Should I take my Music Grades?
I have to confess that I never took any music grades when I first had Classical guitar lessons in the 70s. First of all, they cost money and my parents didn’t have any! Second – I just wanted to play music for pleasure and not be judged or assessed. Also, music grades didn’t count towards University or College entrance qualifications whereas they do now.
There are a few reasons why you may benefit from taking grades in guitar playing though so it’s worth considering them before making a decision. Here are some pros and cons.
You can take a graded music exam at any time in your life – they’re not just for those in education.
- You don’t have to start at Grade One and work your way through – you can take any grade you feel ready for and skip the preceding ones. Grades 1 and 2 are very basic and Grade 8 is the highest grade.
- Universities now recognise that music exam grades show a level of self-motivation and discipline so they will award UCAS tariff points to candidates that have attained grades 6, 7 or 8, even for those applying for non-music courses. The number of points depends on the grade and whether a pass, merit or distinction has been achieved. At the moment, you can gain 75 points for a distinction at grade 8.
- Exams are available for acoustic and electric guitar – not just classical guitar.
- Music grades help you to measure your level of performance, musical knowledge, ear training, and so on. They enable you to set yourself short-term goals to help you improve your playing and not drift in an unstructured way.
- The grades provide a vocabulary of difficulty, so you can assess a piece of music by saying ” a Grade 4 guitarist would find this challenging”. In other words, a grade will show others your approximate level of ability.
- It looks good on a CV as many potential employers view graded music exams as a demonstration of self-improvement outside of the mainstream academic curriculum.
- Essential for some higher and further education courses involving music. Click here for some examples of specialist music colleges and their requirements.
- The exam itself costs money. The first grades start at about £38 and the highest grade (grade 8) is £86. See the table of prices below
- You usually have to buy the accompanying book – it’s the only way to get an application form! The examination boards don’t provide forms on their websites and won’t accept photocopies so that’s another £15 for the book on average. Often second-hand books will already have the application form missing.
- The musical pieces are usually set by the examination board so your choice of music is limited. (less so for acoustic guitar where there is an option to select a piece of your own choosing).
- It’s possible that you could be tempted to just practise the set pieces. But they may be the only ones you can play! Ideally, you want to play a good variety of music to help develop a range of techniques.
- The lower grades (5 and below) don’t count towards UCAS points for university entrance.
- Let’s not forget exam nerves! Some people can play beautifully when they’re not under the spotlight but can make mistakes as soon as they start to play in front of an assessor.
My view is that grades can be very useful in setting a target to aim for and gaining a sense of achievement when an exam is passed. I’m not sure it’s worth taking the lower grades (except for younger children) simply because of the cost. Grade three seems a good starting point and, if you progress quickly, then it’s not a bad idea to skip a grade or two and aim higher. Of course, you can always cover the material for each grade without taking an exam. Either way, I’m happy to help you achieve your goals.
As I’m a member of the Registry of Guitar Tutors (RGT) you would normally be entered for the RGT exams. These are awarded by the London College of Music (LCM).
In the UK, LCM’s graded exams are regulated by Ofqual, DfES and CCEA at Levels 1, 2 and 3 of the Qualifications and Credit Framework, and UCAS points are awarded for grades 6, 7 and 8.
LCM’s graded exams are now also included on the European Qualifications Framework (EQF).
Assessment bands are as follows:
· 85-100% – Distinction
· 75-84% – Merit
· 65-74% – Pass
· 0-64% – Unsuccessful
The ABRSM is the examining board of the Royal Schools of Music. The ABRSM exams are also recognised internationally and are very similar to the RGT exams, although different pieces of music are studied at each grade. If you prefer, you can enter ABRSM examinations.
You’ll also need to pass grade 5 Theory of Music exam if you want to take grades 5-8 with ABRSM.
If you are interested, the requirements for each exam grade can be found here.
2015 Examination Fees
As you can see, the fees for any particular grade are similar for both the RGT and ABRSM. If you are progressing through the grades it is best to stick with one examining board.