Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music
The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music or ABRSM is an organisation that arranges music examinations. The organisation is based in London, but they arrange examinations in places all over the world. Many people, especially children, who learn instruments take examinations of the ABRSM as it helps them to become better players because it gives them something to work for. People of any age can take the exams. Those who pass an exam get a certificate. Over 620,000 candidates take the ABRSM examinations every year in over ninety countries.
The organisation is called “Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music” because it is organised by a group of four music conservatoires:
- Royal Academy of Music
- Royal College of Music
- Royal Northern College of Music
- Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama
Exams can be taken on many different instruments. In nearly each case there are eight grades, numbered from 1 to 8. For example, someone who has learned the piano for a short while may take Grade 1 once he or she can play pieces such as a simple minuet, and play a few scales with separate hands. By the time they take Grade 8 they will need to be able to play movements from sonatas by composers such as Beethoven, play all 24 scales in various ways very fluently and be good at sight-reading.
The marks are given out of 150. The pass mark is 100. Below 100 marks is a “Fail”. 120 marks and above is called a “Merit” and 130 and above is a “Distinction”.
Although some students take each of the grades as they get better at their instrument, it is not necessary to have passed earlier grades in order to take a higher grade. For grades 6 and above it is necessary to have passed Grade 5 Theory or Practical Musicianship or Jazz. This is to make sure that students have a good knowledge of music.
The examiners are people who are professional musicians. Many of them are music teachers. They have a wide experience of music and they are trained by the ABRSM so that they all mark in the same way.
The ABRSM also publish a lot of music, including the music set for their exams.
There are four kinds of exams:
These are by far the most commonly taken exams. Available for over 35 instruments, these exams consist of 4 different sections:
- Set Pieces. The student will need to play three pieces which he or she will have practised and can play well. There is a choice of pieces: students must choose one from each of three groups of pieces. For some instruments a selection of these pieces are published together in a book. The pieces will change every two years (or with some instruments every four years).
- Scales. These will include scales, arpeggios and broken chords, depending on the grade and instrument.
- Sight Reading. The student is given a piece he has never seen before, and has 30 seconds to look at it or try it out, and then he must play it as well as he can.
- Aural Tests. The student must listen to examples played by the examiner and answer questions on them. He may, for example, have to sing the notes the examiner played, or clap the rhythm or say what kind of chords were played (depending on the grade).
Each section has a certain number of marks and all the marks add up to 150. 100 is a pass, 120 a merit and 130 a destinction.
There is also a Prep Test for those who are not yet ready to take Grade 1 but would like to have the experience of taking an exam. Students who take a Prep Test are not given a mark. It is a way to encourage young people and make them relaxed about the idea of taking exams.
These are written papers about musical theory. They are marked out of 100: 66 or more is a pass; 80 or more is a merit; 90 or more is a distinction.
These exams will test a student’s understanding of rhythm, melody, key and notation together with the ability to sing and play from memory, and improvise and to recognise changes to and answer questions about a score.
These are the newest types of exams. Jazz piano was first offered in 1999. At the moment they are only available for flute, piano, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet and trombone. They are also only available from Grades 1-5. They are marked in the same way as practical exams. However many of the pieces include large sections where they have to improvise (make something up) using particular chords.
The ABRSM offer diplomas in three disciplines:
- Music Performance
- Music Direction
- Instrumental/Vocal Teaching
For each discipline there are three levels of award:
- DipABRSM (Diploma of The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music)
- LRSM (Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music)
- FRSM (Fellowship of the Royal Schools of Music)