Introduction to the Keyboard Reconstruction Question
In the Grade 8 ABRSM Music Theory exam, question 2 is about following the style of the given material to write something which fits convincingly. The pieces are normally taken from the Romantic repertoire.
The examiner is looking for several skills in this question. You will need to demonstrate that you understand the harmony of the piece by choosing appropriate chord progressions, and you need to show that you can write in a pianistic style which takes into account the normal rules of harmony regarding things like consecutives 5ths, doubling of chord notes, and voice leading etc.
As a rule of thumb, you should write “conservatively” – don’t break any “rules” unless you see that they have already been broken within the given material.
You are also expected to notice patterns and sequences and reuse them in appropriate places. There will most likely be places where you are, in fact, supposed to copy over some material either note-for-note, or perhaps with some small alterations to fit the harmony. In the places where you need to invent the melody yourself, you need to show that you understand the style of the piece and can write something which fits seamlessly within the given material.
And, of course, you are expected to write with good notational skills, correct rhythmic values for the time signature, and take into account the practical capabilities of the player and instrument.
You do not need to add performance directions in this question.
You need a strong harmonic basis for the piece before you begin to write anything melodic. For this reason, I strongly recommend identifying the likely chords before you do anything else at all.
- Make a note of the key, and any modulations, and write down the chord names e.g. C major where possible.
- Add the Roman numeral chord names, where you are certain of them.
- Fill in the gaps by selecting chords from the common progressions where possible. You do not need to stick to the basic diatonic chords however – think about using dominant and supertonic 7ths, diminished 7ths, augmented 6ths or Neapolitan 6ths, for added interest.
- Next, write in any obvious sections of imitation or sequence.
- Finish by writing in the parts you need to invent for yourself.
In the following lessons, you’ll learn more about each of these steps in detail.