The passage states that Johnson composed all of the following

Music critics have consistently defined James P. Johnson as a great early jazz pianist, originator of the 1920s Harlem “stride” style, and an important blues and jazz composer. In addition, however, Johnson was an innovator in classical music, composing symphonic music that incorporated American, and especially African American, traditions.

Such a blend of musical elements was not entirely new: by 1924 both Milhaud and Gershwin had composed classical works that incorporated elements of jazz Johnson, a serious musician more experienced than most classical composers with jazz, blues, spirituals, and popular music, was particularly suited to expand Milhaud’s and Gershwin’s experiments. In 1927 he completed his first large-scale work, the blues- and jazz-inspired Yamekraw, which included borrowings from spirituals and Johnson’s own popular songs. Yamekraw, premiered successfully in Carnegie Hall, was a major achievement for Johnson, becoming his most frequently performed extended work. It demonstrated vividly the possibility of assimilating contemporary popular music into the symphonic tradition.

The passage states that Johnson composed all of the following EXCEPT

  1. jazz works
  2. popular songs
  3. symphonic music
  4. spirituals
  5. blues pieces

An important thing to keep in mind about the Reading Comprehension section of the GRE as we use PowerPrep online to study is that it is just that—reading comprehension. In other words, as difficult as it may seem, and it can be pretty tricky, the test makers will always give us all the information we need in the passage to answer the question. In fact, we should be extra careful to make sure we’ve carefully interpreted the passage for answers to EXCEPT questions, like question 9 of the second Verbal section on practice test 1.

First, let’s make sure we’ve read the question carefully because the number one reason why people miss EXCEPT questions is hastily reading the question. This question asks us to identify the type of music that Johnson did NOT compose. Also, we need to be very careful as we look for an answer: it is likely that all five of the answer choices listed were mentioned in the passage, but one is NOT mentioned as something that Johnson would have composed. So, while the easiest strategy here may be to skim for each answer in the passage in order to identify which one is not specifically mentioned as something Johnson composed, we cannot merely skim for which answer doesn’t show up.

  • jazz works

The very first sentence tells us that Johnson was an “important blues and jazz composer,” so we know he DID compose jazz works. A can be eliminated.

  • popular songs

Hmm. The first sentence of the second paragraph tells us that Johnson was “more experienced than most classical composers with jazz, blues, spirituals, and popular music,” but doesn’t tell us whether or not her composed popular music. Is popular music mentioned elsewhere, then? Aha! The next sentence tells us that Johnson’s Yamekraw “included borrowings from spirituals and Johnson’s won popular songs.” Since the passage attributed some “popular songs” to Johnson, we know that he did, indeed, compose some hit tunes. B can be eliminated.

  • symphonic music

The main idea of this passage, as stated in the second sentence of the passage, is that Johnson should be remembered not only as a great jazz composer but also as someone who composed symphonic music that incorporated American traditions. We can eliminate C.

  • spirituals

As we were investigating B, we came across a couple of places where spirituals were mentioned, BUT did the passage ever say that Johnson composed spirituals? In the first sentence of the second paragraph, we’re old that he was experienced with them, but not specifically that he composed them. In the next sentence we’re told that he borrowed from these spirituals and popular songs, but the passage makes the distinction that the popular songs were his own and says nothing of who composed the spirituals (if, indeed, spirituals have “composers” in the traditional sense). So, are “spirituals” mentioned anywhere else? Nope. Since the passage only said he was experienced with spirituals and that he borrowed from him, we cannot assume that he composed any; in fact, the opposite is more or less implied. D seems like a good answer.

  • blues pieces

Like A, we have support that Johnson composed blues music in the first sentence, so E can be eliminated.

Indeed, this question is really only designed to test how carefully we’re reading. The information is not difficult to find, so as long as we do not rush in reading either the question or the areas of the passage that discuss our answer choices, we should be able to eliminate answers A, B, C, and E, which will tell us that D, even though we might have assumed Johnson had composed spirituals, is actually the correct answer.


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