Determining Level of Progress, ABRSM and other Grading Systems

July 12, 2018, 10:59 AM · Hello everyone! I am just starting out on the violin and have some questions about determining your level of progress.

In Europe and some other parts of the world, from what I've read, they have utilized the UK's The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), which is according to it's website, a music education body that assesses music students through written and performance exams, designating grades 1 through 8. Serious music students under this assessment are meant to pass grade 8 before entering university, however one can take the exams at any time and at whatever age. Beyond those grades, ABRSM also awards diplomas.

This is not the only system that is being utilized. Canada has its own music grading system, the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) and Australia has the Australian Music Examinatons Board (AMEB).

The US does not have an official grading system for its music students but some states do have their own grading system. Also each music school/conservatory/university has their own way of determining the level of progress for their students, including adopting the ABRSM system.

So here are my questions:

1) For those in the US, how did you determine your level of progress? Did you adopt a music grading system or made your own?

2) If you adopted an already organized grading system, what is it? What options are there for the US musican besides ABRSM?

3) If you made your own system of determining your progress, please describe it.

4) For those outside of the US, what grading system are you using? Is it available in the US?

I'm asking these questions, because I'm the goal oriented type and I just need some way to determine my level of progress.

Thank you for your time and looking forward to replies!

Replies (93)

Edited: July 12, 2018, 11:43 AM · If you really want to take their graded exams, ABRSM is available in the US.

ASTA (the American String Teachers Association) has a certificate program called ASTACAP, which is probably the closest US equivalent for violinists to the ABRSM structure. It provides a graded examination system, but depending on where you live, there might or might not be much activity around that program.

Broadly, there is a difference between playing more advanced repertoire, and playing that repertoire well. Some teachers push students along towards more difficult stuff without necessarily setting the foundation well. Some students make slow and methodical progress on the foundation, with an apparently slower progression rate, but once they've got that foundation, they speed ahead.

The examinations can be useful in that they give you a goal to prepare for, and give feedback on how well you're playing repertoire designed for a certain level of student -- i.e., they mark both repertoire advancement as well as judge how well you're doing against the technical/musical standard expected at that level.

As a kid, I was a Suzuki student for a number of years, so progression up in the books, along with constantly seeing other students perform that repertoire, gave me a pretty good idea of my advancement. After that, things became far more vague; I gradually got better and was able to play more difficult stuff. Eventually progression becomes non-linear and you strive to improve specific aspects of your playing.

July 12, 2018, 1:03 PM · Someone made a chart to compare four systems. Summary: Suzuki books 1-10 = ABRSM 1-8 = ASTA 1-6 = RCM 1-9.

I wonder whether those exam levels refer to the begin or to the end of the corresponding Suzuki book.

July 12, 2018, 4:48 PM · I agree completely with Lydia's remarks.

Truthfully though in the U.S., the main way students measure their progress outside of the Suzuki books is by chairs achieved in school or youth orchestra, All-State acceptances, etc. And of course by what piece they are working on, though that is completely unreliable. I hear so many students at youth orchestra auditions performing pieces that they should not be working on.

July 12, 2018, 7:59 PM · While most musicians I've met haven't used any grading system, it seems like a surprisingly large minority of musicians I know in both California and Texas have used the Canadian system as a reference. (I think only a few have ever taken any RCM exams, but I've heard a lot more people refer to the level of pieces on the RCM repertoire lists.)
Edited: July 14, 2018, 1:06 PM · I like the concept of the exam/diploma systems, and in areas with a tradition of them with involved teachers and competent adjudicators, they are probably quite reliable and a good measure of progress.

Personally, I've had unpleasant experiences in my past 20+ years of teaching in my area with prospective students arriving, parents trumpeting their completion of some certificate program at some level...and they can't play. Disaster postures, no rhythm, no tone, intonation like lightning (never strikes the same place twice), almost the point where I feel like I need to tell them that they have been lied to and robbed by unethical "teachers." They paid their money and got a piece of paper, almost like a degree mill!

(it's nearly never one of the major programs like ABRSM, RCM or even ASTACAP, but ones I can't even recognize, from organizations that I have to struggle to find on the Internet)

July 13, 2018, 6:02 AM · My main thought on this is that it's important to remember ABRSM and the others are an assessment system not a repertoire list.

ABRSM puts a huge amount of effort into ensuring that all its examiners mark consistently and that someone who scores 125 on Grade 6 violin is playing just as well as someone else who scores 125 on Grade 6 anywhere else. (The ABRSM system is then used as a benchmark for the performance element of academic music qualifications at school level - the A-level syllabus actually refers to the ABRSM syllabus...)

Yes the pieces are graded according to difficulty but the first of Dvorak's 4 Romantic Pieces can show up in Grade 5 and in DipABRSM recital, and Beethoven's Spring Sonata might be grade 6 or it might be LRSM.

Also the ABRSM is very keen on assessing musicianship not just performance - hence the aural, scales and sight-reading parts of the exam - and the requirement to take music theory before you can do the higher grades.

On the whole in the UK there is a bit too much expectation that children will take exams, but then I look at the assessment-less free-for-all in the USA and come to appreciate it more!

July 13, 2018, 6:15 AM · In Canada, RCM is the de facto standard and convention, which good teachers will often parallel even with students not officially participating, and we also tend to abuse their grading system by considering ourselves at grade x on the basis of being able to play some of the repertoire at that level without taking the examinations. But that's abuse, because meeting the actual requirements is very different from what one might assume -- the details of the requirements, the examination conditions and grades required, make it a very different standard than being able to play a piece or three (however well) that appear at a certain grade level. The performance / grade requirements also have musical expectations which are easy to be ignorant of without good teaching.

There are significant differences between the ABRSM and the RCM requirements which someone following one system or the other would become aware of. E.g. most of the RCM repertoire should be performed from memory (or cost marks), whereas it's optional (and not rewarded) for all repertoire (but not technique) in ABRSM. Imagine following a program with no memorization for years and then attempting a high-level examination which requires several pieces to be memorized -- that can be overcome, but the previous preparation as such is not equivalent.

I've heard from teachers that US students attempting RCM examinations are often surprised by the technical/theory requirements. This would naturally apply for anyone attempting or considering level equivalence casually. In other words, if you're going to consider yourself at x RCM or ABSRM level by checking the repertoire, are you also going to do the technical work required for examinations at that level?

The programs have strong theory requirements. Sit-down studying and writing of music notation, intervals, harmony, etc., with their own examinations. And listening tests.

Violin levels beyond grade 10 RCM (ARCT) have the following surprise requirements: Performance ARCT, grade 6 piano. Teacher's ARCT, grade 8 piano.

The gist of all this is that these programs aren't intended to give yourself a grade level, but to produce well-rounded students of music, for which the breadth requirement is significant.

Edited: July 13, 2018, 8:24 AM · The eight ABRSM grades don't map directly onto Suzuki books. My daughter studies violin with a Suzuki teacher but has also done some of the grade exams: grade 5 because it is the requirement to audition for the local youth orchestra, and grades 7 and 8 because they are given credit in applications to UK universities.

Certainly the Mozart concertos (books 9 and 10) are at a level above the standard grades, though they can be used for the higher level Diploma exam. The Bach A minor first movement (book 7) has been set for grade 8, and the Vivaldi A minor (all the way back in book 4) for grade 7.

If anyone wants to identify their "grade level", one of the UK secondary school exam boards has a very handy repertoire list indicating the grading of a large number of popular pieces - anyone doing Music GCSE or A level has to do a performance as part of this, and for harder repertoire (higher grade) that is taken into account when the examiners score performance aspects. It can be found at

I don't know whether all the pieces listed have been actually set in ABRSM exams (or the comparable Trinity ones) or someone has done assessments of comparative difficulty. It includes pieces assessed as "grade 9", above grade 8 like those Mozart concertos.

EDIT: for some reason part of the very long URL disappeared when my post went on line. Try googling "edexcel music difficulty levels booklet" to find it.

July 13, 2018, 8:44 AM · > Vivaldi A minor (all the way back in book 4) for grade 7.

Not according to the ABRSM 2016-2019 syllabus. It does list Vivaldi Sonata in E minor, though.

July 13, 2018, 9:31 AM · Try this Bitly link:

(URL shorteners are your friend. I have mine as a Chrome extension. Very handy.)

Edited: July 13, 2018, 9:36 AM · @Han N.:
"> Vivaldi A minor (all the way back in book 4) for grade 7.
Not according to the ABRSM 2016-2019 syllabus. It does list Vivaldi Sonata in E minor, though."

It was on the 2012-2015 syllabus ( Along with a movement of a sonata by Bach, Biber, Telemann or Mozart ... (for the other pieces from later epoques see the link). You might get an idea what is expected from a Vivaldi a minor in the neighbourhood of those other pieces (and the requirements in scales, apreggios, theory, aural and sightreading). This I think, the fact that you have to see the whole picture, makes it difficult to measure progress just from literature lists. Nevertheless, I've always found the repertoire list by Roland Herrera ( extremely helpful to find pieces that would compliment my current levels. Plural, because progress isn't linear and the pieces that Iam usually assigned easily span 2 or more levels.

Edited: July 13, 2018, 10:20 AM · What Mary Ellen and Lydia said is what I see in violin students around where I live. Suzuki books and then repertoire tested by peer-competitive attainments.

Mary Ellen wrote, "I hear so many students at youth orchestra auditions performing pieces that they should not be working on." That was me as a child. Sad but true.

July 13, 2018, 11:09 AM · Anything people use to identify level can be a help or a hindrance. Here in the UK there are unfortunately some teachers (and parents!) so focussed on getting students to the next grade that they hardly do any repertoire beyond the three the ABRSM require for each grade.

I have seen the same with Suzuki too, claims that a child is on (say) book 4 when all they have done is struggle through the book 3 pieces without actually mastering them and acquiring the skills intended.

However a shorthand guide to indicating level can be useful, for example in identifying whether a student is appropriate for joining a particular ensemble or workshop. Since a generally recognised grade level can be worked out from their current and recent repertoire that is useful - for example though most UK students applying to music conservatoires will have ABRSM or TCL qualifications they don't need to have, they just have to be working at the required level to be offered an audition.

July 13, 2018, 12:30 PM · So, if beimg able to play the notes of a piece is not enough to pass, then what is? For ex., what kind of performance level would one need to pass ABRSM grade 4 (67% of maximum score for the pieces)? There are plenty of Youtube videos, but I have the impression that they are either recorded by professionals or kids that passed "with distinction". An exception is a channel by Alan Chan that plays exam pieces conveniently with sheet music in view; they sound more "student like". For example: . Would that result in a "pass with merits"?
July 13, 2018, 3:34 PM · ABRSM have a handy set of videos where you can assess actual performances against their actual criteria:

Edited: July 13, 2018, 4:46 PM · Is memorization currently optional in ABRSM? I never took violin or viola exams, but because I started learning piano in Dubai and took ABRSM exams there, I continued ABRSM piano exams in the US and earned a DipABRSM in piano performance. I may be mistaken, but I recall being required to memorize everything from Grade 5 upward. IIRC, it wasn't a strict requirement, but there was a fixed penalty for each piece played from sheet music.
July 13, 2018, 7:14 PM · "Performing from memory: Candidates are free to perform any of their pieces from memory; in such cases they must ensure that a copy of the music is available for the examiner to refer to if necessary. No additional marks are awarded for playing from memory."

July 14, 2018, 12:10 PM · Thank you all so much for your replies! I was able to learn so much more than I hoped from this thread!

I didn't reply back immediately because I wanted to take a closer look at each system that had been mentioned.

I first took a look at ASTA because I had never heard of it before. I like the concept of it, but I wish it was more prevalent across the US. I found that my state has a chapter, but they are not at all active in conducting exams. From what I've read, they are conducted at the ASTA headquarters in Maryland and the number of participants is quite small. Moreover, in order to find out what the syllabus is for any given grade, I would have to register as a member. I only want to follow a system as a guide, so I'm not sure what the requirements are.

ABRSM is much more accessible in the US. They freely publish the syllabus for each level and plenty of books and other resources to prepare a student to pass the exams. The same with RCM.

Between the two, I'm pretty impressed with RCM a lot more. The program is much more comprehensive and rigorous to me. I like that they include music history and composers too (ABRSM might have this also, but I didn't see this - maybe I missed it?). Their tools to help you exercise aural skills and sight reading are much more complete as they have exercises for every level.

Not that ABRSM isn't great! I really like this one too. It just feels a little more "generic" - but I think it would have to be since it serves more than 90 countries, whereas RCM is only used in Canada, and to a smaller degree, the US.

Either way they both look good on paper. I especially want some structure when it comes to studying music theory and I think these two can help me with that. So for this first year, I'm going to try to learn the requirements of both RCM and ABRSM for grade 1 to see what they're like. I'm not going to take either exam - I'm an adult music student and I don't think it will benefit me to earn any grades. It's not like I need them to help apply to a conservatory or to a music curriculum in a university and I don't really need them as bragging rights. Plus if I earn a grade it's not like it would even give me a discount at any music store, lol!

July 14, 2018, 12:32 PM · Just as a point of general information, neither the ABRSM nor the RCM is necessary or even optional when applying to a conservatory or university school of music in the U.S. Each school has its own audition requirements. I just spent an hour and a half researching flute audition requirements for 30+ schools (ranging from Texas Tech to Juilliard) for my daughter and not one website had any mention of either of the above grading systems.
July 14, 2018, 12:39 PM · This particular post is also to reply to certain things posted.

I'm grateful that people are cautioning me to not rush through the grades or Suzuki books. You are all absolutely RIGHT that being able to play three pieces out of each grade exam doesn't mean I've mastered the techniques and other knowledged of that grade. So I will take my time with each grade and book, learning as many appropriate pieces for that grade and try to make sure I master everything for it. One of the nice things about being an adult music student is that there is practically no pressure at all to rush, whereas children are pushed because of parents, working towards being accepted into the best music conservatories, working hard to place well in competitions, etc.

I also appreciate the two lists of graded repertoires and other resources posted! Very serendipitous! I've made a copy of each, as I've always wanted to know what pieces are appropriate for each grade besides the ones on the ABSRM & RCM requirements. I also find the "On Your Marks" and Alan Chan's YouTube channel very helpful, so I bookmarked and subscribed to them! Also thank you for the equivalence chart of all the grading systems!

July 14, 2018, 12:45 PM · Mary Ellen Goree - Yes, I see. I think only one small college in the US even gives some credit for a student passing ABRSM's grade 8.

Anyway, I wish your daughter well and hopes she gets accepted into the conservatory of her choice!

July 14, 2018, 7:38 PM · My main gripe about the ABRSM grades is the appalling standard required to pass. I had grade VIII while still at school -Wieniawski Legende, slow movement of the Mendelssohn and Bach Presto from Sonata 1. I couldn't (and wouldn't) play these in public now. You seemed to get no marks for sound quality. I know the Tchaik slow movement was put in at grade VI a number of years ago - how many of us can play that PROPERLY now?
During my short teaching career, I found the same when putting pupils in for grades. And learning pieces "parrot fashion" was quite acceptable.
This leads to a totally false sense of achievement among pupils.
July 14, 2018, 10:22 PM · I was checking the "On Your Marks" videos. The student was taking the grade 5 violin practical exam. He hit the right notes and played the piece properly so I marked it as a "pass". To me he did well enough to pass and get the grade. The correct marking was actually a "merit" because the Chief Examiner said the student's playing had good shaping. He said though that the quality could have improved (where he would probably have gotten a "distinction"). *Shrug* Okay.... I really thought more would be expected to get the "merit" or "distinction" marks.

So that is how the students are graded - and I can understand what you mean that no marks are given for sound quality. I wonder why that is? Because I think sound quality would be just as important as technique right?

I will confess something. I've listened to Hilary Hahn but I don't like her playing which leaves me cold. She is technically on the mark but it is VERY unemotional - at least so far from the pieces I've heard and seen her play. Could this cold technicality be the product of being assessed soley on the basis of technical ability? I don't know, but there are plenty of other violinists I'd rather listen to than her.

July 14, 2018, 10:41 PM · I love Hilary Hahn's interpretations, which are always thoughtful, intelligent, tasteful, and carefully shaped. She's a classicist, much like Nathan Milstein. Her restraint is not necessarily to everyone's taste, but again, like Milstein, I think she's very much a violinist's violinist.
July 14, 2018, 10:49 PM · I knew this would rub her fans the wrong way and I'm really sorry about that. But it's just how I feel about her. I'm glad you enjoy her though!
July 15, 2018, 8:52 AM · Agree 100% with Lydia about Hilary Hahn. Thoughtful phrasing =/= lack of feeling.
July 15, 2018, 9:28 AM · I don't always love Hilary Hahn's interpretations, but I think 'leaving you cold' may be more about the listener's interpretation than a property of her playing. I found her Beethoven performance to be quite moving, although, of course, I do not escape subjectivity.

Rhiannon, you've made no mention of a teacher that I see. Do you have one? None of the formal methods will teach you how to play well by yourself, and perhaps you might engage your goal orientation towards playing well instead of playing at a certain "level" and thereby produce better results. The programs practically assume a teacher, and as we tend to say, the teacher is more important than the method they use. Find the best teacher you can, and they might even agree to help prepare you for a formal examination, as they could probably figure out what to do with the program, adapting its material to their own perspective and teaching method. Don't appear to tell a good teacher how to teach though.

The programs also have natural limitations. They require a lot of work, which then implies that there is not much time to do anything outside of the program. This would be a terrible idea in itself, and would allow one to say focus on certain strengths in choice of repertoire and examination material, and avoid material and work which appears outside the syllabus. I might find for example Wohlfahrt Op. 45 no. 13 to be a useful bowing exercise, but as it doesn't appear in the RCM syllabus (for whatever reasons, one of which might be that it's harder to grade), have it considered a waste of time with respect to the program. Programs might be intelligently created, but they aren't intelligent or necessarily intelligently applied. For that you have yourself and ideally a good teacher.

July 15, 2018, 12:42 PM · Hilary Hahn just comes off as the Beyonce of the violin world. She has very enthusiastic fans, but she's overrated considering there are so many other violinists that are just as good or better that are being overlooked. I'm not going to be pressured into going along just because her fans insist that I like her work. Beyonce's fans will call you "racist" if you don't like Beyonce's work to try to shut nay-sayers up. Likewise, there's nothing wrong with my interpretation or opinion of Hahn's work.

I don't have a teacher yet because I'm not sure what kind of teacher I would need. But I totally agree that I definitely need a teacher to learn to play violin well. I'm just trying to figure out what kind of student I am and how I learn first. I don't want to enter into a learning relationship with a teacher only to find out in a short while that we don't work well with each other and then would need to have to look for another one. I agree about not trying to tell the teacher how to teach me, but I would at least like it if they asked me what my goals are and be observant enough to see what my strengths and weaknesses are and teach me accordingly.

When looking for a violin teacher, honestly I'm quite overwhelmed. There are regular teachers that either go to your house or you go to their studio. Then there are online teachers. You can also go to a university and get a grad student to teach you, plus the university has lots of other resources. But what exactly am I to look for? Are there ways to know if they are good teachers? If any of you have tips on finding and choosing good teachers, please let me know!

In regard to ABRSM and RCM, I see them as good frameworks to gauge progress. I would let my teacher know that I'm interested in them and would like to see how they are in practice. If they have a better way of determining progress though, then I'd just go with that. I'm an adult violin student, so I don't think I want to actually take the official exams (can you imagine me, the only adult in a room full of kids waiting for our turn to be tested? Lol!), but if my teacher can conduct an unofficial one where they are the ones to assess me, I would be completely fine with that. If I DO take the official exams, I would only take the music theory ones (unless again, my teacher can write up an exam for me themselves).

Also, I agree with everyone who posted here to not narrow my learning down to just those three pieces of work per grade and then move on. As an adult learner, I have no time pressure to move through the lessons or levels quickly so I would be happy to take my time and learn other pieces besides what is in the syllabus for that level or grade. I looked at the list of graded pieces mentioned previously on this thread, and there are so many pieces I would like to learn to play before going to the next grade.

One of the posters, Malcolm Turner, had mentioned that he was dismayed that one can pass a grade without necessarily sounding very good at all when playing the required pieces. And I totally agree with him. One of the major goals I have for playing violin is to play it beautifully - to give my violin a beautiful voice that can clearly convey the emotion of the piece (as I interpret). Otherwise, there is no point in me playing it if I can't even do that. If I can play "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" like a professional violinist, then I can move on to the next piece!

July 15, 2018, 2:04 PM · Playing Twinkle like a professional violinist is a little extreme! The last time I was in London I took the walkway along the south bank of the Thames, and there were a couple of Conservatoire violinists busking. To my surprise, among other stuff they played a selection of the Suzuki book 1 pieces with the duet parts. Believe me, you couldn't possible play like that without having moved on about a thousand times and played countless studies and professional level repertoire.
July 15, 2018, 2:20 PM · Yeah sorry about that, please don't take me literally. I'm just trying to convey that I want to play the pieces well enough including its sound quality.

Maybe I should change my writing style. Sometimes what I write doesn't come across as being tongue in cheek (when it should be)!

July 15, 2018, 5:45 PM · You're entitled not to like a violinist, but I suspect that one of the reasons that you aren't impressed by Hahn is that you don't know enough about violin-playing to appreciate her qualities. That's fine, too. There are things in this world that pretty much only get appreciated by highly knowledgeable connoisseurs, and everyone else's bafflement isn't a problem. :-)
Edited: July 15, 2018, 6:28 PM · When people can't accept that someone they admire isn't admired by others, they often revert to "But we have much finer tastes than yours". But honestly, such snobbery and elitism is all in your head because I know other people just as well versed as you are who don't like her work either. I have accepted that many people like her work but likewise, you should also just accept the fact that others don't.
July 15, 2018, 11:58 PM · I'm still baffled by the comparison of Hilary Hahn to Beyonce.

Hilary Hahn is most definitely a Ravenclaw.

July 16, 2018, 1:14 AM · I thought Joshua Bell was the Beyonce of violin.
July 16, 2018, 1:45 AM · I like the grading method attributed to Leopold Auer. The possibly apocryphal story was that when asked by a lesser student, how was he doing, Auer's reply was something like " There are three kinds of violinists; Those that can play, those that play badly, and those that can't play at all; You have advanced to the second stage."
--I hope that the USA never has an official grading system. There is no national interest in involving government in this. @ R.H.-- I have a composite 10-level list that I use at my college. Things like tone quality, vibrato, volume, intonation are separate categories from the technical list. Overall musicianship is subjective, defies quantification.
July 16, 2018, 4:00 AM · Just to be clear, the British systems do not involve the Government in any way. They're set up by the conservatoires as a way of supporting and promoting broad musical participation. (Indeed, there are 3 competing examination systems, ABRSM is just the biggest and best known).

July 16, 2018, 6:30 AM · Rhiannon, you really have to listen to violinists without the video. Just the audio. And listen intently to the solo violin. That teaches you a lot more about good violin playing. And it forms a much better basis for comparing violinists. By the way, this takes a lot of time. Comparing violinists in a way that makes sense (it can still be subjective, but it must make sense) takes a lot of time.
July 16, 2018, 6:45 AM · From what I remember, the competing British systems are reasonably close together in the end results. I've only ever taken three music exams in my life, and those were for the cello. This was in my 'teens when my parents "persuaded" me that it would be in my interests to get some grades after 5 years of exam-free cello lessons. I was taken to a highly regarded Trinity College teacher in Bristol who gave me an introductory lesson and decided to start me off on grade 7 (to get me used to the system, she said), and this being successful was followed by grade 8 (distinction) which included a Bach cello suite and the Elgar cello concerto, equivalent to grade 8 in ABRSM from what I gather. The third exam was grade 5 theory which was mandatory for instrumental grade 7 and above. Since I had been playing the piano since the age of 5 that was a stroll in the park. I have never taken any violin grades, having been taught the violin through the Suzuki system (as modified for adults).

The British system does, I suppose, establish a level playing field which simplifies the selection process for school and other amateur orchestras to a certain extent, incidentally providing a useful income for the Colleges.

The better amateur orchestras over here rightly suggest grade 8 for membership, and there one orchestra that to my personal knowledge insists on it. That orchestra was happy to have me as a first desk cellist for many years but now refuses to have me as a regular violinist because I have no violin grades. That, however, has not stopped them from bringing me in as a deputy on occasion, with no questions asked!

July 16, 2018, 7:46 AM · Grade 8 at ABRSM (and others) is the admission level for the colleges of music, and is therefore equivalent to the educational qualifications for admission to university. Go to the websites for the various colleges (RCM, RAM, Guildhall etc) and you will see the qualifications up to degree level that they provide.

The CM of one of my orchestras qualified at the Guildhall School of Music, worked as a professional symphony violinist and then went into school teaching, eventually taking earlier retirement at deputy head level. He has now returned to playing music full-time, notably revisiting the Bruch concerto as soloist with us some 30 years after he last worked on it at college. He said it took him about 3 months to get his hand back into shape for the notorious 10ths passage in the last movement, but he played them perfectly in a very good performance.

He remarked when he was at the Guildhall several of the tutors (all famous names) there divided their time between the Guildhall, RCM and RAM. This would have helped to maintain standards across the colleges.

Edited: July 16, 2018, 12:03 PM · Mary Ellen Goree - Well, at least Hahn beats me out in that regard. I'm more in the Hufflepuff camp, lol!

Frieda Francis - Lol, he's more like the Britney Speers of violin!

Edited: July 16, 2018, 12:37 PM · Joel Quivey - I like the system your college is applying. I agree that government shouldn't interfere with any type of education, but it really feels like the lawless wild west here in the US in terms of standards.

Chris Keating - I wish the US would at least allow a set up of a program like ABRSM/RCM/AMEB perhaps by Juillard, etc. Currently, if I actually want to take an exam, more likely than not, I would have to go to another state to take it. And I wish it wasn't mostly for children.

Edited: July 16, 2018, 12:39 PM · Jean Dubuisson - A lot of the time, I like to tab the video to the back while I read something on the Internet so that I'm only listening to the performance. I really did try listening to a lot of her performances, but.... *shrug* I don't mind at all that a lot of people like her work. I just move on to other violinists.

I like violinists that can play in a way that their performance can make me emotionally connect to the piece they're playing. It doesn't matter to me if they're well known or not so much - it results in a mixed bag. I really love Itzhak Perlman's work, for example - I can get really lost in ANY piece he plays. I also like Mari Samuelsen's work as well - her performance of Astor Piazzolla's Invierno Porteno are one of my absolute favorite interpretations of that piece. One day, hopefully I can play this piece as well as she has!

July 16, 2018, 1:01 PM · Are those ABRSM grades linear in terms of effort? For example, if a sufficiently talented 10-year-old starts from zero and practices 30 minutes per day, will he be at grade 4 at age 14 and grade 8 at age 18?
July 16, 2018, 1:03 PM · As I noted before, you're not obliged to like Hahn, or any other great artist. That's the nature of art; some of it is not to everyone's taste. It's as true of music as it is of painting or sculpture or anything else.

However, one of the reasons that I called Hahn a violinist's violinist is that a skilled violinist is more likely to notice things about Hahn's playing that are really exceptional. She has extraordinary continuity of line, for instance, facilitated by a bow arm that no other player, living or dead, has had. (This is one place where it's nice to have video and not just audio, because you'll hear nothing but continuous sound but she'll be changing bows freely and literally inaudibly.) Many people can appreciate, say, that playing Paganini is hard, but Hahn does a lot of non-obvious hard things exceptionally well. She has extraordinary control.

July 16, 2018, 1:05 PM · Trevor Jennings - Thank you so much for reporting on how those programs actually influenced your placement in orchestra and the higher institutes of musical learning! I was hoping someone would talk in greater detail about it like you just did. I only know of one small college here in the US that will give credit for a music student that had passed ABRSM Grade 8 so far, but ABRSM is pretty happy about that. I'm sure they will try to entice other colleges to follow suit.

One of my goals is to join the two community orchestras in my area (I live near the border of two counties). One is very amateur but I don't mind. They do a lot American folk music which I think is a lot of fun. The other is much more professional - they'll probably put me in last chair, lol! But the weird thing is, they don't even have formal qualifications. You just register for membership, pay the fee and show up at rehearsal!

I read somewhere that the reason why grading systems aren't actively applied here is because they don't test for ensemble work. I'm not sure what that means. Maybe they mean how well the student works in an ensemble where they're given an actual piece to sight read on demand along with everyone else? How well they actually work with people other than the accompanying pianist? I don't know....

Edited: July 16, 2018, 2:08 PM · Han N. - I read that you don't have to pass any preceding grades to move on to higher ones so that you can actually skip, EXCEPT everyone MUST pass grade 5 music theory to be allowed to take grade 6 and up practical exams (at least here in the US). Also, the exams can be taken at any age so if you feel your child is ready at the ages you specified you can plan it that way, earlier or even later. Just make sure they are ready to pass that exam when the time comes.

Lydia Leong - You don't have to defend Hahn to me. If you love her work who cares what I think, you know what I mean? I'm GLAD you admire her work. The nice thing about the violin world is that there are so many great violinists - plenty so that everyone can have their favorites.

July 16, 2018, 3:27 PM · @Han - I don't think 'linear' is the right word - some pupils with some teachers take one grade each year, but to do that you need to increase your practice hours (though, in a way that is fairly natural with age... 20mins a day for a 7-year-old to 1hr a day for a 15-year-old...

@Rhiannon - yup, you got it. I don't think that the "doesn't assess ensemble playing" thing is actually a real reason for not using the grades, assessing performance with piano and solo sight reading >> for predicting ensemble performance not assessing anything at all.

And of course anyone COULD set up something similar for the US, I'm not really sure why your conservatoires haven't already done so. (Probably because they don't talk to each other ;) )

Edited: July 17, 2018, 4:05 AM · @Han - I don't think 'linear' is the right word - some pupils with some teachers take one grade each year, but to do that you need to increase your practice hours (though, in a way that is fairly natural with age... 20mins a day for a 7-year-old to 1hr a day for a 15-year-old...

@Rhiannon - yup, you got it. I don't think that the "doesn't assess ensemble playing" thing is actually a real reason for not using the grades, assessing performance with piano and solo sight reading >> for predicting ensemble performance than not assessing anything at all.

And of course anyone COULD set up something similar for the US, I'm not really sure why your conservatoires haven't already done so. (Probably because they don't talk to each other ;) )

July 16, 2018, 3:33 PM · (for what it's worth, I have the DipABRSM diploma, which I took in my 30s because I wanted a challenge, having done grade 8 when I was 17...

Grade 8 did what I needed impressing university admissions tutors and getting me into the county youth orchestra, the UK county in question having more population than New Hampshire. No-one really cares whether I have the DipABRSM apart from me, though I suspect it means I will always be offered a place in an amateur orchestra!)

July 16, 2018, 4:12 PM · Community orchestras in the United States often determine a player's skill level through an audition in which the player is pretty much welcome to play whatever they want. The repertoire choice doesn't matter that much. In some cases this is just determined from paying attention to you in a rehearsal. (In my orchestra, for instance, new people are sometimes asked to go sit next to a section principal, and usually that's sufficient to make a decent guess at skill level.)

Community orchestras in the US also vary significantly in terms of what level they expect players to be at. The lack of a grade system means that this can't be cleanly expressed in terms of minimal requirements, but the expectation tends to be "intermediate" level of better, capable of handling the standard orchestral literature (but what that "standard" is also varies by orchestra, since ones with less skilled players tend to choose less demanding repertoire).

July 16, 2018, 4:51 PM · @Rhiannon, I'll admit that my interest is not because of a child but because I try to figure out my own level and the road ahead - when should I expect to pass an audition for a community orchestra? (The one I have in mind doesn't require ABRSM grades, but I can tell from the 2nd-violin parts of their repertoire that I still have a lot to learn.)

@Chris: I see. About 2000 hours of practice to reach grade 8, then (8 years, on average 40 minutes per day).

@Lydia, how would you map "beginner-intermediate-advanced" to ABRSM grades? I recall having seen discussions here about skill levels involving terms such as "lower intermediate", which is difficult to interpret.

At least ABRSM (and regional analogues) grades are somewhat standardized even if there is quite a difference between "pass" and "distinction" and there are aspects that are not covered, such as ensemble playing.

July 16, 2018, 7:53 PM · I would say that the minimum level of competence is probably ABRSM Grade 6, and Grade 8 is more likely. In general, a community orchestra 2nd violinist needs to be able to manage, say, a decent Accolay concerto.
July 16, 2018, 10:17 PM · But it depends on the orchestra, doesn't it? That seems like the minimum competence level for the orchestra where I'm currently principal violist, but I see a lot of community orchestras both well above that level and well below that level.

In most of the community orchestras I've seen, a decent Accolay would put you in the 1st violin section. I recently left an orchestra where probably only three violinists are at that level (though I suspect every single one of the violists could switch to violin and sight-read the Accolay concerto comfortably). For that orchestra, ABRSM Grade 3 or 4 would probably be sufficient to get in. But in my other current orchestra, every 2nd violinist can play a good to excellent Bruch, which means the minimum standard is essentially DipABRSM.

In most places with multiple community orchestras, there's an unofficial hierarchy and many local musicians are aware of which orchestras are at what level. People at your local violin shop or music store can probably tell you what the minimum standards are for the various orchestras.

July 16, 2018, 10:28 PM · I agree that it very much depends on the orchestra. However, I don't think there's a community orchestra in my area that would accept below the Grade 6-ish level. There are specific groups for adult beginners/returnees that are more at the early-intermediate (call it Grade 4-ish) level, generally in the form of string orchestras, though.

I also agree on the unofficial hierarchy, or at least tiers. Anyone reasonably well-connected in the adult music community can probably tell you.

Getting away from repertoire and just speaking in terms of minimum skills, I'd say: Be able to produce a nice tone including vibrato, be solidly comfortable and consistently in tune in first and third positions, be able to manage fifth position where necessary, have a good command of basic bowstrokes including a well-controlled spiccato. The more marginal your capabilities, the more you'll need to practice.

July 16, 2018, 11:31 PM · @RH - if you send me your private email ad. I can send you what I have. It's not copywrite. .
July 17, 2018, 4:33 AM · There's an adult beginners' string orchestra here, but my impression is that people leave it when they reach early-intermediate level.

The orchestra I left recently is the next step up in my area -- when I joined the principal string players were all at very high amateur level, but anyone who could play in 3rd position at all was accepted, and only one violinist other than the section leaders would have been Grade 6+. Oddly, for at least half of my time there, all the violists (3-4 of us at any given time) were noticeably better than the second chair 1st violin.

But that's not far below the level of what I'd consider a typical community orchestra. Maybe the minimum standards are lower because there are so many community orchestras in California compared to most other states.

Or maybe my area is odd, because in my area there are a several orchestras at that lower level, three orchestras that require Mozart or Bruch level, and only one orchestra in between.

July 17, 2018, 8:01 AM · I lived in the Bay Area a while, and the community orchestras varied fairly significantly (there were an awful lot of them for a population that size), but I don't think that "you're OK as long as you can play in 3rd position" would have been sufficient for any of the well-established groups. (There might have been less well-known or newly-established ones that would have taken 2nd violinists at that level.)
July 17, 2018, 11:15 AM · Lydia: "be solidly comfortable and consistently in tune in first and third positions"

What does "solidly in tune" mean? For example, accurate to 5 cents in whatever pitch the harmonic context requires? Also during runs of 16th notes?

Edited: July 17, 2018, 1:00 PM · Lydia: The Bay Area and San Diego are the parts of California where I know virtually nothing about the community orchestras.

Sacramento is definitely not the Bay Area. It multiple well established orchestras with much higher and much lower standards than you're describing, but the only one with what you'd call a typical minimum standard is actually a new one! I understand that there was a void in between the high and low level orchestras from about 2009 to 2014, which is one reason why I was playing in two orchestras of such wildly different levels for several years. Other than that, my idea of a typical community orchestra standard comes from previously living in the LA area, and being somewhat familiar with community orchestras in the Central Valley and far north.

Edited: July 17, 2018, 1:08 PM · The more amateur community orchestra in my area sound like their are at high school level. They play manageable pieces like the theme song from the movie "Sting" and in general their playing together is quite "messy", in that they don't keep the same tempo - some start too early or late. Intonation isn't great either and they play the songs with the tempo slower than would be normally played by professional musicians. I don't mind this, I think just being able to play together is a lot of fun. I'm probably going to join this when I reach grade 4.

The more professional one, I wasn't sure when to join because they do sound pretty polished and play much more difficult pieces. I haven't seen them play the most complicated pieces though. From reading the most recent posts, I think I will join when I reach grade 6. I read more on this community orchestra - they keep describing it as a 155 member orchestra, but I've seen them also hold concerts with as little as thirty (of the best?) for a chamber orchestra.

So even if grade exams aren't utilized here in the US, a grading system is apparently very useful. It gives you a quick idea of what skills and techniques are required for something!

July 17, 2018, 1:16 PM · Lydia: "be solidly comfortable and consistently in tune in first and third positions"

To me, "solidly" here suggests landing on the note accurately every time. No fishing around for it.

July 17, 2018, 2:29 PM · But then, how accurate is "accurate"?

The younger children in the student recitals over here never "fish around" even if they're 50 cents off on a long note...

Heifetz allegedly said: "I do not always play in tune, I just fix it quicker than anyone else."

July 17, 2018, 5:11 PM · A "155 member orchestra" is probably the size of the overall roster, or maybe it includes a chorus as well. A full symphony orchestra for a big work -- say, a Mahler symphony -- is around 90 musicians. A lot of professional symphonies these days are 65 members, I believe, for typical concerts. A community orchestra will be around that range if they're full up, but many are smaller due to fewer string players.

Accurate in a given orchestra is "accurate enough that you are not spoiling the sound of the orchestra". If I can tell that you are the person in the section who is out of tune, you are not accurate enough.

July 17, 2018, 5:46 PM · Trevor, I had to laugh reading your reply - that you're "not good enough" on violin, but brought in as an extra by reputation and knowing you.
In my experience, fitting in with an orchestra has very little to do with grades or skill - it's no good playing every note if you're a semiquaver (16th note) out!
I've played with lots of people that can't do a short down bow - they'll never fit.
I currently play 2nd in a quartet - I get asked not because of my skill level (most of the parts are quite straightforward technically) but I like to think because of my ability to match and fit with the others.
Likewise the freelance gigs I get.
July 17, 2018, 6:25 PM · Lydia Leong - From the various recent videos I've seen, I think they whittle the orchestra down to whatever size they need, only allowing the better ones to play in concert while the ones that aren't as good are emergency replacements if someone better can't make it. I don't mind that but it would challenge me to work harder to try to move up.
July 17, 2018, 6:31 PM · Lydia, Malcolm, I was in a performance of Beethoven 9 on Saturday in Clifton Cathedral, Bristol. The orchestra was about 55 strong; the choir about 80 - two separate choirs combined for the occasion and both sharing the same conductor who is also the orchestra's regular conductor (that young man must be an expert cat herder!). Plus the four professional soloists, of course. The audience packed the Cathedral, which incidentally helped to reduce its massive reverb time to a more manageable level.

I'd say was one of the most satisfying performances I've ever played in, and one of the most demanding.

July 18, 2018, 4:45 AM · "If I can tell that you are the person in the section who is out of tune, you are not accurate enough."

That is a criterion that depends on the rest of the players around the candidate, the repertoire, and on the sensitivity of your ears. I guess that "abrsm grade 6" is the most objective criterion.

July 18, 2018, 3:14 PM · Rhiannon – Hilary Hahn is technically competent, I’d say overly competent, but not much music talent there.

I can draw straighter lines or rounder circles than Michelangelo. I have very good control of my hand, so what? I’m not artistic at all!

While it’s hard to master violin, it’s very easy learn what’s good. People who knows Beethoven’s music is good can’t compose like him.

Heifetz, Grumiaux, or Szeryng continue to sell their albums by 10’s of thousands decades after they are dead. Hahn's about 300. Less than a thousand.

About ABRSM: We use it as a motivation. We don’t really have any other reason for it.

Edited: July 31, 2018, 6:29 PM · Since we can't let go of Hilary Hahn:

I love her recordings of the Mozart sonatas. She does not "interpret" them, she just plays them beautifully and elegantly. She plays accompanying passages as such and has no problem letting the pianist dominate (in Mozart sometimes for long stretches!). No vanity at all.

But as to other repertoire I think one of the problems is that she recorded a large part of the standard repertoire when she was extremely young. Of course they don't live up to the playing of full adults. It was probably good for her career early on but might now come back to bite her.

I found once some "thoughts" of her on the Bach solo works somewhere on the internet. And I have to say it would have been wiser for her not to write them down for people tor read. She is no intellectual. And indeed her playing of these pieces interests me practically not at all.

Edited: August 1, 2018, 11:16 AM · "Heifetz, Grumiaux, or Szeryng continue to sell their albums by 10’s of thousands decades after they are dead."


Heifetz, I can believe. But the others? Perhaps familiar to older generations, but not mine. (I'm 35.) I know the name Szeryng, but I have a 200+ disc classical collection and hear 15-20 hours a week of classical radio, and I don't think I've ever heard a Szeryng recording in my life; I've only seen his recordings in stores a handful of times. I had to look up who Grumiaux was.

August 1, 2018, 5:48 PM · "Rhiannon – Hilary Hahn is technically competent, I’d say overly competent, but not much music talent there.

Heifetz, Grumiaux, or Szeryng continue to sell their albums by 10’s of thousands decades after they are dead. Hahn's about 300. Less than a thousand."

I know those names and have heard recordings of all of them, and what I'd add would be that every one of them would object to their names being used in this disgraceful manner.

August 1, 2018, 6:32 PM · Once upon a time these great players would be instantly recognisable. They all had their individual sound. Add in Oistrakh and Kogan.
Sorry to say a lot of today's players all sound the same.
Edited: August 1, 2018, 9:48 PM · There's no way that tens of thousands of Heifetz recordings continue to sell each year. That kind of sales figures would be keeping Heifetz at the top of the Billboard charts. (Note that album sales have been hugely depressed for more than a decade now, in general.) And Grumiaux and Szeryng never sold like that even in their prime living days.
August 4, 2018, 11:40 AM · Further to Mary Ellen's comment above, grade 8 with distinction is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for entrance to a UK conservatoire. If you turned up playing at that standard at 17/18 you would be way off the mark. The players gaining entry to the top colleges were at that standard at a much younger age.

With regard to Hilary Hahn, I'd put her in contention for the best active soloist around at the moment. A friend in one of the London orchestras tells me that she's one of the few violin soloists that wows orchestral violinists.

August 6, 2018, 12:18 PM · Just because someone says "she's one of the few violin soloists that wow orchestral violinists," people have to go along with that and force themselves to be a fan of hers? She plays like a robot and leaves me cold. I just don't enjoy listening to her play. Why should I pretend about that?

Ever heard of the story, "The Emperor's New Clothes"? If not you should read it. Because this situation is exactly like that. It's just silly peer pressure plain and simple.

Edited: August 6, 2018, 2:09 PM · Anyone is entitled to not personally like an artist. No one is telling you that you're not entitled to your opinion.

However, to claim that everyone else, including exceptionally skilled professional violinists, are just deluded about Hilary Hahn's skill and artistry, is the absolute height of arrogance.

And that's my final word on the matter. You've shown yourself to be unable to discuss this politely or even the slightest bit respectfully, and you've provided nothing substantive.

August 7, 2018, 1:21 PM · With regard to the emperor's new clothes, yes I have read it. Interestingly, my friend's comments about Hahn came in the context of a discussion about which soloists are benefiting from the Emperor's New Clothes effect and which are the real deal. He was emphatic that Hahn is the real deal.

In my experience, pro players don't jump on fandom bandwagons. They work with soloists and conductors week in week out. Oftentimes they have too much professional courtesy to say, but they know when a soloist has a bad day (or has had their day and is playing gigs way above their current ability level) and they know who is at the top of their game.

As for comparing Hahn to Beyonce - if you mean excellent within their chosen (though very different) spheres and being at the top of their relative professions for two decades, then yes it's a good comparison.

Yes there are plenty of great violinists, but Hahn is one of them. I like her understated approach and I like that I listen to the music more than the performance because of that approach. People are free to disagree, but please don't suggest I'm doing it because of 'peer pressure.'

Edited: August 8, 2018, 11:48 AM · *Shrug* Of course people will be offended when someone says anything bad about their favorites and say it's disrespectful. But I was't impolite. I could have said worse.

When I'm talking about Hilary being the Beyonce of the violin world, I'm not talking about quality. Beyonce isn't that great but her fans think of her as their "avatar" - that she represents them in some way. So if anyone says anything bad about her, it's like personally offending them, so they collective attack. "You don't like Beyonce? You're racist!" It's just like that with Hilary Hahn. "You don't like Hilary Hahn's work? Oh your taste isn't as refined as ours." So on an so forth.

The phenomena of "The Emperor's New Clothes" occurs extremely often on all different types of topics (Karl Lagerfield in the fashion industry is another person who I think is overrated, for example - his designs just don't look good or drape well on women to me), but people don't recognize it when it happens as it is often more subtle in real life. I think your mentioning other musicians being wowed by Hilary Hahn, and that your friend calls her the real deal, is a form of peer pressure. It's like you're saying "well so many other people (in the industry) think she's great - so you should too or something is wrong with you".

I do suspect that there are a lot of people who go along with trends just so they aren't classified as unrefined, lacking in knowledge, etc. etc. When I was younger, in junior high school, this was the way I was. One of my friends was gushing over some romance novel that she absolutely loved, so of course everyone of her friends wanted to read it too. So when it was my turn to read her copy, I was less than impressed (the guy was abusive!). But she's my friend and everyone else "said" they loved it too. So I said that I thought it was amazing as well (even though I didn't!). That kind of bothered me and stayed with me as I got older. It took me a while but by the time I turned 18, I stopped giving in to peer pressure and paid attention to what I genuinely liked and disliked. On the flip side, I also make sure that I don't dislike something just to be contrarian. I do like a lot of the other popular violinists that everyone else likes. Also I don't hate Hilary Hahn herself. I actually think she's a very lovely lady.

August 8, 2018, 12:16 PM · Rhiannon, any views I have about HH's playing (or that of any other musician) are a consequence of: playing the violin to a reasonably high standard myself, spending countless hours practising, intently listening to intonation, tone quality, articulation, rhythm; hundreds of hours of listening to recordings, concerts, masterclasses; reading biographies of great players, teachers and composers; countless hours spent in orchestra or chamber rehearsals; university courses in music history, analysis, theory, music cognition and perception;and yes conversations with people who like music, some of whom are extremely knowledgeable about music and the violin in particular. I've learned some of the major concerto and sonata repertoire, and made decisions about how I want to interpret it. On the basis of all of this I've decided what I do and don't like in an interpretation. Call this peer pressure if you like.

I've explained what I like about HH's playing: understated interpretations - I like that the music is clean, clear and allowed to speak for itself. Also, I like the technical perfection. Even famous soloists drift sharp, bump string crossings, suffer rhythmic instability, get tense right arms or fluff harmonics. Not HH. These things matter to me because they are disruptive to the sense of phrasing and are distracting from the composer's intentions.

If other people agree, maybe it's because they value the same things in a violinist, but feel free to call it peer pressure if you like. By the by, I also like Tetzlaff, Fischer and Capucon amongst others. You're free to like whomever you choose, but I wouldn't be arrogant enough to presume to know why or to call out somebody I'd never met for bowing to peer pressure.

August 8, 2018, 2:40 PM · Jack's commentary ties back in a very interesting way to this notion of examinations and ways of judging progression.

Take a string crossing, for instance. In a beginner, you just want to see them get from one string to another with an appropriate arm level, and no bump of adjacent strings. In the late beginner stage, you want to see more evidence of advanced preparation of those string crossings, so they're smoother. With more progression, you want to see the player kind of intuitively choose an arm level that fits the passage so that there doesn't have to be large changes of the arm level. And you want to see the right combination of arm level and string changes using the wrist, for economy of motion, smoothness, etc. In an advanced player this also gets to artistic fingering choices so that string changes are appropriate changes in color, etc. In virtuosos, this becomes essentially liquid, but even at that level, there are subtle differences.

Experienced violinists see and admire this kind of level of detail. It's one of the things that sets students apart, as well, even at a given level of repertoire.

August 8, 2018, 3:03 PM · Lydia makes an excellent point. One weakness is that abrsm grades are examined by generalists. Say you decide to play a given passage high on the d string to make a certain tonal colour and nail it, the likelihood is that the examiner wouldn't know if you were in first position on the e string or 6th on the d string.

My only sense of how US students progress is from this site, but it seems like a better set up than the UK's exam focused system. Simon Fischer has some interesting comments about this on his website somewhere.

August 8, 2018, 4:22 PM · Making a blanket statement that people must admire a certain artist due only to "peer pressure," or referring to the Emperor's New Clothes, is insulting. I don't know any other way to interpret that.

I know very little about visual art and wouldn't presume to say that a certain widely admired painter's works were overrated, or that they benefited from the Emperor's New Clothes effect, though I would certainly feel free at any point to say that I did not care for the artist's work. It may be a fine distinction but it is a critical one.

Edited: August 8, 2018, 5:56 PM · To address the original question, as a non-US person, I used abrsm as a kid. I'd think for an adult, grades 1-3 would be useful benchmarks in the first couple of years. Also, they'd force you to learn a few rudimentary scales, do some aural perception, sight read and learn a little theory. The caveat is that you can pass the early grades without laying good foundations for later. Be sure to learn good practice habits and robust fundamental technique early on. The utility value of the exam-driven system for intermediate players and up depends on the the individual student really.
August 8, 2018, 10:09 PM · I always loved a sentence of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, very appropiate for this thread:

"It is the right of a child to say that the emperor has no clothes. But at the end of the parade, the Emperor is still the Emperor and the child is still just a child".

August 9, 2018, 1:55 AM · Jack - the examiners will be looking at the overall musical effect, so if you achieve a better effect with appropriate use of sulG/sulD fingerings you will get a higher mark. It's the kind of thing that makes the difference between good marks and plain passes at the higher grade levels.

Equally, if you get a good effect with an 'easy' fingering then you still get the marks, there are no marks for 'using difficult fingerings' in ABRSM exams, just as there are no marks for it in life either ;)

August 9, 2018, 8:54 AM · Chris, sorry I didn't make that point all that clearly!
Given two candidates, one who sounded good playing a passage on the E string and one who sounded a little better sul D, I'm not convinced that all abrsm examiners could hear/see the difference, let alone appreciate the second student's superior internal mapping if the fingerboard, good shifting, hand position and adjustments to bowing speed/pressure/contact that were necessary. Of those I know, many could, but some are clueless about such things.

(I'll admit, I'd be clueless making subtle judgements about non-stringed instruments).

I think the situation is probably better post grade 8,where I think (but could be wrong) examiners are supposed to be specialists. Also, I guess the viva probably gives the chance to ask about the interplay between technical and interpretative decisions.

August 9, 2018, 11:58 AM · Carlos: "I always loved a sentence of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, very appropiate for this thread:
"It is the right of a child to say that the emperor has no clothes. But at the end of the parade, the Emperor is still the Emperor and the child is still just a child.""

It is true the emperor is still powerful, but the Truth is still the Truth and a fool a fool.

The emperor would do well to consider: "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise."

August 9, 2018, 3:02 PM · Jack: hmm, possibly. But if the candidate uses the technique to make the passage more expressive, the examiner *ought* to notice that's happening. I mean, an audience of non-musicians *ought* to notice, we don't do sul-G passages for the benefit of people who understand what they are, we do them to bring the music to life.

At diploma level a violin candidate will always have a violinist as one of the two examiners, I think. But still the examiner will be focusing on the music rather than trying to look at the candidate's fingers and going "oh, he did that bit in third position…"

Edited: August 9, 2018, 4:04 PM · “But still the examiner will be focusing on the music rather than trying to look at the candidate's fingers and going "oh, he did that bit in third position…"

Any competent examiner will recognize the fingerings being used from how a passage sounds, at least in parts where the fingerings are critical.

August 10, 2018, 6:09 PM · From Laurie's interview with Ruggiero Ricci:

"Of the more modern violinists, Ricci says he likes Vadim Repin, Hilary Hahn, Gil Shaham and Leonidas Kavakos.

"In style, (Hilary Hahn) is the closest to Henryk Szering," Ricci said. "They both played according to the urtext. They both play very correctly. Not an over-stylistic, not a terribly strong stamp. Because a strong stamp is, in a way, sort of a distortion. If it weren't a distortion it wouldn't be a stamp."

August 10, 2018, 11:46 PM · It's not a coincidence, I think, that Milstein, Szeryng, and Hahn all are known for their Bach, even though each of them represents an era of thinking about Bach stylistically. But that classicism pervades everything they play.
August 11, 2018, 1:27 PM · @Chris,I would slightly disagree with you in that I *think* that their should be assessment of overall musical effect plus the technical means used to achieve it - I'll admit that's just an opinion and will defer to someone better informed. It's over 20 years since I took an Abrsm exam, and I didn't look at the marking criteria then let alone now (hmm, I should probably have read them before spouting my opinions online!).

@Lydia, interesting re Hahn and Milstein. I've never heard Szyering's Bach, but (linking two strands of the thread together) my first experience of solo bach was at abrsm grade 8, doing a couple of movements of the E major partita. I listened to the Grumiaux and Milstein recordings for hours on end.

August 11, 2018, 7:14 PM · If you've never seen it, Schott published a Szeryng edition of the Bach S&Ps. Really excellent edition, worth getting. I replaced my Galamian edition with it.

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