Trinity College London music exams: Improvisation hints and tips

Hundreds of teachers have now attended the Revolution Arts Academy workshops New Approaches for Improvisation across South East Asia. As well as exploring how to incorporate improvisation strategies into your teaching we also look at how the Improvisation supporting test option within Trinity College London exams might be a really good options for your students. So let’s get started with some of our Hints and Tips for Improvisation…

Getting started

Placing a new musical score on the music stand can seem so daunting… Rather than starting like this try a different approach to learning a new piece: Start by playing around with some of the ideas in the piece first such as the articulation, the harmony/chords, the note patterns or the atmosphere suggested by the title. We can learn in so many different ways. Activities which involve making things up are great ways to expand skills, knowledge and confidence on any instrument. And it can be more fun too! But, just being asked to ‘make something up’ without any guidlines can be quite daunting too. So we need some rules before we can start to improvise. We call these rules parameters.

Paramaters for improvising

Give yourself some simple rules to work within. For example, you might decide to make something up which is:
  • up to 30 seconds long
  • uses just the notes A, B ad C
  • uses only long notes and short notes
  • has a title such as ‘Haunted House’
Try it out and see what you can create! Improvisation is an option for the supporting tests for any Trinity exam. But most candidates prepare just Aural and Sight Reading because many teachers shy away from Improvisation – but this is not always giving your students the best opportunities. Integrating Improvisation skills into your teaching strategies makes sense educationally as it can help develop a greater awareness of the instrument, improved creativity and a better knowledge of things like chords and structure. In the Trinity Exams up to Grade 5 you need to chose two from:
  • Improvisation
  • Aural
  • Sight Reading
  • Musical Knowledge
And for Grade 6 – 8 Sight Reading is compulsory and you need to chose between:
  • Improvisation
  • Aural
For the Trinity Rock & Pop Exams you need to chose between:
  • Improvising
  • Playback
Getting good marks here can mean the difference between a Pass and a Merit, or a Merit and a Distinction. So it is really important to maximise the potential for students to get the best possible marks with these.

Understanding the Improvisation Test

Most importantly, teachers and students need to understand the following things about the test:
  • What do I need to do in the exam?
  • How do I get the best marks?
  • What are the parameters for the tests?
Some of these things are buried in the syllabuses. But we have made it easier for you with our unique Revolution Arts Academy Online Courses. These answer all your questions about the exams in a simple and accessible way for both teachers and students.

Online courses

In each course we provide at least 21 examples of a test at each grade which you can use to practice and develop your skills. In addition we give you lots of sample answers at basic, good, very good and excellent standards so you really will know what you should be aiming at to get the best possible marks.

Improvisation Grade 1

Improvisation Grade 1 is now available to support Trinity’s exams. 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.