General knowledge/analysis help for your students – Ross Hamilton

General knowledge/analysis help for your students – Ross Hamilton

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

Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular Integrated Music Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as integrated teaching, creativity, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.

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  1. Could you please send me the general knowledge information for ameb piano leisure grade 4.
    Peta Nancarrow

  2. I would like general knowledge information for grade 4 piano leisure series 1, 2 and 3.
    Thank you,
    Peta Nancarrow

    • Hi Peta – you’ll need to go to Ross’s website and download what you need.

  3. Thanks for the heads up on these resources, Tim – Ross’ website looks very helpful. I have to say I’m relieved I’m not the only one who’s gone through the rush of organising analysis of pieces a few weeks before an exam!!

  4. Hi Tim,

    I agree that we need to get our students onto their general knowledge (and aurals and sight reading) as soon as they start working on a new grade. I’ve been referring my students to Ross’s notes for some years – I have quite a collection of them.

    Another similar resource, although not as extensive, that I came across last year is Helen Lowry’s She has excellent resources for the higher grades of Musicianship. She also provides analyses for prac exam general knowledge on request, which I’ve not tried, but could come in very handy.


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