Piano Exams

Piano Exams

You might have heard that you can sit piano exams if you're learning the piano. There are  both practical exams in piano (where you play music/scales and answer some listening tests in front of an examiner) and/or theory exams (a written exam which tests you understanding of the language of music.)


Piano exams are run by independent examination boards who are able to give you an assessment and certificate to say that you've reached a particular level on your instrument. The main exam boards that run here in New Zealand are: ABRSM (The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music); Trinity College, NZMEB and ANZCA.

Exam grades

There are typically 9 exam levels - and these are called 'grades'. Initial is the very first level, then grade 1 , running through to grade 8. Once you've achieved grade 8, you can go on and get a Diploma in Music, which gives you a great foundation for teaching/performing.


Anyone can sit a piano exam - and aside from ABRSM who stipulate that you have to have grade 5 theory or practical musicianship before sitting any practical exam higher than grade 6 - you can start on the grade that your teacher feels you're ready for.

How important are piano exams?

When I was learning piano, I found exams to be helpful in giving me a focus. The theory exams provided me with a framework for learning about the language of music that was very valuable.


It's not at all necessary to sit exams if you don't want to! Infact, if your piano lessons are only about preparing for an exam - your learning can potentially be quite limited. I'd much rather my students have a repertoire of 20-30 pieces under their belt by the end of a year, than only 3 pieces - even if they're perfectly played for an exam.


what's involved in sitting a piano exam?

The requirements for piano exams differ depending on which exam board you're sitting your exam with - but typically a piano exam involves learning 3 pieces of music to perform in your exam. You choose these pieces from a list of pieces that are given to you by the examination board.


You also have to prepare some scales and arpeggios (a type of broken chord) and exercises. In addition, there are a couple of supporting tests. These typically involve skills like: sight reading, improvisation, musical knowledge and aural skills.

On the exam day....

Piano exams are usually scheduled during the school day. This means you’ll need to let your child’s school teacher know about the exam. I find that students also tend to do better when they have a calm mind prior to the exam. Sometimes taking the morning off school when the exam is in the afternoon can be beneficial for this.


Exams for early grades are usually between 10-15 minutes long. As the exam level gets higher, the length of the exam also gets longer.

i'd like my child to sit an exam - what do we need to do?

If your child is one of my students -  please let me know that they're keen to do an exam and I'll make sure you have the necessary books/materials.


In my newsletter that goes out prior to the closing date for a particular exam, I'll let you know dates, costs and other information and there'll be a link for you to respond if you/your child would like to sit the exam.


In our lessons, we'll cover the work that's needed to prepare for the exam - and closer to the exam date, you'll be given an exam slip with all the info about the exam on it, and you take that into the exam.


If your child is learning with someone else - make sure their teacher knows that you're keen to do an exam, and they'll explain how they manage exam programmes in their studio.


In my community newsletter I'll be posting handy tips for preparing for piano exams.  You're welcome to sign up for that - and I'd love to have you onboard.