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The Rockschool Popular Music Theory Guidebook (Grades 6–8) follows on seamlessly from the previous Guidebook in the series with an accessible, in-depth exploration of the more advanced music theory encountered by students taking Rockschool's later Grade Exams. Use it with the accompanying Popular Music Theory Workbooks (Grades 6–8) to ensure success in your exams.
Rockschool's Popular Music Theory series is also ideal for Music Technology, GCSE and Further Education students.
The Rockschool Grade 8 Theory Workbook is the ideal preparation for your Grade 8 exam, containing example questions and a full specimen paper. Grade 8 exams earn UCAS points, and test enharmonic transpositions, advanced chord recognition, sophisticated mode writing and technology and band instruments among other subjects.
Please note: The popular music theory workbooks are only available in hard copy format. You can buy a copy from your local stockist or via Music Room & Amazon
At Grade 8 you will cover the following aspects of music notation:
- Clefs: rewriting into other clefs
- Rhythm: adding missing time signatures, tuplet ratios, and beaming into different note groupings, and equivalent rests
- Recognising music notation used by different instrumental groups including alto
- Understanding odd note groupings
- Recognising time signatures: 5/8, 7/8
Popular Music Harmony
At Grade 8 you will cover the following aspects of popular music harmony:
- Understanding scales: melodic and harmonic minor scales
- Identifying scales and using accidentals in contrasting melody lines: altered, whole tone, diminished, melodic minor
- Writing out scales with different clefs and varied pitch
- Understanding the use of accidentals in varied modes
- Transposing melodies across different instrumental disciplines
- Understanding chords: extended and altered
- Identifying intervals of varied keys and clefs
- Recognising all keys and understanding how to transpose into any key
At Grade 8 you will cover the following aspects of band knowledge:
- Understanding how music technology is used: identification of effects and how they are used
- Instrument-specific effects and how to recognise them
- How music technology effects have changed over the decades
- Identification of parts on a string instrument
- Understanding how to play a stringed instrument, the physical differences between them, and recognising instrument-specific traits
- Understanding instrument-specific techniques across different disciplines
- Understanding and recognising instrumental notation
- Interpreting musical devices on a score
- Recognising different clefs
- Recognising the pitch range of all instruments studied
At Grade 8 you will cover the following aspects of band analysis:
- Understanding scores with up to eight different instruments
- Instrument-specific techniques
- Re-writing a score for transposing instruments
- Chordal analysis and stylistics traits of band and brass instruments
- Interpreting a score for up to eight players
- Understating improvisation techniques across instrumental disciplines
- Understanding style and content of specific instruments
- Recognising the stylistics traits of varied instruments
- Understanding musical devices across instrumental disciplines: melodic/ harmonic/ rhythmic
- Recognising the stylistic traits in different instrumental disciplines
- Generic band score analysis
- Recognising scales, modes, and modulation
All candidates at Grades 6 to 8 are required to show valid photographic identification when attending or recording their examination.
- For face-to-face exams, candidates should show their ID to the examiner at the start of the exam.
- For live stream exams, candidates should show their ID to the examiner via the screen at the start of the exam.
- For recorded digital exams, candidates should clearly display their ID to the camera for at least 10 seconds in accordance with the video exam guidelines.
Any official documentation which includes photographic ID may be used such as:
- Driving License
- Travel Pass
- ID card
Candidates who do not possess valid photographic ID must instead complete a ‘Photographic ID Form’, including a current photograph of the candidate and witnessed by a parent/guardian, teacher or other nominated person, and present this in place of photo ID.
All Rockschool Graded Popular Music Theory Exams are marked out of 100.
The classification bands for Graded Popular Music Theory Exams are as follows:
Distinction: 90% and above
Please note: Candidates will need to pass 40% of every section in the exam to pass overall This is broken down as follows:
- Music Notation (20%)- you need to get 8 marks to pass this section
- Popular Music Harmony (25%)- you need to get 10 marks to pass this section
- Band Knowledge (25%)- you need to get 10 marks to pass this section
- Band Analysis (30%)-you need to get 12 marks to pass this section
Learning Outcomes and Assessment Criteria
The learner will:
1 Understand music notation
2 Understand the elements of popular music harmony
3 Understand instrumental components and notation
4 Be able to identify music notation, harmony and instrumental characteristics within a multi-instrumental score
The learner can:
1.1 Identify notes up to one ledger note and keys up to one sharp on the bass and treble clef
1.2 Identify whole, half, quarter and eighth-note rhythms and rests in 4/4 or 3/4 time signatures using bass, treble and percussion clefs
1.3 Identify elements of the stave
2.1 Identify and accurately reproduce major scales and related intervals
2.2 Identify and accurately reproduce simple triadic chords
3.1 Identify parts of musical instruments
3.2 Identify pitch, rhythm, instrument voices and techniques within instrument-specific music notation
4.1 Identify pitch, keys, time signatures and rhythms within a multi-instrumental score of two parts
4.2 Accurately complete a multi-instrumental musical score of two parts
All of the Popular Music Theory Exams have supportive material:
- Graded Workbooks (Debut- Grade 8)- this includes a sample paper
- Guidebooks- these are split into two levels; Debut- Grade 5, and Grades 6-8
The aim of the Graded Popular Music Theory exams is to provide musicians with the opportunity to attain accredited qualifications in the theory of performance in a popular music context. The qualifications will be available to anyone with an interest in studying the theoretical side of music performance, but is primarily aimed at musicians who play guitar, bass, drums, keyboards/piano or sing. Aside from individual instrumental knowledge there is a focus on band interaction and how the instruments in a band function together. In Grades 6-8, with the focus still on the former instruments, this knowledge will be extended to include ‘brass’ (trumpet, trombone and saxophone) and string (violin, viola and cello) sections.
The Debut exam is aimed at both musicians just starting out learning the fundamentals of their instruments, and for learners who may have special
educational needs. It is expected that most of these will be young learners in the early stages of their schooling but the principle applies to learners at the beginning of their musical careers of whatever age.
These qualifications are designed to offer direct progression into higher levels of learning. This can be in the form of either grade exams or an appropriate qualification such as the Music Practitioner suite offered by Rockschool.
The graded popular music exams are single unit qualifications in which candidates are asked to undertake the following unprepared elements in written form: music notation; popular music harmony; band knowledge; band analysis. The basic knowledge that forms the basis of the exam questions is outlined in this Syllabus Guide. The Workbooks provide examples of the types of questions found in the exams.
The underlying philosophy for assessment is that learners should receive credit for positive achievement, and that all should be encouraged to reach their fullest potential in each aspect of the qualification. Rockschool expects the majority of learners to take any of the graded exam qualifications after a period of study directed by a teacher. However, the specifications of each qualification are set up to allow learners to undertake independent study should they so wish. Rockschool offers help and support in the form of guidance and test examples to those learners who may not have access to a teacher or to supplement the work a teacher sets the learner. All assessment of these qualifications is external and is undertaken by members of the Expectations of Knowledge, Skills and Understanding
The grade examination system is one based on the principle of ‘progressive mastery’: each step in the exam chain demonstrates learning, progression and skills in incremental steps. Successful learning is characterised by a mastery of the fundamentals of music notation and theoretical representation of music performance demanded in each grade. Learners will be able to complete a set of written music theory tasks (the complexity and variety of which are determined by which qualification is being attempted), which allows them to demonstrate their understanding of the practical elements of music performance and the way they are represented in written form. These knowledge-based and analytical skills set a firm platform for further practical and artistic development by the learner.
Graded Popular Music exams are ‘banded’ into the following grade categories: pass, merit, distinction or unclassified. Grade indicators are as follows:
- Pass: a pass grade will be awarded where a candidate has produced work to the required standard overall within the examination. They will demonstrate a basic understanding of music notation and harmony and their application in a musicperformance context.
- Merit: a merit grade will be awarded where a candidate has produced work to a good standard overall within the examination. They will demonstrate a good understanding of music notation and harmony and their application in a music performance context.
- Distinction: a distinction grade will be awarded where a candidate has produced work to an excellent standard overall within the examination. They will demonstrate an excellent understanding of music notation and harmony and their application in a music performance context.
- Unclassified: an unclassified grade will be awarded where the candidate has produced work, which does not meet the tasks contained within the qualification. They will not demonstrate a basic understanding of music notation and harmony and their application in a music performance context.
Results and Certification
Candidates will be informed of their provisional results no later than four weeks of the completion of their examination. All certificates will be issued after the formal completion of all quality assurance processes.
Examination Content Graded Popular Music Theory Exams are available from Debut - Grade 8 and consist of the following elements:
- Music Notation (20%): all questions in this section relate to music notation
- Popular Music Harmony (25%): all questions in this section relate to music harmony
- Band Knowledge (25%): this section is in two parts, with each part covering a range of instruments:
Part 1: Identification
Part 2: Notation and Techniques
- Band Analysis (30%): in this section the questions will include the identification of music notation, harmony, and the stylistic characteristics of Guitar, Bass, Drums, Keys, and Vocals in a multi-instrumental context.
Digital Popular Music Theory
We've been working hard to make our Popular Music Theory Exams available online, and we're delighted to announce that is now possible to continue your musical progression from the comfort of your own home.
The content of the exams remains largely unchanged and an interactive sheet music editor means you and your students' exam experience will be straightforward and accessible.
You can learn more about how our Digital Popular Music Theory exams work, including how to enter for an individual exam or arrange a private exam day, here, and download the full list of FAQs below.
Digital Popular Music Theory FAQs
During your music theory exam, you will be expected to complete some tasks which involve writing notation. These are completed using software called ‘Flat’, which is embedded into the online exam system. Please download the guidance below for instructions on how to access the software and some sample tasks to help you practise prior to your exam day.
Notation Guidance for Digital Rockschool Popular Music Theory Exams
Get a copy of the syllabus:Music Theory Syllabus
Find a centre
Sit the Music Theory exam from the comfort of your own home. The exam is conducted online – all you need is a computer and internet connection.
Music Theory & Music Production Candidate Guidance – Online Exams
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