“When Can I Do Grade 9?”

Please remember to check the current edition of the syllabus as these change regularly, and marking allocations can be amended. 

You’ve passed Grade 8. What next?

As we well know, there is, alas, no Grade 9 in the UK. So, what are your options for post-Grade 8 examinations and assessments?

I’m lucky at the moment to be working with several musicians who have either recently passed Grade 8, or who are already working beyond that level. I’ll state now, as I always state, music is for life, not just for exams, and it’s perfectly possible to learn post-Grade 8 repertoire without ever taking an exam. That said, in this blog post, I want to consider some of the options available to learners post-Grade 8 level.

In this post, I’m going to concentrate on five options, leading to the first-level diploma exams offered by ABRSM, Trinity College London and the London College of Music.

Now, you may be wondering why I’ve arranged these five exams as I have. Firstly, Trinity’s Advanced Certificate is pitched at the same level as Grade 8 (Level 3), although it’s often seen as a step beyond because of its nature as a recital exam, in comparison to the standard three pieces performed at the highest grade.

Secondly, ABRSM’s new diploma, the ARSM, whilst accredited at the same level as the DipABRSM (Level 4), includes a mixture of DipABRSM repertoire and Grade 8+ repertoire. I have therefore illustrated this as a stepping stone from Grade 8 to the diplomas themselves. Finally, I have included the three first-level diplomas: DipABRSM, ATCL and DipLCM.

That may all seem fairly straightforward, but of course, each exam is made up of different components and each can be weighted differently when it comes to the marking. Whilst for the Advanced Certificate, ARSM, DipABRSM and ATCL performance diplomas, there is only one option, the DipLCM can be further subdivided into the standard, recital and concert options. We can see illustrated below the very different ways each of these exams is made up:

Broadly speaking, the ARSM and DipLCM concert option offer the greatest degree of performance with, in both cases, 100% of the marks being for the performance alone. That said, the Advanced Certificate and ATCL are not far behind as 90% of the available marks are for the performance, with a further 10% for presentation skills. Shortly behind these are the DipLCM recital option which offers 80% of the marks to the performance and 20% to sight-reading, and the DipLCM standard option which offers 70% of the marks for the performance, and 15% each to the viva voce and sight-reading. The exam with the least marks offered for the performance itself is the DipABRSM offering just 60% of the total, with 25% for the viva voce and 15% for the quick study (sight-reading).

So maybe the first question to ask yourself is what do you actually want to be examined on? As is the case for the graded exams, it’s perfectly possible to acquire skills such as sight-reading without being tested on them in an exam.

Then there’s the repertoire itself. It’ll come as no surprise that there is a good deal of repertoire overlap across all five of these exams. Another option to consider is whether you wish to include own-choice items, and if so, how many are allowed. Similarly, will your programme require pre-approval? Also, don’t forget that in some cases, you can offer a portion of your programme on a related instrument (for example, a flautist might offer a piccolo piece).

What surprised me most when writing this post is that the DipABRSM which is so often seen as the ‘gold standard’ in fact offers the fewest marks for the performance. This is something else worth bearing in mind.

Above all, talk to your teacher about your options, but also, where possible, talk to those who’ve already sat these exams. If you know someone else also working towards a post-Grade 8 exam, it can be good to ‘buddy-up’ and work together, even if you don’t play the same instrument it can still be good to share the experience.

As with all exams, you get out of the experience what you put in. Enjoy and value the journey as much as you do the result.