Now we have grasped the basics of Improvisation in the Trinity exam, how can we tell if the result is any good?

In this article Revolution Arts director Nicholas Keyworth shows you some real responses to the Improvisation test to help you get the best possible marks in the exam.

Recap

In the Trinity exams these are three possible starting points or musical ideas to choose from – called the Stimulus:

* MOTIVIC STIMULUS

The examiner gives the candidate a short section of melody as the musical idea. After 30 seconds practice the candidate will be asked to perform their improvisation.

* HARMONIC STIMULUS

The examiner gives the candidate a sequence of 4 chords as the musical idea. After 30 seconds practice the candidate will be asked to perform their improvisation.

* STYLISTIC STIMULUS

Here the candidate is given a chord chart with accompaniment. The examiner plays this while the candidate improvises using the chords and the given style as the musical idea. After 30 seconds practice the candidate will be asked to perform their improvisation as a duet with the examiner.

Example responses

So what could a possible response be like – and how can we work out how many marks it might be worth?

Let's look at a MOTIVIC STIMULUS as an example from Grade 1 piano and see what we can do with it…

Here is a sample MOTIVIC STIMULUS from Grade 1 piano. Click on it to hear it as it would be presented in the exam:

In a Grade 1 exam we are expected to perform an Improvisation lasting between 4 and 8 bars using a stimulus like the one above as the starting point. Let's see some example responses…

A very basic response might just copy the stimulus, then repeat it again with perhaps a more final note at the end. Maybe something like this – click on it to listen:

It's a bit simple but it's ok. If it is played fluently and confidently it might pass at grade 1 – but it's not very interesting or imaginative. How can we improve it and do something which might attract higher marks?

Here's one which is a bit better. It is 6 bars long instead of just 4, and something interesting happens in the middle. Click to listen:

So it starts the same as the basic version but then has a new section added in the middle. This one shows a bit more originality and interest so would get a higher mark – maybe a merit assuming it is played fluently and confidently. But how can we get really good marks at Grade 1?

How about this response?  This one which is likely to get a distinction – again assuming it is played fluently and confidently. Click to listen:

That's more like it. High marks for this one! It doesn't just repeat the stimulus, it uses the ideas within the stimulus as a starting point for something new and original. 

It uses some tricks like sequence to repeat the opening three notes at a higher pitch. On the second line it extends the opening idea into a broken chord. And it's fine not to play the stimulus exactly as it is written – remember it's not a sight reading test!

Hints and tips

Whichever approach you choose, here are some tips to help you get the best possible results in an exam:

  • fluent and without hesitations
  • confident
  • the correct length
  • show an understanding of the key
  • show some creativity
  • use the stimulus in some way
  • come to a natural end

Online courses

In our Revolution Arts Academy courses you will find many more examples like this, plus much more help about what actually happens in the exam. Sign up today for the equivilent of just £6 per course.

Improvisation Grade 1

Improvisation Grade 1 is now available to support Trinity's exams with loads of visual and audio examples to help you get the best possible marks in the exam.

Try our Support for Improvisation Tests 2017 course for just £6. You can pay with any debit card or credit in any currency.

Revolution Arts Academy Director, Nicholas Keyworth is the former Chief Examiner for Music at Trinity College London. With over 16 years experience as a music examiner he was involved in the development of Improvisation and Improvising as part of the Trinity Classical and Trinity Rock & Pop Exams. He now travels extensively supporting to teachers as they prepare their students for music exams.