There are four tests. At Grade 6 the pieces have a melody and an accompaniment:

6.1 – Time signature, dynamics, articulation

You will hear a short piece played twice on the piano. First identify the time signature, then describe the dynamics, then comment on the articulation.

Time signature

At Grade 6 you need to be able to tell the difference between 2/4 time, 3/4 time, 4/4 time and a type of 2 time called 6/8 time (or compound duple time). In 6/8 time the beats may easily be divided into two groups of 3, making it sound 'swingy'.

By the time you get to Grade 6 you will already have practised identifying all these time signatures but here's a recap:

Listen to this example in 2/4 time:

Listen to this example in 3/4 time:

Listen to this example in 6/8 time:

Listen to this example in 4 time:

Dynamics and articulation

At Grade 6 you will be expected to describe the dynamics and articulation in some detail. Listen to the example then read the descriptions you could give:

Dynamics - The piece begins forte, with accented notes which are then imitated in the lower part. There is a sudden change to piano midway but the piece ends forte.

Articulation - The articulation is staccato to begin with and then partly slurred. The quicker notes are generally played more smoothly than the longer notes.

6.2 – Musical features

After you have listened twice more to the piece, you'll be asked to describe two more features.

It is a good idea to have in mind beforehand the possible features that you could look out for such as:

Texture – could be, or have elements of:

  • Monophonic texture (a single line with no harmony or accompaniment)
  • Homophonic texture (chordal where all sounds move together with the same rhythm)
  • Polyphonic (several musical lines or ideas move independently from each other)

Structure and compositional devices – you could mention phrase lengths, sequences, pedal notes, chromaticism, dotted rhythms, repetition, imitation, cadences, syncopation, ornamentation and whether the music begins with an anacrusis.

Character – could be dance-like, march-like or song-like, for instance.

Style – could be Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th / 21st century or jazz. It's probably easier to suggest what style the piece is after you have described the other characteristics because it is the combination of various features that lead us to identify the style.

Here's an example of two more things you could say about the piece we have just heard:

The piece is polyphonic – it has single line textures with each hand playing independent lines and the left hand imitates the right hand at the beginning. It is dance-like in character. These features suggest that the piece is from the Baroque era of music.

In your Aural Test Training practice you will hear examples of music from different eras so that you become better at identifying the style.

6.3 – Modulation

The examiner will tell you what key the piece is in and will play the key chord. Then you will hear the first four bars again and say to which key the music has modulated:

  • the subdominant key
  • the dominant key
  • the relative minor key

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 listen in this way:

Subdominant key

To the subdominant key e.g. 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.

Dominant key

To the dominant key e.g. 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.

Relative minor

To the relative minor – listen for a change from major to minor tonality.

6.4 – Changes in rhythm and pitch

The examiner will give you a printed copy of the piece you have been listening to and will then play it with two changes to the melody line, one in rhythm and one in pitch.

You have to say in which bar each change took place and whether it was to the rhythm or to the pitch.

Here is an example of a rhythm change and a pitch change. Watch the video on full screen:

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