Thinking of taking Grade Exams? Here is a guide to the syllabus options for different Music Grades.

Introduction to this guide

Here at Trishan School of Music, the majority of our music students are kids and adult learners. Everyone has their reasons for learning music and their own set of goals and ambitions. Some people think that the grade exams are just for teenagers and children. However, a growing number of adult learners are also taking to studying for grade exams. The grade exams can be for anyone, whatever their age or level of experience.

As music instructors, we never force the grade exams on anybody, and it is always the student’s decision if they would like to work towards doing an exam.

Some of the reasons people may like to do music exams include:

  •   Accredited certification

    A certificate of your achievement – good for the CV or personal statement.
  •   External assessment

    Appraisal by professionals other than your music instructor.
  •   Monitoring progress

    Know what level you’ve achieved compared to the grade criteria.
  •   Working to a deadline

    Completing the study material and being ready for the exam date.
  •   UCAS points

    Grades 6-8 award additional UCAS points for applying to university
  •   Internationally recognized

    The qualifications go wherever you go in future – anywhere in the world.

Exam Boards

The exam boards offering music grades are compared below in more detail. Here is an introduction to the differences between them.


The ABRSM exam board is more suited to students studying orchestral/classical music because the candidate would need to play one tuned percussion instrument, plus timpani or snare drum. In other words

Trinity College London

Not to be confused with the Trinity Rock & Pop syllabus (this is a different set of books and exams). Trinity’s grade exams are guided by a core philosophy of flexibility, placing the needs of individual candidates at the heart of the exam

Rock & Pop (Trinity)

Rock & Pop is also accredited by Trinity and as the name suggests it is aimed at Rock & Pop. Performance is at the heart of these exams — helping students develop valuable playing skills and achieve their musical ambitions. Rock & Pop allows the candidate to choose the songs for their exam.

London College of Music (LCM)

The London College of Music (LCM) Examinations is an international examinations board offering graded and diploma qualifications in music, drama and communication.

Rockschool (RSL)

Primarily aimed at Rock and Pop, you can plot your stylistic specialism, meaning you’ll develop an in-­depth understanding of your playing style. Rockschool offers the choice of graded exam or performance certificate


Which music grade exam board is best for me?

In India, most students choose the exam board based on the instrument they are playing and their genre of music. Most of the Piano & Violin students choose ABRSM & Trinity. Whereas students pursuing Keyboard, Guitar and other instruments choose Trinity or other exam boards.

The exam boards are internationally-recognized and the exams are available in other countries outside of India. If you are based in another country there might be other music grade exam bodies or the same.


Graded music exams provide a structured framework for progression from beginner to advanced musician. In the United Kingdom, ABRSM graded examinations are QCA-accredited. Candidates may enter any Practical or Music Theory exam grade without having taken any other, though there is a requirement to have passed Grade 5 Theory or Grade 5 Practical Musicianship or Grade 5 in a solo Jazz subject before Grade 6–8 Practical exams can be taken.

The exam boards are internationally-recognized and the exams are available in other countries outside of India. If you are based in another country there might be other music grade exam bodies or the same.

These are by far the most commonly taken exams. Available for over 35 instruments, these exams incorporate four individual components:

  • 3 Set Pieces : The student is required to play three pieces prepared beforehand. These pieces are selected from the current syllabus for the instrument and grade, usually one piece from each of the groups A, B and C.
  • Scales :  Various scales, arpeggios, dominant and diminished 7ths and, for Grades 1–4 only (Grades 1 & 2 for Piano), broken chords, are examined, according to the grade of difficulty.
  • Sight Reading : The student is required to play three pieces prepared beforehand. These pieces are selected from the current syllabus for the instrument and grade, usually one piece from each of the groups A, B and C.
  • Aural : Various exercises are played by the examiner and the student is required to demonstrate skills in listening to and analyzing music, for example clapping the rhythm or singing the melody. At higher grades, students are expected to comment on features of a short piece played by the examiner, including dynamics, phrasing, style and period.
Book Picture

ABRSM website :

Trinity College London

The Trinity Grades are a more “traditional” approach to the exams. The music syllabus offers choice and flexibility to allow candidates to play to their strengths, enabling them to gain recognition for their own unique skills as performers


  • 3 performance pieces – 2 pieces from group A (with backing track) and 1 piece from group B (solo)
  • Technical work
  • Supporting tests – Any 2 of the following:
  • Sight Reading
  • Aural
  • Improvisation
  • Musical Knowledge
Optionally, the candidate can perform their own composition instead of the piece from Group B in the grade book (an unaccompanied piece)
Book Picture

Trinity Website :

Rock & Pop (Trinity)

The Rock & Pop grades use actual commercial songs in their exams – meaning you are examined on some of the greatest songs to learn and play. The song lists feature a huge range of songs spanning all contemporary styles, including “No One Knows” by Queens of the Stone Age, “Smells Like teen Spirit” by Nirvana, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars, “Under The Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers and “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder, and many more famous tracks. You can even play your own compositions provided they are in keeping with the guidelines. With a group of people playing the other instruments in the band, it is even possible to be examined as a band too


  • Song choice 1 – A song chosen from the official songbook played with the backing track
  • Song choice 2 – Either:
    A different song from the official Trinity Rock & Pop songbook.
    A song from the additional repertoire songbook.
    An own choice song.
    A song composed by the candidate.
  • Session Skills – Candidates choose either playback or improvisation. Playback is a combination of an ear test and a sight reading test. Improvisation is a specified style over a backing track. Both tests are unseen and you will have a small amount of time to prepare during the exam.
  • Technical Focus – A song chosen from the official Trinity Rock & Pop songbook played with the backing track. There are specific technical elements to include which gain extra marks. These elements are included in the Rock & Pop syllabus.
Book Picture

Trinity Rock & Pop :

London College of Music (LCM)

The standard graded exams consist of a performance of three pieces, technical work, sight reading, a discussion and aural tests


  • Performance (3 pieces)
  • Technical work
  • Discussion
  • Sight reading
  • Aural tests
Book Picture

LCM Website :

Rockschool (RSL)

With Rockschool there is a choice of doing the Grade Exam or the Performance Certificate. Rockschool pieces are sound-a-like songs in a variety of styles, and there are multiple sections to the exam. Candidates have some flexibility in song choices.


  • 3 performance pieces – 2 of which can be free choice pieces
  • Technical work
  • Sight Reading or Improvisation – Choose which one you would prefer to perform. This will be an unseen test and you will have a small amount of time to prepare during the exam
  • Ear tests – Groove recall and fill recognition.
  • General Musicianship Questions


  • 5 performance pieces – 3 of which can be free choice pPieces “Free choice pieces” means pieces of music which fit certain criteria for your grade level, which are chosen by the candidate (with help from your teacher).
Book Picture

Rockschool RSL website :

Looking for Music classes?

Trishan School of Music provides professional music lessons for all age students at the institute or online. Students follow their own path with a personalized course of lessons to suit their needs, with or without the optional grade exams.

Find Out More


If you have any questions about the music grades or lessons, in general, please don’t hesitate to contact us via

Grade exams are regulated qualifications and are assigned a total qualification time. The total qualification time is the average time a candidate spends with a teacher (guided learning hours) added to the average time spent learning independently. It is recognized that the amount of time needed to commit to a qualification will be dependent on each individual’s level of experience. The guided learning hours for each grade is in the range of 8 to 54 hours, with the independent learning in the range of 32 to 266 hours

To fully get the most out of doing music grade exams the candidate will need to be prepared to put in the required amount of time of both guided learning hours with their tutor, plus the independent learning hours on their own.

For more personalized help and guidance if you are already having music lessons, speak to your tutor. We will be able to advise on which exam board syllabus would be best suited to your needs and how much time is likely to be required to achieve the next grade level. And finally… Just a little boost to finish! We have a 100% pass rate for all students that have taken grade exams, and most of these achieved Distinction or a high Merit mark.