The Future of ABRSM Grades?

Supporting Your Piano Playing Journey
Written by ANDREW EALES


In the last couple of weeks I have come across two well argued letters in the music press, the first by Alex Aitken and published in the September 2021 issue of Music Teacher magazine, the second by Pauline Carter and appearing in the October issue of the BBC Music Magazine.

Both letter-writers lament a perceived decline in music education, singling out ABRSM as being uniquely responsible for this malaise. Their charge is unavoidable when read in context, and in any case not without merit bearing in mind that ABRSM boast that they are,

“…the UK’s largest music education body, and the world’s leading provider of music exams.”

The diametrically different solutions each of the two propose points to the serious challenge ABRSM now face in charting a path that reconnects with all of their stakeholders, wins wide support, and restores confidence in their ability to (as they put it) “inspire musical achievement”.

It is certainly beyond doubt that many in music education are reflecting anew on the role, relevance and value of music exams.

Personally, I am coming to the view that it’s time to focus on a live performance assessment and scrap divisive “support tests” and other prerequisites from grade exams. Done well, this could raise a bar which does seem to have been steadily slipping in recent years, while better matching the real-world priorities of the 21st century.

When ABRSM announced their “Performance Grades” a few months back, I admit that I was skeptical. But having listened carefully to a range of opinion, I now believe that making the performance of music the whole focus of graded assessments could prove unifying.

However, it seems to me essential to this success that ABRSM make their Performance Grade exams available live, and not just digitally as at present. If my studio is in any way representative (and many other teachers have confirmed to me that it is), many many players simply don’t want to “phone in” their grade exams as private video recordings.

In this post I will be touching on why that is, after considering the questionable value of “support tests”…

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