Am I a Pass, Merit, or Distinction Student?

Have you ever wondered how good or bad you are compared to most piano students (in Singapore)? Have you wondered why you always get lower than what you expected to get in piano exams? Have you ever thought of what it takes to be a distinction student or even a high scorer (140 and above)? Take this quiz to find out!

Click on the link below to take the quiz.
Am I a Pass, Merit, or Distinction Student?



Recommended Readings for Parents

All books shown below are available for loan at the teacher’s studio

Nurtured by Love – by Shinichi Suzuki

In this trailblazing book, world-renowned violinist and teacher Shinichi Suzuki presents the philosophy and principles of his teaching methods for developing the natural abilities of every child. He illustrates by examples the amazing success of his work with young pupils at his music school in Japan, which has attracted the attention of educators from every major nation.
Professor Suzuki presents convincing evidence to substantiate his view, basic to his method called Talent Education, that every child is born with ability. Accordingly, a child’s slowness in any subject indicates a deficiency in his environment, educational or otherwise.
The author writes, “If Einstein, Goethe and Beethoven had been born during the Stone Age, wouldn’t they likewise have had only the cultural ability and education of men of the Stone Age? The converse is also true; if I were to receive a suckling babe of the Stone Age and educate him, before long he would be able to play a violin sonata by Beethoven as well as any young person of today.”
According to Professor Suzuki, the greatest joy an adult can know comes from developing a child’s potential so that he can express all that is harmonious and best in human beings. In Nurtured by Love, the author relates many meaningful experiences in his career and the circumstances which bought about his discovery of the Talent Education method.
Professor Suzuki has achieved worldwide acclaim, and his students, under his direction, have performed internationally, including appearances at the UN, the Julliard School of Music, and numerous places throughout the United States.

How to Grow a Young Music Lover – by Cheri Fuller


From playtime to bedtime, music builds children’s cognitive, motor, and creative development and adds joy and beauty to their lives. Experts believe that children’s exposure to music in the early years determine both their musical ability and their capacity to enjoy music. Regardless of a child’s age or your own musical background, you can learn How to Grow a Young Music Lover who will have a passion for music that lasts a lifetime. In this book you will discover:

  • The musical activities a child needs at each age
  • The best rhymes and recordings for children
  • The link between musical enjoyment and school achievement
  • and many more practical, insightful, and fun ways to teach children about music!

*Includes a “Classics Month-by-Month” chapter offering a full year of music curriculum for the parent or teacher.

Raising An Amazing Musician


This self-help guide is essential reading for any parent or carer wishing to know more about bringing music into the life of their child. 20 short chapters, which assume no musical knowledge, are packed with expert advise on how to support your child through every stage of musical development, from birth through early childhood.

Helpful advise is included on:

  • music-making with the very young
  • recognising and encouraging musicality
  • choosing the right instrument
  • getting the most out of music lessons
  • encouraging practice
  • public performance
  • music exams

Whatever stage of learning your child has reached, Raising an Amazing Musician will empower you to make the right decisions for your young musician, and enrich their experience of music as an enjoyable life-enhancing activity.

The Practice Revloution


This book is actually for teachers, but for parents who are ambitious and keen to help more in your child’s practice, you might want to read this book. Otherwise you can also consider a shorter version of this book meant for students – Not Until You’ve Done Your Practice!

Music students have to be taught how to work by themselves… because for six days in every seven, they have to work alone.
Instead of the traditional obsession with how much practice students do, The Practice Revolution looks at how students practice in the first place. With over 320 pages of what works, what doesn’t and why, it’s the most ambitious, comprehensive and approachable guide to practicing ever undertaken, aiming to turn professional music teachers into nothing short of practicing experts….
…so that they can then help their students become practicing experts too…
And for today’s students, who are busier than ever before, making sure that the time they do spend practicing actually produces results is one of the best lessons they’ll ever learn.

Silent Night, Horrible Night

This is an article taken from a December issue of a large city newspaper years ago. I hope that this will correct any misconceptions about learning the piano and highlight to you the importance of practice, parental involvement, having a good teacher and a good piano to practice on, and the importance of taking your piano learning seriously.

Silent Night, Horrible Night
by Richard Chronister
My mother, who has celebrated 78 birthday and 77 Christmases, has received, in her lifetime, hundreds of presents. She says that, for sheer surprise value, none has topped the one I gave her for Christmas when I was 8.
It all started when my third-grade teacher asked how many children would be interested in taking private piano lessons. I raised my hand. We didn’t have a piano, but that didn’t discourage me. I was a compulsive hand raiser.
Sure enough, it all worked out. Arrangements were made for me to practice in the music room at school on my lunch hour, and my mother said she could manage the 50 cents a week for lessons.
That’s how I met my teacher. She was about 80, the perfect age for a piano teacher – too old to teach class, but not quite old enough to retire. Her energy was minimal, but she tried to remedy that by taking a nap every few minutes. Also, I think she was deaf.
During the next few months, I did learn:
1) The location of middle C, give or take a key or two.
2) That “in the spaces you will find face(s).”
3) That “on the line(s) every good boy does fine.”
Every day I went to the music room after lunch and locked the door. From time to time, my friends would knock softly and I would let them in. We spent the hour whispering and laughing and took turns hitting keys on the piano.
I moved ahead in my music book in spite of the fact that I could not play any of the songs. Most of the time, my teacher dozed through my lessons. I usually had to wake her when my half-hour was over so I could give her the 50-cent piece I carried to school each Wednesday.
We could have gone on this way forever – if it had not been for the recital! My teacher told me early in December that there would be a little recital for the motherrs on December 19. In honor of the season, I was to play “Silent Night.”
“Silent Night” was a song I loved, but even by ignoring the notes and trying to follow the numbers, I couldn’t play anything that faintly resembled it. I tried to tell my teacher of the predicament, but she patted my head and mumbled something about practice making perfect. i wanted to cry.
When I carried home my mother’s invitation to the recital, I tried to tell her how bad things were, but she was busy making divinity and she didn’t have time to talk – or even to listen.
I tried to tell my father. I said I was going to be in a recital… and that’s as far as I got. I couldn’t tell him the rest. He said, “That’s nice, honey,” or something like that. There was no one else to tell.
And then it came to me! I would pray for a miracle. I prayed morning and night and sometimes noon. I prayed that either I would learn to play “Silent Night” or that I would die. All to no avail.
The day of the recital came, as such days must. When it was my turn, I walked out on stage in my new red dress, curtsied to the assembled mothers, adjusted my Shirley Temple hair-bow, and sat down at the piano. I touched a key here and there. Occasionally, I touched two keys at one time. No tune emerged.
I was careful not to look at my mother. I did glace at my teacher. She was smiling in her sleep. Aftter whatI considered a decent length of time, I rose from the piano bench, walked to the center of the stage, curtsied to the group, and walked off. The audience seem dazed, but a few of them applauded.
We rode home in silence. Some of the neighbors’ children were riding with us. I went straight to my room to await developments. I was a wicked little girl, I knew.
After a while my mother came in and sat on the edge of my bed. “I don’t have much time,” she said. “There are only so many days until Christmas, and I think the baby is getting the chicken pox. I’ll get right to the point.”
“Yes, Mother,” I said.
“I don’t believe you were cut out to be a musician,” she said. “We will discontinue your music lessons.”
“Yes, Mother,” I said.
She stood up and walked toward the door. Then she turned and looked at me intently.
“You were very brave today,” she said, “but it was too late.”
“Yes, Mother,” I said.
She came back and held me while I cried.
Who Failed?
To learn to read and play any instrument acceptably at the elementary or even the intermediate level does not depend on talent. It depends on a teacher who knows how to teach and a parent who knows how to support that teacher and child. This newspaper article has a few words that I changed to protect the guilty. The words I changed indicated that this teacher had a university education, so we cannot lay this failure at the feet of the little old lady who can play a little and is perpetrating fraud on unsuspecting parents. No, this teacher had been through our college system, probably, and a one-or-two semester course in piano pedagogy, and is, nevertheless, perpetrating fraud on unsuspecting parents. This article is a shopping list of what is causing failure in music education today.

“We didn’t have a piano”
You might suppose we could assume that every piano teacher knows that a child must have a piano to practice on, that this piano should be in the child’s home, preferable away from the living room and the television. Assumptions aside, surely having no piano was partly to blame for this child’s failure; and the teacher must share the blame, since the teacher accepted the child without a piano.

“Arrangements were made to practice in the music room at school on my lunch hour”
Music lessons given and practice done at odd times and in odd places have been an enemy of the piano teacher since time began, I suppose. Avoiding this may be close to impossible, but this child’s failure is certainly partly due to this barrier to efficient work.

“Fifty cents a week for lessons.”
Of course, the lessons were not worth 50 cents! But if that mother had been paying what thirty minutes of good teaching is worth – and what a professional teacher charges for thirty minutes of time – that parent would probably have seen to it that something was received for payment made. Fees charges for lessons are indicative of the self-image and proficiency of a piano teacher. And in this article, this teacher has definitely delivered what was worth of 50 cents of a lesson!

“Too old to teach in class, but not quite old enough to retire.”
It is unfortunate that piano teaching is regarded by some as not really a profession, especially if you already have a college degree. It is just something done on the side while you are waiting to do something else – while studying in college, to get married, to go to graduate school, or to die.

“Her energy was minimal. At times she dozed off. I think she was deaf”
It is important that a student’s image of his/her piano teacher is a positive (and perferably an inspiring) one. Unfortunately, in this case, the piano teacher do not represent music. It only represents a piano teacher’s music, which is a breed unto itself, not to be heard anywhere else in the child’s real world.

“I learned the location of middle C; ‘in the spaces you will find face’; and so on.”
Finding middle C, spelling “face,” maligning “every good boy,” and cutting up pies into quarter notes are cliches of the piano teaching profession. Also included is wasting time over unneccary and unfruitful exercises. Much of piano teaching is still in the dark ages. This was proven a few years ago when one of the major publishers came out with a brand new, but unchanged, edition of the W.S.B. Mathews course which first appeared in the 19th century. This is not a reflection on the publisher. He would not have re-issued it if there had been no demand. The failure of piano students has something to do with the teaching material the teacher chooses to use.

“I moved ahead in my music book in spite of the fact that I could not play any of the songs.”
Unfortunately there are many teachers who teach by just teaching ‘songs’ and ‘moving ahead’ even when the student could not play the song well or could not even play it, blaming lack of practice as a reason that they are struggling with the piece, when the fact is that they have failed to give the student a solid foundation to cope with pieces that get more and more difficult. Similarly there are students who simply assumes that they can learn the instrument by just ‘attending’ the lesson and ‘practicing’ during the lesson, only to forget everything completely by the next lesson and make the teacher go through exactly the same thing all over again the next lesson, and the next lesson.

“…to give her the 50-cent piece I carried to school each Wednesday.”
Piano lesson are training in a physical skill. A physical skill is developed by slowly acquired tiny habits which acculmulate and finally burst into seemingly natural activity. Only a course of study carefully planned to make this apparent miracle happen will finally result in success for most students. Carrying the lsson fee to lessons each week means the teacher is selling lessons like loaves of bread. There is no long-term plan or goal. The piano teacher who says,”This is what we will accomplish this term, and this is the cost of the term,’ is saying to the parent, “I know what I am doing.” This inspires confidence in the teacher; it commits the parents; it prepares the child for the teacher’s attitude toward lessons. Part of the failure of this child must be attributed to the fact that there was no plan for accomplishment and no commitment on anybody’s part to anything.

“We could have gone on this way forever if it had not been for the recital.”
Remember, this was written by someone looking back. At the time, the child probably thought it had gone on forever already. And, sometimes, it does go on forever. A recital, however, can be a major atriculation which causes awareness of reality, as it did in this case. One could think of making a case for poor teaching by saying that teachers put too much emphasis on recital preparation , spending too much time preparing students to play flawlessly on recitals. But is that really the case? Piano recitals are, fairly regularly, deadly things – deadly for the child, the parents – but never, it seems, deadly enough for the teacher. Too often, we explain poor recital performances by our unshakable belief that only the talented can be assured of successfully rendering “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Over the Fence Is Out,” or “Oscar the Octopus.” No, we cannot blame the failure to read on rote-prepared and beautiful recital performances. But we can explain some of the public’s attitude toward piano teachers by looking closely at the principal showcase of piano teachers, the recital.

“I ignored the notes and followed the finger numbers.”
There is surely no need to comment on that.

“The teacher patted my head and mumbled something about practice making perfect.”
It is the teacher’s job to teach the student how to find his way out of any predicament in which he finds himself. But here there are two problems. First, the teacher must be able to recognize the exact nature of the predicament; and second, the teacher must know the way out.

“I tried to tell my mother; I tried to tell my father.”
Once, one of my piano classes included the daughter of a colleague on the music faculty. At the usual parent meeting a few weeks after the lessons began, he listened to what I had to say, mainly about what I planned to do with the students, how I planned to do it, and what I expected in home practice. He raised his hand suddenly and said, “Do you mean Jeannie is supposed to practice at home?” I was new at that college, and he told me he thought I had brought an amazing new method which required no home practice. That experience is living proof that we can never assume anything so far as parents are concerned. The failure of the child in our story had as much to do with the parents’ failure of the child in our story had as it had to do with the teacher. However, it is the teacher’s responsibility to communicate clearly to the parents their part in successful piano study, and to accept nothing less.

“And then it came to me; I would pray for a miracle.”
With many piano students, that is about their only hope if teachers persist in believing that failures can be explained by such nonsense as, “Well, Johnny just doesn’t have natural rhythm,” or “Some students can sight read and some can’t,” or “If Johnny only had an ear for music.” It seems that we blame both our failures and our successes on supernatural causes. One of the first things we have to do is to take the magic and the mystery out of music study – not out of music. Music is a glorious language, which everyone can read and speak if only we will learn how to create an environment in which the learning can take place naturally.
Developing bravery is not a goal of music study.
The child in this story went home from the recital in dejection and was told that lesson would be discontinued because she struck out. She wasn’t cut out to be a musician. As though being a musician were the only valid goal for learning music. But then a really true statement was made by the mother. Unfortunately, as it often the case with true statements, it was said for the wrong reason. The mother said, “You were very brave today.” How true! But then she ruined it. She added, “But it was too late.”
Yes, it was too late.
I am not sure what she meant, but I know what it means to me. It was too late for that mother. It was too late for that teacher. It was too late for either or both of them to undo the monumental harm done to that 8-year old child who easily could have had the same ability – and the same talent – as 90% of college piano majors when they were 8 years old. It was too late for that child to find the pleasure that musical literacy brings to all those lucky enough to get through those early years in spite of their teachers and parents. Too late for that child to fully explore one of her native tongues.

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Learn to Read Music

Learn to Read Music
(Source Unknown)

All musicians, excepting blind ones, need to learn to read music if they are to make the most of their ability. The entire history of Western music is available to those who have mastered this skill. Yet for so many, reading music remains the single biggest obstacle to learning music.
It certainly was for me. I even had an incompetent piano teacher (famously, I think) fire me because I couldn’t learn to read music. (I’m at long last more competent at sight reading than she was at recognizing musical talent, to say the least.) She literally told my mother, “Take your money every week and throw it in the garbage! Albert will never be able to play the piano!” Much as I’d like to, I won’t name names, although I presume she is no longer with us (or at least, one hopes, has no internet access).
What Mrs. [expletive deleted — her name really is an expletive!] failed, astonishingly, to notice is that music is sound. Nowadays, far too much emphasis is in fact placed on simply learning to read music, while neglecting this simple fact, and training the ear ought therefore to be favored above training the eye. I don’t have statistics on the percentage of exasperated piano students whose flashbacks to stereotypical “mean old bat” piano teachers smacking their wrists with a ruler have cost them years of psychotherapy, though I can assure my readers that learning to read music need not be this painful.
Reading music should be thought of much like training a muscle. No one enters a gym with an Olympian physique for the first time. The rest of us may feel intimidated by the pros, but two things are important. First, they had to work very, very hard to attain that level of fitness. Secondly, and most importantly, they’re still working out. To a certain extent, learning to read music is like learning to ride a bicycle. However, the human mind and body function according to a strict use-it-or-lose-it principle, and that ought to compel us to practice…
That said by way of introduction, here are some practical, general tips that will help you learn to read music with greater ease. (Be sure to subscribe to this site, as specific tips and exercises are added regularly.)

Practice regularly
This should be so self-evident that I needn’t mention it, yet it continues to amaze me how many music students don’t make time for regular practice and then wonder why they’re not improving quickly. (Yes, people actually pay me to tell them to practice.) Good practice habits are absolutely essential if you wish to learn to read music or undertake any serious musical activity. In learning to read music, above all this means practicing regularly. Clearly, regular practice will bring results far more quickly than will intermittent work. Make a commitment to practice sight reading at least five days a week. It’s useful to start practice sessions with reading music. This will quickly grow into a habit. As progress is cumulative only with regular work, 10 minutes a day is all most music students need to learn to read music proficiently. By working consistently, with proper practice habits, you’ll astonish yourself with how fast your music reading skills will improve. Improvements on improvements will accelerate your progress. It’s like getting compound interest on your sight reading skills!

Practice with a clear mind
Like all music skills, it is perfectly normal to be able to sight read well one day and less well the next. The mind must be receptive, and a tired mind can no more learn to read music than it can do any other activity that demands concentrated effort. Foreign language learners are well aware of this phenomenon. Some days you might be fluent and on others you can barely get the words out and you end up making a fool of yourself. Those are the days you get to tell your friends about (I certainly have my share of embarrassing stories), but in music it simply doesn’t work this way. Never practice on fatigue.

Focus first on rhythm
Music of any complexity can always be broken into its constituent components. In reading music, this means first and foremost that rhythm must predominate. A valuable warm-up exercise to sight reading is simply to tap the rhythm while counting out loud. (It’s best for this exercise not to be done with the metronome!) The simplest way to do this is with a single line, either melodic or accompanimental. If you’re working with polyphonic music, or if the accompaniment has a different rhythm from the melody, it’s incredibly valuable to tap one voice in each hand while counting aloud. Only once you’re confident with the rhythm should you proceed to actually reading the pitches. Indeed, if you can’t accurately tap the rhythm while counting evenly, it’s impossible to expect to be able to read the music at sight! It is surprising how many music students continue to struggle with learning to read music but who never bother to first learn to tap the rhythm accurately. Much of the battle can be won by that alone.

Use appropriate material
The right material is essential if you wish to learn to read music and to sustain that effort over a long enough period to become proficient. Imagine a personal trainer forcing a weak body to push the crushing weights that professional athletes lift! While this analogy might sound extreme, in my experience this is certainly part of the reason so many music students struggle with reading music — they see a tall mountain and are afraid to take the first step. Since every student will be at a different stage of development it will be impossible to make specific recommendations here (although exercises targeted to your specific level — from rank beginner to experienced professionals — are in the works at!). There is no need to limit yourself to music stricly for your instrument. Song accompaniments can make for useful sight reading material, for instance.
It should be axiomatic that every aspiring music student must find the best teacher possible. Let your teacher know you’ve set a goal to learn to read music competently and ask him or her for appropriate material regularly. Work with your teacher to select the proper material as mentioned above, find a volume of music at or just beyond your level, and set a goal to read through the entire book. Use a bookmark to mark your progress. Read a little each day until you’ve finished, then select the next volume.

Separate reading material from repertoire
Avoid at all costs the very bad habit of continually sight reading pieces you’re learning! Truly sight reading music can only be done once per piece, since the brain will already begin absorbing the musical information. A key distinction is that reading music favors rhythm even at the expense of some wrong notes, while actually learning a piece must be absolutely precise in all aspects. Therefore, repertoire pieces may be sight read once, and fresh material must always be sought out for sight reading work.

Develop proprioception
(Keep your eyes on the page!)
When learning to read music it is imperative to keep your eyes on the page, not on your fingers or instrument. This is one of the most difficult tasks for many students, but it is the major hurdle to be overcome. The technical term for the essential skill required in sight reading is called proprioception. Proprioception is a sort of “sixth sense,” an awareness of the body in space. Athletes and dancers, for instance, have highly developed proprioception, and musicians need to develop this skill as well. There’s really only one way to develop proprioception in learning to read music, and that is to keep your eyes focused on the music rather than your hands.
On the piano, there is a simple exercise you can do that will help you to develop this “sixth sense.” The piano keyboard has two groups of black keys per octave, one consisting of two black keys and the other three. By orienting yourself by means of the black keys it’s possible to find any key relatively quickly. Try closing your eyes and challenging yourself to find all the D-flats, then all the E-flats, working your way through all the black keys. Then practice finding the white keys blindly by first feeling their relation to the black keys. This, by the way, is how blind pianists are able to play.

Know harmony
If you’re versed in harmony and know all your scales and chords, learning to read music can become relatively easy. Once you can immediately recognize all the key signatures and know all the notes within each scale, you’ll be able to feel your way within a given key. Sight reading music well demands the integration of many musical faculties, including full knowledge of the common harmonies and all scales. This is why genuinely musical material, rather than random notes as some misguided electronic methods use, is essential for learning to read music. Good musicians are able to recognize harmonic and rhythmic patterns and to anticipate what comes next. In this sense, reading music is exactly like reading language — a context is necessary.

Read the following paragraph, for instance:
“I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh?”

Since we know our own language so well and because we have a context (i.e., the words form whole sentences and the sentences make sense), we’re able to understand the paragraph. Learning to read music works exactly the same way: We learn to recognize patterns and make inferences based on subconscious expectations.
Since we know our own language so well and because we have a context (i.e., the words form whole sentences and the sentences make sense), we’re able to understand the paragraph. Learning to read music works exactly the same way: We learn to recognize patterns and make inferences based on subconscious expectations.
Yet imagine how difficult it would be to have to read a series of nonsense syllables! Instead, we learn to read music as well as language by practicing with patterns of notes and words that we come to know. Sight reading methods that use random notes are therefore to be ignored for any but the most superficial tasks.

Read by intervals, not note names
Reading music is simultaneously absolute and relative. That means that the brain recognizes not only the absolute note names for each clef by memorizing them, it also should recognize the intervallic relations between notes. To aid in reading music, each clef has two notes that serve as references for the eye. By convention, C is common to all clefs. The treble clef is also called the G clef because the spiraled symbol is centered on the G above middle C. Therefore, C and G are the two reference notes for the treble clef:

The bass clef is also called the F clef because its two dots are centered on the F below middle C. Thus, C and F are the reference notes for the bass clef:

Like the treble clef, the C clefs (soprano, mezzosoprano, alto, tenor and baritone) also use C and G as their reference notes. Most piano students have never encountered the C clefs, and essentially only alto and tenor clefs are used nowadays for a handful of instruments, including viola, trombone and bassoon. Here is the alto clef:

It is a very good idea to familiarize yourself with all clefs no matter which instrument you play. The goal is not to learn the absolute note names for each clef, which will only confuse you, but simply to be able to find any note in relation to its closest reference note. Thus, for instance, if you understand that the C clef symbol is centered on middle C, you’ll immediately know that the note directly above it is D, no matter which of the five C clefs you are learning to read.

Practice with others
If you have the opportunity to work with other music students, by all means take advantage of it. If you don’t yet have this opportunity, make it. Reading through music with others is one of the best ways to learn to read music, since you’ll be forced to stay in rhythm. I often play duets with my students to help them acquire this skill. You can play with any combination of instruments and accompany singers. The more variety, the better.
Work according to these suggestions and you’ll be surprised at how rapidly you progress! Best wishes in learning to read music and in all your musical work.
Watch this video on sight reading

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When will my child be ready for the Grade 1 exam?

When will my child be ready for the grade 1 exam? This is the most common question that I get from parents. Here is a detailed description of the skills that one needs to attain before attempting the grade 1 exam. Hope that it clears all your doubts.

Early Beginner
Pieces Able to play a single-line melody using both   hands alternatively
Technique Able to play with legato (smoothly), staccato   (detached) and two-note slurs
Sight-reading Able to read notes from C to G in treble clef and   C to F in the bass clef in middle C position
Rhythm able to clap and play(after hearing or reading)   simple rhythms including crotchets, minims and semibreves
Aural (pitch) able to differentiate between high and low   sounds, loud and soft, going up and going down
Mid-Late Beginner
Pieces Able to play both hands with a RH melody with a 2   or 3-note block chord in the LH
Able to play both hands with a non-chord harmony   in the LH
Able to play in at least 2 different fixed   positions C, F, G position
Technique Able to do simple finger turns, finger stretches   and finger substitutions in exercises
Able to play a melody with RH legato and chord   changes in the LH
Scales Able to play at least 2 scales in one octave,   separate hands
Sight-reading Able to read notes from one octave below middle C   to one octave able middle C or in both C and G positions and able to   sight-read in these positions
Rhythm Able to clap and play rhythms including quavers   and dotted rhythms
Aural (pitch) Able to differentiate between steps and skips in   sound
Grade 1 (before   registering for exams)
Pieces Able to play a melody both hands with a broken   chord accompaniment in a fixed position (at least 2 different types of broken   chords)
Able to play a piece with the melody both in the   LH and RH
Able to play a melody both hands with a   combination of 2 or more different positions using finger turns, stretches   and finger substitutions
Technique Able to play both hands with one hand legato (usually RH) and one hand staccato (usually LH)
Scales Able to play at least 2 scales in two octaves, separate hands
Sight-reading Able to read notes in all lines and spaces of the   treble and bass clef
Able to sight-read intervals (must be able to tell interval at first sight, not count)
Rhythm Able to clap and play simple syncopated rhythms
Aural (pitch) Able to differentiate between the first 3 tones of each major scale (Do, Re, Mi)

*LH = left hand, RH = right hand, BH = both hands, SH = separate hands

*For grade 1, it is not necessary to have all the skills listed as some will be taught while learning the exam pieces, but student should have at least most of the skills. For each level, student should be able to play at least 3 pieces from that level fluently (performance standard) – that means accurate notes and rhythm, even speed and tone, and confident playing.

*Note that the requirements stated above are only requirements for a secure pass in the Grade 1 exam, not a distinction.

You would have noticed that I did not state down the amount of time required for a beginner to be ready for the grade 1 exam. This is because the amount of time varies greatly between different children. This is not only due to how fast each child learns and how much he/she practices, but also how much parental involvement the child receives from the parent, especially for young beginners. I personally have six year olds who took less than a year to be ready for grade 1 exam and older children who took years to be ready for the exam. ABRSM suggests 1.5 years to be ready for the exam, but this is only for an average child starting at around primary school age who has sufficient practice and parental involvement.

What you need to know about exams (ABRSM)

Exam Registration

The practical and theory exam are conducted as two separate exams and students are registered for these exams separately. Practical exams are usually held in February to March or July to September but registration starts as early as half a year before the exam. You can register for exam through a music school, a private teacher, or by yourself – simply go down to the ABRSM exams office during the registration period to register for exams or send in the completed form. If you already had registered for exams before (as an applicant), you can register for exams online.

ABRSM Representative Office

Singapore Symphonia Co Ltd

4 Battery Road #19-01

Bank of China Building

Singapore 049908

Registering as an applicant and/or a candidate

An applicant refers to the person registering for the exam. An applicant can be a music school, music teacher, parent, or yourself. A candidate is the person represented by an applicant for an exam. So, if you are registering for exams yourself, you can both be an applicant and a candidate. If your teacher is registering for you, you are the candidate and your teacher the applicant. All correspondences of the exam are sent to the applicant only and any changes with regards to the exam can only be made by the applicant.

For more information about exam registration and fees, visit

Exam Results

Practical exam results are usually released about one month after the exam whereas theory results are released after two to three months as they are sent to UK for marking. The marking schemes for both exams are as follows.

Marking Scheme

Practical Exams

Practical exams are marked out of a total of 150, with 100 marks required for a pass, 120 for a merit and 130 for a distinction.

There are four parts in the piano exam.

  • Prepared Pieces
     Candidate needs to play 3 prepared pieces from a set list.
  • Scales and Arpeggios
    Candidate needs to memorize and play out scales and arpeggios.
  • Sight-Reading
    Examiner will provide an unseen short piece for the candidate to play.
  • Aural
    Candidates are tested on pulse or rhythm clapping, echo singing, and for grade 4 and above, sight-singing and general questions after listening to a short piece.
Practical Exam Marking Scheme
Category Passing Mark Full Marks
Pieces 1   Piece from List A 20 30
1 Piece from List B 20 30
1 Piece from List C 20 30
Scales and Arpeggios 14 21
Sight-Reading 14 21
Aural 12 18
Total 100 150

Theory Exams

Theory exams are marked out of a total of 100, with 66 marks required for a pass, 80 for a merit and 90 for a distinction.


For practical exams from grade 1 to 5, there are no pre-requisites to taking these exams. Candidates registering for grades 6, 7 and 8 must have already passed one of the following qualifications:

• ABRSM Grade 5 Theory (or above)

• ABRSM Practical Musicianship Grade 5

• ABRSM Solo Jazz subject Grade 5

• Grade 5 Theory (or above) from any of these exam boards: Trinity Guildhall, London College of Music (LCM), Australian Music Exam Board (AMEB), University of South Africa (UNISA)

There are no pre-requisites for taking any music theory exam.

Important notes for students taking the exams:

• Do arrive 15-20mins earlier than your scheduled time. This will ensure that there are no last minute panics. Sometimes examiners might finish examining the previous student earlier so you might have to go in slightly earlier than your scheduled time.

• Do check the exam venue correctly. Different buildings and streets might have similar names.

• Remember to bring any form bring ID – student pass, birth cert, passport, IC, driving licence, etc.

• Remember to bring your exam pieces book for the practical exam and your own pencil and eraser for the theory exam

• Do bring a jacket to the exam room in case it is cold.

For those who have never took an exam before, here is a video of a Grade 1 exam