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ABRSM Grade 6 Theory - last minute tips!

Updated on January 31, 2013

I will go through each of the questions, giving points for each one:

Question One b)

  1. Choose suitable chords - primary chords should be very common, with chords ii and VI to spice it up.
  2. The extract should be split into two sections (normally split midway through the piece) - use an interuppted or imperfect cadence to end the first, a perfect (( I 6/4 - V 5/3 - I 5/3) etc) cadence to end the whole thing.
  3. Make sure the bass notes 'go with' the style of the notes above - e.g. not too many big leaps, and contrary motion of notes always sounds nice. If you see a scalic passage, doing contrary motion with that is a winner.
  4. No parallel octaves or fifths.
  5. Remember to sharpen the leading note if you are in a minor key.
  6. If you don't know already:
  • 6/5 is a dominant seventh first inversion
  • 4/3 is a dominant seventh second inversion
  • 4/2 is a dominant seventh third inversion
  • 5/3 is the root
  • 6 is first inversion
  • 6/4 is second inversion.

Question Two

  1. The vast majority of the time, your chords should have: 2 root notes, one third and one fifth.
  2. Start with a nice open chord. Never get your notes too squashed or too spread out.
  3. No parallel fifths or eights. The best way of checking it is by comparing the Soprano and Alto notes, the Soprano and Tenor notes, the Soprano and Bass notes, then the Alto and tenor notes etc.
  4. Leading note is always sharpened if it is a minor key.
  5. Feel free to put dominant sevenths into the dominant chord.
  6. Make sure you put an interesting melody on the top. Make sure it doesn't leap around but also doesn't revolve around a few notes either. Give a shape to it.

Question Three

  1. This may seem really obvious - but copy the extract exactly, with all phrasing and tempo marks.
  2. The melody that you write has to fit, and also build on the extract, in terms of rhythm, melodic range and dynamics. You are given 2 bars for the extract, and I would recommend having an 8 bar melody (2 4 bar sections). For the second section feel free to develop it here.
  3. Remember to put performance directions e.g. dynamics, tempo changes and phrasing.
  4. For the first 4 bar section end with an interuppted or imperfect cadence, for the second section end with a perfect one.

Question 4 and 5

Transposing Instruments

  • Piccolo - one octave up
  • Double Bassoon and Double Bass - one octave down
  • Clarinet - commonly transposes to B flat or A
  • Cor anglais - transposes a perfect fifth lower.
  • Bass clarinet - transposes to B flat

Melodic Decoration

Auxiliary Note - a note which falls between 2 chord notes which are the same. It can be described as higher or lower.

Passing note - a note which falls in between 2 different chord notes (which aren't the same). They can be described as unaccented / accented and harmonic / chromatic.

Note of Anticipation - a written chord note earlier than expected.

Pedals - when either the tonic or dominant note is played continuously, while the chords in the other voices change.


Appoggiatura - leans on the main note taking some of its value

Acciaccatura - is played as quickly as possible before the note that follows it.

Trill - quickly playing the note and the note above alternately and very quickly

Mordent - the performer plays the note, the one above it and back to the first, very quickly.

A mordent

Important Intervals you need to know

No. of semitones
Minor Second
Major Second
Major Third
Perfect Fourth
Perfect fifth
Minor Sixth
Major Sixth
Major Seventh

Draw a small keyboard to help with interval questions!

Features of the different periods of music

Baroque Period

  • Terraced Dynamics
  • Unity of mood
  • melodies and rhythms will often be heard over and over again.
  • Polyphonic Texture

Classical Music

  • Gradual dynamic changes.
  • Texture is mostly homophonic / melody dominated homophony.
  • Fluctuating moods and contrasting themes.


  • Virtuosic Passages
  • Increased use of Dissonance and chromatic-ism
  • Expressive indicators e.g. rubato
  • Frequent changes in tempo and metre


  • A lot of dissonance
  • Creating an atmosphere to create pictures and images
  • Rhythms are free and flexible with irregular accents and rhythmic ostinatos
  • Whole-tone scale and pentatonic scale are common
  • Harmony is primarily homophonic and frequently move in parellel motion.


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