We have created a target set of training materials for the Music Aptitude Test in conjunction with music technology experts. These sample tests are created in line with the MAT syllabus and will help you prepare for the test. Our test materials Blank test sheets and answers are available to download on our dedicated Music Aptitude Test web site.
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The Autumn Term is the time when students in the last year of Primary School will be thinking about choosing their Secondary Schools. This is also the term that local schools such as Alleyn’s and Kingsdale in Dulwich and Haberdashers’ in New Cross start auditioning for music scholarship students.
Of course, the pre-requisite of gaining a music scholarship is demonstrable musical talent. While Alleyn’s school in South London, for example, is explicit that it gives awards only to students with ‘exceptional musical ability’, it is common sense that with high demand for scholarships will come fierce competition and high standards. According to Tim Kermode, director of music at Alleyn’s, ‘as well as accuracy and technical proficiency, what makes a strong candidate stand out from the crowd is a performance with a real sense of musical shape and contrast – and with an understanding of the music.’
Thinking of a scholarship as an investment, one realises that schools will be looking for a young musician who has the personal skills to realise their talent. So young musicians should go into a scholarship audition knowing that they are not being tested solely on how well they sing or play their instrument but also on their enthusiasm for that music. Just as schools look for innate musical understanding rather than simple technical ability, they will select on the basis of the potential of musicians to throw themselves into musical life.
The scholarship usually consists of two parts:
1) The Musical Aptitude Test (MAT), State schools only
Read all about this test here at our dedicated MAT web site. Students that do not pass the Musical Aptitude Test will not be invited to audition. This test does not test theoretical musical knowledge, but is designed for students to show their musical awareness through a series of tests that test your musicality.
If you are selected as a high-scorer in the Music Aptitude Test, you are then invited to audition.
2) The Audition.
Here’s our list of tips for Audition Day. Two pieces in contrasting styles are usually the normal requirement for auditions. The pieces that you present at audition must be given very careful consideration.
Private schools ask for a minimum standard of Grade 5 on your first instrument and around Grade 3 on your second instrument. See here for the financial details of the music scholarships offered by various schools in the South London area. Be aware that the two most commonly presented instruments are the violin and piano, so you will need to be playing at Distinction level in order to make yourself stand out at the audition. Lesser-played orchestral instruments are always much in demand and do not always require such a high level of playing as there is less competition. Pianists have the toughest time at auditions as the bar will be set very high. Do start preparing months in advance and do not underestimate how much extra practice you will need to put in!
Start preparing your piece(s) well in advance of the scholarship audition.
Choose pieces that you can play well, ideally to performance standard from memory, but do not overstretch yourself by trying to play something that is too hard. Do not choose something from your graded exam book. I repeat – do not turn up clutching the latest ABRSM exam book. If you do, chances are there will be several other students turning up with the same book and playing the exact same pieces. Select a piece with your teacher that shows off the best of your musical talents and is perhaps a bit quirky or something memorable. With so many students auditioning for the scholarships, you really must make sure that your performance is polished, unique and stands heads and shoulders above the rest! Here’s a variety of pieces that my students have played at auditions for state or private schools.
Bartok’s 6 Rumanian Folk Dances:
Bartok wrote so much piano music that is accessible for intermediate level pianists. His folk music is highly evocative and perfect for young pianists to demonstrate their range of musical interpretation. The sheet music is here. If you want to offer a short piece, choose the 2nd Dance which is short and lively – around Grade 3 in difficulty. Choose the 5th Dance if you want a showstopper! It’s around Grade 6 in difficulty. It doesn’t have a strong ending so it’s best to start with this piece and then follow it up with another piece.
Stephen Heller, Etude in D major:
This is a very beautiful piece. It is on an ABRSM syllabus for Grade 6 but it’s not as hard as some of the other Grade 6 pieces so if you are around Grade 5 level, you should find this easy enough to learn. Bringing out the singing melody is a challenge and will show a high level of musical sensitivity if you can convey this effectively. Nb: This Youtube version has a few duff notes and is on a digital piano but overall the effect is pretty good. It is hard to find a good recording of it online.
Debussy’s The Snow is Dancing:
I was a massive Debussy fan when I was about age 10. I return to it time and time again for my students as it is a very popular choice with ages 10+. My interest first started with Children’s Corner, from which this lovely little piece is taken. The sheet music is here.
John Field’s Nocturne no.5
An achingly beautiful piano piece. Make sure you choose a contrasting piece that is uplifting and lively if you play a softer piece such as this.
Shostakovich’s Lyrical Waltz (Dance of the Dolls)
A pretty waltz around Grade 5 in difficulty.
The final movement from the Suite Bergamasque, a Passepied, opens with a staccato left hand thats bounces along below a colourful melody line. The demands of the leaping left hand and the 3 against 4 will provide much food for thought for any pianist! This is the most challenging piece that we are preparing for the audition. The sheet music is here.
Billie’s Song by Valerie Capers
Something different by a living American female composer – a piece inspired by Billie Holiday. Look up the life story of Valerie Capers, it’s a great talking point during your audition. This piece is Grade 4 in difficulty. Available from the collection ‘Portraits in Jazz’. Here’s a link to a wonderful video of Valerie herself performing the piece.
Debussy’s Le Petit Negre:
A jolly little cake-walk. Don’t be deceived by the childish melody, it’s fiendish to play! This comes recommended by a teacher from a Junior Conservatoire as a brilliant audition piece for 10/11 year olds. The sheet music is here.
Karen Tanaka’s Wild Water Buffalo:
This beautiful contemporary piece will be a great discussion point as it’s written by a female Japanese composer who is still alive. Approximately Grade 3 or 4 in skill. The sheet music is here.
Ginastera is one of my all-time favourite composers, so whenever a student wants to learn his music, I am over the moon! This is one of his more easiest pieces in terms of the notes, although the expression requires a lot of skill. The sheet music is here.
Christopher Norton Rock Prelude
Norton is a British composer. His rock preludes are a fantastic collection of pieces from Grades 5 to 8 level approximately. Here’s two of the easier preludes. These are softer ones, but some of them are very fast and ferocious! The sheet music is here.
Laura’s Theme by Craig Armstrong
An easy piece from contemporary Scottish composer, Craig Armstrong. Check out his collection of pieces entitled Piano Works – the whole book is very beautiful and unusual. Lots of pieces are taken from films.
Liszt’s In festo transfigurationis domini nostri Jesu Christi
Liszt is known for his showmanship and writing some of the most difficult piano music in existence. However, not all of his music is hard to approach. This beautiful 2 minute piece was written in the later years of his life and has a deeply contemplative mood to it. It’s really not too difficult to play as long as an octave hand span and a light touch comes easily to you. The sheet music is hard to find so leave a message below if you would like a copy.
Tchaikovsky’s Seasons: July (Song of the Reaper)
Something slightly harder, around Grade 6. The sheet music is here.
Contemporary Music from Steven Cravis.
Sheet music available here to download.
Just one of Steven’s many pieces. A little bit Einaudi-ish for my liking but very popular with my students! Not difficult at all, around Grades 3 – 4.
If you play more than one instrument or can sing, make sure you present all your skills fully. Don’t be worried if you are not of equal standards on both instruments. When preparing for auditions, few children will be able to pick up a second or third instrument to any helpful extent (if they can then they probably do deserve a scholarship), but in the lead-up to a scholarship audition instrumentalists would certainly benefit from working on their singing – see below.
Sing, sing, sing!
Schools are always crying out for singers for choirs and musicals. It’s an attainable extra skill and it will help anyway in aural tests. Though obviously don’t commit to 7 years of Choral Society unless you do really like singing! Anyone can sing, and good instrumentalists should be excellent at sight singing once they have got to know how their own voices work (this does not have to take long).
You will be asked about your musical interests outside of lessons. Be prepared to speak about:
1) Favourite Composers, Conductors, Orchestras, Concert Venues, Performers
2) Any prizes you have won at school or at local music festivals
3) Improvisation skills, ensemble playing skills
4) Performances you have organised – charity events, recitals at church/youth club etc.
Don’t just talk about your graded exams – everybody does these, but not many do much above and beyond the exam, so really use this chance to shine. Any interest in composition, improvisation, music technology or competence in rock instruments which might not be eligible for a scholarship might just be enough to separate one potential scholar from another.
Easier said than done, but if you are a veteran of performing in public then hopefully you will have developed strategies to keep the nerves under control. Also make sure you have performed your audition pieces several times under some sort of pressure to mimic the nerves you will feel on the day. Take part in festivals, concerts, stage your own concerts and invite your neighbours!
As well as using the online Music Aptitude Training Tests, there are some great CDs and DVDs available to help you practice your ear training. Here’s a selection of useful resources:
An excellent workshop from the assistant chair of the Ear Training Department at the prestigious Berklee College of Music, this DVD is a vital intro to the topic for songwriters and performers looking to improve their listening skills and become better musicians.
You’ll learn to:
*Recognise chord progressions quickly and confidently.
*Incorporate them into your writing and performing.
*Listen to music more analytically.
*Apply this knowledge to all of your projects.
The Complete Guide for All Musicians. This book and double CD pack takes you step by step through MI’s well-known Ear Training course. Complete lessons and analysis include: basic pitch matching · singing major and minor scales · identifying intervals · transcribing melodies and rhythm · identifying chords and progressions · seventh chords and the blues · modal interchange, chromaticism, modulation · and more! Learn to hear and to visualize on your instrument. Take your playing from good to great! Over 2 hours of practice exercises – with complete answers in the back.
400 Aural Training Exercises From The Masters
This is a great resource for students that pass the MAT and are selected for the second stage as very often you will be asked aural tests that are singing and clapping-based.