The release of the new ABRSM piano syllabus is a much-anticipated event amongst most piano teachers, many of whom may have by this time grown tired of teaching the same repertoire for the past couple of years. The 2017/18 piano syllabus includes 158 new pieces, alongside which the ABRSM is releasing a new version of the Piano Practice Partner app to accompany the change in syllabus, plus Aural Trainer and Scales Trainer apps, and other supplementary material to support students and teachers.
The format of the syllabus is unchanged, with pieces divided into Lists A, B and C. As usual, List A pieces tend to be Baroque or early Classical in style, or pieces inspired by these eras (for example, Prelude and Fugue in A minor by Shchredin, Grade 8, List A). List B pieces tend to be more romantic in style, while List C contains modern or contemporary pieces, or music which is more jazz-infused, atonal or inspired by popular songs or film scores. There are also simple transcriptions of well-known works such as the Prince of Denmark’s March (also known at the ‘Trumpet Voluntary’) by Jeremiah Clark, La donna è mobile from Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’, and Jupiter from Holst’s ‘The Planets’. Composers such as Gurlitt, Gedike, Telemann and Gillock, which for me are forever associated with exam music, make their usual appearance, but it is refreshing to find works by living composers too: in addition to Shchredin mentioned above, there are pieces by Tan Dun, Ben Crosland, Bryan Kelly, Christopher Norton (whose jazz and rock inspired pieces are always popular with students), Miguel Astor, and Nikki Iles. It is also refreshing to find music by composers from South America, Finland and Japan. The Grade 8 list is longer than the other grades, with 16 pieces to choose from across the main list and alternative pieces.
When choosing exam repertoire with my students, I encourage them to select, as far as possible within the confines of the syllabus, pieces which when played together create an enjoyable and contrasting “programme”, a mini concert if you will. This means that students get to play a variety of music and can demonstrate to an examiner or audience that they can handle music of different styles, moods and characters. The new syllabus offers plenty of scope in this respect, though the earlier grades contain fewer pieces that will appeal to adult students or teenagers. As my colleague Andrew Eales has already remarked in his very comprehensive review of the new syllabus, the omission of music by Philip Glass, Ludovico Einaudi and similar minimalist composers seems rather unfortunate given the popularity of these composers, particularly amongst teenagers. But overall the selection is varied and imaginative with broad appeal.
In addition to the new piano syllabus, the ABRSM has announced the introduction of a new performance-only Diploma, the ARSM (presumably, “Associate of the Royal Schools of Music”), to bridge the gap between Grade 8 and the DipABRSM, to offer a challenge after Grade 8, for those who want to get back into playing after a break or for those looking to enhance their performance skills before entering higher education or applying to study at university. Like the existing Diplomas, the ARSM will offer candidates the opportunity to create and perform their own programme from a published syllabus and own-choice repertoire. Further information about the ARSM will be available in August.
ABRSM Piano exams official page (with links to purchase music, download soundclips and other supporting information).