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Victoria Williams

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2. Notes, Symbols & Terms

Grade Three Music Theory - Lesson 2. Notes, Symbols and Terms (UK Version)

Suitable for:  ABRSM Grade 3   Trinity Grade 3   GCSE   AP Music Theory Beginners 

Metronome Tempo Directions

Although you can use an Italian term for tempo, e.g. allegro or andante, these terms are not very exact. If you want to set an exact tempo, you need to use a metronome marking. This is a traditional metronome:metronome The rod swings from left to right and makes a loud click each time. The clicks tell you what speed to play at. The square slider on the rod can be moved up and down. If you slide it up, the clicks become slower. If you move it down, they become faster. There is a gauge on the body of the metronome which tells you what speed the rod is clicking at.

You can play with a virtual metronome at the website Click the “on” button, then choose a number – that is your tempo in beats per minute. If you choose 60, the clicks will be exactly one second apart, because there are 60 seconds in a minute. Metronomes also show the Italian terms used for a certain range of tempos – you can see that largo is from about 42-50 beats per minute. At the beginning of a piece you might see something like crotchet= 60. This means you need to play one crotchet every second, or 60 per minute. Set the metronome to 60, and play a crotchet with every click. What if you see minim= 72? This means the tempo is 72 minims per minute. Set the metronome to 72 and play a minim with each click.

If you get a question in your exam paper which asks you “what does minim= 72 mean?”, the answer will be “the tempo is 72 minims per minute”.



Here are some symbols which you might be tested on in the grade three music theory exam.


The slur. This curved line groups together notes which should be played in a legato way (smooth and without breaks between the notes).


The tie. This curved line looks exactly like a slur, but it joins together two (or more) notes which are the same pitch. It means “add the two note values together”.

repeat bar The repeat bar line. This bar line has two lines - one thin and one thick, and two dots. It means “go back to the start/ the last repeat bar line and play again”.

forzato Forzato. “Forced” or “sharply accented”.

marcato v sign Marcato. Marked, or accented.

mezzo staccato semi Mezzo staccato (or semi-staccato). Half staccato, half way between staccato and legato.


Foreign Terms ABRSM (Updated July 2020)

Don't forget, you need to know all the terms listed for grade 1 and grade 2, as well as these!




andantino faster or slower than andante (at a walking pace)


animated, lively









giocoso merry


light or nimble

maestoso majestically

marcato, marc.

emphatic, accented



prestissimo as fast as possible

prima, primo



bold, strong

scherzando, scherzoso

playful, joking


simple, plain



sforzando/sforzato (sf, sfz) forced/accented
simile (sim.) in the same way
sostenuto sustained





triste, tristamente

sad, sorrowful


Foreign Terms Trinity

dolce  sweetly
leggiero lightly
marziale in the style of a march
tranquillo calmly
vivo lively
al, alla like, in the style of
a tempo at the original speed
con with
da capo al fine go back to the start and play until the "fine" marking
e, ed and
meno less
mosso, moto movement
non not
poco little
più more


The Demisemiquaver (ABRSM only)

The smallest note you will have come across in grades 1 and 2 is the semiquaver. Remember that 4 semiquavers are worth 1 crotchet.

A semiquaver has two little tails on the stem, which are always on the right hand side.


The demisemiquaver is worth half a semiquaver. You need 8 demisemiquavers to make up the value of 1 crotchet. A demisemiquaver has three little tails:


Demisemiquavers are usually grouped and beamed in fours:

demisemiquavers beamed in 4

But because we need eight of them to equal one crotchet, we often put two groups of four together:

demisemiquavers beamed in 8

To make it easier to see the division of beats, many people prefer to use one long beam at the top, to join all the notes, and then two shorter beams on each group of four:

demisemiquavers beamed in 8 with gap

One semibreve is worth 32 demisemiquavers. One minim is worth 16. One crotchet is worth 8. One quaver is worth 4. One semiquaver is worth 2 demisemiquavers.

The demisemiquaver rest looks like this:

demisemiquaver rest

It has three tails, and each tail sits within a space on the stave. 


Image credit: Metronome By Vincent Quach (Invincible) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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