Preparing for an Exam
Preparing for your first exam on your instrument can be an exciting time. Choosing to work toward an exam can provide a really good focus and give some direction to the work you do in your lessons and practice.
You may decide to go for the exams provided by the ABRSM, but there are other options available.
The Associated Board of the Royal School of Music (ABRSM)
The ABRSM offer exams in all brass instruments, and their exam format is consistent for all of the grades. You are required to perform three pieces (two with accompaniment and one without), a number of scales and arpeggios, aural tests and sight reading.
The final mark for the grade is out of 150. Achieving 100 will award a pass, 120 will be awarded a merit and 130 will be awarded a distinction. The break down of how the marks are awarded is as follows:
- Piece 1 – /30
- Piece 2 – /30
- Piece 3 – /30
- Scales – /21
- Sight-Reading – /21
- Aural – /18
The marking criteria for all of the elements of the exam can be found here.
Trinity College London
Trinity College London also offer exams for all brass instruments, and their exam format does offer a little more flexibility in terms of the elements that you decide to focus on. You are still required to prepare three pieces for the exam, but you then have a technical exercise to prepare for and the choice of any two of the following supporting tests:
- Sight reading
- Musical Knowledge
The pieces are given in two lists and List A is music with accompaniment and List B is without accompaniment. You need to choose at least one piece from each list and this means you could do two pieces with accompaniment and one without, or one piece with accompaniment and one without. You could also opt to provide one piece from List A, one piece from List B and a composition that you have written.
For the technical study there is the option of playing scales and arpeggios from memory or providing a study, exercises or orchestral excerpts. The technical exercises are specific to each grade and can be found in the syllabus here.
Grades 1 to 5 are referred to as the initial grades and the format is slightly different for grades 6 through to 8 in terms of the supporting tests. The requirements are now sight reading and aural tests or improvisation.
The marking for the exam is out of 100, and to achieve a pass you are required to score 60, for a merit you are required to achieve 75 and a distinction requires 87 marks. Trinity also specify marks below a pass as Below Pass 1 (45 to 59 marks) and Below Pass 2 (0 to 44 marks).
- Piece 1 – /22
- Piece 2 – /22
- Piece 3 – /22
- Technical Work – /14
- Supporting test 1 – /10
- Supporting test 2 – /10
Which is best and how do I choose?
The choice really depends on your point of view. There is the view that because the ABRSM has been in existence for longer that it must be the authority on providing music exams, but this isn’t really the case as at grade 6 or above both boards have grades that carry UCAS points which are useful for university applications.
Some students say that they prefer the Trinity route because it means that they can avoid learning scales from memory for all of the grades. Although this is possible with the choices that you have available I would suggest that avoiding learning scales and arpeggios at any stage of the learning process would be an entirely false economy – after all isn’t music just scales and arpeggios reorganised?
The options in the Trinity exams may well offer the opportunity to develop different techniques, but these options are available within the ABRSM exam series in a different way. The choice is really down to personal preference and through experimentation and exploring what works best for you or your students, it is possible to find the exam that suits your temperament, technical skill and above all, musical development.
Which exams have you worked on and why did you choose them? Share your views by adding a comment!