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Introduction to the Keyboard Reconstruction Question

Most of the time, question 2 in the grade 7 music theory exam paper is based on a Baroque style Bach Chorale. He wrote hundreds of them, so there are plenty for the ABRSM to choose from! But it is certainly not guaranteed that a chorale will come up in your exam – it could be a keyboard piece by an early classical composer. In this lesson we will look at how to tackle keyboard-style questions.

keyboard style questions

The main differences between keyboard and chorale questions are:

  • A chorale is in strict four-part harmony, whereas a keyboard piece will have any number of notes sounding at the same time (usually between 1 and 4).
  • A chorale is a vocal piece and the parts must be singable. A keyboard piece must be playable by a pianist.
  • In a keyboard piece, the rules of voice-leading are more relaxed (but not abandoned!) Augmented and diminished intervals are acceptable as long as they are treated correctly. (More on this later in the lesson.)
  • In a chorale, the rhythm is usually driven by a quaver (eighth note) pulse, with a few crotchet and minim chords (quarter note and half notes). In a keyboard piece, the rhythm is likely to be very varied, with certain rhythmic “motifs” (short fragments) giving the piece its character.
  • Keyboard questions make much more use of sequences, imitation and repetition than chorales.

At first sight, it might seem more difficult to reconstruct a keyboard piece, as you may have difficulty knowing where to start. In actual fact, early classical composers mostly stuck to the same rules of harmony as Bach, and the differences lie in how they treat rhythm and melody. In addition, it is fine to copy over part of a phrase note-for-note, if it fits the harmony.