In Britain, many people learning instruments (especially classical ones) do grades in them. The most common organisation to do with grades with is ABRSM, but there are others, e.g. Trinity Guildhall, RockSchool and the Registry of Guitar Tutors. How do grades with each compare in difficulty and what you are asked to do?

  • Interesting! In theory, each grade will be similar (in playing achievement) for all instruments and comparable boards. E.g. grade V flute ABRSM compared with grade V RGT acoustic compared with grade V electric Rockschool compared with grade V piano Trinity. Unless someone has experience with several exam boards, and different instruments, it's going to be a tricky one to answer. I only experience RGT electric, acoustic and bass, and ABRSM piano, and know there can be big differences in expectation and content, and also amount of effort (therefore time) needed for those. Notwithstanding ability
    – Tim
    Dec 16, 2014 at 18:28
  • The biggest difference I believe is that ABRSM require you to hold Grade 5 Music Theory, before progressing on to Grades 6-8 on any instrument. Accordingly, they have the reputation of being the most rigorous exams - but how much that depends on the actual content, rather than that single requirement, I don't know.
    – Chris
    Dec 16, 2014 at 18:57
  • @Chris - That's true - RGT and Rockschool have no similar requirement, although RGT has modern theory exams available through LCM.
    – Tim
    Dec 16, 2014 at 19:10
  • Trinity seems to offer more flexibility than ABRSM in terms of letting you choose to do scales or aural or other alternatives, although when I did grade 7 jazz clarinet with them they seemed much less professional than ABRSM (they had a poor quality stand that collapsed during one of my pieces!)
    – rlms
    Dec 16, 2014 at 21:17
  • 1
    @sweenyrod - that was part of the test. Can he carry on while world war III is starting!!
    – Tim
    Dec 17, 2014 at 18:02

3 Answers 3


I don't have experience with RGT. But I have taken both ABRSM and Trinity exams. Although ABRSM do require a Grade 5 pass before continuing any practical Grade 6-8, Trinity do have extra exercises required for the grade that ABRSM don't have. Therefore I would say they are around about the same in terms of difficulty up through the grades.

ABRSM exams require -

  • 3 pieces played in full (with accompaniment if a solo instrument)
  • A selection of scales to be played from memory, legato and staccato in higher grades.
  • A short extract of music to be played at sight on exam day usually 2 grades lower than the grade you will be studying
  • An aural test, testing rhythm, note recollection etc

Trinity exams require -

  • 3 pieces played in full (with accompaniment if a solo instrument)
  • 3 exercises to be studied
  • A selection of scales played from memory (legato/staccato/loud/soft)
  • Sight reading A short extract of music to be played at sight on exam day usually 2 grades (optional choice in lower grades)
  • An aural test, testing rhythm, note recollection etc
  • Musical Knowledge (only available in lower grades
  • Improvisation : improvise to chords or melodic stimulus

I have also had experience with Rockschool (RSL) and generally the syllabus is the same although sight reading is slightly more difficult as it is to a specific tempo.

All syllabi/syllabuses are available online to view in PDF format:

(it is down to the exam centre to provide suitable exam equipment and location not the exam board, an exam centre could be your local church or school for instance)


I've heard of the ABRSM and I know that their grades are equivalent to the US schools and Canadian schools. I live in Toronto, Canada, so we have the RCM (Royal Conversatory of Music). I will explain what the requirements are for the RCM and then you can compare and contrast that with your system. The following overview is from the perspective of the piano program, although many other instruments follow the same sort of organization.

10 grades in total. After you finish grade 10, there are two options; ARCT Teachers (if you plan on learning the pedagogy associated with becoming a teacher) and ARCT Performers. The latter is harder and requires the student to play 6 pieces. The exam usually takes around an hour, depending on the length of pieces selected. Pieces range from the Baroque up until 20th Century music. Each piece is from a different era (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic, Modern).

Just as an example, grade 1 pieces involve a 2 to 3 octave range, but the note resolution does not go below 16th notes. Common time signatures are 4/4, 6/8 and 3/4. 32nd notes are generally seen as early as grade 6 or 7. Sonatas by Beethoven, Chopin, etc are common place by around grade 8. Moonlight Sonata is considered an ARCT level piece due to the complexity and speed of the 3rd movement for example.

Exam Sections
There are a few components to each exam. This does not apply to ARCT Performers, it's simply a performance exam. Grade 1 through 10 involve an increasing amount of technique (scales, triads, etc), ear training (intervals, chords) and sight reading/clapping. Grade 1 may include only a handful of keys (the easier ones like C major, G major, etc), whereas grade 10 involves all 12 keys for each exercise type. The addition of new keys gradually progresses from grade 1 through 10.

Grades 1 through 10 requires 60% to pass. If you plan on going for your ARCT, you need at least a 75% overall or 70% in each section (technique, ear training, pieces, etc).

In order to receive a certificate for grade 5 and above, the student will need to complete a certain combination of theory and history courses. The list can be found here. Obviously, grade 10 requires ALL theory and history courses to be completed before a certificate is awarded for the piano exam.

In general, most people finish this program within 10 to 20 years. I started it when I was 5 and finished by the time I was 21, but I had several friends who took only about 12 years to complete it. Like anything, it depends on how much you practise.

  • That sounds pretty similar to ABRSM, except with 2 extra grades. I think they also have diplomas in either teaching or performing after grade 8.
    – rlms
    Dec 24, 2014 at 19:19
  • 1
    I guess 10 is a nice round number for the number of levels necessary to finish. Perhaps it's just a money maker...it's probably the later.
    – 02fentym
    Dec 24, 2014 at 19:33

There's a direct comparison at these links between ABRSM, Trinity and London College specifications and marking criteria. They are excellent articles written by an ABRSM examiner who used to examine for Trinity:

https://serenademagazine.com/series/music-education/get-music-exam-distinction-part-2 https://serenademagazine.com/series/music-education/how-to-get-a-music-exam-distinction-part-3

  • Hi Roland - as it stands, this answer won't get many votes as it is just links. If you can add in a brief summary or synopsis of the two, that would help make this a valuable answer and get you upvotes.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    May 8, 2017 at 10:34

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