Having carefully considered the piano syllabus offered by Trinity College London, and the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, my preference is to base my own piano curriculum around the Trinity syllabus.
The London College of Music is currently not in the running so far as I’m concerned on account of the fact that the nearest exam centre is in Edinburgh.
- Repertoire at each grade level is broadly comparable. That is, the same piece is likely to appear in the repertoire lists of the different exam boards at the same grade level.
- UCAS points are credited at Grade 6 and above, these are broadly similar, except at the ‘pass’ level for ABRSM which is consistently lower than the other exam boards.
- Exams are held at similar times for both exam boards – Spring, Summer and Winter.
- Syllabus repertoire not included in the exam book may be played from any reliable edition. TCL requires candidates to provide for the examiner a copy of any piece that is not published by the exam board.
- Repertoire: at Grade 2 TCL candidates select any three pieces out of a list of 20; ABRSM candidates select three pieces, one from each list of 6 pieces. At higher Grades, TCL candidates chose one piece from each list – A and B, plus one piece from either list. The advantage with TCL then, is that candidates have a greater opportunity to play the music that they want to play, whereas the ABRSM puts some constraints the candidate’s choices.
- Technical work: throughout the lower grades in the TCL syllabus candidates play scales and arpeggios in only 4 keys. With ABRSM this goes from 6 keys at Grade 1 to all 24 keys at Grade 5! Whilst it may be traditional for piano lessons to focus on scales, the literature and experience suggests that technique can be acquired from playing music. By comparison with ABRSM, any deficit in the TCL technical requirements is compensated by the inclusion of three exercises.
- Supporting tests: ABRSM candidates are obliged to take aural tests and sight reading. TCL candidates choose two supporting tests from the following four options: sight reading, aural, musical knowledge and improvisation. There is much less room for a candidate to encounter a curve ball in the TCL supporting tests, which are designed to allow the candidate to prepare well.
- TCL – sight reading is one of four options up to Grade 5, whereas it’s compulsory with ABRSM throughout. Sight reading is only compulsory from Grade 6 with TCL.
- TCL – the aural test is four questions based on a single piece of music played once or twice before each question, ABRSM is five questions based on different pieces of music.
- TCL musical knowledge is five questions (specified in the syllabus) based on music that has been performed earlier in the exam by the candidate. This is not an option in ABRSM.
- TCL improvisation – the candidate can choose whether they respond to stylistic, melodic or harmonic stimulus. This is not an option in ABRSM.
- Whereas ABRSM requires a pass at Grade 5 theory to proceed to a Grade 6 practical exam, there are no pre-requisites for entry to any TCL grade exams. The only pre-requisite in the TCL syllabus is the requirement of holding an LTCL diploma before proceeding to take the FTCL diploma.
- Locally, it is more likely (although not guaranteed) that TCL candidates can be examined in Kirkcaldy, whereas ABRSM candidates are examined in Glenrothes and Dunfermline.
- Fees: ABRSM is consistently cheaper than TCL.
- Exam booking for TCL is handled by the local area representative, whereas ABRSM bookings are handled by their London office. Theoretically, it should be easier to negotiate exam timings with TCL.
New syllabuses will come into effect for the three major exam boards (Trinity, Associated Board and London College of Music) from 2021. I will be reviewing my own curriculum offering in the light of what each exam board brings to the table at that point.
Updated 25/10/19 SJW