Grade V Composition – An Example


Grade 5 Music Theory Composition Question (ABRSM) has a free grade five theory exam which you can do online as revision for the big day. Of course, the most difficult part to mark on your own at home is the composition. How can you know how well you’ve done?

One of our readers, Ming, recently sent me in his composition from the free test and asked me to take a look. Ming’s answer is quite typical of a lot of music students – lots of good points but also a few things which he could work on to get a few more points in the exam.

Here’s the opening of the composition which he had to complete in 8 bars:


And here’s Ming’s answer (sorry it’s so small!)

I would award 8.5 marks out of 15 for this. Here’s a breakdown:

1. Length & Balance 0.5/2
2. Neatness 1/1
3. Notation Accuracy 2/2
4. Performance Directions 1.5 /2
5. Suitability to Instrument 1/1
6. Sequencing 0.5/2
7. Cadence points 1/2
8. Overall impact 1/3

Total 8.5 /15

1. You need to write eight complete bars. There is an upbeat of one crotchet, so in fact your composition is 8.5 bars long, instead of 8. You should write two phrases that are exactly the same length, (including the upbeat). The first phrase will end on the third beat of bar 4, and the second phrase should start on the fourth beat of bar 4. The last bar should only have 3 crotchet beats in it, to make up for the one crotchet bar at the start.

2. Very neat and easy to read – well done!

3. No mistakes – well done!

4. You included markings for tempo and dynamics which work ok, and you also included breathing marks – that’s all good. For full marks you also need to include articulation markings (for all wind and brass instruments) – you need to show the player whether each note should be struck clearly with the tongue (tongued) or played smoothly without any tongue movement (legato). You could also show more advanced articulation symbols such as staccato or tenuto, but these are optional. You must show the general (tongued/legato) articulation markings, though.

5. Fine.

6. I can see you’ve tried to re-use the rhythm from the first 4 bars, but in fact you’ve copied the rhythm exactly, instead of adapting it a little. You need to create bars 3 & 4 by basing them on bars 1 and 2 (similar but not the same), then create bars 5-8 by basing them on bars 1-4.
The melody doesn’t seem to be sequenced at all, except for in bar 5 (sequence of bar 1). Both the rhythm and the melody need to be sequenced – for the rhythm, make small changes and for the melody, move the phrase up or down on the stave but keep the intervals between the notes more or less the same. A lot of what you’ve written doesn’t seem to be connected to anything else – for example, the semibreve in the middle of the piece (this feels like the piece has stopped!). Semibreves are ok at the end, but avoid them in the middle!

7. Cadence points should exist at the end of the first and second phrases. Your first phrase ends on an imperfect cadence – that’s good. The second phrase is not clear though. At the end of bar 7 you wrote F sharp then G – which chord would you play with those two notes? (A leap of a 7th is never a good idea anyway – stick to smaller intervals).

8. The composition doesn’t make a really good impact because of the lack of sequencing and the weak final cadence. It doesn’t sound like it’s glued together with anything, it’s all a bit meandering. On the plus side, your notation is really good and the piece does have a feel of being almost balanced, despite being the wrong length! It’s not a bad effort at all.



Grade V Composition – An Example — 3 Comments

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