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Greetings to everyone and kudos on your challenges and achievements. Both the ABRSM and RCM systems seem to help us take a manageable path towards higher levels without total discouragement. I'm still committed to my goal of mastering 1/3 to 1/2 of the level 7 RCM repertoire. I want a solid base at that level before looking at the summit pieces. Now I find myself adding a higher level piece here and there and more able to approach it. Memorization still is a killer for me so I may elect not to officially take the exam...we'll see. I'm enjoying playing pieces for two groups on ZOOM...not enjoying ZOOM but enjoying sharing a piece of music. LOL. THAT is a big move forward. Hopefully it's enjoyable for listeners as well. Darn, I wish I had started this commitment years ago.


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Originally Posted by WiseBuff
Memorization still is a killer for me so I may elect not to officially take the exam...we'll see.
Don't forget - ABRSM (and Trinity) doesn't required memorization of pieces for grade exams (or for teaching diplomas), and no candidate in my acquaintance would dream of playing them from memory, even if they could.

I never memorized any pieces until I'd been ten years in the business.....(which is why I still have a reasonable number of grey cells even in my very old age wink )


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Originally Posted by WiseBuff
Memorization still is a killer for me so I may elect not to officially take the exam...we'll see.
Memorization is only compulsory for the ARCT. From the RCM piano syllabus:
Quote
Memorization

• In Preparatory A, Preparatory B, and Levels 1 to 7, two memory marks are awarded for each repertoire selection performed by memory, for a total of 6 marks.

• In Levels 8 to 10, one mark will be deducted for each repertoire selection that is played with the music.

• For the Associate Diploma (ARCT) in Piano Performance, memorization is compulsory. Candidates not performing from memory will receive comments only. Any selection played with the music will receive a mark of zero.


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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Memorization is only compulsory for the ARCT. From the RCM piano syllabus:
Quote
Memorization

• In Preparatory A, Preparatory B, and Levels 1 to 7, two memory marks are awarded for each repertoire selection performed by memory, for a total of 6 marks.

• In Levels 8 to 10, one mark will be deducted for each repertoire selection that is played with the music.

• For the Associate Diploma (ARCT) in Piano Performance, memorization is compulsory. Candidates not performing from memory will receive comments only. Any selection played with the music will receive a mark of zero.
I don't think one should beat about the bush or sugar-coat things here. You can dress the words up in any manner you like, but the bottom line is:

Either the candidate lose marks instantly by not playing from memory, or he/she risks catastrophic memory lapse and likely failure in the exam if nerves get the better of him/her, and his/her mind goes blank.

As for "awarding marks" for playing from memory and "deducting marks" for not playing from memory - when the total possible marks are still the same either way - that smacks of a cynical and specious play with words (probably to entice students in the early grades - that they won't lose anything but might actually "gain" something for next to nothing.....). RCM should be completely honest and say it as it really is.

And I've never understood what the point is, of (practically) forcing candidates to play pieces from memory: Does anyone actually think that grade/level exams (whether RCM or any other board) are a means to a showbiz or solo performing career? They are simply a starting point for whatever the student might choose to do with his music - and the vast, vast majority who actually go all the way to level 10 (which is actually only a small fraction of those who do exams) will just stop there, and continue playing as amateurs occasionally, or even stop playing completely. And if they do go on further and do the diplomas or enter music schools or conservatories, they'll almost certainly not be pursuing a career as piano soloist - the only category of pianists who're expected to perform from memory (though that's changing fast - see below). Collaborative pianists, accompanists, teachers etc never ever have to play any piece from memory (but they will almost certainly need to have good sight-reading skills). So, why force this invidious 'choice' on students (especially those prone to nerves - like me) who will almost certainly never have to play from memory ever again once they're done with exams? Those students who have no issues at all with memory or nerves - like you, T.S. - will probably never understand what others have to go through.

And more and more established concert pianists are now playing from the score in solo recitals and concertos, using unobtrusive iPads/tablets with foot pedals etc. It's time the RCM woke up and change their policy.....

From a decade ago:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teZ6mA_hE-c

OK, rant over.

Incidentally, if anyone from RCM would like to come on here and explain their policy, I'd be delighted to hear them out......


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Agree with Bennevis on why make exam pieces play from memory? Thankfully, there are choices of certification and I am happy to see that the new ABRSM performance offering does not require you to memorize- although it is encouraged.

At the beginning of my journey, I memorized only because I couldn’t sight read as fast. Now, workIng on my sight reading, I REFUSE to memorize any pieces I play. I am not going pro, and I know WHY I am playing: decisions are easier to make...including which exam board to focus on.


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Hi Bennevis, I’ve read your very strong opinion about memorization many times before. I’m going to assume that you have personally been affected by being made to memorize, and I do not downplay your experience. I believe it was a negative one for you. If this is incorrect, I apologize for assuming.

However, I’m just not convinced that the concern is widespread or universal. RCM has been around for decades (actually, I think they’ve been around for over a century but I have no idea what their policy was for memorization back in the day). I’ve had many friends who have gone through RCM with no ill effects, and with not even a mention of how bad memorization was or not, not even a mention. Now, the kids of those friends are also going through it with no ill effects. Everyone is coming out the other end, usually grade 8 or higher as “normal” kids.

Now, I don’t want to say how it will be for me as I move up the grades where the pieces will get exponentially harder and longer, but memorization is not a big deal for me right now. Last exam, I blanked out in the middle of a piece. Without skipping a beat (figuratively speaking), I went back a bar or two and restarted. The comment from the examiner was, “There was a minor memory lapse today but great job on the recovery. Bravo!” So, instead of framing it as a negative, it was framed as a positive. Recovery was a skill that was admired. Who knew? I learned something that day.

Just to give context, I do not have photographic memory like Tyrone (Is that what Tyrone has? I think he mentioned it somewhere once. Sorry if I misremembered.) My memory has also been negatively impacted by ageing (as many of us I’m sure) as well as chemotherapy (Google chemo brain) so I’m sure I’m not tip-top shape in terms of memory. I also suffer from diagnosed major anxiety disorder, so my point is, I’m not without my issues.

I still sit the RCM exams, despite its requirement to memorize exam pieces. In fact, with some songs, I find I play them better when they’re memorized so I sometimes memorize songs just so I can really get into the feeling and dynamics of the piece.

Having said all that, I don’t have a strong opinion about memorization at all. If they require it, I’ll do it, if they don’t, that’s fine too. It’s pretty much a non-issue for me.

For those who don’t like memorization, and still want to sit exams, choose the ABRSM exams. There’s something for everyone.

Last edited by WeakLeftHand; 07/28/20 02:37 PM.

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Originally Posted by WeakLeftHand
Hi Bennevis, I’ve read your very strong opinion about memorization many times before. I’m going to assume that you have personally been affected by being made to memorize, and I do not downplay your experience. I believe it was a negative one for you. If this is incorrect, I apologize for assuming.
Actually, no - I never had an issue with memorizing for an exam, as I only did it once (for my performance diploma), and it was fine......though I remember that I did choose pieces that were easier for me to memorize securely above those that were easier to play. That means lots of notes, but predominantly 'logical patterns', basically. (I can grapple with technical issues by mindful practicing, but memory lapses under stress are totally unpredictable.)

As I've mentioned frequently before, I play all my monthly recitals from memory, and have been doing so for years.

The issue is: what is the point of it for students and (eventually) amateur pianists. Are they all going to be solo concert pianists? Are they going to perform in public at all? (And here, I could also take issue with "student recitals" but that's for another time.....). Are the RCM exams partly a test of memory, rather than technique and musicianship and knowledge, and how is that relevant for students, who may never have to play again from memory once they're done with exams?

How much time are they wasting just to memorize their pieces? (Is that why RCM has 10 levels rather than eight as in ABRSM/Trinity/AMEB - to allow more time for students to memorize all their pieces?) And the good memorizers, especially those with photographic memories (kids or adults - like T.S.) have a huge advantage over others - is that really a measure of musicianship in an exam? (Is perfect pitch a measure of musicianship? NO.) Remember - we aren't talking about auditions to get places in a conservatory to become concert pianists: these are exams mainly for kids, most of whom won't last the course.

My longstanding suspicion is that RCM is wedded to the showbiz formula, i.e. if you learn an instrument, you're a budding public performer.......

I spend a lot of time just to memorize my pieces for my recitals: averaging five times as long to learn to play from memory compared to learning them to play from the score, and even then I still get the odd memory lapses due to sudden attacks of nerves. It used to be taboo, but there are many concert pianists who seem to be more emboldened recently about using scores (with page turners as well as technology) and who have 'come out' about their constant fear about memory problems in performance.

When I was a student, I learnt a lot of rep with my teachers, and the exam pieces only took up a small amount of time to learn and 'perfect' - because I didn't have to memorize them (and of course, they were instantly discarded once the exams were over). I estimate that I'd only have learnt no more than a third (if that) of the number of pieces I actually learnt during those years if I had to play all my exam pieces from memory.

Right now, I'm watching a performance on TV of Mozart's wonderful Quintet for Piano & Winds, K452 from a castle in Austria. All the performers were playing from their scores (of course) and the pianist had a page turner. I learnt it once, but never had a chance to play it with wind players. Time to dig out that score.......

Quote
For those who don’t like memorization, and still want to sit exams, choose the ABRSM exams. There’s something for everyone.
In North America, ABRSM is not easily available. And teachers who know about its existence and are able to teach its syllabus are as rare as hen's teeth.......


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Bennevis...apologies, I don’t know how bedded you are with RCM...but ABRSM is offering the performance graded exams ...and this now avoids the lack of experienced teachers in NA. Abrsm has two books for theory ... will be rolling out online testing in 2021. Graham fitch has a subscription online academy that will have tutorials going through all the grades and pieces...my teacher would be assisting with the performance pieces.


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Originally Posted by Pianoperformance
Bennevis...apologies, I don’t know how bedded you are with RCM...but ABRSM is offering the performance graded exams ...and this now avoids the lack of experienced teachers in NA. Abrsm has two books for theory ... will be rolling out online testing in 2021. Graham fitch has a subscription online academy that will have tutorials going through all the grades and pieces...my teacher would be assisting with the performance pieces.
I assume you mean the "Performance Assessment"?

Available to musicians of any age or grade, the Performance Assessment is an opportunity to have solo work assessed by a professional musician, where performers receive constructive comments about their playing or singing written on the certificate that they receive at the end of the assessment.

How it works
Performers play or sing a short programme of music of their own choice lasting no longer than 15 minutes in total. Suitable for musicians of all levels, the assessment is delivered by a professional musician providing an objective, independent evaluation with no pass or fail and without marks awarded.



It doesn't seem to be an exam as such, but it looks like a good choice for those who don't want to do the grade exams and just want their playing of pieces of their choice evaluated by a professional, so none of the other stuff like scales, aural skills, sight-reading etc, and no requirements for theory.


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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by WeakLeftHand
Hi Bennevis, I’ve read your very strong opinion about memorization many times before. I’m going to assume that you have personally been affected by being made to memorize, and I do not downplay your experience. I believe it was a negative one for you. If this is incorrect, I apologize for assuming.
Actually, no - I never had an issue with memorizing for an exam, as I only did it once (for my performance diploma), and it was fine......though I remember that I did choose pieces that were easier for me to memorize securely above those that were easier to play. That means lots of notes, but predominantly 'logical patterns', basically. (I can grapple with technical issues by mindful practicing, but memory lapses under stress are totally unpredictable.)

As I've mentioned frequently before, I play all my monthly recitals from memory, and have been doing so for years.

The issue is: what is the point of it for students and (eventually) amateur pianists. Are they all going to be solo concert pianists? Are they going to perform in public at all? (And here, I could also take issue with "student recitals" but that's for another time.....). Are the RCM exams partly a test of memory, rather than technique and musicianship and knowledge, and how is that relevant for students, who may never have to play again from memory once they're done with exams?

How much time are they wasting just to memorize their pieces? (Is that why RCM has 10 levels rather than eight as in ABRSM/Trinity/AMEB - to allow more time for students to memorize all their pieces?) And the good memorizers, especially those with photographic memories (kids or adults - like T.S.) have a huge advantage over others - is that really a measure of musicianship in an exam? (Is perfect pitch a measure of musicianship? NO.) Remember - we aren't talking about auditions to get places in a conservatory to become concert pianists: these are exams mainly for kids, most of whom won't last the course.

My longstanding suspicion is that RCM is wedded to the showbiz formula, i.e. if you learn an instrument, you're a budding public performer.......

I spend a lot of time just to memorize my pieces for my recitals: averaging five times as long to learn to play from memory compared to learning them to play from the score, and even then I still get the odd memory lapses due to sudden attacks of nerves. It used to be taboo, but there are many concert pianists who seem to be more emboldened recently about using scores (with page turners as well as technology) and who have 'come out' about their constant fear about memory problems in performance.

When I was a student, I learnt a lot of rep with my teachers, and the exam pieces only took up a small amount of time to learn and 'perfect' - because I didn't have to memorize them (and of course, they were instantly discarded once the exams were over). I estimate that I'd only have learnt no more than a third (if that) of the number of pieces I actually learnt during those years if I had to play all my exam pieces from memory.

Right now, I'm watching a performance on TV of Mozart's wonderful Quintet for Piano & Winds, K452 from a castle in Austria. All the performers were playing from their scores (of course) and the pianist had a page turner. I learnt it once, but never had a chance to play it with wind players. Time to dig out that score.......

Quote
For those who don’t like memorization, and still want to sit exams, choose the ABRSM exams. There’s something for everyone.
In North America, ABRSM is not easily available. And teachers who know about its existence and are able to teach its syllabus are as rare as hen's teeth.......
Your concerns are similar to mine. RCM, although they claim their lessons are appropriate for students of all ages (and can be) has many goals in mind. It helps prepare young students of all ages with an organized curriculum to learn music and the piano, but it also offers the motivated and talented ones objective measures to ascertain whether they are candidates for conservatory training and possibly a career in piano performance. So it makes sense that memorization is a requirement at the higher levels when these young students will be competing with other students for entry into conservatories whose entry auditions require pieces that are memorized.

These programs are also a business and understandably they are not going to discourage adult amateur learners from utilizing their curriculum but it would be nice if they had a separate program/track for adult learners who have no intention to make piano performance a career choice.

Some of those requirements are just over the top for adult learners who are trying to just become proficient pianists and it is good to be a well rounded musician but if some of the testing, exercises, and memorization requirements needed to obtain a certificate is keeping the amateur learner from just being exposed to more pieces I think there is a point of diminishing returns. I think it would be wiser to follow the RCM curriculum loosely and not worry too much about the certificates but more about what you are actually learning.


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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Pianoperformance
Bennevis...apologies, I don’t know how bedded you are with RCM...but ABRSM is offering the performance graded exams ...and this now avoids the lack of experienced teachers in NA. Abrsm has two books for theory ... will be rolling out online testing in 2021. Graham fitch has a subscription online academy that will have tutorials going through all the grades and pieces...my teacher would be assisting with the performance pieces.
I assume you mean the "Performance Assessment"?

Available to musicians of any age or grade, the Performance Assessment is an opportunity to have solo work assessed by a professional musician, where performers receive constructive comments about their playing or singing written on the certificate that they receive at the end of the assessment.

How it works
Performers play or sing a short programme of music of their own choice lasting no longer than 15 minutes in total. Suitable for musicians of all levels, the assessment is delivered by a professional musician providing an objective, independent evaluation with no pass or fail and without marks awarded.



It doesn't seem to be an exam as such, but it looks like a good choice for those who don't want to do the grade exams and just want their playing of pieces of their choice evaluated by a professional, so none of the other stuff like scales, aural skills, sight-reading etc, and no requirements for theory.

I think Pianoperformance meant "Performance Grades", not "Performance Assessments". They are different and they shouldn't have used "Performance" in both names as it is awfully confusing. But here is the link to the info on the "Performance Grades":

https://gb.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/performancegrades/

These Performance Grades are remotely assessed and will be made accessible to everyone worldwide soon. I read somewhere that the ABRSM practical exams (the old one) is going online soon as well, but don't quote me on this as I'm at work and don't have time to go find where I saw that stated.

Last edited by WeakLeftHand; 07/29/20 10:17 AM.

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Originally Posted by WeakLeftHand
https://gb.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/performancegrades/

These Performance Grades are remotely assessed and will be made accessible to everyone worldwide soon. I read somewhere that the ABRSM practical exams (the old one) is going online soon as well, but don't quote me on this as I'm at work and don't have time to go find where I saw that stated.
It looks like ABRSM brought this out only because of the current pandemic, making one-on-one assessments problematic for the foreseeable future.

It would be interesting to see what happens to the existing Grade exams, which have been going on for the past century, and used by many countries around the world, many of which have already relaxed their social distancing rules.


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Originally Posted by Jethro
Your concerns are similar to mine. RCM, although they claim their lessons are appropriate for students of all ages (and can be) has many goals in mind. Some of those requirements are just over the top for adult learners who are trying to just become proficient pianists and it is good to be a well rounded musician but if some of the testing, exercises, and memorization requirements needed to obtain a certificate is keeping the amateur learner from just being exposed to more pieces I think there is a point of diminishing returns. I think it would be wiser to follow the RCM curriculum loosely and not worry too much about the certificates but more about what you are actually learning.
I just wonder what you think is the difference between younger learners and older learners. Why would one system be appropriate for younger learners and not older learners? Does memory really deteriorate that much with age? I'm well over 50 and as far as I can tell, my memory is not significantly worse than when I was a teenager. I know some suffer a much steeper decline in memory, but is it more the rule than the exception that people have a significant deterioration in memory that they can't remember a small handful (3-5) of pieces as an adult that they could have as a child?


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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Originally Posted by Jethro
Your concerns are similar to mine. RCM, although they claim their lessons are appropriate for students of all ages (and can be) has many goals in mind. Some of those requirements are just over the top for adult learners who are trying to just become proficient pianists and it is good to be a well rounded musician but if some of the testing, exercises, and memorization requirements needed to obtain a certificate is keeping the amateur learner from just being exposed to more pieces I think there is a point of diminishing returns. I think it would be wiser to follow the RCM curriculum loosely and not worry too much about the certificates but more about what you are actually learning.
I just wonder what you think is the difference between younger learners and older learners. Why would one system be appropriate for younger learners and not older learners? Does memory really deteriorate that much with age? I'm well over 50 and as far as I can tell, my memory is not significantly worse than when I was a teenager. I know some suffer a much steeper decline in memory, but is it more the rule than the exception that people have a significant deterioration in memory that they can't remember a small handful (3-5) of pieces as an adult that they could have as a child?
I think your memory is fine. As we get older we may slow down in our cognitive processes but barring any brain deterioration such as dementia your memory is as good as it was as when you were a child. A while back I posted a video on neuroplasticity. Our brains our optimized in our youth to hard wire or ingrain new skills such as playing an instrument. During those critical years it is important to expose children to stimuli that will help develop their brains. Exposing them to scales, arpeggios and other technical exercises along with a variety of pieces is important at that stage because the brain is optimized to accept these skills and hardwire them such that they are second nature. Of course the ability to perform these skills vary in children but beyond a doubt we know that it is easier to learn and retain skills in your youth then when you are older. In that video is was referred to as opening and closing doors. After a certain period of time in our lives that door to ingrain new skills is "closed" but your ability to acquire them is still there but NEVER as optimal as it would have been if you had learned the skill in your youth and rarely does that skill become second nature.

So what does this have to do with RCM? Well, the way I look at it is the curriculum looks excellent for a child who is in the development stage and who may have the potential to be an excellent and maybe even professional pianist. Of course that does not include every child, but this curriculum ensures that the undergo the proper training for a well rounded and skilled musician. But it is not necessarily geared towards the adult learner. You can acquire a lot of these skills in adulthood but it wouldn't be the same as if you had learned them in your youth. So take for example scales. I'm simply horrible at them and my teachers laugh when they see me attempt them. I have no desire to mindlessly sit there and learn scales for learning sake just to forget them if I had not practiced them for a while. When children learn them, there is a much greater chance that they will good motor memory will implicitly be able to play scales well with little practice if they were hammered into their brains in their youth because that skill had already been hardwired into them. Now when I play these intermediate to advanced pieces I learn the necessary scales that are in the piece. I can play them as well as I can so long as I practice them in the piece and most likely having learned all the scales as an adult won't necessarily improve that skill because these skills are acquired skills. It's very similar to learning a language in your youth versus when you are an adult. You are fluent if you learn in childhood but rarely as an adult. Again, this skill may vary depending upon the individual. My current teacher agrees that learning all the scales at this point would be an inefficient use of my time and that it is just better than I learn what I need learn with some these advanced pieces I am learning.

So as I said I wish they tailored some of these programs more towards the serious adult learner without the extra activities that are more appropriate for children and not adults. Music theory is something we can absolutely learn in adulthood just as well as if we learned it in our youth, but motor skills tend to be more ingrained and optimized in our youth. Don't get me wrong following the RCM curriculum would be a good organized way to learn the piano and I am not saying not to go this route, but if some find the route too challenging or overbearing or time consuming understand that this is not the only way to get there and it might not be optimal way either to teach and adult learner. At this point in our lives we acquire skills differently and I think these programs should be designed that optimally stimulate the adult brain. We have a lot of knowledge in theories of motor control that have proven ways to optimize mature brains to acquire or reacquire skills. We should tap into this knowledge.

At the beginning of this video, Lang Lang and Yuja Wang's instructor Gary Graffman talks about facilitating learning at an earlier age. I know we all know this, but I think he punctuates the point I am trying to make.



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bennevis, I'm curious what you think about the new ABRSM syllabus, the way the three lists are organized.

I was furious at first. I think they've dumbed it down to the point that I don't see much use in the traditional grade exams. I got very grumpy and complained that the new syllabus doesn't even have a Grade 8, it has a Grade 7.5. If I were designing the syllabus, from about Grade 5 or 6 on up, I would make the A list all contrapuntal, the B list all classical-style sonata movements (allegros or rondos), and the C list romantic, impressionistic, and ethnic.

But then I realized that the new performance exams give me greater flexibility. With studio policies, I can enforce additional requirements as I see fit.

My teaching is basically suspended right now due to a divorce, the move, and the virus scare. I will have to rebuild my studio after the scare is over. I have a new partner in my studio, and we have decided to focus on serious, hard-working, ambitious students. We want to keep the student count low and the quality high.

So here is the studio policy that my new studio partner and I have developed to offer a comprehensive approach to each grade. I may yet revise it, but it seems to check most of my pedagogical boxes.

  • Scales and arpeggios per the ABRSM syllabus (to be assessed by the teacher)
  • Sight reading per the ABRSM syllabus (to be assessed by the teacher)
  • Aural tests per our own private standards (to be assessed by the teacher)
  • Music theory requirement TBD


For performance, each student must enter the ABRSM performance exam, performing four pieces. Three from the syllabus and one "own choice". The three pieces must form a coherent programme, and must contain the following:

  • Contrapuntal piece (preference for Bach and Handel - I might decide to require a selection from the WTC at Grade 8)
  • Classical Sonata movement (allegro or rondo, preference for Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven)
  • Romantic piece (preference for Chopin, Brahms, Schumann)
  • Impressionistic piece (preference for Debussy and Ravel)


(Suitable ethnic piece may be substituted for Romantic or Impressionistic.)

I will probably wind up requiring that at least one piece out of the four be performed from memory.


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Thanks WeakLeftHand....ABRSM is offering an alternative Form of graded music...the current form will continue to exist, and all theory will be moving online starting with the UK this year. If anyone wants more information, go to their site. You can switch back to graded if you want to. It is meeting a different category of students. Me for one: I play for myself, largely, and I just want to play better. I don’t plan to teach or go pro...and if I were younger, sure the current exam Platform makes sense.

It is a great way to assess my level..I still plan to sit the Theory exams, and grateful it is moving online. COVID or no COVID...I am glad to see ABRSM shaking the tree and taking on the digital platform. I sure heard a lot of my favorite pianist performing from home..just as enjoyable as attending the big concert halls, and heck a lot less coughing.


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Originally Posted by Dr. Rogers
bennevis, I'm curious what you think about the new ABRSM syllabus, the way the three lists are organized.

I was furious at first. I think they've dumbed it down to the point that I don't see much use in the traditional grade exams. I got very grumpy and complained that the new syllabus doesn't even have a Grade 8, it has a Grade 7.5. If I were designing the syllabus, from about Grade 5 or 6 on up, I would make the A list all contrapuntal, the B list all classical-style sonata movements (allegros or rondos), and the C list romantic, impressionistic, and ethnic.

But then I realized that the new performance exams give me greater flexibility. With studio policies, I can enforce additional requirements as I see fit.

My teaching is basically suspended right now due to a divorce, the move, and the virus scare. I will have to rebuild my studio after the scare is over. I have a new partner in my studio, and we have decided to focus on serious, hard-working, ambitious students. We want to keep the student count low and the quality high.

So here is the studio policy that my new studio partner and I have developed to offer a comprehensive approach to each grade. I may yet revise it, but it seems to check most of my pedagogical boxes.

  • Scales and arpeggios per the ABRSM syllabus (to be assessed by the teacher)
  • Sight reading per the ABRSM syllabus (to be assessed by the teacher)
  • Aural tests per our own private standards (to be assessed by the teacher)
  • Music theory requirement TBD


For performance, each student must enter the ABRSM performance exam, performing four pieces. Three from the syllabus and one "own choice". The three pieces must form a coherent programme, and must contain the following:

  • Contrapuntal piece (preference for Bach and Handel - I might decide to require a selection from the WTC at Grade 8)
  • Classical Sonata movement (allegro or rondo, preference for Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven)
  • Romantic piece (preference for Chopin, Brahms, Schumann)
  • Impressionistic piece (preference for Debussy and Ravel)


(Suitable ethnic piece may be substituted for Romantic or Impressionistic.)

I will probably wind up requiring that at least one piece out of the four be performed from memory.

...well, Your policy will work for kids for sure. I think there is an ounce of fear here..as if the performance grade exams would create a lower standard. I think it will be marked a lot harder.


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I am thinking of doing the ABRSM performance grade exam as well. It seems like a good option for adult hobbyist. I don't think it is necessarily an easier option, just different. If you have done any recording, you know if comes with its own challenges. The performance exam requires recording four pieces in one recording. No splicing, it must be in one sitting. For grade 8 that is 15-20 minutes of music without stopping. The pieces are each worth 30 points, and 30 points are awarded on the choice of program and how it is put together, just like the diploma programs.

It is my understanding that the teacher also certifies that the the student has achieved grade standard in the supporting tests as well, but obviously that is open to interpretation.

As far as the change in syllabus, I think it is a good change. It follows the format of grades 1-7, and therefore is consistent.

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Originally Posted by SwissMS
I am thinking of doing the ABRSM performance grade exam as well. It seems like a good option for adult hobbyist. I don't think it is necessarily an easier option, just different. If you have done any recording, you know if comes with its own challenges. The performance exam requires recording four pieces in one recording. No splicing, it must be in one sitting. For grade 8 that is 15-20 minutes of music without stopping. The pieces are each worth 30 points, and 30 points are awarded on the choice of program and how it is put together, just like the diploma programs.

It is my understanding that the teacher also certifies that the the student has achieved grade standard in the supporting tests as well, but obviously that is open to interpretation.

As far as the change in syllabus, I think it is a good change. It follows the format of grades 1-7, and therefore is consistent.
These performance grade exams are excellent and timely for the discussion we are having in recent posts. These kinds of exams are more relevant for the adult learner because they emphasize what I believe adult learners should be focusing more on- the music and your performance of the music- not necessarily too much time spent on sight reading skills, scales, aural skills (which are all important to create music) but can be developed in other ways including primarily working on pieces with a good teacher. They made it clear in their FAQ that this program was not in response to COVID but was rolled out sooner as a priority but they had it in the works for some time. KUDOS to ABRSM for doing this. This is a program I may interested in myself down the line.

In this section of the FAQ the explain the purpose of the program in more detail and I'm glad they explicitly say that you don't have to buy their books, go through their specified program, tests, technical exercises etc.. and that teachers may have developed their own programs to achieve the same results. In the end their "holistic" assessment is emphasizing a point I am trying to make. It is all about the music. This is an assessment that does not encourage teaching to the test but rather to teaching to the results. I like it! The fact that they are weighed/counted equally makes me like it even more.

From the FAQ section:

We’ve created our Performance Grades to offer an alternative to our existing Practical Grades. All our exams are designed to offer a framework for motivating and recognising achievement, rather than a curriculum for teaching. With these exams we are giving teachers and learners another option, and the flexibility to choose an exam that works for them.

We still believe that learners should develop a wide range of skills to provide a foundation for musical performance and help them to grow as musicians. These skills include those assessed through our technical, sight-reading and aural tests: technical agility, responding to notation, and hearing and understanding how music works. We will always encourage and support the development of these skills through our books, resources, apps and teacher development work.

We also know that all teachers have their own approaches and will continue to build technical, sight-reading and aural skills into their lessons in the way that best suits their students. When it comes to the ABRSM exam, they can now choose between one that assesses these skills individually in different sections, and one that assesses them holistically by focusing entirely on performance. Strengths in these core areas of musical skill will still be of enormous benefit, and will positively affect the musical outcome in the exam.

Last edited by Jethro; 07/30/20 10:27 AM.

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Originally Posted by Tyrone Slothrop
Originally Posted by Jethro
Your concerns are similar to mine. RCM, although they claim their lessons are appropriate for students of all ages (and can be) has many goals in mind. Some of those requirements are just over the top for adult learners who are trying to just become proficient pianists and it is good to be a well rounded musician but if some of the testing, exercises, and memorization requirements needed to obtain a certificate is keeping the amateur learner from just being exposed to more pieces I think there is a point of diminishing returns. I think it would be wiser to follow the RCM curriculum loosely and not worry too much about the certificates but more about what you are actually learning.
I just wonder what you think is the difference between younger learners and older learners. Why would one system be appropriate for younger learners and not older learners? Does memory really deteriorate that much with age? I'm well over 50 and as far as I can tell, my memory is not significantly worse than when I was a teenager. I know some suffer a much steeper decline in memory, but is it more the rule than the exception that people have a significant deterioration in memory that they can't remember a small handful (3-5) of pieces as an adult that they could have as a child?
Just to elaborate further on the memory topic Tyrone. Memory can be further divided into 2 types declarative and procedural. Declarative as the name implies is explicit, it is something that you can "declare" meaning you can verbal the knowledge such as your knowledge of music theory. This type of memory continues to improve throughout your lifespan so there is no age advantage. That is why I said you can always improve your knowledge of music theory and if you want to be challenged through testing- that could be useful. Procedural memory is implicit it is equivalent so something we call motor learning. It is not something we typically declare but something that we do implicitly like playing an instrument.

(As an aside but related topic. When I was doing research in cognitive neuroscience I worked next door to the Memory Disorders Research Center for BU medical school. They were doing a perfect study that showed the difference between explicit versus implicit memory. They had Korsacoff's subjects who had short term memory losses due to vitamin B deficiency from long term alcohol abuse. They had them perform a puzzle and practice it each time they went to each session. Each time they came for a session they "declared" that they had never seen the puzzle before but implicitly they showed fantastic improvement in performing the puzzle because procedurally they had practiced it many times before even though they can't remember having performed it previously.)

With children, our brain's neural plasticity is at it's maximum and it is optimized for procedural learning. Learning scales, arpeggios, skills are learned not only implicitly but they are also hardwired into a child's brain. So when they are asked to incorporate these skills in their playing it is automatic and at high level. With adults every time you introduce something new it has to be relearned because the skill is acquired and not ingrained (it is not hardwired with optimized neural pathways). So you can learn all the scales you want as an adult but if they are not exactly presented in a task as a scale it doesn't really offer you much of an advantage because you acquired a very specific task- a scale. So every time you encounter scales in a piece as and adult you will have to relearn that the entire section over again unless it is presented to you in the exactly how you practiced it. Most music isn't written exactly as a scale. Throw in a B flat into that C major scale and you have to relearn the whole thing all over again this time with a b flat. Children's brains are more adaptable. Their brains say oh it's a c major scale plus a B flat. All they are learning is the B flat, you have to relearn a whole new sequence all over again. So why bother practicing scales as an adult? As Gary Graffman pointed out, It's simply "too late".

RCM has to realize as maybe ABRSM has, that "adults are not just big children". We learn differently and it would be nice if they designed assessment tools AND a learning curriculum geared towards adults unique learning capacity.

Last edited by Jethro; 07/30/20 01:48 PM.

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