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ARSM syllabus

This document provides the most important information that candidates need to know when preparing for the ARSM exam.

Other information about the ARSM exam (and answers to frequently asked questions) can be found below.

Quick links

Eligibility to enter

Is there an upper or lower age limit?

There are no upper or lower age limits.

Do I need to have a previous qualification to take ARSM?

Candidates do need to have passed ABRSM Grade 8 in the instrument being presented. A number of alternative qualifications are also accepted in place of an ABRSM Grade 8. Similarly, a Grade 8 in a closely-related instrument is accepted (see below for further information).

For more information on how ARSM moves candidates on from Grade 8, here is an explanatory video.

I don’t have ABRSM Grade 8 but have another qualification. Can I still take ARSM?

As an alternative to the ABRSM Grade 8 prerequisite for entry to ARSM, we will accept the following qualifications:

Grade 8 Practical from:

  • Trinity College London
  • London College of Music
  • Guildhall School of Music & Drama
  • Royal Irish Academy of Music
  • Dublin Institute of Technology Conservatory of Music & Drama
  • Australian Music Examinations Board
  • University of South Africa

We will also accept Grade 9 Practical from The Royal Conservatory of Music [Canada].

Please note that:

  • We will only accept qualifications in classical music performance.
  • We will only accept those qualifications listed above; it will not be possible to substitute qualifications or experience that may be at the same or a higher level.
  • Candidates presenting one of the above alternative qualifications do not need to have a theory qualification.

We may request a copy of the certificate or other supporting documentation. If documentation cannot be provided when requested, or if a candidate is found to not have one of the specific qualifications listed above, their exam entry will be rejected without refund of the fee.

I'm waiting for my Grade 8 results; can I book an ARSM exam?

ABRSM Grade 8 (or listed alternative - see above) must have been passed before the ARSM exam closing date.

I took Grade 8 years ago. Is it still valid?

Yes, there are no time limits on the validity of the Grade 8 prerequisite.

Can ARSM be taken on a different instrument to the one I have a Grade 8 in?

Yes, as long as the instrument you want to play is closely related to the one you obtained your Grade 8 in. Closely related instruments are as follows:

  • Piano – Harpsichord – Organ
  • Violin – Viola
  • Soprano Saxophone – Alto Saxophone – Tenor Saxophone – Baritone Saxophone
  • Trumpet – Cornet (B♭ Cornet or E♭ Soprano Cornet) – Flugelhorn
  • Trombone – Bass Trombone
  • Baritone – Euphonium – Tuba

I took Grade 8 on a non-pedal Harp; can I take ARSM on one too?

ARSM Harp repertoire is for the pedal harp only; however, candidates can play one work on the non-pedal harp (see ‘can I play more than one instrument’ below).

Do I need to send my Grade 8 certificate as part of the application?

We may request a copy of your certificate or other supporting documentation. If documentation cannot be provided when requested, or if a candidate is found to not have one of the specific qualifications listed above, their exam entry will be rejected without refund of the fee.

Do I need to have a music theory qualification to take ARSM?

No, candidates don’t need a music theory qualification to take ARSM. As long as they have a qualification on the alternative qualifications list (see above) then they meet the requirement for ARSM.

Exam requirements

Can I choose a programme entirely from the ARSM list?

Yes, candidates can choose a programme entirely from the ARSM repertoire list.

For a better understanding of what you should consider when constructing your programme, watch this video from our Chief Examiner.

Do I have to pick Grade 8 pieces from the current syllabus?

Up to 10 minutes of the ARSM performance can be own choice repertoire. It does not have to come from current Grade 8 lists but should be at least ABRSM Grade 8 standard. However, you may find using these lists is a helpful guideline to show the standards required. This own-choice element gives you the opportunity to tailor your performance to your interests and to demonstrate the skill of building an effective programme.

Please note that candidates are also required to perform at least 20 minutes of repertoire from the ARSM repertoire lists in their 30-minute programme.

Can I play more than one instrument in my ARSM performance?

For instruments listed under ‘Main instrument’ in the table below, candidates have the option to play one work on a related instrument. However the majority of the programme must be performed on the main instrument.

Main Instrument

Related Instrument(s)

Violin

Viola

Viola

Violin

Cello

Viola da Gamba

Flute

Piccolo, Alto Flute

Oboe

Cor Anglais

Clarinet

E♭ Clarinet, Bass Clarinet

Bassoon

Contrabassoon

Trumpet

Cornet, Flugelhorn

Cornet

Trumpet, Flugelhorn

Flugelhorn

Cornet, Trumpet

Baritone

Euphonium

Euphonium

Baritone

Tuba

Sousaphone, Euphonium

Harp (pedal)

Non-pedal Harp

Harpsichord

Spinet, Virginal

If the repertoire played on a related instrument is set on an ARSM repertoire list, it can count towards the 20-minute programming requirement; it is not necessary to meet this requirement on the main instrument.

We do not need to be informed if a candidate intends to take the related instrument option.

There is no advantage to be gained by offering a work on a related instrument.

There are different related-instrument options for Recorder, Saxophone and Trombone, which are given at the start of their repertoire lists or under 'information for specific instruments' below.

Can I have a break during the performance?

The performance should last 30 minutes, but it can be up to two minutes longer or shorter. The timing includes any breaks between items.

Woodwind, brass and singing candidates can take a longer break of up to three minutes during the exam. This is counted as part of the 30 minutes of performance time and must be taken from the 10 minute, own-choice allowance.

The examiner may stop the performance if the candidate goes over the time limit.

Should I play repeats?

This is an interpretive decision which is left to the candidate’s discretion.

Should I include cadenzas or tutti sections?

Candidates may use their discretion to decide whether to omit or include tutti sections or cadenzas in concerto movements or other works.

How much freedom of interpretation do I have?

The observance of repeats and interpretative decisions such as phrasing, the realization of ornaments and the use of vibrato or pedalling are matters in which candidates are expected to use their discretion to achieve a stylistically appropriate and musically satisfying performance.

Pieces in a jazz style may be slightly embellished, as stylistically appropriate, but significant improvisation is not allowed.

Can I use different editions to those stated in the repertoire lists?

Where the repertoire lists include an arrangement or transcription, the edition listed should be used in the exam; in all such cases the abbreviation ‘arr.’ or ‘trans.’ appears in the entry.

For all other pieces, the editions quoted in the repertoire lists are recommendations only and candidates can use any edition of their choice (in- or out-of-print or downloadable).

All own-choice repertoire should exist in a published edition (either in print or downloadable), which should be indicated on the programme form (PDF).

Do I need to perform from memory?

There is no specific requirement to perform from memory. However, candidates are encouraged to do so if they consider it will enhance their performance.

We advise singers to perform their programme from memory, with the exception of oratorio/sacred items and complex contemporary scores.

Please note that:

  • No additional marks are directly awarded for performing from memory.
  • A copy of the music should be available for the examiner to refer to (before or after the performance of the programme) if necessary. This may be the accompanist’s copy.

To hear what our Chief Examiner has to say about performing from memory in your ARSM exam, watch this video.

Do I need to provide my own accompanist?

Performances should be accompanied where appropriate and candidates should provide their own piano accompanist. The candidate’s teacher may act as accompanist. Pre-recorded accompaniments are not allowed and the examiner cannot act as the accompanist.

Can I have a page turner?

Candidates and accompanists may bring a page-turner to assist with awkward page-turns; prior permission is not needed. Examiners are not able to help with page-turning.

 

Do I need to bring a copy of the music for the examiner?

Examiners may ask to look at the music before or after the performance of the whole programme. A separate copy of the music is not needed – examiners can use the candidate’s or accompanist’s copy.

Candidates who are performing from memory must also bring copies of their music.

Can I use photocopies for awkward page turns?

Performing from unauthorized photocopies (or other kinds of copies) of copyright editions is not allowed. ABRSM may withhold the exam result where we have evidence of an illegal copy being used.

In the UK, copies may be used in certain limited circumstances – for full details, see the MPA’s Code of Fair Practice at www.mpaonline.org.uk. In all other cases, application should be made to the copyright holder before any copy is made, and evidence of permission received should be brought to the exam.

I am not comfortable using English, can I use an interpreter?

Our exams are normally conducted in English.

As there are no tests in ARSM which require a candidate to respond to questions from the examiner, an interpreter is unlikely to be needed. However, a candidate who is not comfortable using English may be allowed to bring an independent person into the exam room as interpreter. Please refer to our exam regulations for more information.

Information for specific instruments

For pianists: Will I have to play on an upright or a grand piano?

A suitable piano will be provided at ABRSM centres, which may be upright or grand. We can’t arrange for candidates to practice before the exam, but examiners will recognize that candidates may be unfamiliar with the instrument and candidates are encouraged to take a few moments to try out the piano before beginning the performance.

For organists: Can I bring a registrant?

Yes candidates can bring a registrant; prior permission is not needed. Examiners cannot help with changes of registration. The registrant may also act as page-turner.

For recorder players: Can I use different recorders in my exam?

Yes, candidates may play their programme on any one or any combination of F and C recorders as may be appropriate. All works on the repertoire list are intended for treble (alto) recorder unless otherwise indicated.

For saxophonists: Can I use different saxophones in my exam?

Yes, candidates may play their programme on any one or any combination of E♭ and B♭ saxophones as may be appropriate. All works on the repertoire list are published for alto saxophone in E♭ unless otherwise indicated.

For trombonists: Can I use different trombones in my exam?

Yes, candidates may play their programme on either the tenor or bass trombone as may be appropriate or any combination, which may also include alto trombone. All works on the repertoire list are published for tenor trombone unless otherwise indicated.

For percussionists: Are there any particular instruments I am expected to use?

The repertoire list is divided into four instrumental categories – Tuned Percussion, Timpani, Snare Drum and Multiple Percussion. Candidates must present a programme which includes at least one work from three of the four sections.

 

For singers: Can I only choose items from the repertoire list for my voice type?

The singing repertoire is presented according to standard voice categories but candidates may perform suitable items from the list for any voice category.

For singers: Must I present songs in any particular languages?

The only language requirement is that the programme must include a minimum of two different languages.

For singers: Can I transpose songs into a more comfortable key for my voice?

All items may be sung in any key, except for items from operas, operettas, oratorios, cantatas and sacred works, which must be sung in the keys in which they were written (although original pitch may be adopted in Baroque pieces, if appropriate).

Other

When is the syllabus valid to/from?

This ARSM syllabus is valid from January 2017 until further notice.

We will post any minor updates at www.abrsm.org/syllabuscorrections. Advance notice of a revised syllabus containing significant changes will be provided on our main ARSM page.

If successful, what recognition do I get?

Every candidate will get a mark form with feedback and marks. Successful candidates receive a certificate and can add letters (ARSM) after their name.

Where can I find ARSM exam music?

Exam music should be available from music retailers worldwide as well as online.

ARSM repertoire lists are the same as the existing lists for the DipABRSM (Music Performance) diploma. We have made every effort to ensure that the publications listed remain available for the duration of both syllabuses.

We advise candidates to buy their music well in advance of the exam in case of any delays with items temporarily out of print or not kept in stock by retailers.

Apart from queries relating to exams, all enquiries about the music (e.g. editorial, availability) should be addressed to the relevant publisher. Contact details are listed at www.abrsm.org/publishers.

If I pass ARSM, will I be able to go straight on to DipABRSM (Music Performance)?

The prerequisite for entry to DipABRSM is an ABRSM Grade 8 (which includes having passed Grade 5 Music Theory). ARSM will be accepted as a substitute to this prerequisite as long as you can show that you have also passed ABRSM Grade 5 Theory. Some alternative qualifications and experience will also be accepted.

To find out how ARSM helps to prepare you for DipABRSM, watch this video.

If I pass ARSM will I be exempt from the recital at DipABRSM (Music Performance)?

No, ARSM and DipABRSM (Music Performance) are separate diplomas. Anyone who wishes to obtain a DipABRSM needs to take the exam in full.

 

If I pass ARSM, will I be able to go straight on to LRSM (Music Performance)?

The DipABRSM and LRSM diplomas in Music Performance are more wide-ranging qualifications than ARSM as skills and knowledge beyond the performance itself are assessed. You need to demonstrate that you already have a strong foundation in all these areas before you can enter for LRSM. As such, you can only take LRSM (Music Performance) if you have passed DipABRSM (Music Performance). Some alternative qualifications and experience will also be accepted.

Is the new ARSM different from the Advanced Certificate*?

(*Advanced Certificate is no longer valid, this exam was withdrawn in 2001.)

Yes, these two exams do differ. The Advanced Certificate assessed a 30-40 minute performance, as well as Quick Study, Viva and Musicianship Tests. ARSM is a performance-only diploma, where candidates present a 30-minute programme.

Is the ARSM regulated by Ofqual?

ABRSM graded music examinations and diplomas are regulated in England by the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) and the corresponding regulatory authorities in Wales (Qualifications Wales) and Northern Ireland (the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment - CCEA). They are part of the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) in England.

The ARSM has been placed at Level 4 in the RQF, and appears in the register that can be viewed at register.ofqual.gov.uk as the ABRSM Level 4 Diploma in Music Performance (ARSM).

As part of its regulatory processes, ABRSM has assigned Guided Learning Hours (GLH) and Total Qualification Time (TQT) to the ARSM. These are figures designed to give an idea of the volume of work, expressed in number of hours, which could reasonably be required in order for a candidate to achieve the qualification.

Guided Learning Hours express the number of hours of direct supervision, e.g. lessons with a tutor, that a candidate is likely to need in preparation for a qualification. The Total Qualification Time encompasses Guided Learning Hours plus an estimate of the total number of hours of other preparation, e.g. personal practice, likely to be required.

For the ARSM, the figures are as follows:

Guided Learning Hours (GLH)

Total Qualification Time (TQT)

54

900

For further information on ABRSM’s accreditation and regulation, see www.abrsm.org/regulation.

Will the exam be recorded for moderation purposes?

The exams will not be recorded routinely but will be subject to the full range of quality assurance processes we always apply. These include moderating examiners regularly, analysis of mark form comments and results, recording of marks for statistical checks, an appeals process, ongoing annual CPD and occasional recordings for specific purposes.

Why will ARSM be placed at the same level as DipABRSM in the Regulated Qualification Framework with Ofqual when the exams have different requirements?

DipABRSM is a more wide-ranging qualification than ARSM, requiring the demonstration of skills and knowledge beyond the performance itself. The two diplomas will both be accredited exams placed at Level 4 in the Regulated Qualification Framework with Ofqual. Level 4 covers a broad range of regulated qualifications across many different disciplines, including Music diplomas, and within this range of qualifications different degrees of content, depth and breadth are required. ARSM will sit lower in Level 4 than DipABRSM due to its focus on performance alone.

Contact us

If your ARSM query is not answered above, please contact our Syllabus department.

Syllabus department

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