I've been playing piano for a few years as something I take seriously and sing in the school choir just for fun. My piano teacher and choir director semi-frequently compliment me on how quickly I can grasp music theory, but I have no real way of getting an accurate grasp of my progress. Recently, though, I found out about the ABRSM grades 1-8 and many people tend to use this to evaluate their progress. For example, they say if you want to major in music, knowing at least grade six piano music would help a lot.

Out of curiosity I tried googling songs of various difficulties, but different pieces of the same grade seemed to have varied quite a bit, at least with the mid level grades.

To help clear some confusion, could anyone please provide some popular examples of piano music (with images) so I can know what I can expect to see from each grade level, which will hopefully allow me to evaluate my progress a bit better?

Not sure if this helps, but here is the most advanced piano book I am currently working on: http://www.alfred.com/Products/Alfreds-Basic-Adult-Piano-Course-Lesson-Book-3--00-34928.aspx

The website provides no information regarding difficulty, so if anyone is familiar with this book and knows what the highest grade level I can expect is, that would be helpful. I am about 20-30% done with the book and have completed the previous two books in the series (it is book 3 out of 3 btw).

Apologies in advance if this comes off as duplicate, off topic, too broad, unclear, or opinionated (my first question on this site broke one of those rules, so I'm trying to not repeat the same mistake).

Update: Should I decide to take an ABRSM exam, is it something you can do online or does it have to be a face to face sort of thing? Also would I have to start with the grade 1 exam or can I choose any grade I want for the first exam?

  • 2
    "different pieces of the same grade seemed to have varied quite a bit" - if you are looking at "free stuff on the internet", make sure it is the original edition of the music, and not an "easy to play" version. ABRSM publish their own graded collections of pieces (not just the current exam-syllabus pieces) and if they say one of their own books is "grade 4 standard", that means what it says.
    – user19146
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 21:21

3 Answers 3


Not a complete answer, but this might help:

You can find a pdf document here on the abrsm website, which gives full details of the exams, and lists the pieces you need to play to pass at each of the grades 1-8.

It is not possible to take the practical exams online - you have to turn up up at an exam centre and play the pieces in front of an examiner.

There is no need to start at grade 1, and you can skip grades if you want. E.g you could take grade 5 at some time and then take grade 7 next time, if you wish. However, to take any grade above 5 (so 6,7 & 8) in any instrument you must have passed the grade 5 music theory exam. This is to prove you have a good enough understanding of musical theory to be able to understand the pieces you have to play.

It is all explained in the document above, which also explains other requirements, such as scales, arpeggios and aural tests.


There is a more recent version of the ABRSM piano syllabus available on their website.


From memory, I'd rate the one tune shown in Alfred's 3 as around grade 2/3 in ABRSM schedule. You'll have to play, live, 3 selected pieces, usually a baroque/classical, something from romantic sort of era, and a modern piece, to show a spread of styles. Go in at maybe grade 2, to test the water. There is no need to do every exam, but for the first time, it's somewhat an unknown quantity, unless your teacher has first hand knowledge. There are scales and arpeggios, too which sadly don't bear a lot of relationship to the pieces played - which would give relevance to why scales are important; sight reading of a difficulty about the same level as pieces for a couple of grades below, and aural tests, which often get left to just before the exam by some teachers!

As already mentioned, grade 5 theory is needed to take the higher grades, but as a lot of that theoretical stuff will crop up as you progress, it wouldn't hurt to just take grade 5 as and when - a sit and write exam in a town hopefully near you.

Ball park times seem to be around a year to prepare for most people, but obviously that varies. The examiners are, in my opinion, fairly stringent, and pieces are expected to be pretty well perfect,(as writ) which means practising them to death. However, they are a well respected yardstick in a lot of countries.


The ABRSM syllabus is very well put together. Each piece in a specific grade may test different particular parts of your instrument's technique. There may be a specific technique that you struggle with that may give you the impression that it is harder while the other piece that tests a skill you have already mastered may feel to you easier.

The modern piece I know sometimes has unusual rhythms that you can struggle with, while I personally struggle sometimes with the correct interpretation of the ornamentation when it comes to Baroque pieces.

There is also slow pieces that are easier to play tempo-wise but they are a page longer than pieces that are a bit more complicated but shorter. So it all evens out in the end.

Update: Should I decide to take an ABRSM exam, is it something you can do online or does it have to be a face to face sort of thing? Also would I have to start with the grade 1 exam or can I choose any grade I want for the first exam?

When I started singing, I trained for a while to get my technique proper and afterwards I started working on Grade 4 repertoire, but this may very well be somewhat of a unique case seeing as I already had many years of musical training under my belt, so I was not completely green.

A teacher that has intimate knowledge on ABRSM various grades for your instrument will be a great asset to you, in deciding where on the graded exams totem pole you currently are.

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