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Thread: ABRSM exams

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    Default ABRSM exams

    Has anybody taken the ABRSM vocal or music theory exams? I am thinking of doing that next year, but I am wondering how it is administered, especially outside of the UK.

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    I've done the music theory grade 5 -needed for grade 6 practical and above. Basically you need to get to your local ABRSM site and find your local centre. I think this link will help you. If it doesn't try Googling for ABRSM plus your country. You may need to do the entry on paper rather than through the web site, the country page will tell you.

    Good luck with the exams and enjoy your singing!
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    How hard is the grade 5 theory? I am taking a couple of classes online and studying on my own, but maybe I need a text book ... any recommendations? I am thinking of going for the Diploma in performance eventually, and for that you need Grade 8 practical if I'm not mistaken. At the very least I can write about the experience in my blog

    Btw, I wrote to the local centre, but it is summer here and in Finland this means everybody is out soaking vitamin D to store for the dark winter months
    A little shameless self-promo, I have a blog about amateur classical singing - http://amateuroperaeurope.wordpress.com

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    I used this plus past papers and model answers see here for as full list.

    I had done some theory many years ago but play piano and do accompaniments for folk tunes so the basic harmony theory wasn't too bad. I think playing piano is a big help but if you use the text and the model answers you can see the level of difficulty.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Grade 5 is pretty basic, and then it is a pretty massive leap to Grade 6. I would recommend doing at least up to Grade 6.

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    Quote Originally Posted by schuberkovich View Post
    Grade 5 is pretty basic, and then it is a pretty massive leap to Grade 6. I would recommend doing at least up to Grade 6.
    I don't plan to ever stop learning But I think I have arrived at the point where I want to light a fire under my own backside and get some serious systematic learning done in order to pass the exams.
    A little shameless self-promo, I have a blog about amateur classical singing - http://amateuroperaeurope.wordpress.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dili View Post
    I don't plan to ever stop learning But I think I have arrived at the point where I want to light a fire under my own backside and get some serious systematic learning done in order to pass the exams.
    The problem with grade exams is that they are extremely expensive for what they are. There are a lot of things taught in the theory exams that aren't what is done in practice so you can't use everything that you learn in a performance because in practical music it is incorrect. An example of this is what they say about staccato being half the value of the note. This is total rubbish. Staccato notes are played the length that context of the music needs not just half the length of a written note. The trills are also wrong in practice. So if you want to pay a lot of money to take and exam that teaches incorrect music theory feel free to do this but I would never advise an adult to take these exams. They were originally designed to be taken by school age children not well educated adults.

    I think you may find that if you look at a different board other than ABRSM you might find that you don't need grade 5 theory in order to take grade 8. I am not actually sure why you feel that you want to spend your cash on these exams as they don't mean anything in terms of music qualifications. Grade 8 in terms of adult education is the equivalent to an exam that you would take from the ages of 16 to 18 at school. So if you look at it in terms of the professional working world of an adult it is an elementary exam that shows that you know a little about music. However if you are an adult do you really need to spend a large fee for someone to tell you that you have done your lesson practice because this is all it will tell you, nothing else. It isn't considered to be a qualification in music just a qualification in grade exams so it isn't transferable. The nearest comparison to a grade exam is a swimming badge that when you are learning to swim you might get a badge for being able to swim across a pool. It doesn't tell you how well you swam just that you did it and this exactly what grade exams do in music.

    Now getting to the diplomas. Dip ABRSM ALCM and ATCL are not considered to be "real" diplomas because they are too easy. So they tend to be looked at as a sort of grade 9 so another equivalent type to another swimming badge but much more expensive and still not considered to be a useful qualification. Due to rising music standards FRSM and the like are now considered to be much too easy to be worthwhile taking by anyone who is thinking of playing or singing professionally. The playing standards on the teaching diplomas is too low for anyone to have anything to offer a pupil so you can't use either the performance or the teaching diplomas as qualifications in music. At this point you may wish to consider if it is worth spending the money to take them or whether you could spend the money in a better way in order to further your musical education.

    Many adults have extreme difficulty understanding these exams. This is because as an adult if you take an exam it is because it gives you a qualification that you can use in your work either to get a promotion or some other benefit. Because grade exams were designed to be taken by school children they are more like spelling tests or mental arithmetic tests than anything else. What they are designed to do is to test if a child has learned their lessons properly very like if they have learned how to spell. However passing a spelling test doesn't lead to anything except perhaps another spelling test. Grade exams are just like this. They only lead to more grade exams and nothing else. All you get when you have passed one is a certificate. There is no qualification. I consider paying someone else to tell you that you have learned your lessons a waste of time as an adult because most adults know if they have spent enough time on something. The diplomas are longer more expensive versions of the same thing and the also are not qualifications. So a performance diploma doesn't qualify you to perform. A teaching diploma doesn't qualify you to teach. However diplomas are really expensive to take when you consider that they don't offer any qualifications in music, you can't use them to help you get a music job.

    Please do not get taken in by the information about diplomas being the standard that someone could expect to reach by the end of certain years at music college. You have to read what it says very carefully. It doesn't say that a certain diploma IS the standard that someone WILL reach at the end of a certain year at music college. I have found that many adults don't understand what is actually being said. What is actually the case is that most music students will have reached the standard required to pass the diploma by the end of the first year because most of them will have reached that standard while they were still at school and before they even take the audition to START at music college. Some of them reach the standard required to pass LRSM while they are still at school.

    Basically I wouldn't advise anyone over the age of 18 to take grade exams because they are very expensive for what they are. Unless you are thinking of studying music performance at university it probably isn't worth taking any diplomas and it is a complete waste of time and money to take the dip ABRSM ATCL ALCM diplomas because they are so easy.

    Professional players in the UK do not bother with diplomas because no one is interested in them because the standard required to pass them is now too low.
    Last edited by Jaws; Jul-25-2014 at 01:25.

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    @Jaws, thank you for your perspective, I really appreciate it. It is good for me to know realistically what these grades and diplomas mean to someone from the professional circles.

    Unfortunately, your underlying assumption is wrong - I am a lawyer, not a professional musician. I went back to doing classical singing for the last 2 years after a 5 year break (complicated reasons for that, health mostly), and I have been singing in choirs since I was 6 years old. In those last two years I have been living in 3 different countries and it is immensely frustrating to have to explain over and over again to musicians I meet how much I know and don't know about music and theory. You cannot imagine how much I wish I had a paper that says I know the theory basics and I have covered the basic repertoire for 16-18 year-old, or eventually the expanded repertoire for someone that has been to consevatory. And not because my wall is short of diplomas, but because I am tired of "amateur opera singer" meaning someone who sings Rigoletto in the shower and cannot read music. And yes, I know very well that there is a difference between the exam contents and the practice, but it is the same for taking a language exam - nobody on the streets speaks the way things are taught to foreigners, but that doesn't mean it is useless to those foreigners to be able to express themselves.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed reaction. If you know of an alternative to the ABRSM exams (in the UK or internationally), please let me know! Cheers, D
    A little shameless self-promo, I have a blog about amateur classical singing - http://amateuroperaeurope.wordpress.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dili View Post
    @Jaws, thank you for your perspective, I really appreciate it. It is good for me to know realistically what these grades and diplomas mean to someone from the professional circles.

    Unfortunately, your underlying assumption is wrong - I am a lawyer, not a professional musician. I went back to doing classical singing for the last 2 years after a 5 year break (complicated reasons for that, health mostly), and I have been singing in choirs since I was 6 years old. In those last two years I have been living in 3 different countries and it is immensely frustrating to have to explain over and over again to musicians I meet how much I know and don't know about music and theory. You cannot imagine how much I wish I had a paper that says I know the theory basics and I have covered the basic repertoire for 16-18 year-old, or eventually the expanded repertoire for someone that has been to consevatory. And not because my wall is short of diplomas, but because I am tired of "amateur opera singer" meaning someone who sings Rigoletto in the shower and cannot read music. And yes, I know very well that there is a difference between the exam contents and the practice, but it is the same for taking a language exam - nobody on the streets speaks the way things are taught to foreigners, but that doesn't mean it is useless to those foreigners to be able to express themselves.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed reaction. If you know of an alternative to the ABRSM exams (in the UK or internationally), please let me know! Cheers, D
    Thank you for explaining what you want to achieve here. I had actually assumed that you were not a professional singer because you were talking about grade exams. I am sorry if it wasn't clear in what I wrote.


    I know things are different in Finland to the UK (I have a friend who lives in Finland) however you might be interested in what happens here. If you want to join a good choir in the UK you are asked to audition. My husband who is a retired engineer used to sing in the BBC Symphony Chorus as a hobby. He has no qualifications in music at all. The only music exam that he ever passed was grade 4 playing the oboe when he was at school. He got into the chorus because he passed the audition and he had sung in a lot of choirs as an adult. The singing in the shower opera singers would not have been able to pass the sight singing audition.

    I am assuming since you were talking about taking a diploma that you are having singing lessons? Sometimes what works is having a well known to the area teacher so if anyone asks you can say something like "I have been having singing lessons with x for 10 years." Or whatever the number is and then no more explanation is needed.

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    @Jaws - well, since you were talking about how ABRSM is perceived in professional circles I thought it made sense to explain where I'm coming from and what I am looking for. Your post actually made me wonder if the same attitude applies in the amateur opera scene in the UK and continental Europe.

    I sort of get where you are coming from. Diplomas do not a musician make, and I agree. I have heard the argument about studying with a famous teacher, but in my experience those are rarely human beings that I enjoy being around, let alone give a ton of money to - they prefer to listen to themselves speak rather than me singing. And also, I have been moving from country to country a lot in the past 10 years, so it is not really an option to study with someone for so long. I have tried auditioning for choirs, but I am a dramatic mezzo and the alto section of most choirs is not supposed to be so loud (I have been having trouble with different dynamics since my voice started growing and under-singing makes me hoarse).

    So, the reason that I am looking for an exam or certificate, like TOEFL for English or TestDaf for German, is to just be able to show to people that I have been doing this seriously, consistently and in a structured fashion. And for me it is hard to sit down and study on my own without a goal or a deadline.

    Thank you for your replies and suggestions. I hope I don't come of as rejecting it all off-hand, because I do appreciate heart-felt advice
    A little shameless self-promo, I have a blog about amateur classical singing - http://amateuroperaeurope.wordpress.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dili View Post
    @Jaws - well, since you were talking about how ABRSM is perceived in professional circles I thought it made sense to explain where I'm coming from and what I am looking for. Your post actually made me wonder if the same attitude applies in the amateur opera scene in the UK and continental Europe.

    I sort of get where you are coming from. Diplomas do not a musician make, and I agree. I have heard the argument about studying with a famous teacher, but in my experience those are rarely human beings that I enjoy being around, let alone give a ton of money to - they prefer to listen to themselves speak rather than me singing. And also, I have been moving from country to country a lot in the past 10 years, so it is not really an option to study with someone for so long. I have tried auditioning for choirs, but I am a dramatic mezzo and the alto section of most choirs is not supposed to be so loud (I have been having trouble with different dynamics since my voice started growing and under-singing makes me hoarse).

    So, the reason that I am looking for an exam or certificate, like TOEFL for English or TestDaf for German, is to just be able to show to people that I have been doing this seriously, consistently and in a structured fashion. And for me it is hard to sit down and study on my own without a goal or a deadline.

    Thank you for your replies and suggestions. I hope I don't come of as rejecting it all off-hand, because I do appreciate heart-felt advice
    I am an oboist and I actually had a really famous teacher. We got on extremely well and he wasn't a bit like what you describe. However what I had more in mind was the kind of teacher who is known in amateur music circles. Actually if you finally do decide to take a diploma you will need to have lessons as I don't know of anyone who has passed any diplomas even the easiest ones without some lessons. Also there was a lady I know who took grade 8 on the Saxophone who had taken grade 8 on the clarinet when she was at school and she had to have lessons for the grade 8 Sax.

    Grade exams and diplomas are not going to give you what you are looking for in something that is like TOEFL, because this is a professional qualification which would help you to get a job whereas the the diplomas and grade exams don't do this because they aren't recognised as professional music qualifications by the adult music working world. I can understand your problem because over the years I have met many adult amateur musicians who take grades and diplomas thinking that they offer the same kind of qualification as the language ones that you mentioned but they don't. All you get after a grade exam or a diploma is a bit of paper. That bit of paper can't be used for anything because it doesn't test anything that can be used as an example of competence in music. So for example having a diploma won't show anyone else that you have been serious about your singing only that you have passed a diploma. Music is judged more by what you have done rather than which bits of paper you have got.

    Regarding different dynamics. I am a fully trained oboist now starting as an adult and having been to music college. I play loud like a professional oboist would do but I can also play very quietly. I can understand what you are saying as regards volume because I can make the oboe resonate in a way that would if I played in a professional orchestra allow it to be heard at the back of a concert hall. This is a nuisance in any amateur group because it is too projected. So I found a group where it didn't matter if I played louder than would be expected of an ordinary amateur player.

    I haven't taken any exams on the oboe at all. My very famous teacher hadn't taken any music exams either.

    I do value my music degree though that I got earlier in life.

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    @Jaws - wait, so you actually haven't taken the ABRSM at all? With all due respect, the question of the thread is if anybody has taken the exams and has any insight into their content.

    And, tbh, I see two very big differences between your background and mine. a)You have a music degree, I don't; and b) you play an instrument, I sing. Also, I don't know if you have lived in the same area for a long time, but I have been living in 7 different countries in the past 10 years. I understand that everybody has the right to their opinion, and I understand that in your case you consider that the exams are not necessary. But please, no more off-topic comments.

    Back to topic! Has anybody taken the ABRSM singing exams, or knows somebody who has?
    A little shameless self-promo, I have a blog about amateur classical singing - http://amateuroperaeurope.wordpress.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dili View Post
    @Jaws - wait, so you actually haven't taken the ABRSM at all? With all due respect, the question of the thread is if anybody has taken the exams and has any insight into their content.

    And, tbh, I see two very big differences between your background and mine. a)You have a music degree, I don't; and b) you play an instrument, I sing. Also, I don't know if you have lived in the same area for a long time, but I have been living in 7 different countries in the past 10 years. I understand that everybody has the right to their opinion, and I understand that in your case you consider that the exams are not necessary. But please, no more off-topic comments.

    Back to topic! Has anybody taken the ABRSM singing exams, or knows somebody who has?
    Yes I have taken ABRSM exams. I have taken grade 5 and 8 in horn playing and 4, 5, 6 in viola playing which is why when taking up the oboe I knew that it wasn't worth taking any more.

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    I haven't taken any exams on the oboe at all.
    Yes I have taken ABRSM exams. I have taken grade 5 and 8 in horn playing and 4, 5, 6 in viola playing which is why when taking up the oboe I knew that it wasn't worth taking any more.
    OK, this is why I got confused, I didn't know you switched instruments, which is very curious for me. I suppose you took the exams when you were quite young (high-school age). I find the phrase "any more" particularly interesting, did you feel that it wasn't worth taking because you already had taken the exams and knew the theory, or because taking the exams would not be necessary to prove you can play and know the theory, in the amateur classical world?

    Here is what I find fascinating tho -

    I do value my music degree though that I got earlier in life.
    On one hand I would like to ask, what would be your advice to adults who have not had any structured instruction on music theory? I have been trying for years and I have to say it is very difficult (near-impossible) and time-consuming without a teacher, a textbook AND an exam to work towards. And not knowing the theory definitely limits both the enjoyment and the possibility of attaining a high-level of mastery of any instrument.

    On the other hand I find it even more fascinating how many different layers there are to the world of avocational musicians
    A little shameless self-promo, I have a blog about amateur classical singing - http://amateuroperaeurope.wordpress.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dili View Post
    OK, this is why I got confused, I didn't know you switched instruments, which is very curious for me. I suppose you took the exams when you were quite young (high-school age). I find the phrase "any more" particularly interesting, did you feel that it wasn't worth taking because you already had taken the exams and knew the theory, or because taking the exams would not be necessary to prove you can play and know the theory, in the amateur classical world?

    Here is what I find fascinating tho -



    On one hand I would like to ask, what would be your advice to adults who have not had any structured instruction on music theory? I have been trying for years and I have to say it is very difficult (near-impossible) and time-consuming without a teacher, a textbook AND an exam to work towards. And not knowing the theory definitely limits both the enjoyment and the possibility of attaining a high-level of mastery of any instrument.

    On the other hand I find it even more fascinating how many different layers there are to the world of avocational musicians
    Not quite, I decided not to take any exams on the oboe because I knew that they didn't prove anything either in the amateur world or the professional world. I changed instruments because I got the wrong one when I was young. I asked for an oboe aged about 10 and got a horn instead.

    Practical exams do not test theory. They only test whether you can sing or play some pieces and some scales etc. You don't need to know any theory to do this.

    Quite honestly if you study music you learn theory from books. So for example you learn the music terms like crescendo etc from a book. You learn harmony from a book. Historical context of a piece from a book. I learned musical style by listening to and playing lots of different kinds of music. You don't need to take any exams to do this.

    To be honest qualifications in music tend to be based on where you have sung or played or which solos you have performed rather than bits of paper. For singers I would always advise joining a choir or an amateur opera group. For people playing instruments you need to join and orchestra or some other group as soon as possible because you get the theory as you go along from playing or singing a lot of music and seeing how it is put together.

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