How do you prepare for the ABRSM Grade 1 Piano Exam? Regular piano lessons. A great piano tutor. And lots of practice at home.
Here you’ll find everything you need to know about ABRSM Grade 1 Piano 2019 / 2020 along with some handy practise tips.
Need some more help for the big exam? You can find our ultimate how to learn piano and resources guide here.
The Grade 1 piano exam is broken down into four sections.
Set pieces – the candidate plays three practised piano pieces from the ABRSM Grade 1 Piano 2019 / 2020 syllabus.
Scales and broken chords – the candidate plays a selection of scales and broken chords from the syllabus, as requested by the examiner.
Sight-reading – the candidate plays a piece of music they’ve never seen before.
Aural tests – the candidate listens to the examiner play a passage of music on the piano and then answers questions about it.
We’ll take a closer look at the exam pieces later on. But for now, let’s look in a little more depth at the technical parts of the exam.
Candidates need to know how to play scales in C, G, D and F majors as well as A and D minors. They can play each hand separately but need to play two octaves of each scale.
Examiners may also ask to hear C major contrary motion scale where both hands start at ‘middle C’ and move outwards together.
Broken chords cover all the same keys except D major. Grade 1 chords are adapted for smaller hand spans. Ask your piano tutor or look online for the required pattern.
Candidates have to play a short piece of music which they have not previously seen, and then they have 30 seconds to look through and try out any parts, after the 30 seconds the assessment will begin.
It is composed of either four or six bars. And it will be in keys that the candidate is familiar with.
Candidates have 30 seconds to look at and try out the music before starting to play for assessment.
In the aural test, the examiner will play a short passage of music. Candidates will be asked to do the following four things.
- Clap in time to the music and identify whether it is in two time or three time.
- "Echo" a phrase that has been played by singing it back to the examiner.
- Identify a change in pitch, a place where the music moves higher or lower.
- Answer questions about the dynamics (loud or quiet) or the articulation (smooth or detached) of the piece played.
Don’t be worried about your singing voice! Only pitch is assessed not vocal quality. The examiner will be happy to adapt to the vocal range of the candidate, you can potentially hum or whistle or sing at a different octave if needed!
The examiner gives a mark to each section of the exam.
Set pieces – 30 marks for each piece
Scales and broken chords – 21 marks
Sight reading – 21 marks
Aural test – 18 marks
The total possible mark is 150. A pass is 100 marks. A pass with Merit is 120 marks. And a pass with Distinction is 130 marks.
Examiners are looking for accurate, confident and fluent playing of all exam elements. They want to hear character and style in the chosen set pieces.
And they want a candidate to demonstrate good musical awareness in the aural test.
There are exam centres all around the UK, you can use this link to find your closest centre
Assessments are organised into exam seasons. There are usually 3 per year, Spring is from March to April, Summer season runs in June to July and the Autumn season takes place in November to early December.
Before each season, candidates have to register either online or via post, usually around two months before the start of each season, you can check the exact dates here
The assessments do get more expensive as candidates progress through the grades, as the examinations become more complex and take longer.
As of June 2019
Grade 1 is £41
Grade 2 is £47
Grade 3 is £54
Grade 4 is £60
Grade 5 is £65
Grade 6 is £75
Grade 7 is £80
Grade 8 is £95
So, with all this in mind, how can you best support your child in preparing for the Grade 1 piano exam?
Here are a few tips for helping your child with their piano lessons, practice and the exam:
Little and often is a good approach to piano practise, especially when your child is at Grade 1 level. Encourage your child to play for 10 to 15 minutes every day.
Everyone struggles with motivation from time to time. Rewards and incentives can help. Extra time on the iPad, a trip to their favourite place or just a fun sticker could encourage your child to keep practising.
Familiarise yourself with the different elements of the exam. And speak to your child’s piano tutor about their progress. You’ll then understand which sections require extra practise at home.
If your child is struggling with a particular part of a piece encourage them to stick at it. But when they’re getting frustrated suggest playing a piece they’re familiar with instead. Or doing something else altogether. A short break can work wonders.
Sight reading and the aural test are often the trickiest parts of the exam. Consider purchasing a Grade 1 sight reading practice book so your child can work on their skills outside of their piano lessons. You can also find free aural practice tests online.
When your child goes into their first piano exam they’re likely to feel nervous. Nervous fingers make mistakes. So don’t put too much pressure on them. Encouraging them to try their best will be the best help of all.
Are you taking your Grade 1 Piano exam soon? Take a look at these tips to improve your piano practice and exam preparation:
· Practise really does make perfect. Put aside a little time every day to practice for the exam.
· Find and listen to your piano pieces online. Listening to them can give you a better understanding of how a piece is meant to sound.
· Do you like playing your scales? Or do you prefer playing your pieces? Which is your favourite piece to play? When you’re practising, save the best till last. You’re much more likely to stay motivated if you know your favourite piano playing is still to come.
· On the big day, remember that it’s normal to feel nervous. But don’t let nerves get the better of you. Take your time. Get used to the piano and make sure the stool is at the right height before you start playing.
You have to choose one piece to play from sections A, B and C of the Grade 1 Piano syllabus. For 2019 & 2020 there’s a great selection.
Among beautiful classics like Brahms’ Cradle Song and Air in A Minor by Bach. There’s a piece from the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
When you see a whole piece of music you might wonder how on earth you’re going to learn to play it. But breaking it down with your piano tutor will things will seem much easier.
1. Choose pieces that you like to listen to. It’s easier to learn something when you find it interesting. Ask your piano tutor to play pieces from the syllabus so you can choose your pieces for the exam together.
2. Learn the right and left-hand parts separately. Be patient and play slowly until you’ve learnt the notes.
3. When you can play the right and left-hand parts without making any mistakes, try bringing both hands together. You’ll need to play very slowly again until you’ve got the hang of things.
4. Once you’re able to play the piece with both hands, work on the dynamics. That means playing loudly when you see an f or playing softly when you see a p. Your piano tutor will help you to recognise any dynamic elements in the piece.
5. Now focus on where you are often making mistakes. Try to work out what is going wrong and practice difficult sections again and again.
6. Practice, practice, practice. The more you practice your pieces the better you’ll be able to play them. And the more confident you’ll be on exam day.
Give your child the best possible chance with the right piano tutor and lots of opportunity for practice. We hope this information will help you or your child to prepare for their Grade 1 Piano exam. And for anyone heading into an exam room soon, we wish you all the luck in the world! (although you won’t need it)