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Trinity Improvisation: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
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.
RecapIn 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 responsesSo 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. Here is a sample MOTIVIC STIMULUS from Grade 1 piano. Click to play and 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 play 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 play 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 play 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 tipsWhichever approach you choose, here are some tips to help you get the best possible results in an exam:
- fluent and without hesitations
- the correct length
- show an understanding of the key
- show some creativity
- use the stimulus in some way
- come to a natural end