"The piano keys are black and white, but they sound like a million colours in your mind." -Maria Cristina Mena

What's your favourite musical instrument? Is it the harp? Perhaps the guitar or ukelele? The trumpet or clarinet? Or is it the lovely violin?

While all musical instruments produce beautiful sounds, there is one that resonates with so many people across various continents. Which one is that? The piano. The universal acclaim of the keyboard cannot be refuted since, according to many reputable resources, it is the most played musical instrument in the world with over 21 million people currently playing!

The everlasting appeal of the piano is no surprise because the majestic sounds of Chopin, Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart, and Brahms have filled concert halls for decades; even centuries!

Therefore, without any further delay, we shall analyse piano grades across the United Kingdom and how they structured within the ABRSM.

What is ABRSM?

evaluating the piano
The ABRSM teachers carefully evaluate students before having them pass on to the next level. (Source: Unsplash)

"Associations are both subtle and powerful." -Jim Rohn

While many people might scoff or jeer at the obscene amount of organisations that cover topics from women's rights to park conservation, associations are influential entities that protect their member's rights and try to secure their success. A lot of associations in the UK are non-profit and education-based, which aids a ton of young ones with high goals.

An organisation in the UK that deserves a lot of attention for the great things they do is the ABRSM. What does ABRSM stand for? The ABRSM stands for Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. It is an examinations board and registered charity based in London which provides music exams at further education centres all around the world.

The 'Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music' was initially established in the late 19th century and was rebranded as ABRSM in 2009. 

What does the 'Royal' in ABRSM mean? Easy, they are Royal schools that have been approved and include the following prestigious higher education locations:

  • The Royal Academic of Music, 
  • The Royal College of Music, 
  • The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, 
  • The Royal Northern College of Music. 

Are ABRSM Assessments Important?

Music education is essential, no discussion. Therefore, the ABRSM charity must continue to exist to educate thousands of students the importance of the arts. Based on recent statistics, there are more than 600,000 candidates that take ABRSM exams in 93 countries each year; that's a lot of people!

Not only does the ABRSM provide personalised music education, but they also have a publishing house that regularly produces books, sheet music, and examination forms. 

In our opinion, the essential part of the ABRSM is the exams that provide a structured framework that determines whether a person is a beginner or advanced musician. Based on the expertise of the National Qualifications Framework, the grades and levels can be defined as follows:

  • Grades 1-3 at Level 1, 
  • Grades 4-5 at Level 2, 
  • Grades 6-8 at Level 3.

It is essential to state that all music subjects are offered from Grades 1-8 and have three different standards of pass: a straight pass, a pass with merit, and a pass with distinction. Therefore, this means that whether students are completing practical exams, music theory exams, practical musicianship, or jazz exams, they must go through eight grades of ABRSM assessments to determine their level of talent.

Therefore, does that mean that there are eight grades of piano exams in the UK? The short answer is yes. Please read the following subheading to find out more about what is included in each class of assessments of piano playing.

Find different piano lessons on Superprof.

Piano Grades in the UK: One to Eight

playing live shows
Listening to others play and contributing is the beauty of a live orchestra. (Source: Unsplash)

"Sometimes music is the only medicine the heart and soul need." -Author Unknown

Do you have a passion for music? Do melodies play inside your head from the moment you wake up in the morning? Do you want to become a famous pianist?

If you answered yes to all three of the previously posed questions, completing the eight grades of the piano classes with the ABRSM is the perfect fit! Nevertheless, persons not familiar with the ABRSM curriculum in piano grades might ask themselves, what is considered in all eight categories?

Have no fear, Superprof is here to save the day and provide the necessary information to all interested parties.

Nonetheless, it is essential to mention that in all eight grades (1-8), the exam structure, marking, and the general curriculum are quite similar. For example, Practical Piano Grades 1-8 consists of reviewing three pieces, scales and broken chords, sight-reading, and aural tests.

Also, the marking system is quite straightforward and requires 100 marks for a pass, 120 marks to pass with merit, and 130 marks to pass with distinction since total marks on the Piano Grade exams are 150.

Therefore, without further ado, let us analyse the differences encountered in each Piano Grade and what students need to do to level up and acquire the ABRSM qualifications in Practical Piano Assessments.

Piano Grade 1

Starting from the beginning is essential, and the information learnt in Piano Grade 1 from the ABRSM will set learners off on the path to success.

The three pieces must be learnt and can be chosen by candidates within sections A, B, and C. Some of the options include Melodie by Schumann, A Toy by Anon, and Jazzy Dragon by Barbara Snow. Also, candidates must master scales such as C major, G major, and A minor, to name a few.

After passing Piano Grade 1, students can undergo Piano Grade 2 lessons.

Piano Grade 2

Some of the pieces that can be worked on during Piano Grade 2 include Rondino by Haydn, Waltz in A Minor by Spindler, and Inter-City Stomp by Christopher Norton, to name a few. It is worth mentioning that one of the three required pieces can be performed as a duet with another candidate; partnership is excellent!

Another essential aspect of Piano Grade 2 is the ever-important section of aural tests that allow participants to access their sound, harmony, and balance with others. The Aural assessments help students to hone their memory skills and listen for mistakes in music.

Also, it is worthy of mentioning that the ABRSM has an application called "Aural Trainer" that challenges you to develop your aural skills and become a sensation. 

After Piano Grade 2 has been aced, pupils acquire more knowledge about scales and arpeggios in Piano Grade 3.

Piano Grade 3

As the grades get higher, the preciseness of scales and performance increase. For example, in the Piano Grade 3 exams, students are expected to work on scales in similar motion, such as D and A majors, and contrary motion scale such as the E -Major.

Also, arpeggios such as E and G minors with hands working together and B and C minors with hands working by themselves are evaluated.

The "Piano Scales Trainer" is an excellent help during Piano Grade 3 since it helps increase fluency of the distinct scales and arpeggios required.

Piano Grade 4

In Piano Grade 4, another three pieces are required and can be chosen from sections A, B, or C. For instance, candidates learning piano may acquire the notes of Schubert, Beethoven, and Bartok.

It is important to remember that the marking criteria are completed in a non-traditional way by analysing non-instrument-specific criteria and by focusing on the musical outcome.

To understand more about the ABRSM marking system, click this link.

reviewing musical notes
Studying music is a serious passion for the world's best musicians. (Source: Unsplash)

Piano Grade 5

Piano Grade 5 consists of the mastering similar aspects of previous levels but at a more advanced stage. For example, the following topics are required to undergo when analysing Piano Grade 5:

  • Three pieces,
  • Scales and arpeggios,
  • Aural tests,
  • Sight-reading.

We highly recommend downloading the ABRSM "Theory Works" app to make music theory more engaging during piano grades 1-5.

Piano Grade 6

Now we've hit the big leagues! Piano Grades 6, 7, and 8 are considered advanced levels and require specific training beforehand to be eligible to undergo these lessons. For instance, the prerequisite to enter Piano Grade 6 is to have had completed Musical Theory, Practical Musicianship or Jazz Instrument.

If you have studied the previously mentioned options, you are eligible to keep exploring the ABRSM Piano programme and learn more advanced pieces of music and aural tests. It is worth mentioning that aural music exams are focused explicitly on in Grade 6.

Consider downloading the "Piano Practice Partner" app to aid the learning process.

Piano Grade 7

In Practical Piano Grade 7, the secret recipe for success is aimed at mastering the aural tests, beautifully playing three composed pieces of music on the piano, and learning multiple scales.

Examples of some of the three pieces that can be selected include Sinfonia No. 15 in B Minor by Bach, Pink Minor by Dring, and Bamboo Dance II by Chen Yi.

At this level, piano examiners expect fine-tuning and near perfection before letting you move onto the last Piano Grade.

Piano Grade 8

The last of the last, the summit, the grand final, what am I talking about? Piano Grade 8. It is essential to mention that the exams from the ABRSM are no piece of cake; that is why you gradually work your way up to this level.

In Piano Grade 8, a lot of emphases is given to mastering the scales, broken chords, and arpeggios. Check out the 2020-2021 curriculum of Piano Grade 8 to learn more about what is expected of you.

All in all, it is essential to remember that if you aced or passed the last seven grades of learning, you must be doing something right and you should try to apply it at Piano Grade 8.

In conclusion, we hope you thoroughly enjoyed the precise explanation of what is included in the eight piano grades offered by the ABRSM. After the long process of studying has completed and you want to further your fine-tuning of piano playing, the ASRM exam is highly recommended to launch a successful career.

We truly salute you because by playing the piano in front of others, you are making the world a better place; cheers!


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