There are four tests at this grade:

Note: The Grade 8 ABRSM aural tests are very similar in concept to the Grade 7 aural tests, but need slightly more advanced musical skills.

8A – Repeat the lowest part of a three part melody, played twice

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'. Listen carefully to these because a feel for the pulse and tonality will help you to remember the lowest part. You have to follow the lowest part and then repeat it, like an echo.

You may sing any sound, such as 'Lah lah' or you could hum or whistle if you prefer. You also have the choice of playing the lowest part on your instrument. If you choose to play instead of sing, the examiner will, of course, tell you the key chord and starting note for your instrument.

How do I hear the lowest part?

Given a choice, we tend to focus on the higher notes rather than lower ones and, generally, we are more used to listening to a higher melody with a lower accompanying part. However, like most skills, hearing a lower part becomes easier with practice.

When you listen to music, begin to focus on the accompanying parts much more. You can do this with almost any kind of music but you may find it much easier to hear an underneath part when it is played by a different instrument, such as in the example here, Roar sung by Katy Perry. It is quite easy to hear the long bass notes in the instrumentation of this recording – practise singing those notes as you listen.

Name the cadence 

You will listen to the next phrase in the 8A piece, say what cadence it ends with and then name the last three chords.

Cadence recognition at Grades 6 and 7 included just perfect, imperfect and interrupted so this is the first time you might have to identify a plagal cadence.

What is a plagal cadence?

A plagal cadence is chord IV followed by chord I, for example:

  • In the key of C major – the subdominant chord, F major followed by the tonic chord, C major.
  • In the key of C minor – the subdominant chord, F minor followed by the tonic chord, C minor.

A plagal cadence sounds as if the music has finished. It often used to be described as the sound of 'Amen' in Christian religious music, but this is not much help if you don't sing or listen to that kind of music!

Instead it is more helpful to listen to lots of examples and remember the sound. A plagal cadence is not quite so decisive as a perfect cadence because you do not hear the leading note (7th note of the scale) in chord IV. The final chord, however, is the same as in the perfect cadence, chord I.

Name the last three chords at the cadence point

To name the last three chords, first decide on the final two chords – if you said it was an interrupted cadence then you know the last two chords must be V – VI. Then decide what the first of the three chords might be.
Some chord combinations are more common than others, for example VI – IV – 1 (as in the example) is often used, whereas Chord Ic – Chord IV – Chord I would be unlikely and III – IV – I is not an option. If in doubt, take an informed guess.

8B – Sing the lower part of a two–part phrase from the score, while the upper part is played

You have to sing a melody from a printed score while the examiner plays an upper part. You will hear the key chord, starting note and pulse first then you will have a short time to prepare. When you look through the test, notice any easy scale patterns and try out the leaps in pitch.

You begin singing after, again, hearing the key chord, starting note and a two–bar count–in. Don’t wait for the piano part to lead – begin as confidently as possible, aiming to keep a steady pulse and a sense of key.

This test may feel challenging if you have never sung from a score before, but the key to improving is simply to practise doing it. Joining a choir that sings from printed music is of tremendous benefit. The E–MusicMaestro Aural Tests Training programme offers examples for you to try out, with lots of help beforehand with pitching intervals.

8C – Describe two modulations

Listen to a two different pieces of music, played once, and say whether each one has modulated to the dominant key, the subdominant key, relative major key or relative minor key.

What does modulation mean in music?

Modulation is when the music moves from one key, such as F major, to a different key, such as C major.

Music generally moves to a 'related' key. Related keys are :

  • a key which has one more, or one less, sharp in the key signature
  • a key which has one more, or one less, flat
  • the relative major key or relative minor key, in which case the key signature will be the same but the change will be from major to minor or from minor to major (at Grade 8 ABRSM the examples may begin in a major key or in a minor key).

What does modulation sound like?

There are various ways of identifying the new key, for instance some people try to hold onto the original key note by humming it, then compare it with the new key note. You would need to be good at identifying intervals to do this.

A more musical way of deciding which key the music has modulated to might be:

  • To the dominant key eg C major to G major – listen for the 'brightening' effect of the added sharp. The impression is similar to that of an imperfect cadence, but stronger.
  • To the subdominant key eg C major to F major – listen for the 'downward' effect of the added flat. The impression is a little like that of a perfect or plagal cadence.
  • To the relative minor – simply listen out for a change from major to minor tonality.
  • To the relative major – listen out for a change from minor to major tonality.

8D – Listen to a piece of music and then describe the musical features

You will listen to a short piece played on the piano and then describe what you hear. You could describe any of the following:

  • Texture
  • Tempo (and tempo changes)
  • Tonality
  • Time signature
  • Articulation
  • Dynamics
  • Character
  • Structure
  • Style and Period

Make a mental checklist of all the features you could listen out for, maybe using formula such as the first letter of each element above:

The examiner does not ask you questions but could prompt you if you need help.

Don't be afraid to start by stating the obvious, such as saying that the piece was very loud throughout, as the things you notice could help you to decide on the character and the style and period.

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