Exams are totally optional and many students choose not to do them for a variety of reasons. However, I find it helps to understand what options are available so that informed decisions can be made.
There are four accredited examination boards
- Assciated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) – Classical or Jazz
- Trinity College London (TCL) – Classical or Rock & Pop
- London College of Music (LCM) – Classical or Jazz
- Rockschool (RS) – Contemporary
Each board runs exams from Grades 1 to 8. These exams are all accredited by the QCF and are equal to each other. Grades 1-3 are GCSE D-G standard. Grades 4-5 are GCSE A*-C standard. Grades 6 to 8 are A-level standard. In fact gaining Grade 6 or above will gives UCAS points, which may help with university entry.
For Grade exams the usual format is three pieces, a set of scales and/or technical studies, then two of aural tests, sight reading, musical knowledge or improvisation.
Prior to Grade exams there are a number of other exams which students may wish to do. These are shown in order of difficulty.
- Pre-preparatory (LCM) – Classical
- Step 1 (LCM) – Classical or Jazz
- Initial/Debut (TCL/RS) – Classical, Contemporary or Rock & Pop
- Step 2 (LCM) – Classical or Jazz
- Prep Test (ABRSM) – Classical – this one has no pass or fail
- Grades 1 to 8 (All boards) – All Styles
Deciding if a child is ready for an exam is a delicate balancing act and a partnership between the teacher, student and parent. Progress will depend on age, aptitude, practice and whether they already play another instrument. If exams are important to you then we can increase the focus, but if pushed too soon there is a risk that they’ll get put off both exams and piano. We must ensure a child isn’t put under pressure to do exams, since they are by no means essential.
For shy or nervous students there is the option with LCM to submit their performances by DVD. They don’t get the full accredited grade, but instead receive a performance certificate to show their performance skills are equivalent to those required to achieve the corresponding grade.
It’s hard when other children talk about which grade they’re on. Progress through the grades and learning music is such a personal journey and dependent on so many factors. It’s not a competition. Some children get pushed through grades quickly and come out the other side without many skills other than the ability to play 3 pieces really well. I prefer to take a well rounded approach and nurture a confident and able musician.