Everything You Need to Know about the New AMEB Series 18 Piano Syllabus - Creative Music Education
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Everything You Need to Know about the New AMEB Series 18 Piano Syllabus

By Tim Topham | Exams

Dec 11

AMEB Series 18 Piano

AMEB Series 18 Piano

The AMEB has just released a complete update to its traditional piano syllabus, along with a new series of books called Series 18.

The syllabus itself, listing all the exam requirements and music available for examination, was last updated in 2008, so coinciding this update with their 2018 centenary celebrations seemed fitting and, as far as I can tell, has so far been well received.

It’s interesting to note that the ABRSM updates its syllabus and books every two years and Trinity every three years. While it could be seen that more regular updates are a good thing, it also means that teachers are having to invest more in new books and learning new pieces much more regularly with the other exam boards.

Given there has been quite a few changes to the syllabus and exam requirements, a lot of discussions and questions have been flying around about the new syllabus and so I thought I’d clarify some of the main ones.

Miss last week’s blog post? Tim answered some frequently asked questions about the new AMEB Series 18 Piano syllabus. Click here to read.

What’s the difference between Piano and Piano for Leisure?

Please keep in mind that the AMEB has two main piano syllabi for examination:

  1. Piano (now called Piano Comprehensive)
  2. Piano for Leisure (PFL)

The main differences are that more pieces are required to be presented for Piano (generally six must be prepared), technical work requirements are larger (more on that later) and the music tends to be more traditional/classical.

In Piano for Leisure, only three pieces are required for examination, there are fewer scales and arpeggios to learn, students may present an own choice or composition for one of the works, the music is drawn more equally from popular styles as well as classical and students have a choice between aural tests and sight reading at the lower grades.

While I was heavily involved in Piano for Leisure Series 4, please note that I had nothing to do with this most recent series of books or the updating of the syllabus. While I’ve done my best to ensure these answers are accurate, including checking with the AMEB when possible, please do your own research as I don’t take responsibility for any errors or omissions.

The AMEB has created a dedicated domain for piano teachers looking for information: piano.ameb.edu.au. This is a great place to go if you have questions. Of course, you can also email or call your local AMEB state office.

What has changed in AMEB 2019 Piano Syllabus?

The biggest change by far has been to the technical work which has been completely redesigned from the ground up.

Having recently attended an information session delivered by the syllabus consultant, Prof. David Lockett, I can confidently say that I’m very impressed by the level of research, depth, knowledge and planning that has gone into the new technical work and particularly the new Technical Exercises.

The ‘technical exercises’ are short pieces of music designed to help a student learn a particular technical manoeuvre that’s not developed by playing scales or arpeggios.

These include skills like floating hands, independent dynamics, repeated notes, octaves, crisp staccato, crossing hands, etc.

Interestingly, AMEB was not the first to introduce these kinds of technical exercises. Trinity College has been offering them as part of their piano technical work for many years but the AMEB has taken the development of these to another whole level.

The technical exercises are very well sequenced and designed. Having been written by composers and not pure academics, they are engaging miniatures in and of themselves and something that I feel students will be drawn to learning.

The addition of technical exercises, the re-inclusion of chord progressions from Grade 6, the inclusion of natural minor scales and new forms of playing scales including the Grand Scale form are all welcome improvements, in my opinion.

It’s interesting to note that arpeggios and broken chords have been completely removed from all grades P – 3. They are first required at Grade 4 with four octave arpeggios played hands separately in E major and minor and Ab major and minor.

While this is a welcome reduction in quantity of work required, teachers will need to ensure that some kind of broken chord and arpeggio patterns are explored in the preceding years, otherwise this will be a BIG leap. Of course, that’s where the technical exercises come in, covering aspects like this.

The technical exercises also cover contrapuntal playing and so you’ll no longer see a Canon requirement at Grade 1 level.

I believe students have a lot to gain from the new approach to technical work and I would encourage teachers to consider using it as a framework for technical development with students even if they aren’t taking formal exams.

I certainly will!

Which syllabus can I use?

The two syllabuses will run concurrently for TWO years – 2019 and 2020.

Candidates will be able to choose either the OLD or NEW syllabus and this must be indicated when entering the candidates. No mixing of the OLD and NEW syllabuses is permitted.

Candidates wishing to take the new repertoire exam on Piano can only do so using the NEW syllabus.

From 2021 onwards, only the NEW syllabus will be examined. Click here for more information.

Free Download: A global analysis of piano syllabuses from across the world

Old and new comparisons

There have been lots of questions about how many scales each grade has actually reduced by, so I did some research, looking at three grades: Grade 1, Grade 4 and Grade 6.

It was a challenging exercise because the consultants have actually totally redesigned the technical work requirements.

Rather than just removing a few scales and replacing them with the technical exercises, they have moved scales between grades and reduced duplication across grades (e.g. C and Am used to be in both Prelim and Grade 1, now they’re just in Prelim; Bm has moved from Grade 1 to Grade 2).

There seems to be stronger relationships between relative major and minor scales in the requirements, which I think is a good thing and certainly suits how I teach.

One of the other changes teachers will notice is that contrary motion scales are often different to the similar motion at any given grade level. Interesting change.

What it looks like they’ve done is introduced the similar motion scale in one grade, then the contrary appears in the next level up. For example, B major is required in similar motion in Grade 5, then contrary in Grade 6. Similarly, F# major is required in contrary motion in Grade 7, having been introduced in similar motion in Grade 6.

That said, here is my overview of some of the main changes:

Related: A Creative Take on the New ABRSM Piano Syllabus

GRADE 1

  • Reduced the complexity of some scales hands separately, others hands together. Not all scales are listed as “hands separately and together”.
  • Addition of E natural minor and all the natural minor scales is fantastic
  • No arpeggios

OLD: 16 scales and arpeggios
NEW: 11 scales only
PLUS: 3 new technical exercises
TOTAL: 14 items versus 16

Years ago I created “Technical Work Checklists” for my students which quickly listed the requirements in 1-page (2-pages for the higher grades) format that students could check off as they completed the items.

I’ve shared a copy of that here with the 2019 syllabus updates so you can see the comparisons:

I’ll be updating these for next year. If you’d like to get access to these downloads, they are available inside the Resource Library in my Inner Circle, along with lots of general knowledge exam resources and in-depth studies of AMusA repertoire.

Find out more about the benefits of membership here.

GRADE 4

  • Ab major and F minor moved from Grade 6 to Grade 4
  • Speed requirement slightly reduced
  • Staccato scales still introduced, but only Ab major and F melodic minor
  • First arpeggios appear
  • Piano and forte dynamics not required

OLD: 32 scales and arpeggios incl staccato (ignoring p/f)
NEW: 20 scales and arpeggios incl staccato
PLUS: 3 new technical exercises
TOTAL: 23 items versus 32

And here’s how it looks on my Grade 4 Exam Checklist for students.

GRADE 6

  • Same speed at 92 legato/72 staccato
  • Introduction of “grand scale” format
  • Staccato scales now played staccato one hand, legato the other hand – this is an excellent skill which I introduce to students very early on. Good to see this inclusion.
  • Chord progressions have returned!
  • No double 6ths (these have been incorporated into the new technical exercises)
  • Significant reduction in the number of arpeggio variations including removal of inversions – this is a great decision in my opinion as the number of arpeggios was seriously immense in the previous syllabus

OLD: 40 scales including staccato (ignoring dynamic variants) + 32 arpeggios
NEW: 12 scales and 8 arpeggios incl staccato (ignoring dynamics)
PLUS: 3 new technical exercises, 3 chord progressions
TOTAL: now 26 items versus 72

My exam checklist for Grade 6 goes over two pages. Here’s how it looks with the 2019 syllabus amendments.

That’s an amazing reduction and a HUGE time saving for both students and teachers.

When you think of it, 72 scales and arpeggios was quite a ridiculous burden now that I look at it. Sure, the technical exercises at the higher grades require care and thought, but they are short and much more engaging and fun (and have much better learning outcomes in my opinion) than adding another 50 scales!

Scale requirement summary

Here’s a very rough outline of the requirements at each level and the change as you increase in grades.

You can see the black line of the new syllabus showing how much more controlled the new requirements are compared to the old syllabus.

I’d actually never done these calculations before and I have to say it was quite surprising to see the different trajectories of the requirements.

Needless to say, the new syllabus is MUCH more achievable in terms of technical work for most students and teachers and I don’t believe anything is lost.

Well done to the AMEB for being more realistic with the technical work requirements of students and teachers these days.

FREE LESSON PLANS: See how I teach chords with my 4 Chord Composing course

Addition of collaborative piano exams

This is a really interesting update.

In AMEB Series 18 Piano, you’ll now see Level 2 grades split into two: Solo and Collaborative. E.g. at Grade 5, you’ll see a section for Grade 5 (SOLO) and Grade 5 (COLLABORATIVE). Make sure you’re reading the right requirements for the right exam!

Collaborative exams are designed to assess pianists in an ensemble role, playing with another instrument, as well as their solo skills.

Here’s how it works:

Candidates for the collaborative piano exam should prepare all syllabus requirements as set out in the Piano (SOLO) syllabus but substitute EITHER their List C OR List D repertoire selection for a collaborate repertoire selection from the following lists. (2019 Manual of Syllabuses Page 70)

Repertoire Exams

A new set of “performance only” exams have been introduced in 2019 which allows students to be assessed solely on the performance of their pieces.

This means they are not required to present any technical work, nor will they be assessed on aural skills, general knowledge or sight reading.

Note that as this is a new syllabus, students wanting to present for a Repertoire Exam from 2019, MUST use the new 2019 syllabus list of pieces. You’ll see there is a separate section for this examination starting on Page 87.

As a quick overview, students sitting for:

  • Level 1: will present 4 works (3 list pieces + 1 own choice)
  • Level 2: will present 5 works (3 list pieces + 2 own choice)

Maximum performance times are written in the syllabus, and works are chosen from the lists specified for each grade.

For example, a student sitting a Grade 4 performance exam will choose 3 works from the new 2019 Piano Grade 4 list of pieces and one of their own choosing.

Updated manual lists

Speaking of lists of pieces, the “manual lists” have also been updated.

Manual lists are a funny name for lists of pieces that can be presented at each grade level, in addition to the choices available in the AMEB Series 18 Piano books.

The AMEB has the biggest manual lists of any exam board and is one of the reasons that they offer students and teachers such flexibility and variety.

I often use more manual list pieces than grade book pieces because of the rich nature of the listings and now, they are even more comprehensive.

So, how much has changed?

While I don’t have time to unpack all the grades, here’s a quick look at some of the Grade 1 differences I noticed:

LIST A

  • Bartok reduced from 6 pieces to 1
  • Czerny out, but Concone is in
  • Great to see Daniel McFarlane and Kotchie recognised finally
  • Old: 26 pieces, New: 39 pieces

LIST B

  • Old: 14 pieces, New: 26 pieces

LIST C

  • Great to see addition of Rollin and Baumgartner
  • Old: 26 pieces, New: 43 pieces

More manual list pieces means more choice and flexibility for students (and teachers) so kudos to the consultants who had the arduous task of updating these lists.

There certainly can be no complaint about students not having enough choice in AMEB exams.

New Handbooks

Dr Simon Perry has once again done a phenomenal job putting together all the general knowledge information for students and teachers about the pieces in the books.

Dr Perry worked on the Piano for Leisure Series 4 (the series I consulted on) and I can’t tell you how much more I learnt about these pieces from the handbook, despite working on them myself for a year!

Save yourself the hassle of researching all the general knowledge yourself (and wondering if that piece really was in D Dorian!) and get these handbooks. Not only will it help with the general knowledge component of the exams, it will give a much deeper insight into the pieces for your student, which I believe can lead to better performances.

New AMEB Series 18 Piano grade books

The AMEB tends to bring out a fresh series of books, aside from syllabus updates, each 4-5 years. Series 18 comes four years after Series 17 was published in 2014.

I’ll go into more detail about the repertoire and music in future posts and videos, but one thing I did notice was that the AMEB had continued my tradition of printing the performance notes immediately after each piece, instead of at the back of the book.

I’m really glad they’ve kept this innovation going because it makes the performance notes so much more valuable.

New sight reading books

It’s great to see an update to this publication as well.

While the requirements haven’t changed, the AMEB has commissioned Australian composer Dr Brett McKern to completely re-write the sight reading examples for every grade.

I think the sight reading books are great to have on hand for all students, regardless of whether they’re sitting an exam, as sight reading is such an important part of a well-rounded pianist’s skill set.

I’ll enjoy exploring the new pieces with all my students in the coming year.

Workshops

The syllabus consultant, Professor David Lockett, is providing workshops Australia-wide in December and January. Find out more here.

Do you want to save some money?

Members of my Inner Circle have access to 20% off all new AMEB Series 18 Piano publications and the new Manual of Syllabuses PLUS free shipping through printmusicworks.com until Dec 31.

If you’d like to access this discount, and you’re not yet a member of my global community, please join us here.

You could pay back an annual membership just through the savings with these AMEB book discounts!

Conclusion

In my opinion, there is A LOT to like about this new syllabus. Music books aside, here are some of my favourite aspects:

  • Great to see Australian composers commissioned to produce the music for the technical work and sight reading books
  • The changes to technical work are a HUGE improvement. The technical exercises are far more musical and exciting for students and I really like the reduction in quantity. This is a resource that will be valuable to ALL teachers.
  • I really like the idea of repertoire exams
  • Great to see polyrhythmic scales and technical exercises at higher levels – great preparation for Chopin and the other romantics
  • Good to see scales requiring mixed articulation between the hands – something I’ve been doing for a long time
  • Natural minors YES!
  • Return of chord progressions is positive, although I believe these really should start in Level 1, at as low a grade as possible, but maybe that’s just me!

I give full credit to the AMEB for a comprehensive overhaul of the syllabus and some very forward-thinking decisions for the future.

I hope now they’ll start working on improving and updating the aural tests!

Any questions – please leave them below.

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About the Author

Tim Topham has one mission in life: to stem the tide of children quitting music lessons by helping teachers maximise student engagement through creativity, technology and innovation. Tim hosts the popular Creative Piano Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at timtopham.com and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, Californian Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.

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