How do Rockschool Piano Exams Work? - Creative Music Education
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How do Rockschool Piano Exams Work?

By Stuart Storer | Exams

Apr 12

This month, to help piano teachers with their understanding of piano exams, I have two fantastic guest posts from experienced AMEB examiners. 

Today’s post is all about a creative new piano syllabus.

Rockschool is a syllabus run in the United Kingdom and they have teamed up with AMEB to bring it here. 

It is all about encouraging contemporary musicians by exploring a range of modern styles and genres. In addition, Rockschool piano exams encourage improvisation and it expands students’ music vocabulary. 

We are lucky enough to have Stuart Storer to present this post on Rockschool. He has been an AMEB examiner for 20 years, runs a Forte Music School and is also one of few Rockschool examiners in Australia. 

He will explain all you need to know about Rockschool, from breaking down the piano syllabus to how it is marked. Over to you, Stuart! 

What is Rockschool?

Rockschool UK has recently teamed up with AMEB to provide the full range of Rockschool syllabuses in Australia. Rockschool started in 1991 and is now one the world’s best providers of contemporary music exams. It offers exams in 38 countries worldwide.

Rockschool caters for beginners right through to tertiary level.

The syllabuses give today’s students the skills needed to be successful contemporary and versatile musicians.

Also, the AMEB has appointed a panel of examiners, who have been specially trained in order to meet Rockschool’s examiner accreditation requirements.

The Piano Syllabus 

The piano syllabus commences at Debut (which is equivalent to Preliminary) and extends right through to Diploma level.

Your students have a choice as to which form of exam they’d like to sit; a performance exam involving performing of five pieces, or the more ‘traditional’ grade exam which consists of technical work, three pieces, aural tests, sight reading and general knowledge. Both types of examination are of equivalent academic standing.

Everything a student needs to complete the exam is contained in the grade book, and there are supplementary books available for extra repertoire choice.

Repertoire in the grade books are works in a contemporary style or arrangements of well-known songs. Students have to perform the songs with a backtrack and they can’t change the tempo of the songs either.

Rockschool has made it very easy for students to access the audio tracks for the exam with the help of technology.

Rather than having a CD, each book comes with a code. When you enter the code into the downloads section of their website, it allows you to download each track up to nine times.

Students and their teachers can choose to download click tracks, backings for the repertoire songs, sample aural tests and sight reading/improvising backings.

Students can present free choice pieces for examination providing certain criteria are met. More details on this are available at Rockschool’s website- click here.

It’s worth mentioning that at grades three, five and eight, all instrumental syllabuses (E.g. Acoustic Guitar, Drums, Bass) contain the same pieces.

This encourages students to play together and perhaps even sit a performance exam together if they wish.

Rockschool piano exams challenge students in their exploration of contemporary musical styles. There are pieces in every genre imaginable; rock, pop, metal, funk, punk, jazz, reggae, ska and progressive.

This innovative and creative syllabus allows your students to explore and engage with various styles and genres.

How pieces are introduced in the Grade 3 Rockschool syllabus book. Republished with Permission. Click to Enlarge.

Technical Work

The syllabus clearly lays out the technical requirements, along with notation and fingerings for the scales. Students do have to perform the technical work at a certain tempo, either with a metronome click track or with just a four click lead-in.

During the exam, the examiner operates the computer containing the click-tracks and audio accompaniments so your student is free to focus on their performance.

Aural tests are pre-recorded so they are in line with the samples in the grade books.

From Debut to 5th Grade, students have a choice between sight reading or improvising. Both are performed to a backing track, and 90 seconds preparation time is given whilst the backing plays on a continuous loop.

After the 90 seconds, the examiner plays the backing track twice more, once as a practice, and then again for the actual assessment.

Also, from 6th Grade, sight reading and improvising are replaced with a quick study piece in the form of a lead sheet requiring interpreting of chord symbols and improvising a melody.

In terms of general knowledge, each grade book clearly sets out the requirements. General knowledge questions cover the following five areas:

  1. One question relating to harmony
  2. One question relating to melody
  3. One question relating to rhythm
  4. One question relating to technical requirements
  5. One question relating to genre

Technical work goes beyond major and minor tonalities and ventures into modes, pentatonics, whole-tone, etc. There are technical challenges due to the unusual scale patterns and tricky rhythms, and in the higher grades, the syllabus introduces polyrhythms.

The technical work challenges students but also urges them to explore other styles of piano in a creative way.

Rockschool Piano Improvisation Example Grade 3

Example Improvisation and Interpretation Exercises – Grade 3. Republished with Permission. Click to Enlarge.

How the Rockschool Piano Exams are Marked

Marking follows a points-based system as follows:

  • Technical work – 15 points
  • Three Pieces – 20 points each
  • Aural Tests – 10 points
  • Sight Reading/Improvising – 10 points
  • General Knowledge – 5 points

Students must achieve; 60 points to pass, 74 points for a Merit, and 90 points or more for a Distinction. For performance exams, each of the five chosen pieces is worth a maximum of 20 points, and the examiner applies similar grading divisions.

Marking scheme from the Grade 3 Rockschool syllabus book. Republished with Permission. Click to Enlarge.

Conclusion

Rockschool piano exams are innovative, challenging and rewarding. They refresh each syllabus every three years, ensuring the repertoire remains contemporary and relevant to students’ musical exposure.

You can download all the Rockschool syllabuses online. Click here for more information.

These syllabuses contain all the information you will need to prepare your students for exams.

I hope your students find preparing for Rockschool piano exams engaging, inspiring and creative. Piano students of all ages should explore a range of styles and genres, and a Rockschool exam will do exactly that.

Have any questions? We’ll do our best to answer them!

Stuart Storer

About the Author

Stuart Storer has been an AMEB examiner for 20 years. He has been a syllabus consultant for the AMEB, and is now one of seven Rockschool examiners in Australia. Stuart runs a Forte music school in South Australia and is a well-respected educator.

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