Candaian RCM Violin Level 9 for 32 yrs old?

March 7, 2017 at 01:45 AM · Hi guys,

Does anyone know how the RCM level 9 works? It looks really complicated to me... I need some advise. This is the Canadian RCM I am referring to.

I came to Canada when I was 17, at the time, I had passed level 7 for couple years, and was preparing for level 9 in China. I didn't continue my pursuing in violin leveling since then. I just played some easy piece to entertain myself and others.

Now I'm 32. I felt myself not completing something I started long time ago so I looked into RCM level 9. I found the examinations are so complicated. Do you guys recommend a teacher, or a book/a tutorial that can guide me through this? "This" is the sense of practical, theory, history... etc.. man, it sounds complicated to me at this moment.

Or do you recommend me to forget about this whole RCM thing and just recommend me a teacher to extend my repertoire instead?

I talked to a few teachers in the past. I felt the teachers I talked with were more towards younger , much younger, students. Maybe I talked to the wrong people.

I know there are a lot of pros here. It'd be great if you could shed some lights.

Many thanks ahead.

Replies (31)

March 7, 2017 at 02:00 AM · What do you hope to gain from completing the RCM examinations?

For what it's worth, I never did any of them. I don't know anyone who did.

March 7, 2017 at 02:49 AM · There's nothing wrong with the RCM exams in principle, but if you want to learn to play the violin better then I suggest you find a teacher who will help you do that. If, along the way, you find your progress is limited by your lack of knowledge of musicology or theory, your teacher can either help you with that himself/herself, or (s)he can refer you to someone else or to other resources for that part of your education.

March 7, 2017 at 03:12 AM · What's the purpose of taking the formal examination?

If it's to guide you in more structured progress, it might be useful. But if you just want to get better, find a good teacher and have them figure out the right progression for you.

March 7, 2017 at 03:17 AM · As Lydia said, if you need concrete goals for your progress, it's not a bad idea, but then you could also just find an organized teacher who puts on regular student concerts. If you need theory you can take lessons or RCM classes. Other than that it's a money grab. I believe it's one of the main source of revenue for RCM.

March 7, 2017 at 04:19 AM · Thank you everyone. As you mentioned, I do want to get better. I found myself spinning at the current level for too long. I didn't know how to get out. That's why I was wondering if RCM would provide a constructed way to help me improve. I guess based on most of your suggestion, I need find a teacher who can guide me rather than going through RCM, correct?

How do you practice alone normally? or do you actially go to a teacher even afert becoming a pro?

March 7, 2017 at 04:26 AM · When I was a young professional, I took occasional lessons in preparation for auditions. But you're not a professional, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with resuming violin lessons. You just have to find the right teacher.

March 7, 2017 at 07:04 AM · A good teacher is a great shortcut to quicker progress.

It's more difficult for adult amateurs to find good teachers, but they certainly exist, even though they might take some effort to find.

March 7, 2017 at 07:51 AM · Steven, as everyone said, spend some time to find a good teacher and work on repertoire is way more rewarding. This is what I've been doing, on and off, the past 10 years. It depends on where you live, you may be able to find some really great teacher if you are willing do some research. If you ask around who the top teachers are in town, you should find out pretty soon. When you decide on someone, be persistent. I'm in Victoria BC. We have a few good teachers here. Ten years ago I was in my 40s, an amateur with a lot of bad habits. But I went for the busiest and most sought-after one in town. I went to her fundraising concert and asked. Followed by emails and phone calls. I've been with her for nearly 10 years now.

Musicians are busy but if you really, really want to learn, chances are you'll find the right teacher.

March 7, 2017 at 04:14 PM · Steven, I returned to the instrument about 6 months ago. I am in my 40's. I started my returning journey with a teacher based in Twin Cities, Minnesota.

In my case, I communicated my goal clearly. I wanted to work with her on a few things that prevented me from moving beyond certain level in my teenage years. We have been making good progress.

It is not clear to me how would passing an exam make one a better violinist. It may be better to find a decent teacher who has a significant performance record, can handle teaching at an advance level (solo Bach, romantic concertos), AND accepts adult returnees.

March 7, 2017 at 04:55 PM · Personally I think exams can be useful structure. I took the ABRSM Diploma last year (twice, failed the first time passed the second time) - as I'd set it as a kind of personal challenge for myself. Of course it doesn't have any practical meaning, because I was already competent enough to have no problems contributing to amateur orchestras, and am still nowhere near even the lowest levels of professional performance.... but then running a marathon in 3 hours or climbing Everest doesn't have any practical meaning either, and plenty of people set those things as goals. :)

However, exams don't make you better players. They might motivate you to practice more (or better), but taking the exam doesn't guide you on technique, or practicing skills, or what repertoire will build your skills - or introduce you to performance opportunities .... a good teacher will do all of those things

March 9, 2017 at 03:55 AM · "Or do you recommend me to forget about this whole RCM thing and just recommend me a teacher to extend my repertoire instead?"

Where are you now? If it's Canada, then there's no conflict -- a good teacher will understand the requirements for RCM and structure their teaching accordingly, often regardless of whether or not you're planning to do the examinations. As usual, you're better off with a good teacher than without. Doing RCM outside Canada where you have no specific guidance as to what the expectations are for each level outside the syllabus could lead to some misunderstanding. There's nothing like an examination or an audition, etc., as a reality check, and if you're trying to reach a specific RCM grade, it's better to do it for real, which means doing the examinations. But that's a lot of work, and if you've forgotten much of what you might have learned getting to grade 7, you'll have to catch up, and some of it will have changed and will change. The grade level requirements for theory example are in the midst of changing, and for grade 8, there's a new level 8 theory co-requisite.

Besides the whole publication, teaching and examination business (which should not be underestimated), there are good reasons for the requirements in the RCM program, so you would benefit from the work. Whether you'd benefit more from such a structured style vs some other one is an open question.

March 9, 2017 at 12:37 PM · By the way, a good way to find out about RCM level expectations is to attend performances in a local Kiwanis Music Festival and hear specific RCM grade + category competitions. You won't necessarily hear the best (not everyone competes and they're in small regional groups so they're not comprehensive), but you will hear a good sampling of the better ones, and also hear the individual adjudication pointing out what's good and what could use improvement. Many people, and teachers, use such performances specifically for examination preparation.

March 9, 2017 at 01:12 PM · "Many people, and teachers, use such performances specifically for examination preparation."

But doesn't that strike you as bizarrely backwards? Exams are useful for appeasing mums and dads paying for lessons.

March 9, 2017 at 01:36 PM · Bizarrely backwards? Hardly. While I'm not interested in taking the exams, I'm loosely following the RCM program to ensure I get thorough exposure to the music, theory, etc.

My daughter completed Grade 10 (piano). She was in university when she finished. She has a solid education. She didn't test every year either, she worked through the material and tested odd years. Grade 10 took her 2 years to complete as well - it's a lot of work. And for what it's worth, for youngsters it counts towards high school credits.

I wasn't appeased by her exam taking. What taking the exams did do was ensure she learned the material, exposed her to competition and "we" had a lot of fun in the progress. She still has contact with people she met along the way. So do I.

If you want to study and take the exams - if it's a goal that will be fulfilling to achieve, I'd suggest you go right ahead. Nothing to lose and much to gain.

March 9, 2017 at 02:14 PM · N.A. we all agree the syllabus can add structure to a student's learning. We also agree such structure can be provided by an organized teacher (as can some kind of periodic testing.) I'm suggesting using a performance to prepare for an exam, where you play snippets of rep, is backwards. Musicians should be preparing for full performances of pieces, as you'd do in a community competition. Kiwanis should be commended for it's long history of supporting the performing arts.

You can only use gd. 10 for credit, for which you don't need any of the previous grades. The problem with the RCM system, why I call it a money grab, is that you'd think if there were a proper program in place you'd get such examination for taking very, very expensive private lessons at the school, but you don't. I could go on but I'll leave it there.

So while I agree any system can provide structure to learning I maintain using performance, which I think is really the main goal of a performing art, to support that system is backwards.

Edit: or maybe it was grade 8 and 10 for high school credit--can't remember anymore, but again, you don't need prior grades to take subsequent exams, except for ARCT (to which everyone outside of Ontario is saying, A "whut?")

"ARCT Teacher's diploma is respected internationally as a teaching qualification," they say on their website. Has anyone here heard of RCM's teaching diploma?

March 9, 2017 at 02:25 PM · Jeewon - Of course if you're being examined in musical performance then you take every opportunity to perform to prepare for the examination. That's true whether you're preparing for an exam by RCM or ABRSM or anyone else who offers exams as "stand alone", or whether you're a conservatoire student....

I'm not sure what to make of your idea that the exams cover "snippets of music" either. RCM (and ABRSM) ask for full works or several movements of longer works - basically, a balanced recital programme. Again, what are you examined on in a conservatoire?

And I have no idea what you're talking about about "money grab" - yes it costs money to take an exam, money that would be included in the course fees for something like a conservatoire degree.... but the exam costs are far less than tuition costs, because you're only paying for the exam and you're arranging your tuition somewhere else.... what's your point?

March 9, 2017 at 02:38 PM · I can see how exams might provide some external validation and sense of moving forward for the adult amateur. That can be hard to come by with violin, where improvement is basically as immediately visible as the curvature of the Earth. That said, if you really want to improve, you definitely need a teacher. The exams might be a nice carrot, but they won't make you a better player.

March 9, 2017 at 02:55 PM · The RCM program isn't a self-teaching approach. You have a teacher.

March 9, 2017 at 08:38 PM ·

The president of U of Toronto, of a whole university with 84,556 students (as of 2014), here makes less than 3X what a tenured professor does (shy of 400K.) Seems reasonable, I dunno. Peter Simon, President of the RCM, makes about 22.5X (probably more now) what the average teacher working at the RCM makes (450K including benefits.) When I worked at the RCM, the community school was well run. Under the Dean at the time, it was the only branch of the RCM which was in the black. She was summarily dismissed for pulling the community branch out of debt in her short 3.25 years, after she learned money was being siphoned from the community school to fund the deficit of the professional school (the board should've promoted her and fired the Dean of performance! But what're ya gonna do in an old boys club.) I think all the branches have now been 'strategically' folded into the one institution. But every revenue stream: community school, examinations, syllabus and publication, seems to be funding the professional school and 'new' building which is still in debt after 8 years of opening its doors. This is all of course anecdotal. But by money grab I mean a plan which turned a thriving community school, accessible to all, into a school for the wealthy, under the guise of creating a 'Juilliard of the North,' which it will never be. I believe private lessons at about $100/hr paid in semesters at a large institution should include some perks, like testing, no? But it does not. The examinations department is run independently. It's comprised of examiners (musicians with at least a Bachelors) who take an afternoon course to be certified. There are some 'career' examiners out there but most are musicians just padding their other sources of income. Not a bad gig if the pay/exam wasn't so paltry--you'd have to test a lot of kids in one day to make it worth your while. Students are not guaranteed an examiner of their instrument. The running joke is (told by string players) if you get a bunch of brass players just give them all a 75%. The younger grades tend to be graded rather easily, the older more stringently. But there seems to be a wide variability in grading (again anecdotal.) I understand such a system might serve it's purpose in far off locations with little resources, but why fly out an examiner from an urban centre to the far reaches just to give everyone a 75%, instead of partnering with local communities and supporting independent institutions? To pay off the shiny new recital hall! A hall which is pretty much off limits to RCM's own students and faculty... but there's lots of great space if you wanna book a pricey venue for a fancy schmancy event! Oh wait, there's that pricey CEO you have to keep afloat too, along with the bloated bureaucracy to keep the machine running.

As for the exam itself, you never get to play through the whole piece as you'd do in a recital, hence snippets.

March 9, 2017 at 10:55 PM · Bravissimo, Jeewon! It's amazing to learn all this and thank you for informing us! I've never considered going for the exam system because I didn't need external validation nor "standard" structure to motivate me. I have my private teacher for lessons but I've also registered at the VCM (also a community conservatory for both pro-oriented kids and amateur adults)for orchestra and summer bootcamp. VCM seems to still be operating within its original community oriented vision. I hope it doesn’t follow the RCM footsteps. Right now it is still relatively affordable and the quality is pretty good. The string orchestra I’m now with has better players and conductor/guest conductor than with other community orchestras that I tried.

I know a few adult amateur players are going through the RCM exam system earnestly, yet they are no more confident as players than the rest of us. I have a suspicion that they, like many of us, have certain insecurity about they music ability and maybe they hope that, by going through the exam system, they can be more self-assured. It's a bit like people need a degree or two to feel like they know something. I was guilty of that myself in the past and only to realize how misguide I was.

March 9, 2017 at 11:41 PM · I know someone (in the US) who uses the ARCT as their teaching credential. They made a mid-career switch into becoming a full-time piano teacher, and since they don't have a music degree, the ARCT serves as their formal claim to competence. So I suppose it can be useful.

March 10, 2017 at 12:38 AM · Yixi, I have many colleagues and friends who grew up at VCM (including TSO's star concertmaster, Jonathan Crow.) They all remember it fondly and were extremely well trained.

Edit: I'd like to see an adult student walk into RCM and try to get into a pro-school student orchestra.

March 10, 2017 at 02:30 AM · Wow! I am so lucky. I need to practice the orchestra music more diligently :D

March 10, 2017 at 02:45 AM · My cousin runs an active piano studio in Toronto and has only degrees from a Chinese conservatory. She passed an RCM exam at what she called "performance " level and used that as her "western" qualification.

March 10, 2017 at 06:39 AM · "Edit: or maybe it was grade 8 and 10 for high school credit--can't remember anymore, but again, you don't need prior grades to take subsequent exams, except for ARCT"

Both grade 7 and grade 8 count towards Ontario high school credits (grade 11 and 12 respectively) -- for a high school student, they're worthwhile. Other provinces vary. Details can be found here:

Marks count, and preparation counts for marks. It isn't complicated or controversial. Marks always vary according to the tester, but counting on a lax examiner for marks isn't likely to be successful, at least not at levels where marks matter.

Here are the details about the Ontario school equivalences. Note that it includes a couple of other conservatories, including ones in England.

March 10, 2017 at 10:35 AM · Jeewon - thanks for explaining!

It's an interesting comparison with the UK's ABRSM, which fulfills the same kind of function in providing exams. However the ABRSM's effectively an independent organisation (it's owned by 4 conservatoires, and I think it makes a profit for them, but it's not a department they can cut) - and it puts an awful lot of effort into standardising marking. At the Diploma level (equivalent of your grades 8 10 and ARCT) you're guaranteed 2 examiners at least one of whom will be familiar with your instrument....

March 10, 2017 at 03:34 PM · Thank you everyone. These are really good information. I will start looking for a teacher in my area. I live in Toronto suburb (Richmond Hill, ON). If you know any good teacher near me, please feel free to refer them to me.

Looks like Toronto Kiwanis music festival was just over last week. I missed it, but I will definitely check it out next year.

I guess I will talk to my future teacher about what material is suitable to myself. In China, the grading was straight forward, but less structured comparing to RCM. It was much cheaper too. I guess , instead, I will just learn the necessary knowledge without going through this whole examination thing.

March 10, 2017 at 04:10 PM · Wow, Jeewon, that was quite informative. I had no idea. I bought a 1990s era syllabus just to use as ideas for student repertoire beyond what I myself had been taught, but that's all I've ever used it for.

I don't know of any string players here (Texas) that go through the exam system, although ASTA (American String Teachers Association) has been trying for awhile now to promote their own system of testing (ASTA CAP). I don't have my students participate because frankly, with the Region/All-State auditions in the fall, Solo & Ensemble in the spring, youth orchestra auditions and school chair tests, I am already constrained enough in what and how I choose to teach.

One of my private violin students here also takes piano, and I guess the local piano teachers are more invested in the testing system? My student's mother was asking me about the violin grades because her child's piano teacher had told her that completing all the examinations was equivalent to a conservatory degree. Um. No.

March 10, 2017 at 05:00 PM · Edit to overwrite double post!

Mary Ellen, I don't know ASTA very well, but the legacy of Rolland makes me think it's an organization concerned with string playing and teaching, rather than marketing and self agrandizing. "Um. No." = biggest understatement of this whole website :)

Steven, try googling "Joyce Lai, violin" (she has a web presence so I hope she doesn't mind my posting her name here.) I've not been in touch with her in a while but she used to live in North York and I think had a few adult students.

Chris, somehow I trust UK's system more. At least there are 4 institutions involved. Call me biased, jaded even. I suppose I've seen too many students and colleagues lied to, used up and discarded.

J. for students who are already with great teachers and becoming well rounded young musicians I think it's great to be able to take advantage of the existing equivalency credits. (In my day, when there was a gd. 13, I think it was level 8 for grade 11 credit and 10 for 13.)

March 10, 2017 at 05:00 PM · From

24 Positions

Sum of all salaries = $4,401,171.09

Employee List (top 20) AKA "The Bloatation Flotation"

1 $457,656.55 President & Chief Executive Officer

2 $332,333.28 Chief Operating Officer

3 $289,200.00 Vice President, Institutional Advancement

4 $268,199.92 Executive Director, Performing Arts

5 $233,500.16 Senior Vice President, Research and Education

6 $205,962.36 Dean, The Glenn Gould School

7 $201,500.00 Vice President, Business Development

8 $190,650.08 Vice President, Marketing

9 $185,450.08 Vice President, RCM Certificate Program

10 $174,133.36 Chief Information Officer

11 $166,250.00 Controller

12 $158,250.00 Director, Facilities/Real Estate Operations

13 $157,948.51 Vice President, Digital Learning

14 $155,931.79 Vice President, Communications

15 $154,900.00 Associate Dean, Director of Young Artists Academy and Director of Chamber Music, Glenn Gould School (GGS)

16 $146,000.04 Vice President, Strategic Initiatives

17 $143,282.31 Chief Development Officer

18 $126,733.36 Information Technology Director

19 $123,131.45 Chief Marketing Officer

20 $120,600.00 Senior Director, Academic Programs

N.B. There is no mention of any faculty on the salary list... why? because there are no faculty on salary, ba-dum-bum-CHING! I think you can tell by how the RCM treats it's faculty where their priorities lie, and no, it's not the education of their students either (to be fair, there are great teachers still doing great teaching in spite of it all, eeking it out.)

Kids, if you want a career in the arts, don't be an artist, or at least don't stay one, at least not in this over-corporatized, profit-seeking environment. I used to wonder how does a non-profit make so much profit... well ya gotta spend it all on somethin'!

This site includes some other job salaries (non top 20), though it looks to be ball park and you have to sign up to see the figures:

Marketing Manager $53k - $57k

Associate Manager $35k - $38k

Admissions and Student Services $45k - $49k

Usher - Hourly $12 - $13 hourly

Director, Finance $113k - $123k

Chief Operating Officer $345k - $377k

President $337k - $363k

Senior Director, Development $124k - $133k

Vice President, Academic $232k - $248k

Dean Glenn Gould School $188k - $201k

Dean Young Artists Performance Academy $105k - $113k

Executive Director Dean Royal Conservatory School $140k - $151k

Executive Director Performing Arts $165k - $181k

Managing Director Glenn Gould School $100k - $109k

Managing Director Learning Through the Arts $110k - $117k

Operations Manager Examinations $102k - $110k

Director, Facilities and Real Estate Operations $149k - $162k

President, Royal Conservatory of Music Examinations Division $242k - $258k

Chief Administrative Officer $215k - $234k

Chief Development Officer $247k - $267k

Chief Information Officer $173k - $189k

Vice President, Marketing Communications $166k - $177k

Again, no faculty on this list either. Apparently there are no music teachers employed at this music school.

Really, you need an operations manager and a president, for 350k combined, to administer exams? What a bargain. People on Bay St., heads of back-offices, dealing with settlements and clearing trades on the stock market every day, make less money than this president of exams... by about half.

Edit: found one teacher on the sunshine list hidden on the 'complete' page, but faculty of the professional school. Wow... had no idea!

Edit2: OK, I'm getting a little obsessed, so final word from me. Here's a comparison of some of the top paid positions at RCM to industry standards from N.B. the figures cited are all upper end of the scale.

PositionRCM sunshine listPayscale, high end


Executive Director268.2K116.5K


VP, Business Development201.5K204.8K

VP, Marketing190.7K183.9K

Had no idea non-profits, or maybe just this one, commanded such a premium on the administrative end.

March 11, 2017 at 12:56 AM · Non-profits often consume a lot of the money which otherwise might make it profitable. For-profits on the other hand often pare down expenses including salaries to make greater profit.

The RCM has many good things going for it and its students, but when they started shutting down music/lesson studios in favor of the publishing arm and constraining their teachers so much that many felt they had to leave, I agree they took a wrong turn.

The hall however is beautiful and something anyone can enjoy if not necessarily play student recitals in.

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

ArmSymphony AI Violin Competition
ArmSymphony AI Violin Competition

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program Business Directory Business Directory

AVIVA Young Artist Program

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine