Modifications to aural tests in 2011
Why are aural skills important?
Developing students’ listening skills through aural training is an essential part of a music teacher's role. This is because musical, intelligent and informed listening lies at the heart of all good music making, whether it is listening to yourself playing or listening to the music making of others.
Listening leads to learning and is fundamental to any musical training programme, especially one that involves performance.
ABRSM examines this skill in various ways throughout the practical exam – but the aural tests are the focal point when it comes to assessing the candidate’s ‘musical ear’. By integrating practical aural activities in imaginative ways throughout every lesson, preparation for the exam can be a natural extension of what is already an essential part of the student's musical experience. Students should find that the kind of responses they make in preparing for the tests, and on the exam day itself, are a reflection of their growing musical awareness and development as performers.
As the exam approaches, teachers will naturally wish to prepare their students for the specific tests to be included in the exam. The Specimen Aural Tests (published in July 2010) and Aural Training in Practice volumes (published in 2011) are fully refreshed and improved resources to help you and your students feel confident about the tests.
Reviewing the tests in 2011
We were keen to take the opportunity that a revision of the support materials offered to also review the presentation and content of the tests. We looked in detail at our syllabus and identified a few corners where a slightly different approach would allow the tests to run more smoothly and become more approachable for the candidate, as well as making the assessment more consistent and precise.
We went through the test descriptions and the examiner rubrics (the form of words used in the exam) making sure that everything was clear and unambiguous. Particular attention was given to making the rubrics as clear as possible for candidates whose first language is not English.
In terms of the tests themselves, there are a few minor modifications that will have relatively little or no noticeable impact on candidates, as they simply streamline the requirements. These are all detailed below. However, in the case of Test 1C, we felt that a slightly different test would provide a better starting point and more even progression to Grades 2 and 3.
The new 1C Test
Candidates were previously asked to identify a change in the rhythm of a two-bar phrase. They could describe this in words or, if they preferred, raise their hand when they heard the difference and then explain it in simple terms. Our experience is that for a small proportion of candidates, particularly the very young, this proved to be a bit tricky even when they clearly heard there was a difference.
We now ask Grade 1 candidates simply to identify whether a change of pitch affecting one note occurs near the beginning or near the end of a two-bar phrase. This is a much more approachable way of assessing the skill of noticing a difference at Grade 1. It also provides a better step towards similar tests at Grades 2 and 3, where candidates need to identify whether a change was one of rhythm or pitch. Incidentally, at Grade 2 we now use the terms 'rhythm' and 'pitch', rather than 'rhythm' and 'melody', as a rhythmic change also changes the melody.
An example of the new 1C test with the rubric the examiner uses is illustrated below.
New rubric: Now I'll play a phrase twice, but with a change to one of the notes the second time. Tell me whether the change was near the beginning or near the end. Here is the key-chord [play] and the tonic [play]. [Count in two bars and play the phrase for the first time.] And now with the change. [Play the altered phrase without counting in.] Was the change near the beginning or near the end? ... Thank you.