Grade 1 Music Theory: Exam Hacks
(Trinity College London)

If you are looking to prepare for the Grade 1 Music Theory Examination from Trinity College London, you are absolutely at the right place. In this article you can find a detailed description of all the questions that are asked in the examination and our special music theory exam hacks that will make it way-way easier to crack that exam!

SECTION 1: General Multiple Choice Questions

In the grade 1 theory there are 20 MCQs that test your basic understanding of all the chapters covered in the syllabus. These questions are generally direct and don’t confuse you with words. If you have studied the syllabus well, you should easily be able to answer these.

Grade 1 Theory Exam Hacks:

  1. If you are unsure of the correct answer then try the process of elimination. Since these are multiple choice questions, (with only 3 choices to consider!) you’ll easily be able to eliminate the answers that don’t fit to the reach the one that does. 

SECTION 2: Scales and Arpeggios

There are generally two questions in this section where one of the questions asks you to write a scale and another that asks you to write an arpeggio.

Grade 1 Theory Exam Hacks:

  1. Remember to read if the question asks for the key signature or not. If it does, write the key signature right away (before reading the rest of the question!). Though if it does not then make sure to write the accidentals at the necessary places.
  2. Remember to use the type of note (eg. semibreve, minim, crotchet) that is asked to write the scale.
  3. Carefully read the direction in which the scale or arpeggio has to be written. This will be mentioned in the form of going up, going down, going up then down, or going down then up.
  4. Use the whole staff space given to write your scale or arpeggio. Write the notes in such a manner that they are equidistant and cover the whole staff.
  5. Insert a bar line at the end of the staff.
  6. Lastly, the question generally asks you to mark the semitones in the major scale. Do not forget to do this!

SECTION 3: Correcting mistakes

This is one of the most interesting sections of the exam (and the most fun!). Here you get to read a line of music and recognize the mistakes in how the music is written. This section not only helps you learn to write music appropriately but also ensures you realise that you are reading your music correctly! Our hacks below will help you ensure that you have checked everything possible and ensure that you find the 5 mistakes you are looking for. A little tip, start from the very beginning!

Grade 1 Theory Exam Hacks:

  1. Check if the clef is drawn correctly.
  2. The key signature, if any, should be written at the correct line or space.
  3. Check that the dynamic markings are written under the note.
  4. Ensure that the tempo markings are above the staff.
  5. Remember that the expression markings are written under the staff.
  6. See that the bar lines are written at the right places and the type of bar lines (single or double) are correct everywhere.
  7. Notice if the stems of the notes are in the right direction.
  8. The quavers should be beamed together correctly.
  9. Ensure that the note heads are on the correct side of the stem.
  10. The articulation markings must be written near the note heads.
  11. If there is a dotted half note, check that the dot is after the note and is aligned correctly.
  12. Lastly, remember, that all the markings (tempo, expression, dynamic, articulations) are written aligned to the correct note.
Of course, the exam paper can always outsmart us, but if you take care of all of the above, there is a very little (teeny-tiny) chance that you wouldn’t find all your 5 mistakes.

SECTION 4: Answering the Rhythm

In the grade 1 theory exam by Trinity, you get a beginner’s sneak peak into the land of music composition. In this section, you are presented with two bars of the rhythm and are expected to reply to the given rhythm, thereby completing the conversation.

I generally ask my students to think of it as an actual question and answer. If someone asks “what is your name?“, you will reply with “my name is Aliana“. Do you notice what is happening here?

If not, don’t worry, our hacks are here to help.

Grade 1 Theory Exam Hacks:

  1. Clap out the rhythm already given and immediately try to clap back whatever comes to mind as an answer. More often then not, this will help your musical impulses will kick in and give you the right answer!
  2. Remember that the answer has to be the same length as the question. So if you are presented with a rhythm of 2 bars, you have to fill in two more bars only.
  3. The answering rhythm should be similar to the given rhythm. In our question and answer above, notice how the question “what is your name?” gives us the formation of our answer which starts with “my name is…“. Use the notes given in the first two bars as a guide to chose the note values for your answer.
  4. One great method is to modify the given rhythm. that is, use it as a skeleton and modify some notes (you can turn a minim into two crotchets or two quavers into a crotchet)
  5. It is also a good idea to end your answer with a relatively longer note. This is give more of a finished feeling, like ending a sentence with a full stop.
  6. Another great tool is flipping the rhythm, either by interchanging the bars or playing the same rhythm backwards. 
You should use your judgement to see what works best, take the help of the hacks and feel free to try new stuff. After all, music is art, you should always let you creative spirit fly!

SECTION 5: Ostinato

If you have forgotten what an ostinato is, do not worry, because the question presented in the exam is descriptive enough! It asks you to write two more repeats of the pattern. No, I’m not kidding and yes, it is as simple as that!

Grade 1 Theory Exam Hacks:

  1. Write the notes neatly and clearly.
  2. Take care of the length of the stems.
  3. Use the whole space given in the staff. Use the bar lines to divide the space into half and evenly write the notes inside the bar.

SECTION 6: Analysis

This is a purely understanding and thinking based section in all of trinity’s theory of music examinations. You have to remember that no hack will work for this section if you don’t know your syllabus well enough. This section has a few bars of music given that is followed by 10 thinking and analytical questions. 

Don’t get scared at sight, because if you look closely, all the answers are right in front of you. This section is the musical equivalent of comprehension-based questions that do in school. As long as you know how to read the language, you are good to go!

Grade 1 Theory Exam Hacks:

  1. Before you begin, notice the clef in which the music is based.
  2. Read the questions carefully. Sometimes similar looking questions can ask different things.
  3. Your answers can be short but not incomplete. (eg. if the question asks the key of the piece, you can write C major as the answer, but don’t leave it at just C)
  4. Make sure your handwriting is readable. To be absolutely certain, you can write your answers in capital letters.
  5. Tick the questions that you have answered. Some questions don’t require an answer in words but rather ask you to mark something in the music. This is will make sure you haven;’t forgotten to answer a question.
  6. When you prepare for the exam, remember to read and understand everything written in the Trinity College London’s Theory of Music Workbook for Grade 1!

This is it from us guys! These are all the sections in the Grade 1 Music Theory examination by Trinity College London. We wish you all the best for your exam! If there is any other support you need, any help or question, feel free to write to us here, and we will get back to you as soon as we can!