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Music Theory Grades 1-5

Each Music Theory paper carries a total of 100 marks, 66 are required to achieve a pass, 80 to receive a merit and 90 for a distinction.

In the Music Theory papers at Grades 1–5 many of the questions are composite, testing various aspects of the syllabus, and the answers are often right or wrong. Marking is then usually a simple matter of calculation, i.e. by deductions from a maximum or by additions to zero, and this is particularly the case in such questions as naming notes, when 10 correct names are required for 10 marks. In these instances, the criteria are constructed using the principle of deducting marks for faults.

Composite questions covering more than one aspect of the syllabus are considered below in a subject-by-subject format. The criteria for questions which have a regular place in each paper and which require a degree of creativity on the part of the candidate, such as the composition of an answering rhythm, are set out in a mark-banded format.

It should be observed as a general principle that an answer to a question will not receive a pass mark (e.g. 7 out of 10) if it is fundamentally wrong (e.g. a wrong key signature or transposition to a wrong key), despite any merits that it might have; although the latter might well justify a mark which is near a pass (e.g. 6 out of 10).

General notes

  1. Good practice

    Candidates will be expected to present their work in a neat and orderly manner and to conform to standards of good notational practice in such matters as:

    • i) writing note stems on the correct side of the note head
    • ii) writing accidental signs (or words) after the relevant note name in general descriptions
    • iii) writing accidental signs before the relevant note on the stave
    • iv) positioning notes and rests clearly on the stave
    • v) positioning stems correctly up or down, according to the pitch of the note
    • vi) writing ties from the note heads rather than the tails, the curve of the tie being in the opposite direction to the note stems.

    No marks are deducted for incorrect spelling, provided the meaning is clear, except in the copying questions in Grades 1 and 2 (8c).

  2. Superfluous answers

    • In the case of superfluous answers (e.g. too many bar-lines), in general a wrong answer will cancel out the mark awarded to a right one.
  3. Interlocked questions

    • Occasionally the answer to a question may depend upon an answer to an earlier part of the question: for example, candidates may be asked to name the key of a passage, and subsequently to give the degree of the scale of a particular note in the same passage. When the first answer is incorrect, the second answer will be accepted if correct in relation to the given first answer.
  4. Key signatures

    For full marks sharps and flats must be in the correct order and octave.

    • A deduction is made (of 1 mark) for sharps or flats which, though correct, are in the wrong order, and also (of 1 mark) if written at the wrong octave
    • No marks are awarded if a sharp or flat is clearly on the wrong line or in the wrong space

    C clef key signatures should be arranged as follows:

    Music Theory example

  5. Naming keys

    For full marks the correct key name must be given, regardless of whether it is written with upper or lower case letters.

    • ‘Major’ need not be stated when naming major keys (e.g. ‘G’ or ‘GM’ for G major will be accepted – though a lower-case letter on its own will be taken to imply minor): candidates might use such signs as ‘e’ or ‘E-’ or ‘Em’ for E minor. Provided these methods are obviously understood, they will be accepted.
  6. Time signatures

    For full marks the correct time signature must be placed accurately on the stave.

    • ‘Insert the time signature’ questions sometimes have more than one possible answer (e.g. 2/4 or 4/8). Marks are not awarded for answers that are clearly belied by the rhythmic grouping (e.g. 3/4 instead of 6/8), or for time signatures which, though mathematically correct, are implausible (e.g. 8/4 or 16/8 instead of 4/2).
  7. Rests

    For full marks the correct symbols, written in the right order and correctly placed on the stave, are required (markers will be tolerant towards the positioning of crotchet, quaver and semiquaver rests provided they are within the stave).

    • Where more than one symbol is involved or a rest is dotted the rest(s) must always be correctly grouped to score full marks. Dotted rests, if correctly used, will be given equal acceptance, e.g. and either accepted for a crotchet rest.
    • 1 mark is deducted for semibreve or minim rests attached to the wrong line
    • No marks are awarded for rests placed in an incorrect order
    • No marks are awarded if a whole-bar rest is not written as a semibreve with the exception of 4/2 time, in which only a breve rest will be accepted.
  8. Explaining terms and signs

    For full marks a full and clear definition must be given, showing that the candidate understands the practical effect of the term in question. To gain full marks, p, for example, should be explained as ‘quiet’ (or ‘soft’) etc: ‘piano’ is not sufficient (although it will be awarded 1 mark out of 2).

    • If the answer does show an understanding of the practical effect it is not penalised if it happens to be somewhat oddly expressed!
    • Candidates are not expected to know the particular significance of slurs in music for a string or wind instrument until at least Grade 4, although of course some will. Full marks are given if a candidate puts ‘not tongued’ or ‘in one bow’ in place of ‘slurred’
    • No marks are awarded for e.g. ‘piano – loud’ or ‘rallentando – getting faster’.
  9. Scales

    For full marks scales should be correctly written as specified, according to the stated key, clef, direction and note values, and should begin and end on the tonic note.

    • It is common for two scales to be required for 5 marks each
    • 1 mark will be deducted for each where the scale is written:
      • i) ascending instead of descending, or vice versa
      • ii) with a key signature instead of without, or vice versa
      • iii) with a wrong key signature, but corrected by accidentals
      • iv) with time values other than those specified
      • v) in the harmonic or natural minor instead of melodic minor, or vice versa – this lesser penalty will always be used rather than the 2-mark penalty for a wrong note
    • 2 marks are deducted for each missing or incorrect note
    • A maximum of 2 marks are deducted for additional notes at the end, unless two octaves are correctly written instead of one
    • Chromatic scales will be accepted written either harmonically or melodically, and a combination of sharps and flats within the scale will be accepted, so long as they are correctly used. However 1 mark will be deducted if the scale finishes with an enharmonic equivalent of its starting note, and 1 mark will also be deducted if three notes with the same letter-name are used, e.g. C flat – C natural – C sharp. The standard deduction for wrong notes in this type of scale is 1 mark, not 2
    • No marks are awarded if a scale of the specified type is correctly written but in a different key
    • No marks are awarded for a scale written correctly but in the wrong clef
    • If a key signature is incorrect, the key signature itself is not penalised but 2 marks are deducted for each note that is made wrong by the key signature that has been used, e.g. in G major if an E# is written instead of F# 2 marks each are deducted for the E# and the omitted F#. Note that if the first and last notes of a scale are made wrong by an incorrect key signature the deduction is 4 marks, not 2
    • 2 marks per scale are deducted for an incorrect key signature which does not need to be corrected by accidentals, e.g. C melodic minor ascending written with a key signature of E - only
    • 1 mark per scale is deducted if superfluous accidentals are added, where a key signature has been given or used.
  10. Transposition

    For full marks the notes should be transposed with complete accuracy, the rhythm should be correct and the appropriate new key signature (if required) inserted.

    Enharmonics and redundant accidentals are not normally penalised, but if the working goes on to the second system and a key signature is required this must be re-inserted.

    The following criteria are applied:

    • i) If the transposition is to the correct pitch and the instructions in the rubric concerning key signatures have been properly followed the working is marked out of 10. 1 mark is normally deducted for each error but some allowance is made for a recurrence of the same error in relatively quick succession.
    • ii) If an incorrect key signature is used (or a key signature used when none is requested) but the level of transposition is correct the working is marked out of 10, with a deduction of 1 mark for the key signature error and further deductions for errors arising from it.
    • iii) If the transposition is to an incorrect interval the working is marked out of 6, with a deduction of 1 mark for each error according to the pitch used by the candidate (with a similar tolerance for close recurrence of the same error as is made in (i) above).

    If a hybrid working is presented (i.e. a mixture of (ii) and (iii) above), it is assessed in its entirety under each heading and awarded the better of the two marks.

    A maximum penalty of 2 marks may be awarded for copying mistakes, such as missing ties, omitted dots after notes, omitted time signature, etc.


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