"Playing fast around the drums is one thing. But to play music, to play with people for others to listen to, that's something else. That's a whole other world." -Tony Williams 

The drums, a guitar, a bass, and some vocals; what do these essential ingredients create? A rock band! Some of the most influentials rockers of all time have created boisterous sounds that have quaked concert venues, small cafes, and people's homes for decades.

Also, it is worth stating that the UK has much to boast about when mentioning rock bands. Why's that? The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Who; need I say or mention more?

Rock music is one of the world's most appreciated genres with so much energy bumping through each note or sound. 

Therefore, since rock music is so popular, many passionate individuals have decided to learn instruments and form their amateur rock bands. Millions of people around the world have acquired instruments such as the guitar and drums as a way of idolising their most preferred rock legend.

Without further ado, in today's article, we shall examine the beautiful musical instrument known as the drums and how many drum grades/levels there are according to the academic structure in the United Kingdom. Let's drum away; I know, bad pun!

What Type of Instrument is a Drum?

the drums
Percussion instruments are some of the most commonly played in the UK. (Source: Unsplash)

Music makes our world a better place, and when various musical instruments are played together melodically and lyrically, our ears reap the rewards of musicians many hours of practice.

Orchestras spend so much of their time working together to have perfect chemistry so that classical music pieces can come alive.

In an orchestra, as is the case in traditional music classes, distinct categories of instruments are separated into groups to make practising more attainable and less confusing. Nonetheless, what are the different genres of musical instruments? The following outline the six major categories of instruments that are frequently played in and around the UK:

  • Bowed Strings: the four main bowed strings orchestra instruments that can be found are the violins, the violas, the cellos, and the double basses.
  • Woodwinds: as for the woodwinds, they are characterised by the fact that they all work by a system of keys that when pressed, allows air to come out at different speeds. Examples include the clarinet, oboe, and flute.
  • Brass Instruments: next we have the brass instruments that include popular instruments such as the trumpet, the French horn, the tuba, and the trombone. How do they get their distinction and name? They are activated by blowing into them, and the lips/mouth is placed against the cup or mouthpiece.
  • Percussion: known by all as the instruments that make a resonating sound when the player strikes the surface; in other words, drums! Percussion instruments are divided by either tuned or indefinite pitch. Tuned pitch instruments include the xylophone, timpani, or kettle drum. The unspecified pitch instruments are either known as the gong, the cymbal, and the tremendous variety of drums such as the bongo, bass, and tenor.
  • Keyboard: the name speaks for itself, keyboards include instruments with keys such as electric keyboards, pianos, and organs. Keyboard instruments are sub-categorised as plucked, struck, aerated, and electronic.
  • Guitar Family: last but not least comes the guitar family that includes stringed instruments such as the guitar, ukulele, bass, and others. Using the fingernails and a pick, the guitar family came to prominence in Spain during the renaissance.

Now that we've easily identified the characteristics behind the six primary categories of musical instruments, the drums and all that they include are known as percussion instruments.

Therefore, the ABRSM courses and grades for drums are under the category of percussion and deserve specific attention for their ability to create stars of their candidates. 

Nonetheless, if you aren't familiar yourself with music education in the UK yet, you're probably wondering, what is the ABRSM? Read the following subheading to find out more!

What is ABRSM?

percussion, strings, and keyboards
Key elements are necessary in creating rock bands sounds. (Source: Unsplash)

Known across the United Kingdom and amongst many music enthusiasts across the universe, the ABRSM stands for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and is a registered charity based in London.

The ABRSM provides examinations and music training in the UK and international schools in over 90 countries world. With other 600,000 passionate candidates completing assessments with the ABRSM, it remains one of the most prominent music-based organisations on the planet today.

The music education courses are structured by grades that start easy and get more difficult until the last category, number eight, is reached. Music education with the ABRSM is international and for students of all ages.

It is important to mention there are many charitable music-based associations worldwide that are compatible with the ABRSM and offer equivalencies of study.

What about drum grades? What is considered in the ABRSM drum or percussion levels? Read the following section to find out more!

Drums Grades in the UK

Middle-Eastern sounds
Drums are not just used in rock bands. (Source: Unsplash)

For students hoping to garner further knowledge about the drums with the ABRSM, there are four distinct percussion categories with eight grades that can be studied depending on the field of expertise desired.

The ABRSM offers various percussion classes to provide an overall flexible approach to percussion assessment. For example, there are grades 1-8 offered for percussion instruments such as the timpani, snare drum, and tuned percussion individually as well as a percussion combined classes.

Which one shall you choose? Well, the most popular and highly recommended category of tests is, hands down, the percussion combined exam. Why? It allows students to master their skills in a more balanced and complete manner.

Without further delay, we shall briefly summarise what is examined in the most popular assessment of Percussion Combined with the ABRSM and the music-based information that is required to grasp to move on from level to level.

Also, for lack of time, we shall not summarise the material covered in the Practical Grades of other Percussion-based exams such as the snare drum, timpani, and tuned percussion. Nonetheless, it's important to mention that the structure is quite similar with the only difference being the instrument.

Let's get started!

Percussion Combined

Since the Percussion Combined assessments are the most common, there is much information available to help students succeed. What is considered in the eight Practical Grades? Read the following list to find out more:

  • Practical Grade 1: in this section, learners are welcomed with an introduction to percussion instruments, and they must master three pieces, know their scales and arpeggios, focus on sight-reading, and complete aural tests.
  • Practical Grade 2: also required in Practical Grade 2 is the memorisation of pieces, learning more about scales, and honing necessary skills. Pieces of music that can be studied include Fantastic Clock, Vector, Swaggerit, etc.
  • Practical Grade 3: during level three, candidates practice pieces on the timpani, snare drum, and tuned percussion. Sight-reading is scrutinised by examiners as the levels go up. Therefore, it is highly recommended that candidates review the ABRSM textbook known as Percussion Sight Reading.
  • Practical Grade 4: similar to all other grades, in grade 4, Percussion Combined candidates are required to master three pieces, scales, and arpeggios.
  • Practical Grade 5: level 5 is quite a crucial grade to pass when considering the option to move out the advanced levels of 6,7, and 8. Therefore, students must use all of their previous talents to excel during the level 5 exam. Examiners expect a lot at this point which means that pieces should be executed almost perfectly and scales should be memorised.
  • Practical Grade 6: as a prerequisite before completing Grade 6, candidates must have passed ABRSM Grade 5 or above in Music Theory, Practical Musicianship, or solo Jazz Instrument. Why? Grades 6, 7, and 8 are the big leagues! Nonetheless, the same structure is followed in Grade 6 with pieces, scales, and arpeggios.
  • Practical Grade 7: along with the same requirements as other levels, in Practical Grade 7, three pieces of music must be mastered, and distinct scales/arpeggios learned. It is essential to mention that since Grade 7 is an advanced level, perfection must be strived for by students.
  • Practical Grade 8: the cherry on top, the grand finale, the end of an era, whatever you wish to call it, the Percussion Combined Grade 8 is a big deal! The same exam structure and study material are covered with the Grade 8 assessment. Since the music-based content is quite difficult, a lot of studying is required. We recommend the Percussion Studies book from the ABRSM.

Remember candidates, throughout the entire Percussion Combined (grades 1-8), assessments are graded in the same manner and require 100 marks for a pass, 120 for merit, and a minimum of 130 marks for a distinction. If you focus on the teacher's marking rubric, which is available on the ABRSM website, students can aim for a difference and improve themselves and their playing abilities to reach that level.

In conclusion, we are confident that every single candidate studying drums with the ABRSM will succeed and receive fantastic training to be the best at what they do!

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