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Aural is the ability to listen to music with understanding. It is an important part of musical development and as such features in practical examinations. An examiner will test a pupils ability in aural by playing a piece of music and either ask questions or ask the pupil to participate by singing or clapping. Obviously the higher the grade, the more demanding the aural tasks will be. At grade-one for example, the questions about a piece will be limited to dynamics and tempo where as grade-five questions will be more involved and include the period and character of the piece.

The pass mark for aural is 12/18.

The following is an outline of the requirements for the various grades.

Grades one – three are identical in format but progressive in difficulty. At these levels, there are four parts to the test; tapping test where the candidate finds the pulse of a piece by clapping while accenting the first beat of the bar and then stating how many beats there are per bar. Echo singing which is singing in time three short phrases the examiner has played. Recognising changes or as I call it, spot the difference which is telling the examiner where a note is longer/shorter or for grade-two and three whether a pitch of a note is higher or lower. Recognising features or as I call it questions and answers where the examiner plays a piece of music and the candidate answers questions on it.

Grade-four is in my opinion a little easier because there are three parts consisting of memorising melodies which is singing back a melody played by the examiner, sight singing which is singing some notes in free time without the aid of the piano and recognising features which is the same as grade-three but includes clapping the rhythm of a phrase featured in the piece which is again played by the examiner.

Grade-five is very similar to the grade-four but a little harder.

Grades six-eight are advanced grades and as such will take considerable preparation because they are more in depth and require knowledge in the theory of music. The understanding of form, cadences and modulation are examples of what are required here.

Below are listed a break down of the terminology used in Grade-five aural and onwards including some basic information on the periods of music. some of the terms are used in the early grades for example dynamics and articulation in grade-one and tonality in grade-three.

Dynamics are volumes. After listening to a piece of music, typical questions could be;

What was the dynamic at the beginning? … At the end?

Alternatively, Comment on the dynamics in this piece. This is a more in depth question and asks you to list in detail every change.

This is whether a piece is played legato or staccato or a combination of both. Questions could be put forward in the same manner as for dynamics.

This is change in speed for example rallentando and accelerando.

Tonality is whether a piece of music is major or minor. It can change several times in one piece.

The mood of a piece of music gives it character. This can be as simple as whether it is happy or sad. You can go into as much detail as you wish by describing why it makes you feel this way.

In it’s simplest term, this is how many sections there are in a piece of music. Although it is useful to know what binary and ternary are it is possible to get through by commenting on what you have just heard. For example, there was an opening section, an answering section followed by the opening section. This example could also be described as ABA.

This is when a piece was written and who might have written it. There are four main periods;

Up to approximately 1750. This music is normally highly decorated (I call it “twiddley music”) with musical ornaments. The form Fugue was particularly popular at this time and might have been written by Bach, Handel, William Byrd…

From approximately 1750-1800. Mozart and Haydn are probably the most famous composers of this period. Mozart’s use of scales and quaver chords in music was quite new at this time and gave his music a quite distinctive feel.

From approximately 1800-1900. I love this period because the music is so moody and descriptive. Some very famous overtures were written at this time and Beethoven changed the length of a symphony to something considerably longer. Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and Schubert are a few examples of the many prolific composers of this time.

From approximately 1900-today. From a classical point of view, the music can be quite boisterous and aggressive. Shostakovich and Hindemith are good examples of composers who wrote in this way. Gershwin fused classical music and Jazz together to create a new style. The popular music of today can also be included. Generally, the harmony is more adventurous and can even be “Atonal” which means without key.

This is how a piece of music sounds. If a piece of music sounds chordal like a hymn, it is
Homophonic. If a melody is played while another is already playing, like a round, it is Contrapuntal. Three blind mice is an example of this.