Review by Paul Dowbekin in the MMA Journal Ensemble pub. 2008

Grade 5 Theory is one of those things that just won’t go away. I know that I begin each academic year with a subconscious dread of making a start on the inevitable theory sessions. Some pupils take to it like a duck to water and they can be a real joy to teach. They absorb the intricacies of the subject, beginning to understand why the music they play is written like it is, beginning to see why some pieces feel better than others. Yes, a real joy! But they are the exception. For most children, Grade 5 Theory conjures up a mixture of incomprehension and boredom in equal measure. To get them through it I find myself looking for all sorts of ways of sugaring the pill – finding ingenious examples of enharmonic changes, finding all the Ic-V-I progressions in their pieces. And then starting all over again next year, because I can’t quite find the sheets I used last year, although I know they are on my desk somewhere… .

I know that there are many publications already available, from the Associated Board themselves as well as from other sources, so do we need another? Why not just grit our teeth and carry on as before? Well, I have used Dorothy Dingle’s book for two sessions now, and I really recommend that you consider it.

I have known Dorothy for many years. She was a member of the department at Cheam Hawtreys when I was Director of Music there in the ‘90s, and indeed she is still there. I know that she is both thorough and highly organised and I was not the slightest bit surprised to find that her book is the same.

It is divided into 13 units, each devoted to a different aspect of the exam: pitch, scales, intervals, time signatures, etc. Each unit has a detailed explanation of what is covered, followed by copious examples, hints and exercises.
Although this is a thick volume, my pupils have found it encouraging simply because of the detail that is included. Much of what they come across they already know – how satisfying to hear them say ‘yes, I understand that already’ and how pleasant it is to show them how much work they have already covered. And yet if they want to go over things, just to refresh the areas they already know, it is all there, in black and white, and in language that they can follow. How refreshing it is when someone says they have forgotten about chords, to get them to read pages 129/131 (for example) and then come back to discuss it. Invariably they return having remembered.

This book will not replace your expertise – which book could do that? – but it will support your lessons and give pupils more than enough back-up material to consolidate what you teach and the confidence to approach the exam in a positive way. Look at the book and use it – you won’t regret it.

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