Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music
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Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music

IndustryMusic education
Founded1 October 1889 (1889-10-01)
FounderSir George Grove
Sir Alexander Mackenzie
Sir Arthur Sullivan
Sir Charles Stanford
Sir Walter Parratt
Sir Hubert Parry
Sir John Stainer
4 London Wall Place
United Kingdom
Area served
93 countries worldwide
Key people
Michael Elliott
(Chief Executive)
Colette Bowe
John Holmes
(Chief Examiner)
ProductsMusic exams
Sheet music publications
Digital music applications
Music education courses and events
£42.9 million (2013/14)[1]

The ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) is an examinations board and registered charity[2] based in London, UK, which provides examinations in music at centres around the world. ABRSM is one of five 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, Trinity College London, and the Music Teachers' Board). 'The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music' was established in 1889[3] and rebranded as ABRSM in 2009.[4] The clarifying strapline "the exam board of the Royal Schools of Music" was introduced in 2012.[4]

The Royal Schools referred to in ABRSM's title are:

More than 600,000 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.

ABRSM is one of the UK's 200 largest charitable organisations ranked by annual expenditure.[5] For the year ended 31 January 2014, income was £42.9 million and expenditure was £39.7 million.[6]

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 1-3), Grades 4-5 at Level 2 (SQA: Higher (G4) and Advanced Higher (G5), GCSE: grades 4-9) and Grades 6-8 at Level 3 (SQA: Advanced Higher, GCE: 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:

Practical exams

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 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.
  • 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. Students are not required to pass every component of the exam: they only need to have a total mark above 100 to achieve the grade. As the passing marks of all the components add to 100, it is not possible for a student to pass all the components but fail the exam.

Music Theory exams

Music Theory is examined through written papers (although grades 1-5 are transitioning into a multiple-choice online test that no longer requires candidates to actually write-out any music). 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. They are also required to have passed Grade 5 Theory to be able to do advanced Theory exams.

Practical Musicianship

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

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

Music Medals[7] 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 four levels of award:

  • ARSM (Associate of the Royal Schools of Music)
  • 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 ARSM and 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. These professional qualifications are recognized by US Universities and Colleges. Lipscomb University uses these diplomas in their Bmus program. DipABRSM in teaching earns 3 credits in MA music programs in some institutions in the US

Music performance

The examinations for DipABRSM, LRSM and FRSM are divided as follows:

  • Section 1: Recital
  • 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, ARSM is 30 minutes (performance only), LRSM is 40 minutes while for FRSM the time range is around 50 minutes.

Before the viva voce, the candidate must submit 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). The candidate is required to sightread the piece and may be asked questions about the technical aspects and style of the selection.

Instrumental/vocal teaching

Candidates are expected to discuss their teaching materials and approach, and at LRSM must provide a video recording of their teaching. At DipABRSM candidates are assessed on their understanding of the principles of teaching up to Grade 5 level. At LRSM candidates are expected to demonstrate skills in teaching up to Grade 8 level, and for FRSM, up to DipABRSM level. The written submissions and Viva Voce are considerably longer than those for Music Performance. While there is no Recital section, candidates are expected to include demonstrations of passages in repertoire as part of their Viva Voce (e.g. candidates for FRSM Teaching are expected to be able to give authoritative demonstrations of sections of repertoire that are of a level to be performed in a DipABRSM exam). The Quick Study is the same as for the Performance diploma at the same level.

Teacher training

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. From September 2013, the CT ABRSM Plus stopped being offered in the UK or Singapore for financial reasons. The CT ABRSM Plus is now only offered in Hong Kong.[8] There are also numerous short courses and seminars on music teaching, accompaniment and syllabus instruction available to teachers.

ABRSM publications

ABRSM published its first books in 1918[9] and its 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 such as the 'Time Pieces' books for a variety of instruments and 'Joining the Dots' for piano, guitar and violin players.

ABRSM digital resources

Since 2009 ABRSM has produced several practice applications to support teachers and students:

  • Melody Writer[10] - a tool designed to help improve melody writing and music theory knowledge and understanding
  • Aural Trainer[11] - an iPhone app that helps students practice their aural skills
  • Speedshifter[12] - a practice tool that allows students to vary the speed of audio without altering the pitch
  • Piano Practice Partner[13] - an app for iOS and Android devices that helps students practice exam pieces for piano at Grades 1 to 3. Piano Practice Partner plays one hand so that students can play the other as they learn.


The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music was founded in 1889 when Alexander Mackenzie, then the Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, and George Grove, founding Director of the Royal College of Music, decided that both institutions should combine to form an associated examining board to run joint local exams. The first syllabi were published in 1890 for Piano, Organ, Violin, Cello and Harp, with Viola, Double Bass and woodwind instruments added the following year. Originally, the ABRSM had only two grades and were the equivalent of the current grades 6 and 7. Due to the popular demand for beginner grades, the present structure (grades 1-8) was introduced in 1933. In 1947, the Royal Manchester College of Music (merged to form the present Royal Northern College of Music) and Royal Scottish Academy of Music (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) joined ABRSM. Since the post-World War II years, the ABRSM saw an increase in overseas exam applications. The curriculum also expanded, with the addition of Guitar, Harpsichord, Voice, (with the option of specific exams for "musical theatre" singing at grades 1-3), percussion, Recorder and all brass instruments. The 1990s saw percussion and jazz added to the syllabus. The current diploma exams were introduced in 2000,[9] as well as similar exams for instructors and teachers.[14]

In 2009 the ABRSM celebrated its 120th anniversary and of the 93 countries in which the association offers music examination support, they have been in Sri Lanka when it was known as Ceylon since 1898; in Malta from 1903; New Zealand (1908); Jamaica (1909); Barbados (1926); Antigua (1941); Kenya (1949); Hong Kong, Malaysia and Cyprus (1951); Brunei and Mauritius (1959); Switzerland (1961); Netherlands (1975); Indonesia (1977); Abu Dhabi (1981); Thailand (1982); USA and Canada (1986); Sweden (1988); Turkey and Portugal (1990); and Serbia (2006).


  1. ^ "Charity Commission". Retrieved 2015.
  2. ^ Charity Commission. ABRSM, registered charity no. 292182.
  3. ^ "ABRSM history". Archived from the original on 13 February 2013. Retrieved 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music" (archived versions of website). Internet Archive. 19 October 2014. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012.
  5. ^ Charities Direct: Top 500 Charities - Expenditure Archived 2 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Charity Commission". Retrieved 2015.
  7. ^ "Welcome to Music Medals!"[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "CT ABRSM Plus". Archived from the original on 3 April 2012.
  9. ^ a b "ABRSM through time" (PDF). Libretto. ABRSM (2): 16-17. 2014.
  10. ^ "Melody Writer". Archived from the original on 5 December 2014. Retrieved 2014.
  11. ^ "Aural Trainer". Retrieved 2014.
  12. ^ "Speedshifter". Retrieved 2014.
  13. ^ "Piano Practice Partner". Retrieved 2014.
  14. ^ "Feature: Professional Development for Teachers". January 2001.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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