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Some tips for listening exams

Another note (first posted May 2010) saved from the Discussion board, tweaked when posted here to match the new Mandatory Concept lists, and slightly edited again in January 2018…

Multiple choice

  • Answer the question you’re being asked, not the one you think you’re being asked. So how many boxes should you tick in how many columns, and how many times do they play the music?
  • Remember there might be a good reason for a longer musical excerpt, like a structure (ternary, rondo etc.) to get or some concepts only coming in later.
  • Make use of helpful clues from the question introduction (e.g. ‘This question is based on music from the same period’).
  • Work by elimination (i.e. get rid of the impossible options) when you’re not sure of your answers.

Chord progressions (I,IV, V, VI etc.)

  • Think back to ‘stock’ progressions such as the 12 bar blues or I, VI, IV, V turnaround and try to relate the chord changes to these.
  • Try to locate the tonic (I, ‘home’) even if you’re struggling with the rest (NB it doesn’t have to start or finish with I).
  • Listen for the minors — VI in a major key and I and IV in a minor key.


  • Note which questions you can answer without hearing the music and which require you to listen to it, then concentrate on the latter while it’s actually playing.
  • Look for repetition, sequences, patterns etc. when completing ‘missing’ bits, but note that it’s not always quite that simple.
  • For Italian dynamic terms (piano, forte & mezzo), think p comes next to q (for quiet), a fort is strong (loud) and m stands for medium in English. So the range from pianissimo to fortissimo goes pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff. The ‘s’ in sfz stands for subito, or suddenly in English.
  • For key signatures, remember Sharp Seven for G and Flat Four for F. (Download here.)
  • For Higher treble/bass clef transpositions, remember you can cross-check (or even do the question!) by simply counting up or down (ask for the sheet if you don’t know how).


  • For string sounds, pizzicato and plucking both start with ‘p’, and arco is like archery because they both use bows.
  • For remembering types of grace notes (Higher and Advanced Higher), acciaccatura has ‘c’s (think ‘crushed’ note!), but appoggiatura doesn’t. Note also that both have their first two consonants doubled.
  • Intervals are inclusive (count top and bottom notes).