HomePractical AdviceGuitarsPass Your Theory First Time: Top 10 Tips

Pass Your Theory First Time: Top 10 Tips


ABRSM are releasing a whole load of old theory papers which may initially sound pretty dull but in reality this is a great opportunity for you to bone up on your theory in preparation for an exam – because, as every teacher will tell you, you can learn a heck of a lot from past papers.

SO – Are YOU worried about your theory test? Aka the most dull part of any musicians life?

Worry no more with these top tips to help you through the task at hand:
1) Practice, Practice, Practice – work under exactly the same conditions you would have in the exam, time it correctly and work in silence. This way you will adapt to the conditions necessary in the exam and it’ll also help you relax. It will also help you get an idea of which questions you’re confident on, and which you’re not.
2) Learn the vocabulary – the list of terms for ABRSM is pretty massive so you won’t be able to remember all of them unless you have a brain the size of a small galaxy. But spending a little time getting acquainted with the terms will stand you in better stead for understanding what they’re going on about and also having more choices for the melody composition question – and you’ll know what they mean when you find them on sheet music!
3) Learn the Symbols – symbols are all important and it’s good to know what they all mean (up to Grade 5, unless you’re post Grade 5.. obviously). Naming phrasing, articulation marks and ornaments are all key.
4) Practice drawing a piano – it’s useful to map out a piano keyboard on the top of your working paper in the exam – let’s call this bit ‘keeping notes’ (har har).
5) Make sure you’re confident with cadences and chords –this will make chord identification questions into easy score points. Like sitting ducks alone on glassy water. They’re yours for the taking. BUT it will also help you with the ‘compose a melody’ section as well so they’re doubly useful to learn. Practice figuring out what the triads are for I, IV and V in any key you can. Create some melodies over these chords. Do your stuff.
6) Know your orchestral scores – just like with the chords and cadances, knowing the vital statistics (range, phrase markings, clef, family) for standard orchestral instruments means both marks on the question direcly testing this, and more marks on the “compose a melody” question.
7) Decide whether you’re doing the “compose a melody” for instrument or voice – it might seem like a good idea to wait and see what’s there, but, in reality, it’s much better to pick one and put all the effort into that question rather than dividing your energy over the two.
And when you’re actually IN the exam:
8) Read the whole paper cover to cover. Take note of the weirdly easy or the extremely tricky questions.
9) Go back to the rest of the paper. You can tackle the questions in any order, though usually go for the score reading question as a break from the technical work and then do the rest in the order it’s printed.
10) Once you’ve written an answer for everything on the paper, go back to the melody composition section. Don’t do this loudly but hum it in your head and try to think about how it sounds – it’ll really help and it’s important to getting it right because sometimes what you think works in theory may not work in practice!

Good Luck! And get your past papers here.

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