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 teaching curriculum around the Trinity syllabus. When each of the three main exam boards published new syllabuses in 2021, I reviewed my own teaching in the light of what had become available. The offerings by each exam board had short-comings, but Trinity still seemed to be the best of what was on offer. The London College of Music is currently not in the running so far as I’m concerned on account of the fact that their nearest exam centre is in Edinburgh.
Since the pandemic, all of the exam boards are now also offering video recorded submissions for grade exams. I’m happy to prepare students for this kind of exam – but doing a complete exam recording in one continuous take is not without its pressures!
- 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.
- Face to face exams are held at similar times for both exam boards – Spring, Summer and Winter.
- Video recorded submissions can be submitted at any time.
- 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: In terms of the scope of repertoire choices, recent changes have brought the exam boards closer together. The main difference remaining is that with Trinity, candidates choose three pieces from two lists, but with ABRSM they have to play one piece from from each of the three lists.
- Technical work: Again, recent changes mean that candidates have to prepare a similar range of scales and arpeggios for each exam board. The main difference now is that with Trinity, students are required to prepare three short studies alongside scales and arpeggios.
- Supporting tests: ABRSM candidates are obliged to take aural tests and sight reading; candidates would be expected to sing some responses. TCL candidates choose two supporting tests from the following four options: sight reading, aural, musical knowledge and improvisation; singing is not required in the Trinity aural tests. From my own perspective, it seems that 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 several different pieces of music. That is, with Trinity, the questions become increasingly demanding, but candidates hear the piece several times before they are asked the most penetrating question. With AB, candidates hear the music for each question once before they have to make a response.
- TCL musical knowledge is five questions (specified in the syllabus) based on music that has been performed earlier in the exam by the candidate. Viva voce questions about the pieces performed is not an option in ABRSM.
- TCL improvisation – the candidate can choose whether they respond to stylistic, melodic or harmonic stimulus. Improvisation 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.
I’m currently in the process of considering the ABRSM jazz syllabus.
Updated 18/1/23 SJW