Classical Guitar Exam Preparation Part Four: Aural and General Knowledge Elements

Today’s post is the fourth in ten part series on preparing for an exam on the classical guitar. If you missed the first three parts, or want to recap, here are the links:

Classical Guitar Exam Preparation Part One – Deciding When The Time Is Right

Classical Guitar Exam Preparation Part Two – Picking Your Repertoire

* Classical Guitar Exam Preparation Part Three – Working On The Technical Elements

Regardless of the syllabus you’re studying, be it AMEB, ABRSM, Trinity or something else, chances are that an important element of the examination will feature a bit of a test on your general musicianship. It’s all very well and good being able to demonstrate your playing, and your technical and musical abilities as a guitarist, through your three or four repertoire pieces, but you also need to demonstrate your broader progress as a musician. This is why we find a requirement to show the development in your general musical education through selected aural tests and general knowledge questions in the examination.

So what are the aural tests? Well, it depends on what grade you’re looking at taking as to what the exact type of tests will be and I’m not going to go into each and every one of them here (you should check in the syllabus guide for your grade as to what may or will be asked of you). You should, however, expect to have some kind of tests that check out your “ear”.

In your weekly lessons in the lead up to your exam, it would be ideal to fit in 10 minutes or so per lesson of the following kinds of activities with your teacher:

* Clapping in time with a piece of music

* Recognising the time signature of a piece of music played to you

* Singing back a musical phrase played to you, either in isolation or singing back a given line (for example, the lower part) from a two or three-part melody

* Listening to a piece of music and making a brief commentary on it – defining characteristics, style, dynamics, rhythm, tempo etc

* Recognising changes in pitch between two notes

* Clapping rhythms from score

* Sight-singing notes from score

* Recognising different chords – quality (i.e. major, minor, diminished etc) rather than key

* Recognising different intervals

* Signing different intervals from a given key note

* Recognising cadences

In terms of general knowledge, you should be able to talk confidently and in detail about the pieces you are playing – who is the composer? What is their background? How does this piece fit in with their body of work? What is its style? When was it written? How does it fit in with pieces from the same era? What markings and words are on the score and do you know what each of them means? Key or tonality? Modulations? Voicings?

How soon should you start preparing these activities and exercises?

Well, I think my advice here is relatively straightforward – the sooner the better. In fact, scratch that, these kinds of activities should be in your weekly lessons, in some form or other, as a matter of course, rather than coming to them just because you have to do it in an exam. Your teacher, during the course of a normal lesson, may scatter these activities around as needed or as particular technical requirements arise and so on. You may decide to focus specifically on aural and general knowledge tests for a dedicated portion of the lesson – and under exam conditions – in the two or three months in the lead up to the exam to get the feel for responding to these types of questions in an exam-type situation.

Once you get over the initial shock of having to sing (some are rather shy about opening up their wonderful voices) or clap or think about things away from the guitar you might even find you enjoy it! It’s for your musical development after all, and I promise you, it will only help with your playing too!

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