In some ways, grade four is quite a big jump from grade three music theory. Grade three didn’t introduce a lot of new concepts – it built up on the topics already learnt in grades one and two. Grade four introduces quite a lot of new topics which are then explored in more detail at grade five.
Grade 4 is a great preparation course if you know a lot of music theory basics but are a bit scared of jumping right in at grade 5!
Grade 4 teaches you about scales, chords and intervals in all keys with up to 5 sharps or flats in the key signature. A new clef is introduced – the C alto clef, double sharps and double flats are examined, as well as enharmonic equivalents. We look at how to construct a chromatic scale, investigate duplets, learn about various ornaments (trills and so on) and learn some useful facts about some of the more common musical instruments.
The grade four exam also includes score reading questions – this means you get an extract of real music and then several questions based on that piece of music. The questions test all the areas you are going to study in this course – key signatures, time signatures, triads, technical names, facts about instruments, foreign terms and symbols, ornaments, intervals and so on. Instead of having dry exercises for each of these topics, the questions are related to the extract of music. This is good because sometimes when we study music theory it’s easy to forget that everything we learn relates to the real world of music – not just in exercises on the page.
▶ Use the ABRSM menu for find lessons for this grade (on the right of this page on a computer, or scroll down on phones/tablets).
ABRSM Syllabus (Grade 4)
As in preceding grades, with the addition of:
- All simple and compound duple, triple and quadruple time signatures, and the grouping of notes and rests within these
- The breve and its equivalent rest.
- Double-dotted notes and rests.
- Alto clef (C clef centred on 3rd line). Notes in the alto clef in any of the keys set for this grade (see below). Notes of the same pitch written in different clefs (treble, alto, bass) and transposition at the octave from the treble or the bass clef to the alto clef, and vice versa.
- Double sharp and double flat signs, and their cancellation.
- Enharmonic equivalents.
- Scales and key signatures of all major and minor keys up to and including five sharps and flats, with both forms of minor scales.
- Technical names for the notes of the diatonic scale (tonic, supertonic, etc.).
- Construction of the chromatic scale.
- All intervals, not exceeding an octave, between any two diatonic notes in any of the keys set for this grade.
- Triads (root position) on the tonic, subdominant and dominant notes in any of the keys set for this grade.
- Chords in root position on the tonic, subdominant and dominant notes in any of the keys set for this grade (the harmonic form of the scale will be used in minor keys).
- More terms and signs, including the recognition and naming of the trill, turn, upper and lower mordent, acciaccatura and appoggiatura.
- Questions about a passage of music will include simple related questions about standard orchestral instruments.
Read the ABRSM syllabus here.