I did Grade 5 theory back in 2013. And did A-level music in 2012-2014. My attendance wasn't great, for various reasons, and my memory is patchy but I've retained my Grade 5 theory skills and then some.

I aim to do Grade 8 piano in March and then Grade 6 theory in Summer. I hope to start doing preparatory work for the Theory exam in January and then take the exam on June 16th (I study an unrelated subject full time so time presently is taken up with that and specific practical exam practice). Are my aims realistic?

Typically, a sensible place to ask is my teacher. However, although he's covered the material in his BMus, his previous students have stopped at G5 so he isn't entirely sure (I don't believe G6-8 ABRSM theory is particularly popular or useful, probably). One handicap is that I self taught G1-5 material in 2012-2013 by going through Eric Taylor's AB Guide to Music theory and doing the associated practice books. I eventually got total in the G5 theory exam for all questions bar the one on composition which I was ill-prepared for. I'm aware that that particular skill as well as harmony is what's examined primarily in the subsequent grades which I plan to take.

ABRSM syallbus

1 Writing specified chords for voices in four parts or for keyboard (at the candidate’s choice) above a given bass part of about four bars

No experience but I'm aware of the chords which contain every diatonic melody notes in each key as well a the need to contain pivotal chords and cadences at key points. I already know figured bass notation.

2 The indication of suitable chords for the accompaniment of a diatonic melody of about eight bars in any key, using any recognized method of notation, or, at the candidate’s choice, the provision of a bass to a given melody, adding figures to indicate the intended harmonies.

I gather that I simply have to realize the figured bass notation and follow stylistic rules such as no parallel octaves. Practice is clearly needed, but at least there doesn't seem to be a huge barrier to starting.

3 Composition of a melody for a specified instrument (a choice will be given), using a given opening. Modulation to the dominant, subdominant, relative major or relative minor may be required.

This is where I think I'll really struggle I think. I don't have a strong internal sense of what melodies sound like when written on paper so finishing them will require training.

4 Questions on short extracts of music written for piano or in open score for voices or for any combination of instruments and/or voices, designed to test the candidate’s knowledge of the elements and notation of music, including the realization of ornaments, the identification and notation of underlying harmonic structure, phrase structure, style, performance, and on the voices and instruments for which the works were written.

My A-level music skills should come in handy here as I spent a lot of time doing score analysis although I will need to look at specific material.

Based on what I've written, does my time frame look realistic? And what sort of daily commitment time would you suggest?

2 Answers 2


Sounds about right. The ABRSM 'Theory in Practice' books are well thought of, and will take you past 5, into 6 easily. Work through them, with an occasional teacher input. Most people seem to do grade 5 as a passport to practical 6+, and don't do 6,7 and 8. Assuming you want to pursue a musical career, it will look good on the c.v. and also fill in a lot of stuff you never meet just doing practical exams. How much time each day/week? Don't know you, so impossible to say! But aim to get through everything and leave a month before the exam, to polish it all.

  • You need to work through tons of those mock exams to build up your knowledge. I spent nearly a year working through past papers in prep for my ABRSM grade 6
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 11:09

Grade 6 ABRSM is a fair bit more work than Grade 5. Grade 5 theory is sufficient to gain you access to a practical level of Grade 8, that is more than enough for most people who do not want to do music for a career.

Grade 6 is only required when you start work on the music diplomas that ABRSM offers. Grade 6 is for the DipABRSM and Grade 8 is for the LRSM.

What got me when I prepared for my Grade 6 is the rather large amount of soft skills you need to develop before you can enter the exams. Take for instance that 4th and 5th question.

They can ask you just about anything about any piece and you have to have the rounded general music knowledge to answer the questions.

Although the previous grades could be considered formulaic in there answering the Grade 6 expects a sound musical base knowledge and ask you questions accordingly.

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