Sign up

Music exams

What’s the point of exams?

While exams aren’t essential, they’re a useful way to judge your progress as you learn your instrument. There are 8 grades.

Depending on your instrument and how much you practise, you can probably expect to take your first grade exam within a year or two of starting lessons. Grade 5 is roughly equivalent to GCSE standard, and Grade 8 is about A level standard. You can get UCAS points for Grades 6-8.

If you want to think about music as a career, you should probably expect to be about Grade 8 standard when you leave school.

I’ve heard about ABRSM exams and Trinity exams – what’s the difference?

There’s little difference between the two. ABRSM is more established and there’s a slightly different focus between the two exam boards – your teacher will advise you on what’s most appropriate for you.

What happens in the exams?

You’ll play three short pieces, some technical exercises (typically scales and arpeggios) and answer some tests of musicianship (or ‘aural’ tests) – these vary between the exam boards.

They provide a test of all round musicianship, not just the ability to play pieces.

When can I take my exams?

Your teacher will advise when you are ready to take your exams. There are exams towards the end of every term, and you need to be entered for the exam by about the start of that term – check with your teacher for details, as they vary from term to term.

I’ve taken my exam – when do I get to know the results?

Results take a few weeks to come back – the results have to be checked and monitored before certificates are printed and sent out.

Jack Petchey FoundationNational Foundation For Youth MusicArts Council England