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ABRSM Grade 6 Theory - last minute tips!

By Tim C

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
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 /
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

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.