I've been learning theory for many years. I'm self taught using lots of great books (many from ABRSM). My reasons for learning theory wasn't to become good at playing an instrument. I'm a software developer who develops applications relating to theory. I also study and research many different genres which requires me to be able to read music, and understand tonal harmony. I am a musician, but I'm by far no pianist.

I'd like to start taking the theory exams only, without doing the practical exams. At some point I may decide to do the practical exams, but not right now.

Is this possible or does ABRSM require practical exams to progress through the theory exams?

2 Answers 2


With the regime of ABRSM, it's necessary to pass grade V theory before taking VI, VII and VIII practical, on any instrument, but the other way round isn't a problem. You can take whatever you like, theory-wise. Not all exam boards have this stipulation in place. However, like with so many other theoretical things, it would tend to make more sense if there was a tangible instrument to try certain aspects of the theory out with.

  • Thanks for the information. To note I do play piano, and make my own music, I just don't play fluently. Aug 9, 2017 at 13:45
  • 2
    Of course it makes sense to "try out" topics like 4-part harmony on an instrument while you are learning them, but the real "point" of learning the theory is to be able to write down the music that you are imagining in your head without needing an instrument to hunt and peck for the notes! You won't find any instruments in the actual ABRSM examination room, of course - they are usually held in school or college "exam room" conditions for a group of students.
    – user19146
    Aug 9, 2017 at 17:26
  • @alephzero - there's an awful lot more to the point of learning theory than being able to write down music. Take a look at the theory syllabus. Also LCM syllabus covers modern music in plenty of ways other than writing it down - modern history for one. It's a lot broader than one would think.
    – Tim
    Aug 9, 2017 at 21:53

You are allowed to take theory exams regardless of whether you are learning an instrument.

The reason it is in place the other way around is to ensure that people doing grades 6 or higher on an instrument know music theory to at least grade 5 standard.

  • To take practical grade V, one doesn't need any theory exam passed, with ABRSM, only VI+.
    – Tim
    Aug 9, 2017 at 13:50
  • @Tim oh right, I'm not sure why I thought it was 5
    – Aric
    Aug 9, 2017 at 13:52

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