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.
The start of the new year is the ideal time to start preparing for the Music Aptitude Tests for state school admissions. For student currently in Year 5, you will sit the MAT test in the Autumn so there’s plenty of time to brush up on the style of tests used by schools in England. Our training test materials offer you a wide variety of tests that are similar in style to those you will hear at Round One of the aptitude test.
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.
Our site has video tips and hints on how to ace the trickier sections such as the Texture section:
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.
If you’re looking for a showstopper piece, then look no further than Paul Harvey’s Rumba Toccata!
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’.
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.
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.
Contemporary Music from Sketch Music by Nikolas Sideris.
These pieces would be a fantastic talking point in any audition. ‘Cheap Rip-Off’ is my favourite!
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!