• Piano Grade | What Are Piano Grades?

    Piano Grades Explained: What is a Piano Grade? Grades and Levels | Blanch Music Dublin

    Welcome! I’m John from Blanch Music. A question I often get when people are signing up for Piano lessons or have been taking them with us for a while is about Graded Exams or Piano Grades. The purpose of this article is to dispel any confusion by providing clarity on Piano Exams. It will help you gain insight into the grading systems used in piano pedagogy and how these benchmarks apply to both students and teachers. Read on to gain a deeper understanding of piano grading.

    Defining the Basic Piano Grade: The Foundation of All Piano Grades

    Where does it start? Well for most students we would normally look at grades after a term or two. There a number of factors to take into account but the earliest levels, pre-grade 1 can be started after a couple of terms. 

    Mastering piano, from the simplest composition to the most intricate pieces in the highest piano grade starts from the very first page of your very first book. A grasp of the basic piano grades ensures a firm footing for progress in practical playing, enabling learners to improve at a steady pace, adding layers of complexity and proficiency to their skills. Understanding and excelling in the practical grades is not just about progressing; it’s about enjoying the journey of piano learning. When you engage in piano exams, the first step is likely to be at the basic grade, although you can skip grades if you like.

    This level focuses on understanding the essential principles of playing the piano. The practical piano aspects covered at this grade include hand position, understanding of keys, and playing simple melodies. This initial grade paves the way for subsequent piano exams, laying down solid ground from which a learner can soar to higher piano grades.

    Navigating the basic piano grade, reaching higher piano grades, and rising from one grade to the next involves dedication, practice, and passion. Each piano grade builds on the last, refining technical ability and building musical perception. This journey from the basic piano grade, through the intermediate, to the advanced piano examinations, unveils the fascinating progression of skills and the thrill that comes with each new discovery on the piano. Truly, piano exams do not merely test skills; they nurture the love for music and the joy of artistic expression.

    Exams consist of Three main parts; these make you your final Mark

    Part 1: Practical Skills of playing the 3 selected pieces from either an Exam Book (or Album). There’s pieces are normally from a list of 6 – 12 songs where you as the candidate get to choose. Some examination boards allow you to choose from a series of different books, again normally from a list of recommended pieces based on the level/grade of your exam. Another option which isn’t frequently exercised in Free Choice Pieces, each exam board will have their own Policy for these songs.

    Part 2: Scales & Arpeggios, each level of the exams will have specific Scales to preform. There is normally a list on the syllabus (Between 6 to over 100) which the candidate will learn, during the examination the examiner will request 3 or more to be preformed in during the exam. In the early levels the scales will be simpler and as you build out your repertoire of Scales they will become more complex by adding in Flats/Sharps and elements like Contra-motion. Arpeggios are also listed and like the scales they become more complex as you progress through the examination.

    Part 3: Theory & Musicianship, This part of the exam is where students will be ask Theory Questions about some of the songs they have preformed along with other theory questions set out in the syllabus from the exam board. In some cases you can attain automatic points in this section by taking an independent theory exam. You may also be asked to repeat a musical phrase rhythmically or by singing in back to the examiner.  

    General Marking Scheme*:

    Distinction 90+

    Honours 75 – 89

    Merit 55 – 74 

    Pass 40 – 54

    Unsuccessful  <40

    *Some Exam boards differ, for example Trinity do not have an Honours Marking.

    Establishing a Practical Piano Basis: Importance of Basic Piano Grade

    Understanding the practical piano journey begins with mastering the basic piano grade. This primary level offers a fundamental understanding of the piano mechanism; it’s the cornerstone where all subsequent piano grades are built.

    There is also another great reason to start at the earliest grade. It gives the student, young or old, an introduction the exam process. From signing up, preparing for the grade, going to an exam centre (if it’s not your own school) and then doing the exam.

    Whether it’s a young child just starting out or an adult discovering the piano’s allure, everyone embarks on their musical journey the basic grades start in a gentle fashion.

    Understanding the basic piano principles; from hand positioning to rhythm comprehension. The importance of it is undeniable in the broader framework of piano examinations.

    Piano exams often seem daunting, but they provide a structured framework for learners’ progression. The first grades dispel alot of the unknown for students, they get to meet a friendly face in the exam room.

    Each exam grade is a stepping stone into more complex playing techniques, musical theory understanding, and interpretive skills. Therefore, it’s crucial to take time mastering each piano exam before advancing to the next.

    Grade exams are great checkpoint or benchmark on any piano learner’s journey. They help measure progress, set tangible goals, and provide the necessary feedback for improvement. In the world of piano exams, practical grades — those that assess actual piano playing skills — are of utmost importance. These exams test the technical proficiency and interpretation of the student, giving a well-rounded perspective of their competency level. From their very first practical piano exam, students begin to obtain a sense of their abilities and areas that need further nurturing.

    In conclusion, the basic piano exam grade is a great experience for any student even if you only take one. Any grade tests the students ability to preform, understand musicality, grasp music Theory and builds your piano repertoire. 

    How Many Piano Grades Are there?

    Well, in essence, there are typically eight piano grades. Most modern Examination boards now offer a 9th or Pre-Grade 1 Exam (Debut, Preliminary or Initial).

    For the most part this system has been adopted globally with Grade 8 being the top grade. There are options after this like Diplomas and in some cases there are recital competitions such as Bronze, Silver & Gold from the RIAM.

    These highly-regarded piano grades, delineated by exams, are meticulous processes designed to gauge a musician’s capabilities. Passing each grade signifies mastering a specific level of piano playing. Typically, a piano student starts with the Debut/Preliminary or Initial, and then progressively, a new layer of complexity is introduced with each subsequent piano grade.

    The Exam can be rigorous, but they serve a good purpose. Not only do they provide students with tangible goals to work towards but also offer valuable benchmarks for their progression. As students advance in their piano grades, they foster a deeper understanding of their instrument and the craft behind its melodious harmony. It’s an ascending ladder. Every rung or grade reached, aids in the shaping and refining of a student’s skill set.

    Be it grade one or grade eight, each piano exam embodies a unique set of challenges and accomplishments. The basic piano grade works as the foundation upon which all piano grades are built, and it’s incredibly important for establishing a practical piano basis. But remember, the crux of these piano grades isn’t to instill fear of exams. Instead, they’re meant to inspire a sense of achievement and measurable growth. So, brace yourself for every exam and soar through the international platform of piano grades with grace and aplomb.

    Another thing to take into account is that some UK examination boards have a system in place where your music exams count towards UCAS Points, in Ireland there is no such calculation but some colleges may require a certain level / Grade as an entry requirement to B.Mus Degrees. 

    Navigating Advanced Piano: The Transition from Basic to Higher Piano Grades

    Navigating through advanced piano lessons can initially seem complicated, as you’re transitioning from basic piano grades up to higher piano grades. This transition is very much akin to moving from the shallow end of a swimming pool to the deeper parts. At an advanced piano level, the complexity and depth of piano pieces played are significantly higher.

    The theories learnt in basic piano grades are expanded upon, thus providing opportunities to experiment creatively with chord structure, harmony, and fingering.

    Preparing for a piano exam requires a depth of knowledge of the piano different from casual playing. In these exams, you will face complex tasks like sight-reading and performing intricate pieces, requiring in-depth understanding acquired from previous piano grades.

    Progressing from one grade to another is not just about passing the necessary piano exams. It is a systematic advancement of your skills and comprehension of piano music, each grade building incrementally on the knowledge and abilities developed in the preceding grade.

    However, it is important to note that patience is a virtue in this process. Moving too quickly through the grades without a firm grasp of the previous grade’s knowledge could be detrimental to achieving competency in advanced piano playing.

    The earliest Grades take anywhere between 6 months to a year to complete. From around Grade 2 – 5 it takes about a year to prepare and 6+ can take anywhere between 18 months to 3 years to prepare for.

    Understanding Highest Piano Grade: An Overview of the Ultimate Achievement

    Reaching the highest piano grade represents the pinnacle of a student’s journey in piano grade progression. When we talk about this accomplishment, it’s no longer simply about playing the piano; it’s about showcasing control, precision, and expressivity that one has developed over many years of piano study.

    This grade tests not just your ability to play the piano, but also your deep understanding of the intrinsic nuances of piano music. It’s a grade that cements your competency and proficiency in piano playing.

    Passing the highest piano grade isn’t just about technicality but also about the ability to interpret and convey music’s emotional depth. The expectations here far exceed the earlier piano grades, and students at this level are expected to deliver nuanced performances comparable to a concert pianist.

    Piano exams for the highest grade are quite demanding and calls for an extensive repertoire. The required pieces often include complex works from different eras, testing the student’s ability to express different musical styles and mastery over the piano. Here, a high grade signifies a comprehensive understanding of piano music and its diverse dimensions.

    Having completed Grade 8 you may take the option to undertake a Teaching Diploma. This allows you to teach in a private institution, start your own teaching business and encourage others through the power of music.

    Do Grade Levels Indicate Musical Proficiency?

    When you begin learning the piano, you might wonder if your piano grade truly indicates your musical proficiency. Simply put, the answer is yes. Each piano grade represents a specific level of skill and understanding. They provide a structured framework, designed to gradually improve your abilities over time.

    Let’s consider the basic piano grade, the foundation of all piano grades, as an example. This introductory grade ensures a basic understanding of the instrument and its technique, which is a crucial benchmark for further learning. Advancing through each grade means a student acquiring and mastering more complex skills; thus, your grade corresponds directly to your proficiency.

    However, it’s important to note that simply passing a grade doesn’t necessarily equate to having all the knowledge at that level. Full musical proficiency also draws on multiple areas such as theory comprehension, performance experience, and expressive understanding, which are not always reflected in a numerical grade.

    Furthermore, there are a considerable number of piano grades. Generally, the transition from basic to higher piano grades involves navigating more intricate pieces, showcasing a greater level of technical and interpretive competence. Yet, even at these advanced grades, there can still be gaps in knowledge or technique. Thus, emphasising the importance of a holistic approach.

    Lastly, attaining the highest piano grade is often seen as the ultimate achievement, indicating a prestigious level of musical proficiency. Yet, the journey shouldn’t stop there. As musicians, our goal should always be to strive for continual learning and refinement, beyond any grade.

    Grades in Ireland

    In Ireland we have a couple of domestic examination boards such as The Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) or Lenister School. We also have a number of international examination boards who operate in Ireland. These include the ABRSM (Assoicated Board of Royal Schools of Music), RSL Awards (Rockschool), LCM, Trinity Guildhall and more.

    The Examination boards from the UK (ABRSM, RSL Etc) are all regulated by the United Kingdoms Ofqual. In Ireland we don’t necessarily have an oversight board but we do closely follow the UK examinations. This means that you shouldn’t have a big difference between the knowledge needed to complete the exam, the syllabus should be roughly similar and the performance will require the level of skill. Improvisation skills should  be similar also. 

    UK examination boards operating in Ireland will use specific exam centres to host an exam session. If you are part of a school or your teacher has a specific number of candidates then the exam board my use that location for the exams. 

    Typically there are about 3 times per year when exam will happen for Face to face (in person) exams. There is the Winter Session, in the 2 months before Christmas. The Pre-Easter Session, this one can vary depending on how early/or late Easter Falls and then the summer Sessions. Online Exams have specific cut off dates also, you can see these dates on Exam Boards websites. You may require some support for Online Exams as each board has their own policy in relation to how they recorded.

    At present the most popular Exam Boards in Ireland is the Royal Irish Academy of Music, they conduct somewhere in the region of 40,000+ Exams across a range of instruments such as Piano, Guitar, Singing, Musical Theatre and a wide range of other instruments as well as Drama. The Associated Board comes in second with others such as LCM,Trinity, Lenister Board etc coming in behind them.


    Royal Irish Academy of Music | RIAM

    The Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) is a beacon of musical excellence in Ireland’s thriving music scene.

    Established with a mission to promote, nurture, and develop musical talent, RIAM has been the foundation for many aspiring musicians. Here, both the basics and complexities of music are taught with utmost care and dedication.

    RIAM’s grading system considered as the touchstone of piano musical proficiency in Ireland. The grades start from the Elementary Grade, a vital step that lays the groundwork for more complex musical techniques. Establishing a practical piano basis is key to moving up the piano grade levels and to truly master the art of music.

    There are 11 Grades from the RIAM, starting with Elementary, Preliminary & Primary to Grade 8. EPP are all pre-Grade 1, the books from EPP to Grade 5 are changed every year. Grades 6 onwards are all  changed every 3 years. Normally the syllabus launch in June. 

    The Academy has 3 Exam Periods; Winter, Spring & Summer. For the full list of Exam Dates & Fee’s see here.

    Associated Board of Royal Music Schools | ABRSM

    The Associated Board of Royal Music Schools, or ABRSM as it’s more commonly known, is a world-renowned body in the field of music. It offers comprehensive exams, assessing the competency at different grade levels. These grade exams, specifically the piano exams, are highly respected and notable in the world of music.

    ABRSM piano exams are not merely tests. They provide a structured framework for learning music and piano. As a student progresses from one grade to another, they develop their music skills in a comprehensive, constructive manner.

    The ABRSM Follows a similar path timeframe to the RIAM for Exam Dates; Winter, Spring & Summer. For a full list of ABRSM Dates & Fees see here.

    RSL Awards | Rockschool

    RSL Awards where established in 1991 to offer an alternative examinations process. The approach from RSL (then known as Rockschool) offer music exams through Rock,Pop & Modern Music. 

    As with the RIAM & ABRSM there are 8 regular grades and Pre-Grade 1, Entry Level 3 or Debut Grade. RSL exams operate Globally. 

    Since their formation RSL have become well regarded among Irish Music Teachers & Schools. 

    RSL have a “Understanding Your Marking Sheet” Blog available to see how you can optimise your exam. The Blog is on their Singapore site but the main thrust is the same. 

    RSL Exam periods follow the same calendar as both the RIAM and ABRSM; Winter, Spring & Summer.

    Trinity Guildhall

    Trinity Guildhall, a longstanding institution in the realm of music, offers a robust and comprehensive piano grading system. Trinity Guildhall’s grades are designed to gauge the musician’s prowess across a broad spectrum of piano pieces, each grade being a significant milestone on the journey of piano mastery. Understanding the unique grading system that Trinity Guildhall uses can provide invaluable insights into a musician’s proficiency level with the piano. Much like the grades of other prominent music entities, such as Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) and Associated Board of Royal Music Schools (ABRSM), Trinity Guildhall’s grades and exams are key barometers of musical progression.

    Like the other exam boards mention in this article Trinity have 8 Main grades with 1 Pre-Grade 1 Exam, Initial. The syllabus is closer to the ABRSM & RIAM with Classical Pieces, they also offer a Pop & Rock Syllabus like RSL. 

    Trinity have a really great Blog on their site about how to work towards that distinction. 

    The Comprehensive Guide to Piano Grades: Final Thoughts

    Understanding piano grades is integral to any aspiring pianist’s journey. As we’ve mentioned, these piano grades provide the bedrock from establishing a practical piano basis, completing a basic piano grade, and making the transition from the basic to the higher piano grades. Every piano grade level is a profound milestone, from the lower levels to the highest piano grade, each indicating a new level of musical proficiency.

    However, it’s important to note that piano grades don’t solely determine musical proficiency. There’s a subtle beauty in adendl – the process of constant learning and improving skills outside of the defined piano grades. It’s the daily practice, the hours at the piano keys, performing and listening to other piano performances that build a pianist.

    With a variety of exam boards to choose from my suggestion is to take a look at the type of music you are going to be playing. Exam Grades take many years to complete so you want to be enjoying the music you are going to be focusing on. 

    No matter which exam board you will have to complete the technical elements and understand music theory, musicianship and the practical skill.  

    Why Find Qualified Teachers: Their Role in Navigating Piano Grades

    Piano grades, each vital in their unique way, are the stepping stones in the journey of piano mastery. Qualified teachers play an unparalleled role in ensuring smooth navigation through these grades. Every set of piano grades presents its own challenges and understanding these can be overwhelming without help from qualified teachers. The ability of the teacher to convey essential skills, from the basic piano grade to advanced and the highest piano grade, is pivotal.

    If you’re looking to truly elevate your piano proficiency, qualified teachers can guide you, from understanding the foundation of all piano grades to tackling the complexities of higher piano grades.

    In Ireland, institutions such as the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Associated Board of Royal Music Schools, RSL Awards, Rockschool, and Trinity Guildhall are recognized for a comprehensive approach to piano grades.

    Following any of the above exam boards with a teacher will expand your knowledge and help your enjoy your musical journey. 


    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    The grading system for learning the piano is typically categorized into eight levels, each signifying different proficiency levels. This structure is adopted globally and provides a reliable measure of a student’s progress. A student typically begins with the Debut/Preliminary or Initial, and gradually, a new layer of complexity is introduced with each subsequent piano grade

    Piano grades play a crucial role in a student’s learning journey. They provide a structured framework for progression, offering a measurable way of setting goals and obtaining necessary feedback for improvement. From a student’s first practical piano exam, they begin to understand their abilities and areas that require further development. Passing each grade signifies mastering a specific proficiency level in piano playing.
    Q: What does a piano exam typically include?

    Piano exams usually consist of three parts: Practical Skills, Scales & Arpeggios, and Theory & Musicianship. In the Practical Skills portion, students perform selected pieces. Scales & Arpeggios assess the student’s ability to perform specific scales and arpeggios. Theory & Musicianship involves answering theory questions about performed songs and other theory questions from the syllabus. Q: How many piano grades are there?
    There are generally eight piano grades. However, most modern Examination boards now offer a 9th or Pre-Grade 1 Exam (Debut, Preliminary, or Initial).
    Qualified teachers play a critical role in guiding students through different piano grades. They help ensure smooth transition from one grade to the next, assist in developing essential skills and concepts at each grade, and inspire a deeper love for music. They guide students from understanding the foundation of all piano grades to tackling the complexities of higher grades.

    Thinking About Taking Piano Lessons?

    Hope you found some valuable information in this articel. If you are interested in taking Piano Lessons check out more information about our Piano Lesson here

    McDonald Side – M3

    • We are located on Porter’s Road in Coolmine Industrial Estate. From Blanchardstown Shopping Centre (McDonalds Side) follow R121 / Blanchardstown Road to the large roundabout at the end of Millennium Park (right-hand side).
    • Take the Left (You Will See PowerCity), Follow R843 to a small roundabout and turn Right.
    • Take the first Right after Petrol Station,
    • Follow Porters Road down until the road curves left (PowerCity on your right) and take right-hand turn after PowerCity.
    • Our school is above the Fruit & Veg Store, entrance to the left.

    Blanchardstown Village Side

    • We are located on Porter’s Road in Coolmine Industrial Estate. From Blanchardstown Village follow R843 Snugborough Road past the back of the Shopping Centre, through the roundabout and through the set of lights (See Coolmine Sports Centre on your right).
    • Turn left at the small roundabout.
    • Take the first Right after Petrol Station, follow Porters Road down until the road curves left (PowerCity on your right).
    • Take the right-hand turn after PowerCity.
    • Our school is above the Fruit & Veg Store, entrance to the left.