Nikki Iles & Friends: Easy to Intermediate

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Reviewing the first two volumes in the ABRSM series Nikki Iles and Friends when they appeared in April 2021, I concluded:

“I have no hesitation in declaring this series an “epic win” for ABRSM. Don’t hesitate in getting copies!”

Suitable for intermediate to advanced players (UK Grades 4-8), the books have proven popular with players in my studio here in Milton Keynes and elsewhere. You can read my full review here.

Somewhat sneaking under the radar, a third book has now been added to the series. Nikki Iles & Friends: Easy to Intermediate will, I am certain, have huge appeal to players who are less advanced.


The sensibly age-neutral cover matches the designs of the previous two books, but beyond that there are some points of departure worth noting, so let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading Nikki Iles & Friends: Easy to Intermediate

ABRSM Piano Syllabus 2023-24

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IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER
ABRSM have selected my original composition Fresh Air for inclusion in the Grade 1 Piano Pieces book for 2023-24. I have however written the following review as a fully-independent agent, and as a teacher who has entered students for ABRSM exams for 30 years. Readers will note that my conclusions are entirely consistent with my other writings.

The arrival of a new piano syllabus from ABRSM has become etched in the calendar as a biennial event of important interest for piano teachers here in the UK and in those countries where the board has a significant presence.

The current 2021-22 syllabus, reviewed here, was launched at the height of the pandemic in Summer 2020 and met a mixed reaction, its broadly popular repertoire accompanied by a revision to the scales syllabus that divided opinion.

For this new syllabus, ABRSM tell us that they have refreshed the pieces lists to give a greater choice of repertoire than ever before, including “music by a more diverse range of composers”. Of particular interest:

  • There are now 39 pieces per grade, divided equally between Lists A, B and C.
  • 70% of the 2021 & 2022 repertoire has been retained.
  • The contents of Piano Exam Pieces books have been fully updated with nine new choices per grade.
  • A further nine “new” pieces have been added to the ‘other piece’ lists for each grade.

The 2023-4 syllabus is valid both for the “Practical Grades” (ABRSM’s face-to-face exams) and their recently introduced “Performance Grades” (which despite their name remain video recordings, made at the candidate’s leisure and submitted online).

From August 2022, the Performance Grades are available “on demand”, which should in my view add to their popularity. As with the Practical Grades however, those taking Performance Grades 6, 7 or 8 must first have passed ABRSM’s online-only Grade 5 theory exam or accepted alternative.

The 2023-24 syllabus comes into effect on 1 January 2023, and only then can candidates begin to present pieces from the new lists. There is a one year overlap up to 31 December 2023 but all three set pieces must be prepared from the same syllabus.

For Practical Grades, the scales and arpeggios, sight-reading and aural-test requirements remain exactly the same as for the 2021-22 syllabus.

As in previous syllabus reviews, I will consider the new publications, repertoire trends and content, select some of my favourite choices at each grade, and share some initial conclusions… read on to find out more!

Continue reading ABRSM Piano Syllabus 2023-24

The Future of ABRSM Grades?

Written by Andrew Eales
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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 probably unavoidable, and not without merit bearing in mind that ABRSM are in their own words,

“…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:

What is the future of ABRSM grades?

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, provided the exams themselves are available live and not just digitally.

Continue reading The Future of ABRSM Grades?