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21 July 2017

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Changes to ABRSM Music Theory

In the summer of 2017, ABRSM announced that it was changing it's music theory exams as of the beginning of 2018. The announcement is titled, “Improving our Theory Exams”. However, are these changes are for the better or worse?

This summer, ABRSM announced that it was changing it's music theory exams as of the beginning of next year.
ABRSM Music Theory in Practice

The main changes from January 1st 2018 were:

Introducing multiple choice questions for the musical terms and signs. This will be more like the style of questions used by Trinity College and by the way our Android App "Musical Terms and Signs" quizzes you using multiple choice answers. I'm sure many students will welcome this change as it will make the exam EASIER, but will it make you a better musician? In real life when you are given a musical direction you have never seen before - are you given a multiple choice?

The second change is to remove completely the writing an answering rhythm question in the lower grades and also the writing an 8 bar melody question in Grade 5. Again I'm sure many students will welcome this change. I know from my experience of teaching this section, that a lot of students found it one of the hardest parts, but my question is again, "Will it make you a better or worse musician?" Are we simply technical analysts or creative artists? 


Here is a comment I found on a forum discussing the changes: "One of my recent Grade 5 candidates really enjoyed and blossomed with the composition question. Early attempts were abysmal and I don't think he'd mind my saying that, but he commented later that it was one of the things he had most valued. I suppose if you are simply taking the exam as a qualifying thing, rather than looking at all round musicianship, it may matter less."
This in itself poses another question. Why do ABRSM make it a requirement to have Grade 5 Theory before doing a Grade 6 Practical exam? Isn't it because they claim to value all round musicianship? And yet they are taking away the most creative element of the theory exam!!

The third change is the removal of yet another section from the Grade 5 exam, the SATB short to open score question. With regards to this I am somewhat in agreement. The old style question was just a lot of copying out notes, but couldn't they just have made this question shorter, maybe just converting one bar from short to open score or vice-cersa?

What I find even more disconcerting is that they are not updating the workbooks in line with the new syllabus. It seems this is just to save money. Their official statement regarding these work books is;

We are not making any changes to our Music Theory in Practice books for Grades 1 to 5. They still cover all the knowledge and skills you need for our Music Theory exams at these grades from 2018. The sections on rhythm-writing, word-setting and melody writing will not be directly relevant to the exams from 2018, but overall Music Theory in Practice continues to provide plenty of valuable teaching and learning material for the exams.

As I said before, in my opinion, this is just a money saving exercise. Then regarding the book,  First Steps in Music Theory and The AB Guide to Music Theory (Part 1)  they state;

We are not be making any changes to these books. They cover the basic principles of music theory and provide a thorough introduction to the knowledge and understanding needed at Grades 1 to 5. They continue to offer valuable support for exam preparation from 2018 onwards.

Of course to change this book, it would be too expensive for the board who charge nearly £40 for a ten minute practical exam. 

If you would like to see a sample of these papers you can find them HERE

Updated 28/01/2018

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