I took my ABRSM Grade 6 Music Theory exam over the weekend, on Saturday, November 2nd. I also had an adult student taking a Grade 5 Music Theory exam at the same time. In this post, I will give my observations and experience, and also discuss the materials I used to prepare for the exam.
- There were 50 candidates taking the exam, a great number more than when I took my Grade 5 in March, 2018.
- Most of the candidates were children or young teenagers. There were three adults (one Grade 5 and two Grade 6s, two Chinese and one American Indian) and one older Anglo-American teenager (G6).
- There seemed to be quite a few children taking lower theory grades. At my table there were two young boys taking Grade 3 and a girl taking Grade 5. Those poor young folks had to sit with the old fogie taking Grade 6!
- The vast majority were East Asian (predominantly Chinese, I think) but there were also quite a few South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, etc.). There were a few Anglo-Americans (up from absolutely zero when I took my Grade 5). There was one American Indian (yours truly).
- I was happy to see a diverse cross-section of young people taking the the exams. However, this does not reflect the demographics of the community. There were no African American or Hispanic candidates. That saddens me, as I would like to see people of every race, creed, and colour enjoying and making attainments in Classical music.
- The exam took place in a church gymnasium. We were mostly sitting at round tables, which I think caused a little discomfort to some candidates. The room was a little cold. I sat at the far end of the room, away from the door, so I was not very cold. My student, who was very close to the door, was cold throughout the exam.
- A bunch of parents waited right outside the door. They were very loud. At some point, it sounded like a fight broke out - there was yelling in a language I could not identify. This was not helpful.
- There was not enough scratch paper. The invigilators announced up front that everyone would get one piece of scratch paper, and there was no more available. The scratch paper was supposed to be included in our exam packets. My exam packet did not have the scratch paper. An invigilator took one from the packet of a child who arrived late and gave that to me. This is unacceptable. I will be discussing this with our local ABRSM representative.
The Test Itself:
- Question 1: Harmonization - I started working question 1a, but I was not satisfied with where my working was heading. I erased all markings on 1a and switched to 1b. I wound up very happy with my harmonization.
- Question 2: Figured Bass Realization - I think this wound up being my weakest working overall. I suspect I broke at least one doubling rule. This is the only question I'm worried about.
- Question 3: Composition - Going into the test, I was worried about composition. However, I think I nailed it! My approach was to use the given opening as an antecedent, then compose a consequent ending on an imperfect cadence. I designated the given antecedent as A, and my consequent as B. I then modified A to make a new antecedent, A', wherein I performed the required modulation. Then I adapted my consequent B to make a new consequent B' in the new key, ending with a perfect cadence in the new key.
- Question 4: Score Analysis - a string quartet. No surprises.
- Question 5: Orchestral Score Analysis - One surprise here. There was an instrument that I had not seen in any of the practice questions I worked! I had studied about that instrument, but had never seen it in a question. I had a sneaky suspicion that it transposed in a unique way, so I treated it as such. (I looked it up after the exam, and I was correct. Whew!)
Materials Used in Preparation for the Test:
- ABRSM's Theory Workbook, Grade 6 - excellent practice problems for all questions. The score analysis questions in this book were more difficult than anything I encountered in the past papers or the exam itself.
- ABRSM's past papers. I completely worked four years' worth of past papers: 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015. This was excellent practice for the exam.
- MyMusicTheory.com - Free online resource that I use for myself, and also with my students.
I particularly want to recommend MyMusicTheory's video course on Grade 7 Composition. It cost £20 (about $26 U.S.) and it was worth every penny! I purchased this course about a week before the exam and studied it just a few days before the exam. I applied the techniques from this course on exam day, and because of that I feel extremely confident in, and dare I say proud of, my composition on the exam!