Why do we have to do aural tests?

Aural training, sometimes called ear training, is essential to learning in music education because it helps students to develop their musical perception, memory, understanding and discrimination. Aural skills inform all aspects of musicianship, they help with the memorization of music and promote more stylish, convincing musical performances.

What are the differences between ABRSM and Trinity aural tests?

The two principal music performance examining boards in the UK are the ABRSM and Trinity College London. Both boards test candidates' aural awareness in addition to playing and singing.

Aural Tests are compulsory for ABRSM exams, but for Trinity College London exams, aural is one of two tests you will make from a choice of four at Grades 1–5: Sight Reading, Aural, Improvisation and Musical Knowledge. At Grades 6–8 the candidate must do Sight Reading but may then choose either Aural or Improvisation.

The format of the aural tests differs between ABRSM and Trinity in several respects. The two main differences are:

  • Trinity uses a single phrase or piece of music around which several questions are focused, whereas ABRSM uses different musical extracts within the same set of tests for a candidate.
  • ABSRM tests require some sung responses at each grade, whereas Trinity aural tests do not.

You can read our individual grades guides for a comparison of the ABRSM and Trinity aural tests at each grade.

What if I don't know the answer to a question in an exam?

It you don't know the answer to one of the aural test questions, such as 'Is this piece in 2 time or 3 time?' (as in Trinity Grade 1) it is worth having a guess because, in this case, you have a 50/50 chance of being right!

What if I lack confidence singing or clapping in an exam?

If you are unsure in the sort of test where you are asked to sing notes from a stave (as in ABRSM Grades 4 and 5) it is best to have a go because you will probably be able to get the notes partly right.

In tests where the examiner plays a phrase and you have to sing it back, as in ABRSM Grades 1–3, you should have a go – do not hesitate or you will remember even less. Some credit will be given for a mostly correct attempt. You could ask for the phrase to be repeated but it is reasonable to expect that this will be reflected in your mark.

It is never a good idea to decline to do a test. Some people are sensitive about singing, believing that they are no good at it, but this is not the time to be shy because if you do not respond you cannot expect to be awarded any mark at all for that particular part of the aural tests.

How do aural tests help students become better musicians?

Aural testing in exams promotes the development of aural skills because it encourages teachers to focus on them, and motivates students to improve their listening abilities. It is important to develop aural skills because they help musicians at all levels to become more discerning in the way they play, sing and listen to music.

A widely accepted theory of learning and perception is that discussing a concept promotes perception and understanding. Aural perception and musical understanding are both essential if an exam candidate is to play or sing well and gain their best possible marks.

As an example, an inexperienced music student will almost certainly begin playing the whole of a piece at the same dynamic level (loudness). Once her attention is drawn to variations between loud and quiet and she has the opportunity to talk about it, she begins to notice this more and more in music she listens to, particularly when the teacher demonstrates. She then starts to be able to apply it in her own playing, with the guidance of her teacher.

Good music teachers also make students aware of how the music they play is constructed, in other words they talk through how the piece or song begins and then explore what the composer did next with the musical material. Understanding the structure of music helps enormously with learning it and with remembering it securely. Part of developing aural skills is learning to listen with increasing understanding of the structure of music.

How do aural tests contribute to learning?

Promoting musical understanding and perception is the basis on which aural testing forms a part of most exams. Answering questions on how music is played and constructed necessitates prior preparation that will have helped to further the student's all-round musical development, producing even better results when performing.

The really important part of aural testing is the teaching and learning that goes before it. It is very important for students to have experienced listening to music with understanding, so teaching will ideally be based on verbal explanation as well as simply listening to lots of examples. Many students have music lessons that are too short for the teacher to fully cover this important aspect of learning and also it is the one thing that students cannot easily practise at home. This is the idea behind E-Music Maestro Aural Test Training, a web-based resource that teaches as well as tests musical perception and understanding and allows the student to practise at home. When using Aural Test Training students not only have the chance to test their musical perception, but also hear explanations as to why a particular answer is correct. They hear lots of examples and find out correct descriptions of what is happening in the music.

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