General knowledge/analysis help for your students - Ross Hamilton - Top Music Co
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General knowledge/analysis help for your students – Ross Hamilton

By Tim Topham | General Knowledge

Jan 25 2012

music education resourcesHave you ever been teaching a piece of music for a student to present at an exam, only to realise a few week’s out that you are not 100% sure of the piece’s analysis/general knowledge requirements?

I have, and given the importance that is placed on a student’s understanding of the ‘general knowledge’ surrounding the pieces they are presenting for exams, Ross Hamilton‘s website was a lifesaver!

Just in case anyone is unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, “general knowledge” aka “viva voce” refers to the part of an exam where the examiner quizzes the candidate on his/her knowledge of a piece’s form, keys, meter, signs/terms/abbreviations, knowledge of its place in music history, the composer’s background and his/her contemporaries, how the music is identifiable with a particular style, etc. At Diploma level, this part of the exam is just as important as the performance.

A few years ago for example, I was unsure of the best way to describe the key and form of a Christopher Norton latin prelude. Another time it was the structure of a Bach prelude. More recently, I was wondering about my own Diploma pieces (I’m sure I learnt it all at Uni, but it’s pretty rough now!). In all these cases, Ross Hamilton’s website provided the answers.

I find the AMEB “general knowledge” requirements often challenging for students, especially from about Grade 4 onwards (and, having accompanied other instruments in exams, I feel that the piano general knowledge requirement is harder than other instruments). It’s also hard for teachers to remember (and have time) to cover everything that may be asked of a student in an exam.

For this reason, I start discussing this as early as possible with students to avoid the ‘week before the exam’ cram session. Incidentally, I do the same with aural work and sight-reading as, in the AMEB system at least, students presenting poorly on either their aural work, sight-reading or general knowledge will usually drop a grade (at least) regardless of how well they performed.

For teachers, Ross’ online analyses of hundreds, if not thousands, of pieces predominantly for keyboard, is indispensable if you are preparing students for exams. Even if you are reasonably sure of your own analysis skills, having Ross’ notes can confirm that you are on the right track; for those just starting, his notes can be your first point of call.

Ross is currently doing a “back-to-school” sale for about another week, so it’s definitely worth checking out! Use his catalogue search function for a quick way to find anything. You can even ask him to send you a print version of the catalogue.

Good luck and let me know if you hear of any other good resources like this!

Tim Topham

About the Author

Tim Topham has one mission in life: to stem the tide of children quitting music lessons by helping teachers maximise student engagement through creativity, technology and innovation. Tim hosts the popular Creative Piano Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, Californian Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.

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