This section is for students attempting ABRSM practical exams, especially grades 1-5, although this information will assist more advanced students too. The following audio files are aimed at the final part of the aural test: Listening to music with understanding. These extracts are taken from ABRSM aural training materials.
1. At Grade 1, you will hear pieces demonstrating both sudden and gradual changes in dynamics. The following piece is 8 bars long and the time signature is 4/4. It starts forte (loud), then diminuendo (gradually getting softer) to piano (soft) and then suddenly forte (loud) again.
2. At Grade 1, you will also hear pieces that demonstrate changes in articulation. In this next piece you will hear the same 4 bar phrase played twice: the first time you will hear it played staccato (detached), the second time you will hear it played legato (smooth) The time signature is 4/4.
3. In this next piece you will hear changes of both dynamics and articulation. It is 8 bars long. The time signature is 2/2. It starts forte then suddenly becomes piano. Then there is a long crescendo (gradually getting louder) to forte. The right hand part is mostly legato (smooth); the left hand part is often staccato (detached).
4. In Grade 2, you often hear pieces played softly, that seem to be slowing down, even if it they aren't. This next piece starts piano for 2 bars, then crescendos over 2 bars, then has a long diminuendo to pianissimo over the last 4 bars. You can also hear the sustain pedal being used at the end of the piece. All through the 8 bars of this piece, the tempo remains the same and the time signature is 4/4.
5. This next piece features changes of dynamics simultaneously between the hands: mezzo forte in the right hand and piano in the left hand. After becoming softer in both hands, there is a diminuendo to pianissimo. It also has a rallentando (gradually getting slower) towards the end and uses the sustain pedal. The time signature is 4/4.
6. You will hear the next piece played 4 times. The first time you will hear it played at one tempo throughout; then you will hear it played again with an accellerando (gradually getting faster); then again with a rallentando; and then with a mixture of the two. The time signature remains in 2/4 throughout.
7. This next piece is an example of why it's important to listen ALL the way to the end of the piece before making your judgement about it. By Grade 3, you will hear some pieces that seem to contain false endings, due to multiple changes to the tempo markings. Beware of these types of pieces! You are also likely to hear pieces in a minor key, like this one. The time signature here is 4/4.
8. By Grade 4, you will need to discuss the character of music. In this next piece, the moderate tempo, minor key and falling melodic phrases all contribute to its sombre mood. The time signature is 2/4.
9. By contrast, this following piece has a happy, lively mood, owning to its brisk tempo, major key and fast running quavers. The time signature is 2/2.
10. The following piece is a jazzy take on a nursery rhyme. It is cheerful and bright because of its lively tempo, swung rhythms, use of staccato notes and the loud ending. The time signature is 4/4.
11. This next piece is has a gentle mood, created by a slowish tempo, lilting rhythms and smooth phrasing. The time signature is 12/8, a compound time signature, which is regarded as a 4 time.
12. Although music written in a minor key is often sombre, it doesn't have to be. Despite its minor tonality, this next piece has a lively, sprightly character, owning to rapid rising sequences, high register and use of staccato notes. The time signature is 6/8, a compound time signature, which is regarded as a 2 time.
13. At Grade 5, and beyond, you will need to describe the music in more detail. This will include new features such as texture, rhythm, form, and style and period. Items like tonality, dynamics, articulation, tempo and character, which have been covered in previous grades, will also feature. Let's start here by looking at texture. This piece by the Classical composer, Mozart, demonstrates music created from arpeggio and broken chord figurations. The time signature is 2/2.
14. The next textural feature to look at here is melody with accompaniment. Here is a piece by Czerny, who wrote many books of studies for the piano. He was a student of the Classical composer, Beethoven, and the teacher of the Romantic composer, Liszt. This piece in 4/4 has a simple melody in the right hand and is accompanied by broken chords in the left hand.
15. This next piece by the Romantic composer, Schubert, has a melody very strongly built on the movement of chords. This is described as harmonic in texture. The piece is in 2/2.
16. This next piece by the Baroque composer, Rameau, is described as contrapuntal or imitative. It has two parts that weave between each other; both parts are of equal importance. This is also known as two-part writing. The piece is in 2/2.
17. Now let's look at rhythm. First let's listen to an extract from a Gigue by the English Composer, Chilcot. The Gigue is one of many dances from a Baroque Suite. It features fast, flowing quavers and two-part writing. The piece is in 12/8.
18. Now let's hear a Classical Minuet in 3/4 by Rebikov. Take note of the simple, elegant, straight rhythms.
19. Here is a Waltz by the Romanic composer, Brahms. The time signature is 3/4. This time signature is also known as "Waltz Time". Compare this piece to the previous one. Both are in 3/4. The rhythm here is lilting and lyrical, yet it still feels on the beat.
20. Now let's hear a 20th Century March in 2/4 by Kabalevsky. The rhythm here is dotted and phrasing often starts with an upbeat, so it feels a little dance-like.
21. Now a gentle jazz piece, full of swing and off-beat rhythms. It is in 6/8 and is from the 20th Century.
22. Here is a look at the two kinds of form that you are likely to encounter in Grade 5 and above. The first kind is simple binary form. This is one musical idea, called 'section A', followed by another musical idea, called 'section B'. This can be written simply as 'AB'. The piece is in 3/4.
23. The form of this next piece is called simple ternary form. This comprises of section A, followed by section B, followed by a reprisal of section A. The piece is written in 2/4.
24. This next piece in 6/8 describes a journey on horseback. Everything in its jaunty rhythm, mostly loud dynamics and chiefly staccato articulation adds to this picture, as its tries to mimic an actual horseback ride. Even the cheeky melody and major tonality present a scene of a jolly trotting by. Music can often be descriptive like this.
25. The next 6 pieces are further illustrates of style and period. Here is the first, a piece by Handel from the Baroque. Take note of the ornamentation, the crisp articulation and the dance-like style. The piece is written in 3/8 and is in a major key.
26. This next piece, by Mozart, demonstrates the galant style of the Classical period. It uses scale and broken chord patterns, clearly defined phrases, with crescendos to serve at points of interest, repetition of ideas and mainly simple harmony. The piece is in 3/4 and the tonality is minor.
27. Here we have a piece of Romantic piano music. It has a flowing melody, the rhythm is rubato, it has warm and rich secondary harmony, and it uses the sustain pedal. The piece is in 3/4 and is in a major key.
28. Here is another piece of Romantic music, but with slower tempi, which varies throughout. It also makes use of full, rich chords, a broad range of dynamics and pitch, and some use of the sustain pedal. It has a noble, serious mood. The piece is in 3/4 and is in a major key.
29. Now a 20th Century piece. This next piece makes use of a wide range of the keyboard, short uneven phrasing, parallel chords, loud and strong accents, with dissonant clashing notes. It has contrasting articulation and uses the sustain pedal. It has a serious and agitated feel. The piece is in 4/4 and makes use of minor tonality.
30. Finally, we have a piece from the 20th Century with a more modern style. It has abrupt dynamic changes, a wide dynamic range, vigorous rhythms, use of chords unrelated to the key, it has a percussive feel and dissonant chords near the end. It is energetic and bold, with a mixture of articulation. The piece is in 2/2 and is written in a major key.