Music Theory Exams and the Music Workout Series of Books

The RIAM music theory series, Music Workout, offer music teachers workbooks that work through the syllabus for the local centre theory exams in a clear and concise manner. The books approach each grade topic by topic, with exercises to work through and tests at the end of each section. These allow the teacher to monitor how their students are doing and identify any area that might need revision.

The authors of the books, Jean Archibald and Bernadette Marmion give us some insight into how the series came about.

How did ‘Music Workout’ happen?

It all began with the RIAM Theory exam. After years of preparing students for the Local Centre theory exams, teachers were well aware that nothing on the market fitted the Academy syllabus satisfactorily.  For many a ‘make do and mend’ sort of approach was common. The results could be seen in the quality of much of the answering and the limited numbers taking the exam. It wasn’t easy to prepare students if no suitable teaching material was available. So we thought about writing something. To devise a music theory course was no big deal – many have done this. To write workbooks embodying a theory course was more of a challenge. To do so following the RIAM syllabus would be a first.

But we aimed to do more. The link between the notation of music and its physical and audible elements is crucial to the development of musical knowledge. We made this idea integral to what we designed. A student may write bars with correct notes in a rhythmic exercise, but if they cannot then reproduce those bars in sound by clapping or tapping, the message has not got home. Likewise, to write a 4-bar melody may be quite easy, but if you cannot hear it mentally and then sing it, the link between symbol and sound is lost. So from the outset we placed a strong emphasis on the inclusion of sight-clapping and sight-singing exercises. We based these on the Kodaly technique of solfa hand-signs which is nowadays widely acknowledged to be an essential tool in music education.

The junior grades, Preparatory to Grade 6, are based on a topic–per–page format, each page combining information with exercises and written work. Content covers all aspects of music theory. As skills and concepts are acquired, tests and General Observation pages are interspersed. Grades 7 and 8 broaden to include history, score reading and basic harmony. Work material and tests parallel the development as in the earlier workbooks.

Though the original intention was to match the RIAM Theory syllabus, the material suits a much wider context. Instrumental teachers are constantly seeking practice material to prepare candidates for Aural Tests. Look no further – there is ample material in these books. Likewise, the observation content provides graded training leading to the Aural/Visual Observation competence required for higher grade Aural Tests. There are a number of these observation/analysis tests in each of the senior books.

The books are widely used in music schools, primary and secondary schools and training colleges. They are also used by bands and choirs to provide grounding for practical music-making. A bonus of sitting the they exams is that in the practical examinations, is that students who present a certificate or result sheet certifying a pass in the Local Centre Theory exam at the same or higher grade are exempt from theory questions and they get the full five marks available!

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The past theory papers for each grade are available to download from our shop.

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