Improvisation with Chords

In the last newsletter we looked some example responses to the MELODIC STIMULUS. In this article we shall look at some sample responses to the HARMONIC STIMULUS…

What is a Stimulus?

A stimulus is simply a musical idea the examiner will give you as a starting point for your improvisation in the Trinity exams. There are three possible ones to choose from:

Harmonic Stimulus

If you chose Harmonic Stimulus you should tick this on your appointment slip. The examiner will then give the candidate a sequence of 4 chords and examiner will play it through twice. Then, after 30 seconds practice the candidate will be asked to perform their improvisation based on these chords. KNOW YOUR PARAMETERS! It is really useful to know the PARAMETERS for the test so you know what to expect. So for Grade 1 piano the test will consist of:
  • 4 chords – one chord per bar
  • Repeat marks so it is played twice through
  • A key signature for C, F or G Major
  • Chords I and V only
  • Treble and Bass clef
Here is a sample HARMONIC STIMULUS from Grade 1 piano. Click play to hear it as it would be presented in the exam:
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. You can chose a time signature and tempo to suit your ability and style… A basic response might just use the 3 notes from each chord and maybe a five finger scale. It also turns ends on the tonic note of G to sound more final. Maybe something like this: Click play 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. The notes here come from inversions of the chords as well as root position chords. It also makes 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. And how about this response?  This one uses two hands – and why not? Just the root of the chord in the bass and an interesting melody derived for the chord notes in the right hand. Click to listen:
Assuming it is played fluently and confidently this one is likely to get a DISTINCTION. There are some fun rhythms in the melody too which give it added interest. And pianists should be encouraged to use both hands if possible to maximise the resources of the instrument.  

Revolution Arts Academy Online Courses

In our groundbreaking Revolution Arts Academy courses you will find many more examples like this, plus much more help about what actually happens in the exam. Improvisation Grade 1 is now available to support Trinity’s exams with lots of visual and audio examples to help you get the best possible marks in the exam.