"A good groove releases adrenaline in your body. You feel uplifted, you feel centered, you feel calm, you feel powerful. You feel that energy. That's what good drumming is all about." -Mickey Hart

Do you march to the beat of your drum? Do you like to drum up a catchy rhythm on a percussion instrument? If so, you're probably already an amateur drummer with a passion for learning more about the instrument that has launched the career of classical musicians such as Ringo Starr, Dave Grohl, John Bonham, and Neil Peart.

Drums are categorised as percussion instruments, and there are plenty of courses, programmes, and exams to perfect and hone your skills. 

Don't worry, completing drum or percussion-based music classes or further education programmes is nothing like the 2014 feature film Whiplash; thank the lord!

The UK-based percussion classes for youngsters and adults are easily accessible mainly due to the fantastic efforts of the ABRSM. The ABRSM offers four distinct types of percussion examinations that have a worldwide appeal and candidates from within the UK and other countries.

Without further delay, in today's article, we shall examine how students learning more about the drums can capture a distinction and be better than all the rest!

How Music-Based Assessments are Graded With the ABRSM

being the best at what you do
Striving to get a distinction is a great idea. (Source: Unsplash)

Not many people like to go through exams or assessments. The little stress of an impending test can fill a healthy person with paralysing anxiety and prevent candidates from sleeping or eating.

If assessments freak us out so much, why do we do through them? Simple: they compel us to learn and acquire more valuable information than ever before.

Therefore, the question arises, how are music-based examinations graded with the ABRSM?

Just FYI, mainly for those who didn't know, the ABRSM is a major examinations board and registered charity based in the UK offering instrument lessons to candidates all over the world. 

Thanks to the transparency of the ABRSM and the worldwide web, it is easier than ever to determine how educational entities evaluate students. For instance, on the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music's website, there is a rubric demonstrating how examiners determine if candidates should receive a pass, merit, or distinction.

The following shows how many marks are required to move onto the next exam grade and how they are separated:

  • Pass: at least 100 marks are received after assessors evaluate all five sections of performance to determine a passing grade,
  • Merit: a merit grade is achieved when performers receive between 120 to 129 marks on their grade end assessment,
  • Distinction: the cream of the crop is known as distinction and to get it, at least 130 marks are needed. Also, to get a perfect distinction, 150 marks out of 150 are required.

At Superprof, we recommend that all students should strive to achieve a distinction since it is the most prestigious level on music-based exams and it will set them off on a beautiful path towards success in all that they do! But how does one acquire a distinction? Keep on reading to find out more!

Snagging a Distinction

rock bands and artists
Drummers are often viewed as the backbone of rock bands. (Source: Unsplash)

"Excellence isn't as much about being the best as it is about being the best you can be, and being better than you were before." -Randy Anderson

When learning to play a musical instrument, imagine yourself on stage in a concert hall successfully mastering pieces in front of a live audience who are mesmerised by every scale and arpeggio you touch. Why? Because striving to be the best will make learning worthwhile and unique.

Whether you are studying to learn the drums, the piano, or the guitar, do it with all your heart and strive to be excellent. 

Nonetheless, while we could go on and on about how and why striving for musical greatness is essential, let us focus on getting a distinction with the ABRSM. But, how do examiners determine grades? Is it based solely on how they feel that day? Far from that!

The ABRSM examiners are highly trained and qualified individuals who take things seriously and follow a system that cannot be disputed. Such as? The Graded music exam marking criteria.

From piano to percussion, all graded-music exams with the ABRSM, except for singing, use a similar rubric that marks candidates in five distinct categories: pitch, time, tone, shape, and performance.

So, what does one need to do to get a distinction? Well, the best thing to do is to follow the counsel of experienced ones and aim to get between 27-30 marks in each of the previously mentioned sections. To be assessed as a percussion candidate worthy of a distinction, the following must be met in the five main parts of evaluation:

  • Pitch: very accurate notes and intonation that surpass expectations,
  • Time: since timing is essential in everything in life, the ABRSM examiners greatly value it when percussion instruments are played; therefore, timing needs to be fluent and flexible when it is required. Also, the rhythmic character of the piece and player needs to be well conveyed,
  • Tone: the overall tone of the musical piece being assessed needs to be well projected and highly sensitive in its use of tonal qualities,
  • Shape: during this section of the assessment, candidates need to demonstrate expressive, idiomatic musical shaping and detail,
  • Performance: after each grade of assessment, the performance in front of examiners is your time to shine! For a performance worthy of a distinction, assessors are very observant, and they hope to see a percussion instrument player that is assured, committed and vivid in communicating their individualist character and style.

If drums players completing exams with the ABRSM are as dedicated, and as focused on achieving and putting into practice the previously mentioned characteristics, a distinction on your percussion-combined tests is guaranteed!

Also, what's encouraging about the exam structure with the ABRSM is that there are eight opportunities to get a distinction on music-based exams. Which means that if you miss it by a few marks the after Percussion Combined Grade 1, you still have additional grades/exams to achieve a distinction!

But are there special tips and tricks that help candidates get a distinction? Of course! The following subheading analyses some advice from expert drummers and test-takers on how to succeed and be the best.

Exclusive Tips and Tricks to Get a Distinction on Percussion-Based Instrument Exams

panel of review
Examiners review the performance of a drums player to see if they qualify for a distinction. (Source: Unsplash)

"Give neither advice nor salt, until you are asked for it." -Proverb

Is there anything as annoying as unsolicited advice? Probably not. The offensive comments, the lack of tact, and the unneeded counsel all make unwanted tips and tricks so awkward and infuriating. However, we must state that when learning something new or acquiring further skills, advice from experienced ones should be actively sought out.

Are you listening amateur drummers?

Therefore, aspiring percussionists should ask specialists in their field about how they can improve their overall technique and aim for a distinction in their exams.

Without further ado, after searching the internet far and wide, we have found the most useful and proven advice for drummers to ace their impending tests:

  • Bring Extra Drumsticks: although this may sound slightly trivial, it cannot be stressed enough. Why? Well, as you know, drummers tend to break their sticks often, and if that happened during an examination, you'd feel pretty hopeless. So, to ease nerves and prepare for all potential problems during a percussion-based assessment, an extra set of drumsticks is highly recommended. Where to place your drumsticks? By the stool or slightly to the right of your bass drum pedal. Here at Superprof, we want you to succeed so please bring an extra set of drumsticks; it's not like they cost an arm and a leg!
  • Practice, Practice, and Practice: you guessed it, practice makes perfect; this is especially true when acquiring the basics of a new musical instrument. Although the drums are loud and not very liked by other tenants of an apartment building, it is essential to set aside 45 minutes to an hour of practice each day. Frequent practice not only warms up the body but also strengthens muscle memory and acquisition of scales.
  • We are All Imperfect Humans: don't stress out too much during your end of grade percussion exams. Why not? We're all human, and we continuously make mistakes. Therefore, if you feel as if you skipped a beat, don't worry, remain calm and keep going. Also, it's widely recognised that examiners respect those who can keep things going after a mess-up. Remember, that an examiner wants to see you succeed and that a distinction is acquired with 130 marks minimum which leaves a 20 marks margin for error. Keep calm and drum on my friends!

In conclusion, we eagerly want all our drummers to succeed in their ABRSM exams and reach a distinction level. Therefore, please apply the tips and tricks and recognise them as advice from an older and wiser friend. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst you rockstar you!

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