Bass Grade 5

The Grade 5 Bass exam is for candidates who have the intermediate skills and techniques and have developed an increasing sense of stylistic conviction. This is demonstrated through instrumental techniques, rhythmic complexity and solo and improvisation work. There are two types of exam available at Grade 5, Grade Exam or Performance Certificate.

Exam time

Grade Exam: 26 minutes (approx.)
Performance Certificate: 22 minutes (approx.)

Key Features at: Grade 5

  • Slap and pop, hammer-on, complex syncopation, developed solo work
  • Major and Natural Minor, Major and Minor Pentatonic scales, Blues scales. Harmonic Minor scale
  • Major and Minor arpeggios and Major 7th and Minor 7th arpeggios
  • Playback and performance skills

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The Bass Grade 5 book will help you put together what you've learnt so far, covering more sophisticated solo and syncopation techniques including slap-and-pop and hammer-on styles and more.

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Bass Grade 5 Cover

Exam Structure

There are two types of exam available, a Grade Exam or Performance Certificate.

Grade Exam

3 Performance Pieces
(two of which may be Free Choice Pieces)
Candidates choose to play either
Performance Pieces or Technical
Exercises first
These account
for 60% of the
exam mark
Technical Exercises
(Section A, B, C and D for Level 3 qualifications)
Candidates choose to play either
Performance Pieces or Technical
Exercises first
These account
for 15% of the
exam mark
Sight Reading or Improvisation & Interpretation
Debut–Grade 5
Candidates are given an unseen
test to prepare and perform
This accounts
for 10% of the exam marks
Quick Study Pieces
Grade 6–8
Candidates are given an unseen
test to prepare and perform
These account
for 10% of the exam marks
2 Ear TestsCandidates respond to 2 aural tests.These account
for 10% of the
exam marks
5 General Musicianship QuestionsCandidates answer 5 questions based
on one of the pieces performed
These account
for 5% of the
exam marks

Performance Certificate

5 Performance Pieces only
(three of these can be Free Choice Pieces)
These account for 20% of the exam mark each.

Performance Pieces

At Grade 5 the pieces last up to a maximum of 2 minutes 30 seconds. The pieces are over four pages. Emphasis is on notation accuracy, execution of stylistic techniques, technical control, developing solo and improvisation elements and communication of the music, sync.

Rockschool Bass '18

  • Mark Ronson - Uptown Funk (feat. Bruno Mars)
  • Daft Punk - Get Lucky (feat. Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgers)
  • Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson - The Bottle
  • Earth, Wind and Fire - September
  • The Killers - Mr. Brightside
  • The Allman Brothers Band - The Whipping Post 

Rockschool Originals

  • Geek
  • Rollin'
  • Do Balanço
  • Tiberius
  • Smack Talk
  • Slam Dunk Funk

Technical Exercises

At Grade 5 level there are three groups of technical work. The examiner will ask a selection from each group and before you start the section you will be asked whether you would like to play the exercises along with the click or hear a single bar of click before you commence the test.

GROUP A - Scales (one octave in eighth notes)

To be prepared in two positions.

  • Major: G, Bb, C, D
  • Natural minor: G, Bb, C, D
  • Minor pentatonic: G, Bb, C, D
  • Major pentatonic: G, Bb, C, D
  • Blues: G, Bb, C, D
  • Harmonic Minor: G, Bb, C, D

GROUP B - Arpeggios (two octaves in eighth notes)

  • Major: G, Bb, C, D
  • Minor: G, Bb, C, D
  • Dominant 7th: G, Bb, C, D
  • Major 7th: G, Bb, C, D
  • Minor 7th: G, Bb, C, D

GROUP C - Riff

Tempo: 100 bpm

In the exam, you will be asked to play the riff from the Grade 5 book to a backing track. The riff shown in bars 1and 2 should be played in the same shape in bars 3–8. The root note of the pattern to be played is shown in the music in each of the subsequent bars.

Supporting Tests

At Grade 5 you will be offered the choice between Sight Reading and Improvisation & Interpretation. This is a previously unseen test. An example is shown in the Grade 5 book.

Sight Reading

Key: F and G major, E and G minor
Tempo: 85-95 bpm

At Grade 5 there is an element of improvisation. This is in the form of a two bar development. The piece will be composed in the style of rock, funk or blues and will have chord symbols throughout. At Grade 5 the notation consists of half, quarter, eighth notes and quarter note and eighth note rests in 4/4. The test is 8 bars long. The examiner will allow 90 seconds preparation and practice time and will offer the option of practicing with or without a metronome. The candidate will then perform the test for the examination.

Improvisation & Interpretation

Key: A or G major, E or G minor
Tempo: 90-100 bpm

In Grade 5, the improvisation and interpretation test contains a small amount of sight reading. This consists of two bars of notation at the beginning of the test. You will be asked to play the notation as indicated and complete the test using an improvised line. This is played to a backing track of eight bars. The candidate will have 30 seconds preparation time and the examiner will offer the metronome as a guide or throughout this time. The candidate will then have a complete practice run through with the backing track and then on the repeat, the test will be examined.

Ear Tests

There are two tests which are, Melodic Recall and Rhythmic Recall.

Melodic Recall

Key: F major pentatonic or D minor pentatonic
Tempo: 90 bpm

The examiner will play you a two bar melody with a drum backing. The first note of the melody will be the root note and the first interval will be descending. You will play the melody back on your instrument. You will hear the test twice.

Each time the test is played it is preceded by a one bar count-in. There will be a short gap for you to practice after you have heard the test for the second time. Next you will hear a vocal count-in and you will then play the melody to the drum backing.

Harmonic Recall

Key: G major
Tempo 80 bpm

The examiner will play you a tonic chord followed by a four bar chord sequence in the key of G major played to a guitar and drum backing. The sequence will be drawn from the I, IV, V, and vi and may occur in any combination. You will be asked to play the root note of the chord sequence to the guitar and drum backing in the rhythm shown in the Grade 5 book. This rhythm will be used in all examples of this test given in the exam. You will then be asked to identify the chord sequence you have played to the examiner. You will hear the test twice. Each time the test is played the sequence is: count-in, tonic, count-in, chords. There will be a short gap for you to practice after you have heard the test for the second time. You will hear the count-in and tonic for the third time followed by a vocal count-in then you will play the chords to the drum backing.

General Musicianship Questions

Music Knowledge

For this section of the exam the candidate chooses the piece to answer 5 questions on. The examiner will ask you four music knowledge questions and one instrument knowledge question.

In Grade 5 you will be asked to identify:

  • The names of pitches
  • The meaning of accidentals: # (sharp), b (flat) and (natural) signs
  • The meaning of the time signature, key signature
    and swing time markings
  • Repeat marks, first and second time bars, D.C., D.S., al Coda and al Fine markings
  • Hammer-ons, pull-offs, accents and vibrato markings
  • The construction of minor 7, major 7 or dominant 7 chords
  • One type of scale that can be used appropriately in the solo section of the piece you have played

Instrument Knowledge

In Grade 5 you will be asked to identify:

  • Any part or control on your bass
  • The function of the volume and tone controls on your bass
  • The tone settings for the piece you have played on the amp and why you have chosen these settings

Assessment Criteria

Performance Pieces

Attainment BandAssessment Criteria Not MetPassMeritDistinction
Mark Range0-1112-1415-1718-20
Grade Descriptor• Incomplete performance
• No attempt
• Techniques hesitant and/or incorrect
• Rhythm/pulse mostly inaccurate
• Notation/harmonic work hesitant and /or incorrect
• Stylistic direction hesitant and/or incorrect
• Solo/improv limited in stylistic understanding
• Sync largely not achieved
• Sense of stylistic performance not achieved
• Some secure techniques evident
• Generally secure rhythm/pulse
• Some notation/harmonic accuracy evident
• Some stylistic direction evident
• Adequate solo/improv
• Sync evident
• Some sense of stylistic performance
• Secure techniques overall
• Secure rhythm/pulse overall
• Notation/harmonic accuracy observed overall
• Stylistic direction observed overall
• Stylistic solo/improv overall
• Mainly synchronised
• A sense of stylistic performance overall
• Consistent and secure techniques
• Consistent rhythm/pulse
• Notation / harmonic accuracy detailed throughout
• Stylistic direction detailed throughout
• Convincing and stylistic solo/improv
• Consistent sync
• Highly confident and assured stylistic performance

Technical Exercises

Attainment BandAssessment Criteria Not MetPassMeritDistinction
Mark Range0-89-1011-1213-15
Grade Descriptor• Incomplete performance
• No attempt
• Techniques hesitant and/or incorrect
• Rhythm/pulse mostly inaccurate
• Notation/harmonic work hesitant and/or incorrect
• Stylistic direction hesitant and/or incorrect
• Solo/improv limited in stylistic understanding
• Sync largely not achieved
• Sense of stylistic performance not achieved
• Some secure techniques evident
• Generally secure rhythm/pulse
• Some notation/harmonic accuracy evident
• Some stylistic direction evident
• Adequate solo/improv
• Sync evident
• Some sense of stylistic performance
• Secure techniques overall
• Secure rhythm/pulse overall
• Notation/harmonic accuracy observed overall
• Stylistic direction observed overall
• Stylistic solo/improv overall
• Mainly synchronised
• A sense of stylistic performance overall
• Consistent and secure techniques
• Consistent rhythm/pulse
• Notation/harmonic accuracy detailed throughout
• Stylistic direction detailed throughout
• Convincing and stylistic solo/improv
• Consistent sync
• Highly confident and assured stylistic performance

Ear Tests

Attainment Band Assessment Criteria Not MetPassMeritDistinction
Mark Range0-567-89-10
Grade Descriptor• No attempt
• Responses not offered
• Notation/pitch largely inaccurate
• Rhythm/pulse largely inaccurate
• Improv/solo largely absent or inappropriate
• Sync largely absent
• Responses vague or incorrect

• Notation/pitch accuracy evident
• Rhythm/pulse evident
• Improv/solo evident and generally appropriate
• Sync evident
• Adequate Responses
• Notation/pitch correct overall
• Secure rhythm/pulse overall
• Improv/Solo convincing overall
• Mainly synchronized
• Accurate responses overall
• Notation/pitch accuracy correct throughout
•Consistent rhythm/pulse
• Convincing improv/solo throughout
• Consistent sync
• Accurate responses

Supporting Tests (Sight Reading OR Improvisation/Interpretation)

Attainment Band Assessment Criteria Not MetPassMeritDistinction
Mark Range0-567-89-10
Grade Descriptor• No attempt
• Responses not offered
• Notation/pitch largely inaccurate
• Rhythm/pulse largely inaccurate
• Improv/solo largely absent or inappropriate
• Sync largely absent
• Responses vague or incorrect

• Notation/pitch accuracy evident
• Rhythm/pulse evident
• Improv/solo evident and generally appropriate
• Sync evident
• Adequate Responses
• Notation/pitch correct overall
• Secure rhythm/pulse overall
• Improv/Solo convincing overall
• Mainly synchronized
• Accurate responses overall
• Notation/pitch accuracy correct throughout
•Consistent rhythm/pulse
• Convincing improv/solo throughout
• Consistent sync
• Accurate responses

Supporting Tests (General Musicianship Questions) 

Attainment Band Assessment Criteria Not MetPassMeritDistinction
Mark Range0-2345
Grade Descriptor• No attempt
• Responses not offered
• Notation/pitch largely inaccurate
• Rhythm/pulse largely inaccurate
• Improv/solo largely absent or inappropriate
• Sync largely absent
• Responses vague or incorrect

• Notation/pitch accuracy evident
• Rhythm/pulse evident
• Improv/solo evident and generally appropriate
• Sync evident
• Adequate Responses
• Notation/pitch correct overall
• Secure rhythm/pulse overall
• Improv/Solo convincing overall
• Mainly synchronized
• Accurate responses overall
• Notation/pitch accuracy correct throughout
•Consistent rhythm/pulse
• Convincing improv/solo throughout
• Consistent sync
• Accurate responses

Additional Information

The Value of RSL Qualifications

RSL advocates an open access approach to qualifications, providing a range of syllabi, designed to accommodate a wide variety of candidates of different ages, experience and levels of achievement. RSL awards qualifications that are listed on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) in England and Northern Ireland by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual). RSL is committed to maintaining and improving its reputation for excellence by providing high quality education and training through its syllabi, examinations, music and resources.

UCAS Points

For students applying for work or University, many potential employers see graded music exams in a very positive way. Recognised qualifications demonstrate an ability to dedicate commitment to extra–curricular activities, providing evidence of versatility which many students find beneficial within UCAS (Universities & Colleges Admissions Service) applications and for university entrance interviews. Our qualifications carry allocated points on the UCAS tariff.

Selecting Free Choice Pieces (FCP’s)

For all examinations, candidates are able to play a number of Free Choice Pieces.

Free Choice Pieces must demonstrate a comparable level of technical and musical demand to the pieces given in the set selections in the grade books which can be referred to as an indication of appropriate level.

Free choice pieces must be in a modern popular genre such as Pop, Rock, Jazz, Country, Blues, Soul, Reggae, Film and Musical Theatre. Own compositions are also acceptable.

Pieces should be selected carefully to ensure that the pieces provide suitable opportunity for candidates to demonstrate the relevant assessment criteria. Candidates are reminded that if a chosen Free Choice Piece does not meet these requirements this may impact on the level of achievement possible within the examination.

All pieces must be performed to a backing track (without the examined part on the track) except in case where pieces have been selected from previous Rockschool syllabi and do not have backing track or have been specifically arranged by Rockschool as solo pieces.

Instrument Specification

Candidates are reminded that it is their responsibility to select and provide an appropriate musical instrument for each syllabus to allow demonstration of the relevant stylistic and technical skills within their performance. At all levels of examination, if any outcomes or assessed criteria cannot be demonstrated or are demonstrated less securely as a result of the equipment, this may be reflected in the marks awarded.

Bass Syllabus

Get a copy of the Debut - Grade 8 syllabus:

Bass Syllabus (1.4MB, .pdf)

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Dates & Fees

Next exam period:

23 October 18 - 15 December 18

Next Closing Date

15 January 19

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Exam Fee

£66.00

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