top of page

Expert Help With Trinity Grade Exam Supporting Tests - Musical Knowledge.

Trinity Music

As a brass teacher, I often use Trinity for students entering practical grade exams. For the initial grade and grades 1-5, candidates must opt for 2 out of 4 musical supporting tests. This is separate to scales, technical work and solo pieces.




Musical Knowledge

All these areas are important but I find the most important to be sight-reading and musical knowledge. In this blog post I am going to provide comprehensive help for anyone taking a practical grade between 1-5 and planning to select musical knowledge as your supporting test.

This post will hopefully help candidates be able to prepare better for their exam with or without the help of their teacher.

If you are using ABRSM for exams, all supporting tests are based on sight-reading and aural and there is no option to select anything else.

This book -click here- can be viewed via an Amazon affiliate link and could be useful for students wanting to take their musical knowledge even further and there are other music theory books available if you have a browse.

Trinity Supporting Test - Musical Knowledge

The following information comes directly from the Trinity grade syllabus and it is essential for both teacher and student, that you fully read all the information provided by the exam board. This is taken from the brass syllabus and some wording might be slightly different for other instrument groups, so always check first.

Trinity clip

In the syllabus (again, I am using the brass one here), the required musical knowledge is broken down into each Trinity grade. As you progress higher through the grades you need to know the knowledge required for that grade plus the previous ones, all the way back to the initial grade.

IMPORTANT - Do not just look for your grade and learn that knowledge, you must understand all the knowledge listed in all of the previous grades. If you are taking grade 5, you must know everything from initial up to grade 5.

I will show you the text from the syllabus below and in some cases a score snippet, so you can see an example of the expected knowledge.

Initial Trinity Grade - Supporting Test - Musical Knowledge

Initial grade

All of the required knowledge will be found in the musical notation. Take a look at the example below which shows some of the things you might be asked about by an examiner.

Initial words

Trinity Grade 1 - Supporting Test - Musical Knowledge

Grade 1

For Trinity grade 1, a bit more explanation is required for some of the questions. Basically, you could get asked about anything on the page but it is all musical knowledge that you should just know from learning to play the piece.

Grade 1 example

For grade 1, you also need to be able to name all the parts of your instrument. For a brass instrument this would include:

The mouthpiece

The lead pipe

The valves or slide (for trombones)

The tuning slides (1st slide, 2nd slide, 3rd slide)

The main tuning slide

A water key

A trigger (not on all instruments)

The bell

Take Action

If you are a brass player, take a moment to check you know where all these parts are. If you play a different instrument, do some research online or find a picture that tells you all the parts of your instrument. Singers don't need to do this.

Grade 2 - Supporting Test - Musical Knowledge

Grade 2

It doesn't seem like there is much to learn here but it is a big step up in musical theory. For drummers, you also need to be prepared to answer questions about musical style here but that should be very simple once you have learnt the piece. You can also check the info for grade 5 below, where I talk about style.

Metronome Marks

A metronome marking is often found at the start of a piece of music and it will show a small note (usually a crotchet), then an = sign and then a number. The number tells you how many of the type of note there are in a minute. Not all pieces have this marking, some have a word instead, like Andante or Perkily (as in the example for grade 1). Take a look at the image example for grade 3 below to see a metronome mark showing 96 crotchet beats per minute.

Grace Notes and Ornaments

Ornaments might be something your granny has sitting on a shelf in her house but actually this is a good way of remembering the musical meaning. A grace note or ornament is a way of decorating the music and this answer should be good enough at this level. If you have no grace notes or ornaments in any of your pieces then you won't be asked this question.

Grace notes
These are grace notes

The most common ornament you will see at this level is a trill. Where you quickly play 2 notes. In this picture a B and a C would be played very quickly, it creates a fluttering sort of effect.

This is a trill

Basic Posture

If an examiner asks you about posture, at this level the answer is probably the same for all instruments. Posture is how you hold your body when standing, walking, sitting or doing anything. In this case, how you hold your body while playing your instrument.

You should have a relaxed, natural posture when playing an instrument. Standing up tall or in a way that isn't putting extra tension on one part of the body. Letting your muscles do the job of holding your instrument or positioning you in a way that allows you freedom while playing your instrument. You should be free of pain and discomfort.

You might be asked where your hands should go or what is the correct way to hold your instrument. You can just demonstrate this to the examiner.


This is a big one! The first real test of musical theory. If you look at one of your Trinity grade pieces, select any note and then decide what the distance is to the next note, this is called an interval.

The bit that confuses people is that you must count from the first note, or from the note being referred too, in this image it is C.


At this level, if there are any sharps or flats or any accidentals, it doesn't matter. The name for 8 notes apart is an octave, we say octave instead of 8th.

Let's take a look at a musical example. Notice how it is the same for intervals going up as it is for intervals going down. The easiest way to do it, is count on your fingers or in your head. Count the starting note as 1, then count up (or down) to the next note. Just like playing a scale. If you count to 4 (say C,D,E,F) then the answer to the interval between C and F, is a 4th.


Grade 3 - Supporting Test - Musical Knowledge

Grade 3


For string instruments and some others, there are 3 areas because transposition doesn't apply to you.

For brass instruments, it might depend on whether you read bass or treble clef. If you are a tuba, trombone or euphonium player and read bass clef, this part will not apply to you.

If you are a treble clef reading brass player and have ever tried playing the same note on the piano, you will have noticed that a C doesn't sound like a C. If you play a C, the piano needs to play a Bb. This is because your instrument is a transposing instrument.

The piano and most instruments, like the guitar or violin are in what is known as concert pitch, or in C. So when you play any note, it actually sounds like a different one. This can become a bit confusing but all you need to do is work out the distance that your note is different to the piano so it plays the same sounding note.

If a piano plays a Bb, a trumpet in Bb plays a C (no valves) so you count down 2 semi-tones (C, B, Bb) to get to the answer. If a piano plays a Bb, an Eb tenor horn plays a G so you count up 4 semi-tones (G, G#, A, Bb) to get to the answer. At this level there is no need to say anything about whether you are an octave higher or lower than concert pitch, just say the letter name.

Once you know the interval, or how many semi-tones you need to count to get to the answer it is easy. It is also useful because if ever you needed to play along with the piano, you can easily work out the notes you need to play. This question is probably most useful for the trumpet and I would suggest that this question is less likely to be asked of other brass instruments.

Ask your music teacher or do a little search online and you can easily find more help with this.

Scale/Arpeggio Pattern

This is an easy one. You will have learnt scales and arpeggios already and should understand the difference. Scales move to the next note up or down, arpeggios jump over some notes. The examiner will point to a part in your music and ask which pattern it is. If the notes jump (say C, E, G) then it is an arpeggio pattern. If the notes move in step (say C,D,E) then it is a scale pattern. If in doubt, you can always take a 50/50 guess!

Warm Up

This is also an easy one. For brass players, just say "I take deep breaths, I play some long low notes, I do some tonguing and some slurring". This would be a good answer. If you play other instruments, just think about the things you do to get started when you practice. You might stretch or do some hand/arm movements. You might work on one note to make a nice sound before moving onto other notes. You probably play something slowly. Exactly like what you might do before exercising. Just describe how you do that for your instrument and you will get the answer correct.

Relative Major/Minor

Like with intervals at grade 2, this is a more complex musical theory understanding but one that you can learn without much trouble if you take a look at a circle of 5th diagram.

circle of 5ths

The outer ring shows the major keys and the inner ring shows the minor keys. The pairs that line up are known as relative keys. They have the same key signatures.

If you are playing a grade 3 piece with a key signature of D major (it has 2 sharps) and its relative minor key is B minor. So your answer to the examiner would be B minor. You first need to know what the actual key of your piece is and then tell the examiner the relative key. I always use the counting semi-tone system again, so if my piece is in A minor (no sharps or flats), to find the relative major key, I count up 4 semi-tones (A, A#, B, C). The answer would be C major.

I am not going to go into further details about how to know what key you are in because at Trinity grade 3 level you absolutely will already understand what a key signature is. From there, and with this info, you can find the relative major or minor key. Here is a score example.

Grade 3

Grade 4 - Supporting Test - Musical Knowledge

Grade 4
We are into far more complex musical knowledge and theory now for grade 4.

Technical Challenges

This one is very easy to answer. You will have learnt the piece from scratch and you will know what you found tricky. Just tell the examiner exactly what you found tricky about the piece when you learnt it. If you are lucky enough to have found it very easy then it is still best to make up an answer for the sake of the exam. It could be that the music was very fast or that the range of the music was a challenge or the style of the music was something new to you. You cannot get it wrong, just use a bit of common sense with this one.

Tonic/Dominant Triads

This is also a fairly easy one, presuming you understood the relative major/minor part from grade 3. The trouble is, some teachers might not teach you everything or you might have used different supporting tests in past grades. You might also only have a very short lesson with your teacher. So first, go and read the major/minor section from grade 3.

Tonic in music means the home key note. So if the key of the piece is G minor, the tonic note is G. If the key of the piece is Bb major, the tonic note is Bb. Note number one or the first note in the scale.

A triad is a set of 3 notes that can be used to make a chord. If the key of the piece is G minor, then the tonic triad will be G, Bb and D. They are also the notes which make up the arpeggio. Just remember, if it is major or minor it will impact the middle note only. So your triad 3 notes are always the tonic and the 5th (of the scale) and then the major or minor third depending on the key of the piece. So if the key is G major, those triad notes will be G, B and D.

If the examiner asks you what the tonic triad is, you first remember the key of the piece and then state the 3 notes that would make up an arpeggio in that key. If the key is C major, the tonic triad is C, E and G.

In the score snippet for grade 3, the key is D minor. So the tonic triad would be D, F and A.

The dominant is the 5th note in a scale. So if the key of the piece is D minor. The dominant note is A and the dominant triad is A, C and E. Always stick to the original key signature.

You only have 3 pieces to learn so you can easily write down the answers and memorise them. Your teacher should do this for you. Just do not write the answers on the actual music that you take into the exam as that would be cheating.

Modulation to Closely Related Keys

For this one, and in most simple pieces of music, a closely related key will be the relative major or minor key or the dominant. Again, this is something I would just find out well before your exam and learn it so you are prepared if you are asked.

If the key of the piece is C major (no sharps or flats) but halfway through the piece you start playing F#'s then you know the key has changed into a key with one sharp. In this case, G major which is the dominant from C. An examiner would need to study your music a little to ask you this question, so I think it is one of the lesser asked questions.


For grade 3 or 4 as a drummer you may get asked to demonstrate some kit techniques. This is something that is not really asked of other instrumentalists but is something that would only be suitable to the solo pieces you perform, so in theory, you will already have demonstrated such techniques in your performance. You are also lucky as a drummer in that you won't need to answer questions about the keys of your pieces.

Intervals (full names)

This is probably the biggest test out of all. You should by now understand intervals. Read back to here if not. For grade 2, you needed to understand only the numerical part of intervals but actually, every interval does have a name that goes with the number. See the image below. Notice that for some intervals (2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th) it could be major or minor. Then notice that the word perfect is used for others (4th, 5th and octave). This is because there is not a major or minor version of those intervals, so they are called perfect.

So if the interval is a 4th or 5th, it is easy, you just say the word perfect before the number. If the interval is a 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th then you have 2 options, major or minor. Remember that the minor interval is always the lesser distance or a closer interval. For example a minor third up from C is Eb, but a major third up from C is E natural.

Take a look at the following image and it should make sense.


Grade 5 - Supporting Test - Musical Knowledge

Grade 5

At Trinity grade 5, the musical knowledge required is less about the notes on the page but more about the bigger picture. Remember however, you can get questions about anything that has already been covered in previous grades.

Subdominant Triads

The subdominant is the 4th degree of the scale. In grade 4, we learnt about tonic and dominant triads and the subdominant triad falls under the same thing.

In G major. The subdominant note is C. So the subdominant triad is C, E and G.

Take Action

Unless you are a drummer, go and grab your grade pieces or any solo piece. Work out what the key is, check you also know what the relative minor key is and then write down the tonic, dominant and subdominant triads.

Musical Structures

The structure or form of a piece is basically how it is put together, the order things happen. A burger has a bun, then a meaty part, maybe some cheese and then a bun again. So the outer parts are the same. In music this sort of structure or form is known as Ternary Form (ABA).

In classical music, you could have these types of structure.

ABA - Ternary

AB - Binary

ABACA - Rondo

Air and Variation



and many more.....

In popular music, the most common structure is Verse/Chorus.

Take Action

Look at your solo pieces and work out how many different chunks there are. Which bar number is it where the next structural section starts? This will help you when answering questions about structure.

Baring in mind that this is only grade 5 and in most cases, the more complex structures will not be present until higher grades making this very easy to answer.

Musical Period / Musical Style

These two parts overlap a lot. I have taught GCSE and A-level students about music periods and it is a massive topic. We are talking about the whole history of music here. Then remember there is a big divide between classical styles and popular styles. Often as well, for grades exams, exam boards like to have a wide range of musical styles featured in the repertoire list for each instrument. There are many rock, jazz or pop style pieces for the tuba or euphonium, even though those instruments are rarely actually used in those styles of music.

In most cases two big pieces of information will be found on the music. One is the style marking, often found next to the metronome tempo above the first bar. The example above for grade 3, shows the word swing written on the music, this is the style. The second thing is the composers name, found on the right above the first line of music. All past composers were alive during specific musical periods and their music is often easily recognisable because of certain musical features of that era.

To go into that sort of detail here would take a huge amount of time and it is something I think that as a student at grade 5 ability, it is very good for you research yourself. Speak with your teacher about it and try and get into the feel of the music, rather than just playing the notes. There could be use of syncopation (jazz), ornaments (baroque), tone rows (20th century), 3 beats in a bar (waltz), heavy first beat (rock) and so many other features to find out about.

Expert Help With Musical Knowledge - Completed

WOW! that was a long blog post. Well done to you if you have read it all!

The supporting tests in your exam give you a potential total of 20 marks. 10 for each test. Meaning that all of this information can reward you with a possible 10 marks. It doesn't sound like a lot and seems like the effort required to understand it all is time consuming but it really isn't. If you have made good progress through grades 1-5 you will have learnt all of this as you go and can enter the exam knowing all the answers.

I hope this document can help people score higher on their practical grade exams. If you like it, please help me share with others and consider signing up to be notified of blog updates from me.

Thank you for reading. ❤

Mark Glover


89 views0 comments


bottom of page