Preparing for the Aural Tests



The Aural Test is one of the basic requirements in any practical music examinations.  Singing, both silently in the head and out loud, is one of the best ways to develop the ‘musical ear’.  Thus developing aural awareness is an important part of music education and is fundamental to musical training.  It impacts on all aspects of musicianship.  It cannot be over-emphasized that listening lies at the heart of all good music-making.


As the tests carry less marks than the practical pieces, many music students put off preparing for this segment of the exams until the very last moment.  Thus many do not score very good grades.  In fact, ear-training is an on-going process and is part and parcel of every student’s musical development and it will get more and more difficult and challenging as the student proceeds to the next grade.  Getting a good mark in this section will help students to attain a better total overall score and it will mean a lot of difference between getting a merit or a distinction, or a pass to merit, or even to just making the passing grade.


For the elementary grade of the practical exams set by the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) the aural tests requirements for the 1st grade (Grade 1) are:


To clap the pulse of a piece played by the examiner, and to identify whether it is in two time or three time.

The examiner will start playing the passage, and the candidate should join in as soon as possible, clapping in time and giving a louder clap on the strong beats. The examiner will then ask whether the music is in two time or three time.


To sing as ‘echoes’ three phrases played by the examiner.

The phrases will be two bars long, in a major key. First the examiner will play the key-chord and the starting note (the tonic) and then count in two bars. After the examiner has played each phrase, the candidate should sing back the echo without a pause, keeping in time.


To identify where a change in pitch occurs during a phrase played by the examiner.

The phrase will be two bars long, in a major key, and the change will affect only one of the notes. First the examiner will play the key-chord and the tonic and then count in two bars. The examiner will play the phrase twice, making the change in the second playing, after which the candidate should state whether the change was near the beginning or near the end.


To answer questions about two features of a piece played by the examiner.

Before playing, the examiner will tell the candidate which two features the questions will be about. The first will be: dynamics (loud/quiet, or sudden/gradual changes); the second will be articulation (smooth/detached).


For any test that requires a sung response, pitch rather than vocal quality is the object. The examiner will be happy to adapt to the vocal range of the candidate, whose responses may be sung to any vowel (or consonant followed by a vowel), hummed or whistled (and at a different octave, if appropriate)


Marking principles


In each element of the exam, ABRSM operates the principle of marking from the required pass mark positively or negatively, rather than awarding marks by deduction from the maximum or addition from zero.


From the above, we can see that to improve the student’s ability to create music we must do ear training activities at every music lesson. Without formal aural training, it will be very challenging and difficult to progress successfully from one grade to the next.


By Mr Thomas Tan





Sign Up For Our Mailing List!

News List