Grade 3 Music Theory: Exam Hacks
(Trinity College London)

This is the place for all you people preparing for a Grade 3 Theory of Music Examination by Trinity College London. We are going to provide you with a detailed description of the questions asked in the exam. We will all be giving you lots of tips and hacks that will help you breeze through the exam (having studied your syllabus properly of course!).

SECTION 1: General Multiple Choice Questions

The Grade 3 theory paper starts with an easy way to earn those marks. 10 multiple choice questions! Also, I have better news for you, you only have three choices to chose from. Lesser the choices, more the chances to get it right (not that we’re asking you to take a guess, it is just good to know, isn’t it?)!

Grade 3 Theory Exam Hacks:

  1.  Revise the theory and your basics from the previous grades. Theory is an accumulative concept. Each new concept builds on something you have learnt in the past.
  2. This section generally checks your understanding of the topics. So, it is important to keep your basics strong!

SECTION 2: Scales, Arpeggios and Broken Chords

This section has a two-part question in the examination divided between scales, arpeggios and broken chords. One of them (generally!) asks you to write a scale. The other part asks you to write down either a broken chord or an arpeggio.

Grade 3 Theory Exam Hacks:

  1. Although, the norm is to test the keys newly learnt in this grade, they may ask you to write your answer based on the keys learnt in the previous grade as well. Ensure you know all of them! 
  2. The scales in this grade are asked to be written in both directions. Read carefully the direction mentioned.
  3. In case of any accidentals, mark them while writing the scale in both directions.
  4. For a minor scale, observe whether the scale is a harmonic or melodic minor. Follow this to add the correct accidentals.
  5. Remember to add the bar line at the end of the scale, arpeggio or broken chord.
  6. Learn the various patterns of broken chords from Trinity’s Grade 2 music of theory book. Apply these patterns to the new keys learnt in Grade 3 to answer the question.
  7. Read the type of note that is to be used to answer the questions. Use these to write the answer neatly, spreading the notes equally across the whole space available.

SECTION 3: Correcting Mistakes

For the line of music provided, this section focuses on finding 5 mistakes. You have to circle these mistakes and then write the music again. This time correctly, without the mistakes in the original music.

Grade 3 Theory Exam Hacks:

  1. Check each element of the music from beginning to end. Concentrate on identifying and circling the 5 mistakes first and then go on to rewriting the music.
  2.  Don’t forget to check the basics–clef, key signature, time signature, dynamic and tempo markings.
  3. check that the bar lines are the correct kind and at the correct place throughout.
  4. Check all the articulation marks are rightly placed.
  5. Check the grouping of all the notes and that the notes are correctly drawn–their shape, the direction and length of the stems and tails.
  6. Unnecessary ties are mistakes!
  7. Sometimes the spelling of any musical words written may be incorrect. You should learn your spellings well!
  8. While copying out the music, ensure that you rewrite everything. Not just the things that were wrong in the original music. 

SECTION 4: Transposition

Voices and instruments have a certain range in which they can sing and play. Sometimes we need to shift, or transpose, our music to suit other instrument ranges. That is exactly what this section tests.

Grade 3 Theory Exam Hacks:

  1. The question mentions which voice or instrument the music needs to be transposed for. But if you forget the range of that instrument, don’t worry! The question is generally very clear on whether you transpose up or down an octave.
  2. Write the correct clef, key signature and time signature.
  3. Remember since the clef has changes, the position of the key signature changes as well.
  4. Divide the music into bars aligning with the staff on which the question is written.
  5. The music has to be transposed from one cleft to the other. To do this, shift the first note in the same clef as your question. See its position of that note in comparison to the middle C (is it above the middle C? Is it below the middle C? How many steps away from the middle C is it?). 
  6. Now use this information to plot the first note onto the staff where you will be writing your answer.
  7. The remaining of the piece can be transposed by moving up or down in the right interval.

SECTION 5: 4-part chords

This question simply asks you to write a 4-part chord. It is a straightforward question. Since the Trinity grade 3 music theory exam introduces this topic, they have kept it absolutely simple!

Grade 3 Theory Exam Hacks:

  1. A 4-part chord uses 4 notes–the three notes of the triad and a doubled root. 
  2. Remember the bass voice, while writing this chord, has to be the root.
  3. The remaining notes, though, do not have a specific order.
  4.  Read carefully the note type using which you have to write the chords.
  5. In case the note has a stem, remember that on each staff, the stem of the lower note goes down and the upper note goes up.
  6. Read carefully bout the range each of the 4 voices (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) use. Follow these while writing the chords.
  7. In the bass clef, the notes can be more spaced out than the treble clef.
  8. There is more than one way to writing the 4-part chord. Try out these various ways in your practice while you are preparing for the exam.

SECTION 6: Adding a Tune or a Bass Line to the given Music

This section provides you with either the melody or the bass line of the music and your job is to add the other element. This is one step forward into the land of composition and a chance to apply the theory you have learnt into actual music writing.

Grade 3 Theory Exam Hacks:

Adding a Bass Line to a Tune

  1. In this grade, the chord symbol or the roman numeral is written for each bar. All you have to do is to write the root of the chord in the bass line, with only one note per bar.
  2. You can write the same note at different registers while writing the bass line.
  3. The music sounds better if the bass line moves in contrary motion with the tune.
  4. Don’t let the bass line move in similar motion in perfect 5ths or octaves with the tune.
  5. Ensure that the note of the bass line is aligned with the 1st note of the tune in each bar.

Adding a Tune to the Bass Line

  1. In this grade, the chord symbol or the roman numeral is written for each bar. You have to use the notes of the triads (only!) to write a tune over the bass line.
  2. On a rough sheet, write the notes you will be using in each bar.
  3. First decide the rhythm of the music. Ensure that there is a flow to the rhythm and each bar sounds like a continuation of the previous one. It is a good idea to add a long note at the end.
  4. The music sounds better when the tune and the bass line move in contrary motion.
  5. Start the first note of each bar aligned on top of the note in the bass line. Use correct spacing between notes to write your tune.
  6. Don’t let the tune move in similar motion in perfect 5ths or octaves with the bass line.
  7. Starting and ending on the tonic of the key is usually a good idea!
  8. Lastly, try practicing sight singing. This will help you hear the music that you are writing in your head!

SECTION 7: Analysis

This is where you can apply everything you have learnt so far (and not necessarily just in this grade)! You are given a piece of music, longer than the ones from the earlier grades, and questions are asked on the basis of that. 

Grade 3 Theory Exam Hacks:

  1. Read the questions carefully and do not be in a hurry to answer. 
  2. Write your answers neatly, you don’t want to be losing marks because the examiner couldn’t read your answers!
  3. There are a lot of concepts in the Grade 3 Theory of Music Workbook by Trinity. If they haven’t been tested in the previous section, then this is the place for them. Understand every concept taught well so you are able to answer the questions.
  4. You should be able to revise patterns at this stage. Repeating patterns, sequences, direction of the music, scales etc. A good strategy would be to try and recognize these patterns even when you are playing new music.
  5. If you do not play the harp or a keyboard instrument, go through some music that is written on the grand staff! The analysis question usually gives a score on the grand staff for you to analyse.
  6. Revise all the musical words and symbols you have done up till grade 3!

I am happy to tell you, you have completed the final step to attempt your Trinity Grade 3 theory exam with full confidence. If you have studied the syllabus well, and read all the tips that help you write the answers, there’s nothing that will catch you by surprise, and hey! if you need any help, you know you can just write to us here. We will be so happy to help! All the best!