Discover Performance Grades
Telling your musical story
ABRSM Performance Grades are founded on our belief in the importance of Performance, Music and Access. As a result, these exams provide opportunities for candidates to create their own performance, featuring music that is special to them, in a place of their choice. And they provide recognition for the communication, interpretation and storytelling skills that sit at the heart of every successful musical performance.
Above all, a performance is personal and unique. Here Lincoln Abbotts, ABRSM’s Executive Director: Strategic Development, flautist, composer and workshop leader, shares his own personal thoughts on the magic of performance, offering ideas and inspiration along the way.
I can remember the first time I took to the stage as a performer – aged eight, at primary school in Staffordshire, playing a flute and clarinet duet with my older brother. In the following decades, I’ve had opportunities to perform a rich mix of music as soloist and ensemble musician, conductor and workshop leader on myriad different stages across the UK and around the world.
Regardless of scale, repertoire and location, there’s something magical about performing as a musician – however young or old you are and wherever you are on your musical journey. After the preparation, the graft of learning technique and control, and the crafting of a musical interpretation comes the chance to share what you’ve done with an audience – to tell your musical story.
I love the silence just before the first note sounds. A moment filled with expectation and possibility. For any performer, this is a time to take in the room, to catch the eye of your audience and to breathe! The minutes that follow will pass both fast and slow. However it feels, try to keep in mind that this time belongs to you, to tell your musical story.
And remember that storytelling is a living, breathing tradition, something that can bind together a musical programme. Be curious about how music works, understand where it comes from and what else it connects to. It’s fascinating to explore what unites music that, on the surface may sound or appear different – a piece by Bach and another by Scott Joplin, a folk song from Ghana and a newly composed work by a young Singaporean. As a performer, be curious, playful and convincing as you tell the story of a single phrase, a complete piece of music and your performance as a whole.
A sense of musical narrative is so important when it comes to planning a programme. Do you start with a bang and end with a reflective or conclusive finale? Is there a predictable progression of tempo and tonality or do you introduce an element of surprise? Do you make your thematic connections explicit or hold something back to keep your audience guessing? These and more are questions for us to ask and answer as performers – and the beauty of it is, there’s no right or wrong answer!
This flexibility extends to the performance setting as well as the content! So when we plan a musical performance it’s not just about the what, but also the where. We all know that music doesn’t just belong in a concert or school hall or other formal setting – musical performances can and should happen anywhere. This kind of flexibility is liberating for all of us as performers – play your music where you like to the audience of your choice.
Whatever the location, the music and the audience – remember to smile, enjoy the applause, take a bow and then look forward to your next musical challenge.
Performance: take to the stage
- Performing is about engaging your audience, telling your musical story, communicating your own musical interpretation, and sharing your craft.
- ABRSM Performance Grades give you the opportunity to bring all of these essential skills to a regulated qualification, to showcase and be rewarded for them.
Music: share your musical story
- You have greater musical choice: you choose the pieces/songs, you choose how you arrange them into a programme, you choose how you best put across your own musical interests, tastes, strengths and personality.
- You have a wealth of rich and exciting music to draw on, in ABRSM syllabuses and beyond.
Access: discover an additional route to progress in music
- Performance Grades are flexible and accessible – because they are remotely assessed, your performance can take place at home, at school or in a community setting.
- You have the freedom to choose where to record your performance, and who you want there with you.