Introduction to the Keyboard Reconstruction Question

For Question 2 ABRSM Grade 8 Music Theory, you will be given a piece of keyboard music, usually from the Romantic era, with several bars and notes removed. You should fill in the empty spaces to make a plausible keyboard piece in the same style. You will normally be given around two complete bars at the start, to get you started.

The examiner wants to see that you can:

  • Make the music fit appropriate chord progressions, including paying attention to the inversion of the chord created by the bass notes in your piece.
  • Respect the rules of classical harmony, which means avoiding consecutives, appropriate doubling in chords, good voice leading, and so on.
  • Write in a good “piano” style, which means taking into account what the hand can reach.
  • Take notice of patterns, imitation and sequences, and reuse them creatively.

There will probably be places where you are expected to copy over some material, perhaps note-for-note, or may be with some small alterations, to fit the harmony.

In the places where you need to invent the melody yourself, you need to show that you understand the style of the piece and can write something which fits well with the given material.

And, of course, you are expected to write correct music notation and rhythms; meaning not only that they add up correctly, but that they are also suitable for the time signature.

I would recommend that you write “conservatively” – avoid breaking any “rules”, unless you can see that they have already been broken within the given material. Performance directions are not required.

There are many ways to tackle this question. I would recommend that you start by identifying likely chords. This is because it is normally easier to fit a melody to a fixed harmony, than to fit a harmony to a fixed melody.

Steps to Follow:

  • Make a note of the key, and any modulations, and write down the chord names (e.g. C major) where you can.
  • Add the Roman numeral chord names, where you are sure of them.
  • Fill in the gaps by choosing chords from the common progressions where possible. You do not need to limit yourself to the basic diatonic triads: you could also consider using dominant and secondary 7ths, diminished 7ths, augmented 6ths or Neapolitan 6ths, for added interest, and if they would fit with the style of the piece.
  • Next, write in any obvious sections of imitation or sequence.
  • Finish by writing in the parts you need to invent for yourself.

Composers to Play

If you are a piano player, it is a good idea play through lots of music in the style of these questions. Composers to look out for (as they come up in exam papers fairly frequently) include Gurlitt, Burgmüller, Grechaninov, Reinecke, Diabelli, Czerny, Fibich, Karganov, Mószkowski, Stanford and Gedike. The composer who has most often appeared in past papers is Reinecke.

Choose pieces around grades 3-4 level and try to analyse the key, chords, decoration and phrase structure.