A Trinity College London exam student’s ultimate guide to Stylistic Improvisation

piano duet

This is the last of three articles looking at the three options in the Trinity College London IMPROVISATION test. This week we focus on the STYLISTIC STIMULUS which is a bit different as the candidate plays a duet with the examiner in the exam…

Yes it’s a bit different this one because the examiner will play an accompaiment and the candidate improvises along with it on the piano or whatever instrument they are taking the examination in.

It’s great fun too!

Stylistic Stimulus

So what about the STIMULUS for this one?

If you choose the STYLISTIC STIMULUS from the three options for Improvisation, the examiner will give you an extract of music a bit like the one below. This consists of an accompaniment, with a blank line and chords above. The examiner will play it through twice. Then, after 30 seconds practice, join in and perform your improvisation as the examiner plays the accompaniment.

Click on this sample STYLISTIC STIMULUS from Grade 1 piano to hear it as it would be presented in the exam:

Studying the PARAMETERS for this test tells us the following useful things:

  • The KEY SIGNATURE will be one of these:
  • Once you know the key, these are the CHORDS to use:

The word at the beginning will describe one of these STYLES:

  • March: a strong marching beat
  • Lullaby: a gentle sleeping song
  • Fanfare: a bright call to attention
  • Moderato: a steady and moderate pace

Now some example responses…

After a 30 second practice time you might be able to come up with some responses like these. Remember the chord sequence needs to be played through twice, and that one of the really important things to focus on with the stylistic option is the STYLE…

A basic response might just use the 3 notes from each chord and maybe a five finger scale. It also ends on the tonic note of G to sound more final. 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 should 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?

This one is a bit better as it has a bit more rhythmic interest and is starting to sound more like a fanfare. It also makes a more interesting melodic shapes. Click to listen:

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.

Now here’s an example response which ticks all the boxes and captures the spirit of the introduction. Remember it is a FANFARE so needs to remind us of something like trumpets at a grand occasion. It also uses a mix of chord notes and scale notes – and a few jumps as well. Click to listen:

We should be in Distinction territory with this one – as long as it is played fluently and confidently. It has an interesting melody, uses notes from the chords well and feels more like a fanfare.

And what about using two hands? This is, after all what a pianist would do most of the time – even from the first grade. So here is a really good example using the root and fifth of each chord in the left hand. Click to listen:

Now we are making real music so this one could get FULL MARKS in the exam – as long as it is played fluently and confidently of course. I alsways believe that pianists should be encourged to use both hands for improvisation – because that uses the resources of the instrument. You wouldn’t expect a guitarist or violinist to just use one would you?

Revolution Arts Academy Online Courses

We have over 20 examples of STYLISTIC tests on our GRADE 1 online course – and over 20 for HARMONIC and MELODIC tests too.

And that’s not all – for each one we provide FOUR SAMPLE RESPONSES too – so that’s over 300 MUSICAL EXTRACTS to read listen to and use in your lessons for grade 1 alone.

Sign up to REVOLUTION ARTS ACADEMY today for the equivalent of just £6 per course.

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