There are four tests. At Grade 7 the pieces may be in a major key or a minor key:
7.1 – 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.
At Grade 7 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 7 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 7 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.
7.2 – – 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.
Help with style and period
Here are some indicators of what style and period a piece comes from. They may not all apply to a certain piece, of course.
- A limited range of the keyboard was used
- Dance-like rhythms
- Carefully detailed articulation
- Single-line textures, with imitation between parts
- Counterpoint - fugal entries
- No pedal, or very little pedal
- Baroque-style ornamentation
- Tempo stayed the same
- No extremes of dynamics
- Uncomplicated harmonies
Possible composers: Scarlatti, J S Bach, Handel, Couperin, Pachelbel.
- It sounded like a Classical minuet (if it was in 3 time)
- It had an Alberti Bass (LH broken chord accompaniment pattern)
- The accompaniment was based on simple harmonies
- Obvious use of scales and arpeggios
- Dynamics were graded to shape the phrases
- The melody was graceful
- Use of elegantly slurred notes
- It had Classical ornamentation, like turns
- Tempo more or less the same - maybe slows a little at the end
- Regular phrase lengths, often of 4-bar duration
Possible composers: Mozart, Haydn, early Beethoven, Clementi, Kuhlau, Dussek.
- Very expressive playing
- ... with a lot of detail, like bouncy staccato or wide dynamic changes
- ... with rubato (where the tempo is flexible - it gets a little faster then slower through the phrase)
- May slow down a lot at the end
- It seems to express an emotion such as happy / sad / lively / playful
- It might suggest a story-line
- Rich harmonies, sometimes with thick textured chords (several notes at the same time)
- Extended phrases of less obvious lengths
- A lyrical tune, like a song, with a chordal or arpeggiated accompaniment
- Chromaticism in melodies or harmonies
- Use of sustaining pedal
- Quite a wide range of the keyboard was used
- Broad dynamic range from very loud to very quiet
Possible composers: Chopin, Schumann, Grieg, Brahms, Liszt.
20th Century and 21st Century
- The harmony sounded quite modern, unusual, dissonant or jazz-influenced
- Vigorous, sometimes unusual rhythms
- It had jazzy rhythms - swing or syncopated
- There was chromaticism and whole tone scales (like Debussy or Ravel)
- Bold accents
- There were big dynamic contrasts
- Sudden changes in dynamics
- (However - some 20th century music deliberately has very little change in dynamics)
- It used a wide compass - a range of very high and very low notes
Possible composers: Prokofiev (rhythmical), Gershwin (jazzy), Bartok (folk influenced, use of modes, very rhythmical) Debussy, Ravel (impressionistic, dreamy) Cornick (jazzy), Norton (jazzy), Skempton (minimalist in ideas, repeated motifs), Putz (flowing, sweetly dissonant), McCabe & Hindemith (percussive, sudden changes, complex rhythms).
7.3 – 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
- the relative major 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:
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.
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.
To the relative minor – listen for a change from major to minor tonality.
To the relative major – listen for a change from minor to major tonality.
7.4 – 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 three changes. The changes could be to the pitch in the melody line only, or could be to the rhythm in any part of the piece, or to both melody and rhythm.
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 three changes: first in pitch in bar 1, then a rhythm change in bar 6 followed by a pitch change in bar 7. Watch the video on full screen: