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6th Sep 2023: Quizzes fixed, thanks for your patience.

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victoria Williams Music Theory

Victoria Williams

LmusTCL BA Mus (Hons) MISM

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Grade 6 Course

Next UK ABRSM Paper-based Theory Exams Grades 6-8:
Sat 17th June 2023 [Grades 1-5 now available online on demand]
Next UK Trinity Paper-based Theory Exams Grades 1-8 & diplomas:
from Sat 4th Nov 2023

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B0. Composition - Introduction

Grade Six Music Theory Composition Introduction - ABRSM Requirements

Grade 6 Composition Questions 

 You might also be interested in our video course which includes composing a melody for grade 6 ABRSM exam candidates. Here's a preview video!

For full details about this course please see Grade 6 Complete Video Course!

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In the Grade Six music theory exam, composition is a compulsory question. It’s worth 20% of the whole exam. You will have a choice of question. Both options will ask you to continue a given opening, and will be for instrument rather than voice. 

One option will invite you to continue a “real life” opening (usually by a well-known composer from the Classical or Romantic eras) and the other will be an opening which has been specially written for the exam. 

The “real life” opening usually needs to contain a specific key change. The melody should end in the new key. This is because the melody you write is really just the beginning of a bigger piece (which will never get written, however!) Although the name of the composer and work are given, you are not supposed to know how the piece goes and write the same notes as in the original! Even if you do know the opening, you need to write something new. The melody should be 8-10 (complete) bars in length. 

For the  “invented” opening, you are usually advised that a key change is optional. You may get a higher score if you write a good key change, so it’s worth learning how to do it. In this question, the melody is complete in itself. This means that it shouldn’t end in the new key – it must end in the same key that it started in. The melody should be at least 8 bars long.


What the Examiners are Looking For 

Never forget that this is a music theory exam, not a composition exam! Although you are writing a composition, you will be judged on your skill in applying the rules of accepted techniques, rather than displaying amazing creativity or innovation. Your composition should fit in with the norms which apply to music written from the 17th to 19th centuries. 

The things the examiner will be looking for are the basis of this composition course. In a nutshell, they are:

  • Form (good organisation)
  • Harmonic structure (suitable expected chords to harmonise the melody)
  • Melodic structure (showing continuity but with variety)
  • Performance directions (relevant and appropriate)


The examiner is NOT looking for:

  • Innovation (e.g. something new in every bar, new ways of getting sounds from an instrument, non-diatonic key systems)
  • Proof that you know every ornament, tuplet, scale, broken chord, foreign term and symbol etc. that exists.


A Note about Naming Chords 

There are a few different ways to refer to chords in music theory. In this course we use the extended Roman numeral system.

  • The Roman numerals I, II, III, IV, V, VI and VII refer to the triads built on each note of a scale.
  • Lower case numerals (e.g. i, ii, vi) mean the chord is minor. Upper case (e.g. I, IV, V) mean the chord is major.
  • A diminished chord is written in lower case with the symbol ° (e.g. vii°).
  • An augmented chord is written in upper case with the symbol + (e.g. III+).



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