I've just completed my grade 8 piano ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in the United Kingdom) exam with distinction. Which diploma should I take next, Trinity's ATCL (Associate, Trinity College, London) or dipABRSM (Diploma of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music)? What's the difference and what do people mostly take?

See also: What are the ABRSM graded examinations, and why would one want to take them?

  • Could you please provide some details about what all these long acronyms mean? I've never heard of any of them. Are they particular to some education system in a particular country?
    – user1044
    Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 13:24
  • 2
    music.stackexchange.com/questions/5215/instrument-grade-exams - the grade system is widely recognised in many countries. Not including, apparently, the USA. Where they are recognised, they are so endemic to formal music education (as opposed to the no-sheet-music kind) that we find it hard to imagine having to explain.
    – slim
    Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 14:08
  • 1
    Congrats on your Grade 8! Don't forget that there's a third option - don't do a diploma! Are you doing a diploma for a reason? If not, and you're just doing it for "fun" then just go with the one which has the most interesting syllabus in your opinion. If you're doing it as a stepping stone to something even higher (a Masters degree? a job?) then look closely at the requirements and choose the one that fits best.
    – Widor
    Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 14:25
  • Thank you, slim. But please realize that many users of this site are not in the UK or the Commonwealth and we don't know what you are talking about. I have tried to edit the question to explain what these bewildering acronyms actually stand for.
    – user1044
    Commented Mar 15, 2013 at 15:36

4 Answers 4


You need to think about why you want the qualification.

  • Do you want it as a pre-requisite for entry into an educational establishment?
  • Do you want it in order to get professional work?
  • Do you just like collecting qualifications?

In all of these cases, I honestly believe the qualifications are pretty much equivalent. There aren't colleges or employers who would accept one qualification, but not the other. You might yourself think of one as having more prestige than the other - but that's a gut-feel Pepsi/Coke distinction that only you can evaluate.

However, don't take my word for it. Ask the employers and colleges that you're interested in what qualifications they look for.

Alternatively, you might not care for the certificate at the end, only being interested in the actual skills you learn in getting there. In that case you need to look at each syllabus in detail (they should be openly available), and see which one involves learning the skills you want to develop.

One big factor, is your teacher -- assuming you are using one. Your teacher may well have a preferred qualification, for which they know the syllabus, and with which they have experience teaching.


ATCL and dipABRSM are considered to be the same level. Another one like this is ALCM. Many people regard them as a kind of grade 9.

In terms of music qualifications the dip ABRSM and ATCL are not considered to be "real" diplomas as they are too easy. I took ALCM 35 years ago as a practise run for a real diploma. This is how my teacher described it then.

These days professional players do not take diplomas, so it is difficult to say which most people take, as you don't tend to see them on concert programmes or in other public documents. Also dip ABRSM and ATCL are not considered to be "real" diplomas because they are too easy so most people don't have them as their top music qualification and so don't mention them on their list of music qualifications.

If someone asked me which one to take I would suggest the cheapest, because the levels are the same.


They're both pretty equivalent in terms of standard and application - however I believe the more common of the two is the ABRSM one, at least in the UK everyone I know personally has taken that route rather than Trinity.

Take that information how you will, I don't think there's a bad route, but going with the more popular alternative often (not always) equates to the more recognised alternative.


Well done on grade 8 pno !!I passed mine about 45 yrs ago, and didn't continue with dips, etc. I felt that the exam system (and still feel) is good but doesn't broaden one's horizons much past 'formal' playing.It restricted my playing to set pieces, because the next exam had to be tackled, leaving me no time to play other sorts of music - there's only 24 hrs in a day !

If you have ONLY been through the exam courses, take a break and learn - some jazz, swing, whatever other kind of music denied you by ABRSM !!

If you feel you need the qualification to become a teacher, think again.Even if one is a brilliant player, it won't necessarily make them a brilliant teacher.Some of the best teachers have no paper qualifications, although if they wanted to work for an authority as in schools, etc., it would slow them down.

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