Grade Exams for Electronic Keyboard
Trinity Guildhall Electronic Keyboard exams have been designed to develop creative, confident and skilled musicians. So what sets our exams apart?
- Choice and flexibility – candidates choose three pieces for the exam from the repertoire list although they may offer their own composition for one choice, allowing them to express their individuality
- A range of consultants and composers contributed to the syllabus, resulting in an enjoyable and diverse range of styles
- The varied and exciting repertoire includes popular classics and folk songs, along with pop, jazz, Latin, Indian and film music, with each piece arranged specifically for the Electronic Keyboard
- Optional pieces including elements of improvisation and own interpretation encourage creativity in the candidate
- The content has been moderated by independent Electronic Keyboard teachers, ensuring consistent levels of difficulty across the grades
- Exercises are designed to develop important skills and techniques necessary for the modern Electronic Keyboard player, covering bass clef reading and finger dexterity, chord knowledge and arpeggios, and keyboard functions
- Great value graded books, containing everything the candidate will need to prepare for the Pieces and Technical Work of their exam.
SYLLABUS 2011-2013 GRADES 1-5
There are two groups, A and B. Three pieces are to be chosen, with at least one from each group.
A contains arrangements of works which are in the public domain, such as classics, folk songs, and tunes now out of copyright.
B has arrangements of modern pop, jazz and Latin, and also newly commissioned compositions. A departure is that at each grade you will now find an Indian piece. Trinity Guildhall exams are very popular in India, where most function bands use at least one electronic keyboard. Bollywood, now the largest film industry in the world, often uses electronic keyboards in its scores.
One of the pieces at each grade includes some blank bars with chord symbols for improvisation. The aim is for this to be impromptu. At Initial three individual blank bars can be found; by Grade 5 there are 6 consecutive bars to be filled. There is the option of choosing Improvisation as one of the supporting tests, which would prepare pupils well for the task.
Another piece is labelled Own Interpretation, where registration directions are absent, giving pupils the chance to develop the piece in their own way, choosing the style and a variety of voices, which can be embellished by special effects as available on their keyboards. They can write their own Intros and Endings. Candidates must provide in writing a description of the interpretive changes they have made.
Neither the Improvisation nor the Own Interpretation piece is compulsory. The exam offers unparalleled freedom of choice; the good reader who likes to play from the page, and the improviser who loves to compose, are equally well catered for.
Candidates may present their own composition instead of one of the set pieces. Details of the length and the features to be included can be found in the syllabus.
The list of alternative pieces in the syllabus has been refreshed, with many new choices.
CDs of the Pieces
Two CDs are available to assist both pupils and teachers. They contain the ten set pieces and the three exercises at each grade.
The selection of keys at each grade (except for contrary motions and chromatics) aligns with Trinity Guildhall piano exams, i.e. Initial has C major and A minor, Grade 1 has keys of one sharp and one flat, Grade 2 two sharps or flats etc. This is logical, and easy to remember. The bass and treble clef parts are printed, each with helpful fingering.
The staccato requirement has been dropped for keyboard players, as it is hard to make it sound clear and even on many instruments.
All three minors are given as a choice: harmonic, melodic, and the natural minor, which is useful in jazz improvisation. Further aids to improvisation are included. The early grades have major and minor pentatonic scales. Later this gives way to blues scales, the only ones where both swung and straight rhythms are required.
In order for pupils to understand how harmonies are made up, they are tested on chords and inversions. These can be found printed in the books, and are played by the left hand in piano voice. They follow the keys set for scales, starting at Initial with C and A minor triads in root position. First inversions and a couple of 7ths are added at Grade 1, and second inversions by grade 2. At Grade 5 perfect cadences in C, G and F major are introduced.
There are three for each grade, as in the piano syllabus. They are like mini Czerny studies and are short enough to be memorized (although this is not a requirement.) They are ideal as warm-ups, and for developing technique.
Dexterity is the aim in the first one, which includes some notes in the bass clef from Initial upwards. It is played in a piano voice.
Instead of arpeggios, there is an arpeggio exercise. Voice and style are used. Full-fingered chords are required, in the only part of the exam to specify it.
The third exercise develops skill in the use of keyboard functions. Within a few bars, voice changes, fills, and changes of dynamics appear, and at the higher levels even Rhythm on and off, and a change of tempo.
The wording in the syllabus has been re-worked to make for greater clarity. It sets out to answer many of the questions raised by teachers. Here are some examples of the useful information it contains.
The instrument spec is clearly laid out for each grade, with a minimum of 4 octaves at the start, and 5 octaves from grade 2 onwards. At Initial and Grade 1 time is allowed within the pieces for the change of voice; crescendo, diminuendo, and touch sensitivity are not expected until Grade 2. Dual voice/Layer facility will be beneficial from Grade 2 upwards; registration memory and Touch Sensitivity are needed from Grade 3. At all grades musically acceptable alternatives to the stated voices and styles are permitted if necessary, as long as they do not substantially alter the character of the music. Intros and Endings are clearly marked if they are to be used.
The structure of Trinity Guildhall graded Electronic Keyboard exams is as follows:
Candidates play three pieces from the published lists A and B, at least one being from each group.
A selection of the scales set for the grade
A selection of the chords and inversions set for the grade
Three are played: ‘Bass clef reading and finger dexterity’, ‘Arpeggios and chord use’ and ‘Using keyboard functions’.
These are unchanged in the new syllabus. Between Initial and Grade 5 the candidate chooses two supporting tests from four options: Aural, Sight-reading, Musical Knowledge and Improvisation.
Help with supporting tests
The Aural tests are all based on one musical example, which serves as a vehicle for musical analysis along the following lines: pitch includes intervals, tonality and cadence; rhythm involves finding the pulse and developing the useful skill of conducting; musical features concerns dynamics and articulation. In one of the tests the candidate has to spot changes from a printed score. Singing is not required and little is based on memory skills. The support publication (pictured) offers a wealth of examples for the teacher to use in lessons and the pupil to practise at home. Aural Book 1 Specimen Aural Tests Initial-Grade 5 (2 CDs included).
The Sight-reading parameters are clearly set out in the syllabus and ‘Sound At Sight’, the very helpful book of sight-reading examples for grades Initial to 5, is published by Trinity at £4.99. Initial is set in five-finger positions in C and lasts for four bars of 2/4 without any LH chords. 4/4 is added at grade 1 and the chords of C and G. From this grade upwards the candidate employs either ‘single fingered’ chords with the rhythm engaged, or ‘full fingered’ chords without rhythmic accompaniment. By grade 3 the examples are 8 bars long and include 3/4 time and a change of dynamics. Keys of one flat and one sharp are used at grade 4, and two sharps and flats at grade 5, along with compound time. Sound at Sight Electronic Keyboard Initial- Grade 5.
Musical knowledge is related to the candidates’ performance. At Initial questions centre on to the pitch and duration of notes, the identification of key and time signatures, clefs, dynamics, and repeats, and the meaning of the titles. An understanding of keys, triads, intervals and degrees of the scale is developed progressively through the grades, along with a sense of the style and character of the pieces. By grade 5 there may be questions about modulations, tonic, dominant and subdominant harmonies, and features of the period in which the music was written. At any stage from grade 1 upwards candidates may be expected to discuss how their instrument works, posture, and how best to approach practice. Open questions such as ‘Which is the most difficult bar and why?’ intend to draw them out. Examples of questions and scores can be downloaded from the website.
There is also extensive help on the website for the Improvisation tests. A verbal guide is provided, and examples of responses at pass, merit, distinction and below-pass level. Numerous blank samples can be downloaded. In the exam, the candidate chooses whether to base the improvisation on a melodic, rhythmic or chordal stimulus. The examiner is looking for fluency, inevitability and structure, with evidence that the stimulus has been used and developed in a creative way. Melodic samples range from three adjacent notes at Initial to a row of seven notes at grade 5. Rhythms start with crotchets and quavers, building to semi-quavers, ties and syncopation at grade 5. Chords are limited to tonic and dominant in the key of C at Initial but have five harmonies at grade 5, including inversions, although the key signatures remain free of sharps or flats.
DIGITAL KEYBOARD SYLLABUS from 2000 GRADES 6-8
The music and sample tests are contained in one book, with alternative pieces listed. This syllabus is under review and should be out later this year. Changes include:
- Will be renamed Electronic Keyboard
- One book per grade
- Sight-reading specifically for keyboard rather than piano
- Lists A and B as with grades 1-5
- Idiomatic pieces by several different keyboard specialists