Music Theory Syllabus

Section 4 - Knowledge of Popular Music

From Grade One onwards, candidates will be asked questions in three areas:

  • History of Popular Music: influential popular music groups, vocalists and instrumentalists from 1950 to the present day; at higher grades candidates should be aware of the styles, history and development of popular music.
  • Instrumentation (from Grade 3 onwards): instruments commonly used in popular music, including (at higher grades) a knowledge of their ranges and associated technology.
  • Language of Popular Music (from Grade 3 onwards): musical signs and terminology.

Further information on all aspects of this section of the examination is given in the grade handbooks - which also contain sample questions and answers.

Grade One

A basic awareness of influential popular music groups, vocalists and instrumentalists from 1950 onwards (from a pre-set list of four comprising: The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix).

Grade Two

An awareness of influential popular music groups, vocalists and instrumentalists from 1950 onwards (from a pre-set list of four comprising: Chuck Berry, Led Zepplin, David Bowie, Madonna).

Grade Three

  • A knowledge of influential popular music groups, vocalists and instrumentalists from 1950 onwards (from a pre-set list of four comprising: James Brown, Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, Nirvana).
  • A basic knowledge of instruments commonly used in popular music.
  • A basic knowledge of common musical signs and terminology.

Grade Four

  • A knowledge of influential popular music groups, vocalists and instrumentalists from 1950 onwards (from a pre-set list of four comprising: Bob Dylan, The Sex Pistols, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd).
  • A good knowledge of instruments commonly used in popular music.
  • A good knowledge of common musical signs and terminology.

Grade Five

  • A broad knowledge of influential popular music groups, vocalists and instrumentalists from 1950 onwards (selected by the candidate from pre-set lists shown below) together with an awareness of how their music was influenced by performers from earlier periods.
  • An in-depth knowledge of instruments commonly used in popular music including: their ranges and functions; an understanding of transposing instruments; a basic knowledge of specialist notation systems including guitar and bass tablature and drum notation.
  • A broad knowledge and clear understanding of common musical signs and terminology.

Grade Six

In-depth questions on the history of popular music from 1950, designed to determine candidates understanding and knowledge of popular music styles.

Grade Seven

As for the previous grade, but in greater depth, plus a wider knowledge of the history and development of popular music dating back before 1950, where necessary, and including the influence of technological developments.

Grade Eight

As for the previous grade, but in greater depth, and with a wide knowledge of the history and development of popular music throughout the 20th century, including the influence of other forms of music and the societal contexts.

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1-Scales and Keys | 2-Chords | 3-Rhythm Notation | 4-Knowledge of Popular Music | 5-Harmony | 6-Transpositions
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