There are three tests. At Grade 8 the pieces may be in a major key or a minor key:
8.1 – Time signature, dynamics, articulation
You will hear a piece played twice on the piano. First identify the time signature, then describe the dynamics, then comment on the articulation.
At Grade 8 you need to be able to tell the difference between 2/4 time, 3/4 time, 4/4 time, 6/8 time and also 5/8 time.
By the time you get to Grade 8 you will already have practised identifying all but one 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:
Listen to this example of 5/8 time, which is new at Grade 8.
The example is one of the most famous pieces of music ever written in 5/8 time, Take Five played by Dave Brubeck. Enjoy!
Dynamics and articulation
At Grade 8 you will be expected to describe the dynamics and articulation in some detail.
Notice whether the dynamics rise and fall within phrases, comment on any echo effects and judge whether the dynamics are the same for both hands or if perhaps one hand brings out the melody line. You could use the words diminuendo (getting gradually quieter) and crescendo (getting gradually louder) where appropriate.
Be sure to listen to whether the articulation is the same, or different, for both hands. You could comment on staccato, legato and also on any accents.
Let's listen again to the 3/4 time example, played twice as in an exam:
This is what you might say about the dynamics and articulation:
The piece is mainly played piano but just before the end there is a louder bar, then the final cadence is played piano.
The melody line is mostly legato or slurred but the left hand has some detached chords at the start.
8.2 – Musical features
After you have listened twice more to the piece, you'll be asked to describe three more features of the music.
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 are some more things you could say about the piece we have just heard:
- The syncopated rhythms suggest that the piece might be from the 20th century.
- The second four-bar phrase is similar in rhythm to the first phrase.
- The tune is in the upper part and is played louder than the left hand accompaniment.
- The piece ends with an interrupted cadence.
In your Aural Test Training practice you will hear examples of music from different eras so that you become better at identifying the features that correspond with those styles.
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).
8.3 – 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, to the rhythm or to both and could be found in any part of the piece, including the inner parts and the bass part.
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, the first two to the pitch and the third one to the rhythm: