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  • Chris Anderson

Music Revision - DRSMITH For Appraising Part One

We’ve covered DRSMITH in previous blogs (one for each of the main periods). In this blog I’ll go into more detail about the things you could (should?) listen and look out for in your listening exam. There’s a lot to cover so I’ve split this into two blogs.


DRSMITH is a nemonic to help you identify key elements in a piece of music. The elements are: Dynamics, Rhythm, Structure, Melody, Instrumentation, Texture (tonality, timbre, and tempo).


Use this to talk about how loud or quiet a piece (or section) is.

Useful Terms

Crescendo - gradually getting louder

Diminuendo - (gradually getting softer).

ff - fortissimo (very loud)

f - forte (loud)

p - piano (soft)

pp - pianissimo (very soft)

mf - mezzo forte (moderately loud)

mp - mezzo piano (moderately soft)

Subito (sub.) - suddenly

Questions to ask:

Is the music forte or piano?

Do the changes happen gradually or suddenly?

Is there a mixture of gradual and sudden dynamic changes?

Are there any sudden loud notes?

Are there moments of silence?

Are the dynamics being used for a dramatic situation? If so, how effective is this? How does it enhance it?


Use this to talk about note values, pulse, and rhythms.

Useful Terms

Triplet - Three notes played in the time of two notes

Duplet - Two notes played in the time of three notes

Dotted rhythms - The use of dots to extend a note’s value by half again

Cross Rhythms - Conflicting rhythmic grouping - for example 3 against 4

Polyrhythm - Two or more independent rhythms

Syncopation - Strong beats played on weaker beats of a bar.

Ostinato - Repeated pattern of music

Loop - Repeated pattern of music

Phrase - A number of notes creating a sentence of music.

Duple Time - Two main beats per bar

Triple Time - Three main beats per bar

Quadruple Time - Four main beats per bar

Simple Time - The main beats are divisible by two

Compound Time - The main beats are divisible by three

Irregular Time - A time signature that doesn’t divide into two, three, or four beats

Questions to ask:

What rhythms can you hear?

Are there a few rhythmic ideas, or a lot?

Is the music on the beat or is their syncopation?

Is there more than one rhythmic idea being used at the same time?


Use this to describe how the music has been constructed

Useful Terms

Binary - A piece with two sections. A B

Ternary - A piece with three sections. A B A

Da Capo Aria - A solo song that returns to the beginning. A B A

Minuet & Trio - A type of ternary form in triple time.

Ritornello - An early form of rondo where a section keeps returning

Rondo - A B A C A D A E A etc.

Ground Bass - A repeated bass line

Canon - A device whereby a melody is repeated note for note entering after the first voice has started.

Theme and Variations - A theme is repeated several times with each repeat being varied. Composers use different keys (major to minor and vice versa), different tempi, different time signatures as well as ornamentation and any other number of variants.

Sonata Form - Usually used as the first movement of a sonata or a symphony. It has three sections. Exposition, Development, Recapitulation.

Through Composed - A piece that changes regularly throughout.

Strophic - A piece (usually a song but not always) where each verse uses the same tune with different words. Most hymns and carols are strophic.

Verse & Chorus - A song that has a verse followed by a chorus. Each repeat will change the words in the verse. The chorus is usually (but not always) the same.

Bridge - A linking passage between two significant sections. For example a pop song may use a bridge to link a verse and chorus, or verse and middle-eight.

Questions to ask:

What is the structure of the piece?

Are any sections repeated?

Are the repetitions exact or varied?

Are any dramatic effects achieved?

What is the overall structure?

If you’re being asked to compare two pieces:

Do they use they same structure?

Do the sections have the same length in each piece?


A succession of notes varying in pitch and duration.

Useful Terms

Conjunct - Notes that move in step.

Disjunct - Notes that move in leaps .

Scalic - Melodies that form a scale.

Interval - The distance between two notes.

Chromatic - A passage that has intervals of a semitone between each note.

Glissando - Rapid movement on an instrument where by every note is played from the start note to the finish note. It’s play with a sliding motion.

Ostinato - Repeated note pattern.

Sequence - A repeated pattern of notes at a higher or lower pitch to the preceding one.

Riff - A short repeated phrase. Can be used in different keys.

Imitation - A section of music that is imitated by another instrument or part.

Diatonic - Major or minor

Tonic - First degree of the scale

Supertonic - Second degree of the scale

Mediant - Third degree of the scale

Subdominant - Fourth degree of the scale

Dominant - Fifth degree of the scale

Submediant - Sixth degree of the scale

Leading note - Seventh degree of the scale

Pentatonic - Five note scale.

Questions to ask:

Is the melody conjunct or disjunct? Or a mixture?

Is the pitch range wide or narrow?

High pitched or low pitched?

What is the accompaniment like?

Is it diatonic?

Is there one melody or more than one?

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