like the questions you will have answered at Grades 1–3.

The second question will be about what in the music gives the piece its character. Musical Character means the way in which musical detail, such as tempo changes and loud or quiet playing, affects the mood of the music.

First decide what sort of character the music has and then think what in the music makes it sound this way. For instance, a piece that has a dreamy, gently character probably sounds that way because it is slow in pace and gentle in dynamics, or it might have an expressive tune with a flowing arpeggio accompaniment. It is not really enough to say that the notes and rhythms give the piece its character because all the pieces have notes and rhythms. You must be more specific.

Then: Clap the rhythm and time recognition

Once you have answered the questions you will hear a phrase from the same piece and clap the rhythm back. Rhythm is not the same as the pulse (beat), which you clapped at Grades 1–3. Whereas pulse stays constant (unless the actual speed of the music changes), rhythm patterns change often. While both pulse and rhythm can be clapped, it is only the rhythm that helps us to recognize a particular piece of music.

After you have clapped the rhythm you will say if the piece was in 2 time, 3 time or 4 time. It helps if you had decided on 2 time, 3 time or 4 when you first heard the piece to notice the musical details, but if you didn't make up your mind then, hearing the phrase to be clapped will help you.

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