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Advice for practical and theory examinations

Pupils who are working hard to make progress on their instrument (or singing) may want a way of recognising their success and reassurance that they are on the right track with their performance and theory skills.

Examinations such as those provided by the examination boards ABRSM or Trinity Guildhall offer an internationally recognised standard benchmark of achievement and are accredited by the regulatory authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as part of the National Qualifications Framework.

The Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) therefore includes results at Grades 6−8 in the tariff for university entrance.       

If your child is interested in taking an exam, they should ask their instrumental/vocal teacher for more details. Just like other public exams, parents don't organise things directly themselves with the examination boards. 

Instrumental and vocal practical exams

There are usually four elements to the examination:

  • Exam pieces - these are pieces of music set by the exam board, appropriate for assessment at each grade level. 
  • Scales and arpeggios or technical studies - these may need to be played from memory and increase in complexity with each higher grade level. 
  • Sight reading - this assesses the candidate's ability to read and play music they have not seen before. 
  • Aural tests - these can include singing back phrases, sight singing, identifying modulations, and discussing a piece of music played by the examiner.

Theory Exams

As instrumental skills progress, development in music theory and musicianship becomes increasingly important in helping students to perform with sensitivity, understanding and confidence. 

ABRSM's Music Theory exams aim to give students a thorough understanding of the building blocks of music, starting with the basics of rhythm and notes, and going on to cover harmony, composition, and a broad knowledge of western music, including composers and their works, structure, style and period. 

Most of our music centres offer music theory classes. Please contact your local music centre for further details.


The fees for examinations vary according to the grade being taken (and vary between exam boards). Most exams also require a piano accompanist to play along with the candidate's exam pieces. Your child's instrumental/vocal teacher can often help with this, but often this incurs an additional cost. 

Tips for exam success

As ever, regular practice of all elements of the examination, and regular attendance at lessons are essential to reach the required standard. 

The exam pieces usually go well during the examination. However, the other three elements are also important and unless prepared comprehensively, candidates can needlessly lose marks in those areas.

Joining a music centre ensemble will help greatly in building confidence, improving intonation and in developing fluent sight reading skills.

Syllabuses and exam guides

More information, including syllabuses and guide to exams, can be found by using the following links to the websites of the exam boards: