Guidance Notes on Musical Knowledge Questions

Here’s a taste of what to expect and hints on how to answer……

Below are a few examples illustrating the type of questions an examiner could ask (if the syllabus you are following requires musical knowledge to be tested)?  Answers shown are not prescriptive but are designed to give you an idea of the depth of response to get a high mark if your answer’s spot-on!

“Here’s a little tip”!  When answering musical knowledge from Grade 4 – Grade 8 questions are a little more detailed so why not use a visual aid such as drawing a diagram to support an answer!

Example question for a Foundation 1 exam:

The examiner asks the candidate to point to a crotchet, minim, or semibreve.

A:  “The candidate will point to the requested note type.”

Example question for a Foundation 2 (using Ukulele syllabus for the illustration):

Question taken from Hal Leonard Easy Songs for Ukulele page 42 ‘Eight Days a Week’

(The examiner points to the term and asks) “What does Fine mean”?

A:  “ Fine means that we return to the beginning and play up to and end at the bar marked Fine”.

Example question for Grade 1 (using Ukulele syllabus for the illustration):

Question taken from ‘Amazing Grace’ Ukulele Method Book 1 page 31

(The examiners asks the candidate to point to an example of a tied note, and asks:) “How many counts is this note now worth”?

A:  “The note is now worth a total of 5 counts”.

Example question for Grade 2 (using Digital Piano syllabus as an illustration):

Question taken from ‘Clocks’ Making the Grade Grade 2 

''Clocks is built on a progression of three chords, what are these?''

A:  “The three chords used in clocks are D Major, A Minor and E Minor”.

Example question for Grade 3 (using Ukulele syllabus as an illustration):

Question taken from ‘Uke Boogie in G’ Ukulele Method Book 2 page 36

''Explain the first and second time repeats that occur in this piece?''

A:   “The piece would be played from the beginning up to and including the second to last bar which has a 1 written inside it.  A repeat would now be made from bar 1 up to the first time bar (at the bottom of the page) but leaving this out and ending at the last bar marked with a 2”.

Example question for Grade 4 exam:

''Give a full explanation of 6/8 time?''


 A: “6/8 time means that each bar must add up to the equivalent of six quavers. The bottom number indicates quavers, the top number how many. 6/8 time can be played in two ways – counting in sixes if slow or in two’s if fast. An example of a slow 6/8 would be a Slow Rock or Ballard, and an example of a fast 6/8 is a March. The technical name for 6/8 time is Compound Duple”.

Example question for Grade 5 exam:

For example:

''Explain Primary and Secondary chords that occur in a major key?''

A:  “Primary chords are formed on the first, fourth and fifth degrees of the major scale and secondary chords (which are all minor) on the second, third and sixth degree”.

Example question for Grade 6 (using Digital Piano syllabus as an illustration):

''Give a brief description of registration memories, Dual Voice and Synchro Start?''

A:  “Registration memories are used to store and save the entire settings or registrations of the Digital Piano.  Dual Voice is the combination of two lead voices, for instance Piano and Strings.  Synchro Start enables the player to activate or start the rhythm/beat when playing the first left hand chord. ”

Example question for Grade 7  (using Ukulele syllabus as an illustration):

''Why do minor 7th chords and major 6th chords contain the same notes and yet have different names?''

(Using C6/AM7 as an example)

A:  “The notes of C6 in root position are C, E, G, A while those of AM7 are A, C, E, G. By placing the A in AM7 above G we have the same letter configuration as C6. By choosing to play either a C or A as the bass note, we change the perception of the sound and character of these chords. Therefore, C, E, G, A with a C bass note we hear as a major 6th chord while C, G, E, A with a bass A sounds as a minor 7th”

Example question for Grade 8 exam:

For example:

''Explain the Circle of Fifths?''

(Using C6/AM7 as an example) –

A:  “The Circle of Fifths is a means of showing the order of keys by counting up in fives from C e.g. C – G – D – A – E – B – F# onto C#.  However when reaching F# this has to be enharmonically changed to G♭ to enable the continuity of progressing in fifths e.g. F# becomes G♭ – D♭ – A♭ – E♭ – B♭ – F and back to C major – a circle of fifths.  Secondly the Circle of Fifths and especially on commercially produced charts show both the chords related to a particular key as well as related keys”