The musical piece shown here is an example of an examination piece for aspiring piano players set by The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) in 1955. The ABRSM was founded as long ago as 1889, with the objective to “provide a stimulus and an objective for a high standard of achievement”.

Today, the ABRSM is not only this country’s largest music education body and one of its largest music publishers, but the leading provider of music exams in the world. At the time of writing more than 650,000 candidates sit ABRSM exams each year in more than 90 countries.

The music exams are available at eight levels – Graded 1 to 8, designed to motivate instrumental and singing students of all ages and a wide range of abilities.
The examination booklet shown here is an example of a ‘Practical Exam’. These are the most commonly taken exams and available for over 35 instruments. The exams have four individual components: three set pieces prepared beforehand, scales and arpeggios, sight reading an unseen piece and an aural test. The exams are marked out of 150, where 100 is a pass, 120 a pass with merit, and 130 a distinction.

Some children learning to play an instrument, will be encouraged by their teachers to take exams simply to recognise their progress, but for students hoping to become professional musicians gaining all the grades is essential.

Candidates who want to take an instrumental or Singing exam at Grade 6 or above must first pass Grade 5 (or above) in Music Theory, Practical Musicianship or a solo Jazz instrument.

The piece of music illustrated here is by Stephen Heller, hardly a household name, but who was a celebrated Hungarian pianist and composer, born in 1813, died in 1888.

More information:

Date 1900s, 1950s, 2010s
Material(s) Paper
Item number MBPO107

Questions to help you remember using this item

  • Have you ever taken piano lessons? If so at what age?
  • Have you taken any piano examinations? If you did, how many did you take? Did you enjoy them or fear them?
  • Do examinations encourage children to develop their skills or deter them?
  • Do you still play the piano? If so, do you read music or play 'by ear'?
  • What musical instruments have you played? Did you take any exams for them?

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