Grade Testing for the Violin

May 19, 2005 at 04:31 PM · What exactly are these tests everyone is talking about?

Replies (20)

May 22, 2005 at 09:09 AM · I believe any reference to this is in regards to the Associated Board for the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), which is a system of music teaching popular in the UK and Europe, possibly Canada as well.

The ABRSM has set up a system of tests in which a musician studies with their private teacher and applies to take these exams when ready to do so, and upon passing these tests, receive a certificate. There are 8 levels to this system. ON these certificates, one can earn a merit if they did well, or a distinction if they did really well. The University system in the UK used to use the level 8 certificate as a prerequisite to study music. I think now you must be past level 8, but you have to have it anyhow to even consider applying for music school.

There are several tests you can take. 1)Your Instrument grades 1-8(playing three songs, aural test, sight reading) 2) Music theory 1-8 (given an exam paper to the SAT for music) 3) Jazz studies 1-8 and 4)Practical musicianship 1-8(singing, improvising, etc).

Once you pass all 8 levels, there are some further diplomas you can test for as well. This is how one is certified to teach music in the UK. You must earn your diploma in either music direction, music performance, or instrumental/vocal teaching. (If you want all three...I suppose you have to test three times) Each diploma has three levels of award forming an overall progression from DipABRSM, LRSM, and FRSM.

If you want to take these tests and live in the States, you will have to find a center that holds these tests by looking online at to find someone to test you. To enter for this exam, you will need to look at this site anyhow to see what pieces of music and scales are required for each level, and download an entry form.

I hope that answers it :)

May 22, 2005 at 03:26 PM · In Canada we have the RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto) syllabus in which students can do their exams by. This syllabus is used as a guidleline when applying to universities for music (Some only require grade 8, others grade 10 in violin for example).

There are grades 1-10, in every discipline and then there are two different ARCT (Assosciate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto) diplomas. One in Performance and one in Teaching. Up to grade 7, everything is pretty straight-forward. For an exam you learn a piece from each list in the syllabus, learn the required technical things, do ear training etc and then you can go and do an exam and recieve a certificate (depending on the level you acheive you can also get credits from school towards your highschool diploma). Once you get to grade 8 there start to be additional requirements to obtain the certificate outside of just showing up and playing things as they've been laid out, there start to be additional theory requirements. Grade 9 for instance needs Grade 3 music history, grade 3 harmony, and grade 2 rudiments. Grade 10 needs all of the above (the only one you can skip is grade 3 harmony - you must have completed all of the others)in addition to grade 4 harmony and grade 4 history. The ARCT requires a fairly large amount more. The grade 10 exam requires the longest program and biggest technical demands so far - you must know every scale in the book, every arppeggio every other technical thing by memory and at a set speed (You'll get asked maybe 8 things in total at the exam). The ARCT has a larger requirement though. To officially get your ARCT, again you need all the above theory in addition to grade 5 history, grade 5 harmony, counterpoint and anaylsis, AND you need grade 6 piano for the Performers ARCT and grade 8 piano for the Teachers.

February 28, 2007 at 08:52 AM · Hi, I currently live in Israel. I'm wondering if it would be prudent for me to pursue one of these diplomas (either via the ABRSM or the RCM). Firstly, can I rely on a teacher here to be able to teach me the requirements for the ABRSM or RCM exams, or would I need a teacher thoroughly familiar with the system to teach me the necessary material properly. Also - how does one learn the theory requirements? Are there books put out by the ABRSM/RCM which include all the material necessary for each exam? Secondly, what is the standing of such a diploma in foreign countries? Is it necessary if I pursue a Bachelors in performance, or if I do attain such a diploma - does it minimize the need to do a bachelors?

Quite a few questions!

thanks for your help!


March 1, 2007 at 06:30 AM · Yoni- I took the ABRSM grades 3, 4, 7, 8, and then the Diploma (when I was fourteen), and recieved Distinction every time. Let me just point out that these exams should not be all you are preparing for. They always took me about three months to prepare for, and I also took the French system exams(can't remember what they're called but they look the same as the ARCT) and completed grade 10. It is a very good idea to take an exam like this (or the ABRSM) just so that people know relatively what your level is and what you can play without them hearing you. As far as I know the ABRSM is pretty internationally recognized.

I don't think you need a teacher who has always taught this system, but the British examiners are very precise about their requirements. Make sure you follow the instructions to the letter and you'll be fine.

One last thing. You do need to have sat for ABRSM Theory 5 before you sit for any instrument exam past grade 5.

Good Luck!

March 2, 2007 at 04:17 AM · Greetings,

it@s not a bad system by any means and it does give teacher and student alike a means of keeping track of where they are in the scheme of things and the feedback by the adjudicators is usually helpful and appropriate.

I remember my old teache rat RCM (Ken Piper) saying they had one weakness in particular that needed to be addressed: they didn@t have studies as wll as scales liste dta every level. One consequence of this is that teahcers tended not to use etudes from the beginnign with their students. I don@t know if this is still the case?



March 2, 2007 at 11:30 AM · Buri,

My teacher said the same thing. That's why I only spent about three months out of the year preparing for the exams. They did have quite a few scales, but they weren't nearly as hard as those that students in the Russian system practice.

March 2, 2007 at 12:22 PM · Just looking at the RCM (Canada) viola syllabus, they have technical studies listed with Grades 1-5 requiring Wohlfahrt, Woof or Cohen; Grades 6 on up requiring Kreutzer, Mazas, Dont, Rode, etc.


March 2, 2007 at 02:06 PM · ABRSM has no etudes. You can see the complete syllabus on-line at

RCM not only has etudes, it has orchestral excerpts too, starting in their Grade 7.

March 3, 2007 at 09:31 PM · Does that mean that RCM exams are held in higher esteem than the ABRSM exams (ie because they include orchestral excerpts and studies)?

March 4, 2007 at 01:50 AM · In Australia we have the AMEB exam system, with grades from Preliminary, then on to grades 1 to 8. After that, there is the Associate Diploma (AMusA), then Licentiate (LMusA), and the highest you can go is Fellow of the AMEB (FMusA).

For entry into very good tertiary music institutions in Australia, such as the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, I think you need about (a good) grade 7 or 8 AMEB as a minimum. I have done up to grade 6 so far, but don't know if I'll go for any more as I seem to be getting possibly a little too non-mainstream for the AMEB (plain gut strings, no chin rest - at least at the moment. No shoulder rest, etc.).

But I'll see how things go. I would certainly like to go for grade 7. Here in Australia, there is a general consensus I think that AMEB exams are by far the most demanding technically than any other exam system available here, including the ones mentioned in posts above. But I could be wrong. The AMEB exam system apparently is widely respected in the UK and in other countries. They publish a full range of books, exam repertoire, aural tests, theory, and so on. The best move if you are interested in AMEB exams would be to get hold of their Syllabus book, which is published anew at the start of each year.

Edit: I should add, that it is an AMEB requirement that the performance of at least one appropriate violin study (eg. a Kreutzer etude) is included in each exam assessment.

March 4, 2007 at 09:03 AM · I think the most important things is that, no matter if the exams you take require orchestral excerpts and scales and etudes or not, you play them anyway (and other pieces - also chamber music). There is a danger in just preparing for exams...

May 5, 2008 at 01:10 AM · My daughter just took the ABSRM Grade 4 violin exam. Does anyone know how long it takes for them to send out the results? Also, how hard is it to pass "with distinction"? How strict is the grading? Do they give any feedback with the results? Thank you.

May 8, 2008 at 09:30 AM · The results take a few months to come back.

Besides a certificate, you are also given a piece of paper with remarks about how the pieces were played and other comments.


September 4, 2010 at 09:34 PM ·

Does anyone know how many and what Etudes and/or pieces one must play for RCM level 8? there don't seem to be a syllbus on-line and i can't find a music store to by the book. 

September 5, 2010 at 06:33 PM ·

In the UK you don't necessarily have to go through all the grades to get to grade 8, but a prerequisite for grade 8 in an instrument is usually grade 5 theory (or it was in my day). It depends on the teacher's assessment which grade you can safely start in.  

In the UK some amateur orchestras, especially those who do the more advanced programmes, require new entrants to have grade 8 (or "similar", which means that proven non-grade experience may qualify).  This is necessary if the orchestra is expecting to give  respectable performances of Beethoven or Brahms symphonies, or the like.  Some amateur orchestras have a formal audition procedure, but others prefer the informal kind where the prospective member sits alongside the section leader during a rehearsal and is unobtrusively assessed not only by that leader but by the second desk, other leaders in line of sight, and by the conductor.  Not as frightening as a formal audition but more realistic and effective in the amateur context, imo.

And then there is the situation where the (amateur) orchestra auditions a prospective conductor, usually a short-list of 4 or 5 in one evening, followed by a secret vote.  This usually works reasonably well, but it can be worrying when there hasn't been a 100% turn out by the orchestra, and the new conductor is chosen by a tiny overall majority (as I've known to happen). 


February 13, 2012 at 08:21 PM · Does anyone know where to find a grade 8 violin exam pieces book of ABRSM? My brother is planning to have the exam and we couldn't find the grade 8 one.

February 13, 2012 at 09:09 PM · Go to the ABRSM website. Click on the 'SHOP'. There you will find a drop down box. Select Violin 2012-15 and then the appropriate grade. The Grade 8 Book is listed. I don't think it covers every single 'piece' option but enough to have a choice. A CD recording of the pieces is also available.

I think it's still the case that Grade 5 theory is a prerequisite for Grade 8 practical. In which case seems a nice resource. Covers up to Grade 6 theory.

February 13, 2012 at 10:00 PM · I did what you said as I've done before, I actually see variable music books have single pieces as sonatas in the Grade 8 syllabus and Grade 8 recordings. There is not any Grade 8 Violin Exam Pieces Music Book as the other grades have.

February 13, 2012 at 10:12 PM · Yes you are right. It seems for grade 8 you have to buy the pieces separately.

February 13, 2012 at 10:35 PM · Thank you for your response, because at first I thought I only couldn't find it :)) And I hope there will be a coming Grade 8 book, otherwise it will be too pricey to buy all those books for me because I said I'm gonna order his exam books for him (my brother).

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