TL;DR I have decent experience in playing a number of instruments and am wondering if I can take grade 5 theory without having taken any theory exam before.

Basically I've been on and off about music for a long time now (played piano and some Chinese instruments, plays bass now for school orchestra) but I never learnt theory properly. I think I have decent knowledge, just can't put a name and structure to things.

I want to take music more seriously now, and plus I don't have any ABRSM practical grades either, so I really need a grade 5 theory to get me going. (I can take grade 7 or 8 double bass easily, but theory is hindering me) I don't have a teacher, but am willing to commit. Is it possible for me to learn all the way til grade 5 myself, and how long would it take?

2 Answers 2


A lot of folk just go straight into grade V theory, as a gateway to V+ practical. If you've been playing a while, you must already know a fair bit of theory, maybe unaware of that.

It's impossible to say how quickly you'll do it, but 3 or 4 months may be enough. A teacher will be a boon for some of the more intricate parts, but a large majority can be done alone, and there are good theory example books readily available to explain thngs, and self test.


Unfortunately the Grade V exam is ALL about 'putting a name and structure to things'.

Maybe you 'know all that stuff' but have just never formalised that knowledge. Maybe you don't!

Here's your first step. Grab some past papers. Book an hour with a teacher to go through your attempt at one of them. Then you'll know what needs doing next.


  • You can also buy the past answers, and check the answers yourself.
    – Simon B
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 19:38

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