Trinity Piano Syllabus 2023

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

The summer months routinely bring a whole new set of piano syllabus publications from one of the major exam boards, and this year it is Trinity College London’s turn.

As ever, I hope my review will explain the most important changes, give readers a first impression of the new publications, and offer some general thoughts on the repertoire selections and direction of travel.

I am going to start by stating that this is a radical update, a riot of invention, but of course that also makes it rather controversial. Questions about whether it offers a comparable and valid educational route are inevitable.

I hope in this review to point towards some answers, based on my perspective as a jobbing piano teacher. So hold on to your hat, and let’s get started!…

Let’s begin with some major headline news: Trinity’s 2023 syllabus doesn’t replace the existing 2021 one which I glowingly reviewed here, but instead extends it and expands the choice of repertoire. Starting with the successful 2021 syllabus, Trinity are giving their piano syllabus updates no ‘end date’.

I have confirmed with the board that this means the entire contents of the 2021 Piano Standard and Extended Edition books (pieces and exercises) will remain valid for use in exams and available indefinitely alongside the new 2023 books, including the pieces carried over from the 2018 syllabus.

Candidates will be able to choose the existing 2021 exercises, the new 2023 exercises, or a mix of old and new. The pieces can also be mix-and-matched at the candidate’s will, and indefinitely. Looking through their full 2023 syllabus listing, it is clear that those who wish to take TCL exams have a more extensive and varied choice of repertoire than ever before.

Trinity plan to continue extending the syllabus repertoire lists by publishing additional digital downloads, graded books, anthologies, and including recommended pieces from external publications. They suggest this will offer a more accessible approach for teachers and students who do not want to be forced to buy new books every couple of years.

It also means (and it seems to me this is quite a gamble on Trinity’s part) that those who prefer the 2021 piano books can entirely ignore these new ones. And bearing in mind the excellence of that previous syllabus, and the economic challenges many currently face, I rather suspect that in the immediate term many will choose to do exactly that.

For those that purchase the new 2023 syllabus publications however, they are immediately valid for use in assessment. And in common with other boards, Trinity allow candidates to take their exams in a variety of ways, in-person or digitally.

There are two new editions of the syllabus books for each grade, a pattern which is largely unchanged since Trinity’s 2021 publications. The only difference is that the 2023 Extended Editions include all 21 pieces, rather than offering the 9 extras as an eBook download.

Here are the specifications of the two versions:

• 12 exam pieces
• Performance notes for the 12 pieces
• New technical work exercises

As above, plus:
• 9 additional pieces included in the book
• Performance notes for all 21 pieces
• Scales and arpeggios
• Downloadable audio for all 21 pieces

For the purposes of this review I am looking at the Extended Edition books, although in addition to physical copies of these, Trinity kindly provided digital copies of the Standard Editions for review purposes.

The presentation of the books can honestly be described as gorgeous. Not only so, but straight out the box, these are substantial books that will provide a lasting and superb resource for teachers and players. With brilliant cover artwork by Rod Steele, soft card covers, and with subtle colour coding that matches the 2021 syllabus publications, the books make an immediate and strikingly positive impression.

Within, they are printed on luxury cream paper, have a clean presentation, well-spaced and beautifully engraved notation. An appropriate level of fingering is included throughout all the books, and in the pieces I played during the initial review phase this all proved effective.

A significant concern is quickly apparent however. Across all eight grades, copious editorial dynamics and articulations have been added to the baroque and classical works. This is a very disappointing step backwards from the excellent 2021 syllabus books where, in the higher grades, Trinity rightly sought to reproduce the original scores as faithfully as possible.

I would find it problematic teaching some of these pieces using Trinity’s 2023 versions, and teachers keen to foster stylistic awareness and interpretation will need to consider acquiring and recommending better editions.

The detailed Performance notes, allocated several pages at the start of each book, are far more impressive. Bearing in mind the diversity of the music, it’s helpful to have this background information, explaining the context and provenance of each piece. And the large team who wrote these notes have done so in language that will have broad appeal, and is suitably pitched for children learning the pieces. Bravo!

As for the performance insights included in these notes, suffice to say they are in many cases written by the same artists who play them on Trinity’s audio recordings.

These professional recordings, remember, are only available with the Extended Edition. They are generally excellent, well recorded, and add considerably to the value. Bearing in mind that a large proportion of the music in this syllabus will be unknown to teachers, I must recommend them as an essential resource.

Both Standard and Extended Editions conclude with six new exercises per grade. Trinity’s vision for an ever expanding syllabus is writ large here, the Exercises labelled 1c, 1d, 2c, 2d, 3c, 3d respectively. It’s a simple construct which clarifies the fuller range of options available to those willing to purchase both sets of syllabus books.

The Extended (but not the Standard) Edition also includes the Scales and Arpeggios for the grade, and it’s useful to have everything in one book. The scale requirements are sensible but slim, and I’m not sure what the rationale is for omitting them in the Standard Editions. They are hardly “hot property”, but I doubt it’s a deal maker or breaker either way.

Speaking of which, the retail price of the Standard Editions at the time of launch ranges from £7.45 (Initial) to £15.95 (Grade 8), while the Extended Editions cost a more significant £14.45 (Initial) to £32.95 (Grade 8). A full set of the Extended Editions exceeds £200, but Trinity are offering bundle offers, and members of the Pianodao Music Club can use their Musicroom discount for significant savings.

These books are thus a not-inconsiderable investment. For comparison, it’s fair to note that the ABRSM equivalents have comparable prices, but include just nine pieces, compared to Trinity’s twenty one. Nor do ABRSM include Performing notes, scales and exercises, all of which require separate purchases. Trinity College clearly offer better value for money.

On the other hand, with Trinity’s 2021 and 2023 syllabus operating on a mix-and-match basis, accessing a broad range of the music Trinity offer could require purchasing multiple books and downloads from now on, proving ever-more costly. It is unclear to what extent they have thought that through.

Looking at the Extended Editions from Initial to Grade 8, we are confronted with 189 pieces, suitable for all levels, and with an unprecedented stylistic range. When the publications arrived I felt like a giddy child in a sweet shop; teachers may feel similarly overwhelmed.

As always, I think it best to point out major trends that set the new publications apart from those they compete with. This now of course includes Trinity’s own ongoing 2021 books, as well as those of the other boards.


First of all, let’s consider the range of pieces which Trinity have selected and commissioned for their 2023 publications, which include:

  • Classical composers, particularly emphasising fresh rediscoveries from the past, and music by a range of contemporary composers from around the world
  • Jazz and Latin Classics, including famous hits by Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, Miles Davis, and Chick Corea
  • Pop artists, including Ed Sheeran, Adele, Coldplay, Bill Withers, Katie Melua, David Guetta, U2, BTS and Led Zeppelin
  • Film and TV themes, including Harry PotterStar WarsLa La LandDoctor Who, and Pokémon, as well as tunes from classic Bollywood films such as Woh Kaun Thi? and Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai and from Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke
  • Video game music from The Legend of ZeldaFinal Fantasy, Angry Birds and Super Mario Bros

The vision here is certainly extraordinary, and it’s tempting to say there is something for everyone. That said, I fear that classical music lovers and traditional piano teachers rather miss out; very few established core classics are included.

As something of a musical adventurer, I love the boldness and variety, but for teachers who need time to assimilate so much music, the new syllabus presents something of a mountain to climb. I can’t help feeling some will struggle.

I also find it intriguing that while Trinity are themselves clearly committed to celebrating diversity, they don’t expect the same of their candidates. It seems possible across all grades for candidates to offer only music from their preferred genre, without ever having to tackle different styles that will educate and expand their taste.

From a basic educational point of view, that surely isn’t a good thing, and will only become more problematic as the syllabus expands. I would suggest it’s something the board will need to consider with care.

A word about benchmarking. Given that so much of this material has never appeared in any exam board offering before, this must have been an even greater challenge than usual. My overall feeling is that, while benchmarking is a notoriously inexact science, Trinity have broadly got it right here, albeit with some variance and minor inconsistencies within most grades.


A substantial quantity of the included repertoire in these publications was not originally composed for the piano. We could certainly pause right here, and have a lengthy debate. Surely there is no shortage of stunning original music composed for the piano?

Questions about whether or not it is imperative to serve up a selection of such arrangements in order to enthuse our students will always be accompanied by concerns about whether those arrangements convey the essence of the original music, while still fulfilling their remit as benchmarked, assessable solo piano transcriptions.

Being of a certain age, I went straight to the Grade 6 piano arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, wondering whether this great song, the bane of every guitar shop owner’s existence, might soon become similarly ubiquitous on the piano. Piano showrooms beware: this is indeed an enjoyable rendition, Jimmy Page’s meandering guitar lines reimagined with convincing inner voicings and commendable authenticity.

One of my students was amused to see Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh from Bollywood classic Dil Anna Our Preet Para in the Grade 5 book, and explained how much it would mean for her parents if she were to learn it. When I sight-read it for her, she was enthusiastically impressed with the arrangement. High praise, and I equally enjoyed playing it.

I was considerably less impressed by the arrangements appearing in the lower grades, however. Playing the Initial Grade arrangements of U2’s With or Without You and Emeli Sandé’s Read All About It to some adult students, I was met with blank stares and a complete lack of recognition. Such simplified arrangements, however ingenious, are unlikely to impress or inspire.

I also wonder how performances of these arrangements will be assessed. Should the Initial Grade candidate play them with the rhythm of the vocal recordings, rather than the square, quantised versions in Trinity’s books, will they receive more marks, or in fact fewer? The Performance notes and exemplar recordings suggest playing them exactly as written, but in many of these arrangements that approach seems to me ineffective, and sorely lacking in stylistic awareness.

Comparisons will be made with ABRSM’s recent foray into graded pop song arrangements with their Pop Performer books (which I have reviewed here). A particular strength of ABRSM’s approach here is that their commercial song arrangements exist in separate volumes, approved for use only as optional own-choice fourth pieces in Performance Grades. At its heart, ABRSM’s core syllabus includes impressive diversity, but broadly (and I believe rightly) remains rooted within the classical piano tradition.

Trinity’s decision to include such an abundance of pop, film and game music arrangements within their core syllabus publications is likely to prove far more contentious, and not least with those teachers who aren’t impressed with the arrangements offered, and who would prefer to teach popular music more creatively, true to the authentic performing traditions of the genre.


There are certain composers and works which have made an inestimably important contribution to the development of our musical culture. Not only so, but there are many obvious ‘epic win’ pieces which are both rich in pedagogic content, and which have proven inspiring to players of all ages, decade after decade.

In Trinity’s 2023 publications, such pieces are almost entirely missing. Among the 189 pieces in the Extended Editions, there is not even a single one by Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Burgmüller, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovitch, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov (even though this is his centenary year), Satie, Kabelevsky, or Joplin.

These composers still appear within the composite PDF listings, having featured in the 2021 syllabus. But even there, some of these essential figures (including Beethoven) were absent from Trinity’s own books, only appearing as sanctioned alternatives.

Piano enthusiasts may well find this sidelining of core composers perplexing, and I suspect very few music lovers would sympathise with any suggestion that, having featured on the syllabus in 2021, such great names of the piano repertoire need not appear at all in the core 2023 publications that so many teachers and students will focus and rely on.

As an educator, I place the repertoire’s most seminal influencers, those composers whose music is of foundational importance for an understanding of context, style and interpretation, at the heart of my teaching, building a wealth of other wonderful music around that nucleus in line with each learner’s enthusiasms. The 2023 Trinity publications are notably at odds with my pedagogic aims in this respect, and for me, this makes their offer significantly less attractive.


In recent years I have reviewed and considered hundreds of piano publications, and yet there are many, many composers in these selections whose names I have literally never come across before. Trinity have seemingly opted to commission and source as much fresh repertoire as possible, and from composers whose reputation has yet to be established.

This discovery of upcoming talent is a wonderful aim on Trinity’s part, but in this context perhaps requires pause for thought. Do all these pieces merit ongoing inclusion in our core teaching material? Are we happy sidelining the great pedagogic music of the past and replacing the leading educational composers of the twenty first century with so much untested material? It seems to me another huge gamble.

In the final analysis, I must admit that as a musical adventurer and repertoire collector, I am excited by the multiplicity of new treasures in these publications. But as a teacher, I have concerns about a lack of balance here. I wonder how many (or perhaps how few) of these pieces will ultimately land well with teachers and learners, and earn a lasting place in our affections.

In their enthusiasm to shake things up, I can’t help wondering whether Trinity may have misread the market and unleashed too much novelty, change and overwhelming choice in one fell swoop.

There is certainly much to commend in their 2023 piano syllabus, and their idea of a cumulative ongoing resource is a genuinely interesting one that holds much promise, particularly if the board can find a way to require a more balanced mix of music at the assessment stage.

Trinity’s 2023 publications, regardless of their suitability (or otherwise) as a core curriculum resource or assessment tool, will surely make enjoyable and varied graded anthologies for those with broad musical taste, and who are perhaps not taking exams.

For those preparing for assessments, meanwhile, I can happily confirm that Trinity’s supporting tests for those taking live, face-to-face exams remain unchanged, and are in my view the most educationally valid offered by any U.K. examining board.

However, it seems to me that in their next syllabus update, whenever that comes, Trinity will need to prioritise reintroducing the timeless masterpieces and essential pedagogic repertoire of the piano. Only then, in my view, will their ambitious learning resource develop into one which truly meets the needs of aspiring pianists. And I believe that their syllabus publications and assessment requirements simply must reflect that balance, too.

In the meantime, Trinity’s 2023 publications resemble a Pop Piano or “Leisure Play” syllabus more than a classical piano one. And as much as they will insist that their 2021 publications remain valid, the simple reality is that many teachers and learners won’t distinguish between their current syllabus and their current syllabus publications.

Those expecting or hoping for more traditional appeal (and I suspect that includes many of Trinity’s core users) may find themselves wanting to look elsewhere. ABRSM, LCM and Rockschool all offer classical piano syllabi that respect core pedagogy and inspire discovery of the great piano literature. And let me reiterate that Trinity’s 2021 syllabus continues to offer a musically nourishing choice.

I hope that you have found this review helpful and informative. Please subscribe to Pianodao below, and consider joining the Music Club, where you can access significant discounts on these and other publications, and join others in exploring the wonders of the piano repertoire.

The Trinity 2023 syllabus is available from their website here.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.