As a piano teacher I get asked this question a lot. Most of my pupils at Online Piano Academy take Trinity or ABRSM music exams. Some pupils opt to take no music exams, and prefer to focus on repertoire of their own choice. The decision depends on your musical interests and a few other factors. Although I guide my students, I support my them with whichever decision they make.
This article just focuses on instrumental exams (known as practical exams) offered by ABRSM and Trinity. There are separate exams for Music Theory. Both ABRSM and Trinity music exams are highly regarded worldwide.
Summary of ABRSM and Trinity Practical Exams
ABRSM Classical Piano Exams ABRSM offers the Prep Test (for young children), then the main grades are from Grade 1 to 8. Although these exams focus on classical repertoire, there is plenty of choice, so there is the opportunity to play a jazzy or contemporary piece.
Scales and arpeggios
ABRSM Jazz Piano exams ABRSM offers Piano Jazz Exams from Grade 1 to 5. This syllabus is different to the classical syllabus above. The repertoire does not change every 2 years, and the repertoire has not changed since the jazz piano exams were introduced. These exams are perfect for those with an interest in jazz.
Scales and arpeggios (including modes and the blues scales)
3 Pieces (with some improvisation during the solos)
Quick study (with some improvisation during the solos)
Trinity Piano Exams Trinity offers the Initial Grade (for young children), then the main grades are from Grade 1 to 8, as with ABRSM.
Scales, arpeggios and 3 technical exercises. The exercises focus on aspects of piano technique.
3 pieces, one of which can be your own composition (optional)
A choice of improvising, sight-reading, musical knowledge or aural. Students will choose two tests out of the four supporting tests.
Students with ABRSM qualifications at Grades 6 to 8 benefit from UCAS (University and Colleges Admission Service) points which can be used as part of a university or college application in the UK.
Choose repertoire which you enjoy playing. You are allowed to skip exams. You can also switch music boards, if you wish to do so. Supplement your music exam repertoire with other musical material in your piano lessons, so that you develop as a musician.
Working towards an ABRSM or Trinity exam encourages you as a learner to develop your musical skills, knowledge and understanding so that you get the most from your music making.
Both ABRSM and Trinity also offer the option of taking Performance Grades. Here the focus is on repertoire, and the scales and tests are omitted.
Piano exams can be taken at exam centres or online from the comfort of your own home.
Both ABRSM and Trinity exams:
Assess real-life skills that translate naturally from real music-making to the assessment
Allow candidates to express their whole musical personalities through options to demonstrate creativity in different ways.
Provide precise and specific feedback to inform continued learning. Exams are awarded a Pass, Merit or Distinction and a mark is awarded.
Other Exam Boards
If you choose to prepare for a completely different music exam board, perhaps one that you have already started with, I am happy to continue with that exam board as long as it is a reputable board.
ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music)
Trinity (Trinity College London)