Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music
The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) is an examinations board and registered charity based in London, UK, which provides examinations in music at centres around the world. ABRSM is one of four examination boards accredited by Ofqual to award graded exams and diploma qualifications in music within the UK's National Qualifications Framework (along with the London College of Music, Rockschool Ltd and Trinity College London). ABRSM was established in 1889.
The Royal Schools referred to in ABRSM's title are:
- The Royal Academy of Music
- The Royal College of Music
- The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
- The Royal Northern College of Music
More than 650,000 candidates take ABRSM exams each year in over 93 countries. ABRSM also provides a publishing house for music which produces syllabus booklets, sheet music and exam papers and runs professional development courses and seminars for teachers.
Graded music exams
Graded music exams provide a structured framework for progression from beginner to advanced musician. In the United Kingdom, ABRSM graded examinations are QCA-accredited at three levels in the National Qualifications Framework: Grades 1–3 at Level 1 (SQA: National 5, GCSE: Grades D–G), Grades 4–5 at Level 2 (SQA: Higher (G4) and Advanced Higher (G5), GCSE: grades A*–C) and Grades 6–8 at Level 3 (SQA: Advanced Higher, GCSE: A-Level). Most subjects are offered from Grades 1–8 and have three standards of pass: a straight pass, a pass with merit and a pass with distinction. Candidates may enter any Practical or Music Theory exam grade without having taken any other, though there is a requirement to have passed Grade 5 Theory or Grade 5 Practical Musicianship or Grade 5 in a solo Jazz subject before Grade 6–8 Practical exams can be taken. Passes in Grades 6–8 in either Music Theory or Practical exams may be used as part of the UCAS tariff in obtaining a university place in Britain. The four types of graded exam are as follows:
These are by far the most commonly taken exams. Available for over 35 instruments, these exams incorporate four individual components:
- Set pieces. The student is required to play three pieces (four, from memory, for singers doing Grades 6–8) prepared beforehand. These pieces are selected from the current syllabus for the instrument and grade, usually one piece from each of the groups A, B and C. Group A usually features Baroque and early Classical repertoire, Group B late Classical and Romantic, and Group C 20th century and contemporary music, encouraging the student to select a balanced programme with music in a range of styles and periods. For most instruments (obviously excluding the piano itself), some or all of the pieces are played with piano accompaniment. Each piece is marked out of 30. The pass mark is 20. (For Grades 6–8 singing, the pieces are out of 24/24/21/21 for each piece, the pass mark being 16/16/14/14 respectively.)
- Scales. Various scales, arpeggios, dominant and diminished 7ths and, for Grades 1–4 only (Grades 1 & 2 for Piano), broken chords, are examined, according to the grade of difficulty. Scales are marked out of 21. The pass mark is 14.
- Sight reading. The student is presented with an unseen piece, has up to 30 seconds to prepare, and then must play to the best of his or her ability. Sight-reading is marked out of 21. The pass mark is 14.
- Aural. Various exercises are played by the examiner and the student is required to demonstrate skills in listening to and analysing music, for example clapping the rhythm or singing the melody. At higher grades, students are expected to comment on features of a short piece played by the examiner, including dynamics, phrasing and style and period. Aural is marked out of 18. The passing mark is 12.
The exams are marked out of 150, where 100 is a pass, 120 a pass with merit, and 130 a distinction.
Music Theory exams
Music Theory is examined through written papers. Papers last between one and a half and three hours depending on the grade. They are marked out of 100, where 66 is a pass, 80 a merit, and 90 a distinction. Candidates are required to pass Grade 5 Theory, Grade 5 Practical Musicianship or Grade 5 in a solo Jazz subject in order to progress to Practical exams at Grades 6, 7 and 8.
In a Practical Musicianship exam candidates demonstrate their understanding of melody, harmony, rhythm and form by responding to questions about music and by singing or playing an instrument of their choice in a series of tests. This exam is unaccredited and is used as an internal assessment prerequisite.
Jazz exams (Grades 1–5) are available for a variety of instruments. They are marked in the same way as Practical exams. However, many of the pieces include large improvisational sections, where the instrumentalist is required to fill in the empty bars with their own melody to fit the standard chord progression listed above.
Music Medals are QCA–accredited music assessments and teaching resources aimed at younger, group-taught learners. Music Medals are distinct from graded music exams in that no external examiners are involved and the initial assessment is made by the teacher.
ABRSM diploma, licentiate diploma and fellowship
ABRSM offers 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)
These are professional qualifications, and entitle the recipient to append the letters after his or her name. The prerequisite for DipABRSM is Grade 8 in the instrument offered, and LRSM and FRSM require the previous diploma in the same discipline to have been passed. In addition, for the Instrumental/Vocal Teaching discipline, candidates for DipABRSM must have Grade 6 Theory, and Grade 8 Music Theory for LRSM.
The examinations for DipABRSM, LRSM and FRSM are divided as follows: Section 1, Recital; and Section 2, Viva Voce and Quick Study. Candidates perform various pieces from a selected list and may select works other than those listed but should not exceed one third of the entire recital programme. Recital time for DipABRSM is 35 minutes, for LRSM is 40 minutes while for FRSM the time range is around 50 minutes.
Before the viva voce, the candidate must submit a written programme notes on the day of the exam (for FRSM, the written submission should be submitted with the application form, in the form of an essay with in-depth analysis and requires sophisticated knowledge of the history, context of the composer as well as the era in which the works were composed) which should include background information as well as sufficient information and analysis of the works that are performed. The examiner(s) would engage in a conversation with the candidate concerning the notes submitted as well as other related questions that would allow the candidate to demonstrate his or her knowledge as a professional musician.
The Quick Study is a short piece with an equivalent difficulty of an ABRSM Grade 6 piece (for DipABRSM), an ABRSM Grade 7 piece (for LRSM) and an ABRSM Grade 8 piece (for FRSM).
Candidates are expected to discuss their teaching materials and approach, and at LRSM must provide a video recording of their teaching. The written submissions are considerably longer than those for Music Performance, and there is no Recital section, but the Quick Study is the same.
Since 1995, the CT ABRSM (Certificate of Teaching) designed specifically for music teachers has been offered in addition to the diplomas, albeit as a separate qualification. In 2010, the new CT ABRSM Plus, which combined the DipABRSM and old CT ABRSM, was launched to give teachers access to the DipABRSM. There are also numerous short courses and seminars on music teaching, accompaniment and syllabus instruction available to teachers.
ABRSM's publishing department was first set up in 1921 and was designed to provide suitable music for examinations, performance editions of popular works and new instructional compositions. One of the original editors was Sir Donald Tovey, who wrote informative notes on the music which are still highly regarded today. ABRSM (Publishing) Ltd. was established as a separate company in 1985.
ABRSM continues to produce copies of popular works, along with commentaries from distinguished editors. It publishes contemporary music in its "Spectrum" series of books, and also issues a variety of publications for beginners and younger instrumentalists.