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Read the Question

Firstly, read the question properly. Underline words, highlight words, draw a diagram - do whatever you have to do to make sure that when you're asked What rhythymic feature can be heard in this section? you don't respond with broken chords, chromaticisim, sequences, double bass, homophonic or anything else that's not a rhythmic feature.

Know your Musical Features (RAD TIM CART)
Know your features and what category they belong to, here's some examples per category:

  • Rhythmic features: Syncopation, triplets...
  • Articulation: whether the music is legato (smooth), staccato (detached), a mixture of both...
  • Dynamic features: noteworthy if they are particularly wide ranging, , change suddenly or are part of a programme.
  • Texture: Monophonic, homophonic, polyphonic...
  • Instrumental: Legato, staccato, arco, pizzicato, vibrato, tremolo, strumming, glissando...
  • Melodic Features: Repetitive/not repetitive , even /uneven phrases, wide/narrow range, steps/leaps , scales (major, minor, chromatic, pentatonic), arpeggios, ornamentation (trills, turns)...
  • Compositional: Repetition, sequence, imitation, canon, antiphony
  • Accompaniment: Block chords, broken chords, Alberti bass, pedal notes, ostinatos...
  • Range: the distance between the highest note and the lowest note, narrow, wide or medium...
  • Tonality: Major, minor, modal, atonal.

Develop a technique
It's wise to approach each question the same way. Everybody develops their own technique but here's some tips to get you started, all of these tips will keep you organised and you are more likely to do well in the question:

  • Underline or highlight key words to help you remember what the question is asking;
  • If an outline of a score has been given and you have been asked to note something in a particular bar, mark that bar;
  • Ask yourself: what are my possible answers? And scribble some ideas in the margin. E.g. How is a triumphant mood conveyed in this section? If you were composing, what would you do to make your music sound triumphant? Loud, brass instruments, percussion, strong rhythm etc.
  • If you are asked to describe the music in a particular section note the categories of musical features in the margin and note features from two or three of those categories in your answer.

What are they looking for?
Describe the melody; note two features of the bass line; identify two differences between the music in this section and the music in the previous section; decribe the music heard in this section; do you like this music and why?
This type of question has been popping up frequently over the last few years. It's quite simple to answer - note your musical categories, as above, in the margin and go through the list until you find a feature from a category that you can hear and write it down. The most important things to remember when answering this question are:

  • Never give more than you are asked for. If you're asked for two features don't give three - if two are right and one is wrong, you only get marks for one correct answer.
  • Adjectives, particularly flowery ones, belong on your English paper. Describe music using musical terms. The music in this section evokes a sense of a new beginning and a sense of peace means nothing, neither does the music makes me think of the dawn in the mountains unless you also mention the flute that reminds you of birds etc.
  • If you're asked if you like it, you're really being asked to name some features so name some features! No, because I think it's boring will get you no marks. No, because it's atonal, the monophonic texture is boring and I don't like the unusual mix of xylophone and french horn will get you marks!
  • If you're asked to compare sections, MENTION BOTH. Section B has brass instruments or Section B is louder gets you half marks. Section A has string instruments only, Section B also has brass instruments gets you full marks.

How many features should you note if it's not speceified in the question? Unfortunately the folks down at exam-paper-setting-central haven't been consistent in this area, sometimes the marking scheme says two features, sometimes it says three. Always give two. If the question is in Section C or if it's the only/main question in its section, then you should give three.