Even though I seem like someone who does not really into exams, I am in fact very good at passing them and getting good grades, in both academic and piano arenas. And I seem to have passed such skills to my students. However, as I become more experienced in performance and teaching, I find if one stops at exams and does not improve oneself after them, the meaning of exams become less and less and one will be eliminated through competition.
Hong Kong students are very keen on participating in piano exams. As a former British colony, Hong Kong is naturally more inclined to support the British exam system and organizations. The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (“ABRSM”) has been the monopoly of the graded exam market for all instruments. Nonetheless, as in recent years Hong Kong students have raised their performance standard (or I should say, their ability to pass exams) tremendously, the graded exams have become easier and easier for them. Therefore, they need more exams after grade 8: the diploma exams. In terms of the exam organizations, there is another choice: the Trinity College London (“TCL”).
TCL and ABRSM are both organizations representing the famous music institutions in Britain, but the latter has a longer tradition and higher acclaim. Each organization provides three levels of diplomas after the graded exams: TCL has ATCL, LTCL and FTCL, and ABRSM has dipABRSM, LRSM and FRSM. And each diploma level has three mainstreams: Music Performance, Music Teaching (TCL) or Music Direction (ABRSM), as well as Instrumental/Vocal Teaching.
ATCL’s Recital Diploma by TCL has an ever increasing popularity among the Hong Kong students especially in this decade. It only requires the candidate to prepare 3-4 pieces of contrasting styles (total duration: 32-38 minutes) and hand in a program note of 400-700 words about the exam pieces, thus it seems simpler and easier to pass. At the same ATCL level of the Recital Diploma, there is another diploma called the “Pro-Music Performance Diploma” that has replaced the former Performance Diploma since 2009. The exam content is very different from the Recital Diploma, and I believe Hong Kong students are not interested in taking it, therefore I would not want to venture into a lengthy discussion about it.
For ABRSM, the dipABRSM (Music Performance) is also popular among Hong Kong students. Such exam has two main parts: the first part is the performance, in which the candidate has to prepare a program of three-four pieces of contrasting styles (total duration: 32-38 minutes); the second part has two sections: a quick reading test and a viva voce. The candidate has to pass both the first and the second parts in order to be qualified a pass on the overall exam. Students of poor reading skills would definitely want to avoid the quick reading part. In the viva voce section, the two examiners will test the candidate’s music knowledge on the selected exam pieces and related questions, such as analysis of the pieces, information on the composers and the musical periods etc. To prepare for the viva voce test, students should attain musical knowledge by reading and listening regularly, as well as receiving guidance from their teachers. They should also be able to answer in English fluently. It is quite hard to cram in anything before the exam and thus most students find the viva voce part rather difficult.
The piano exam seasons for ABRSM are April to May and August to November, while those for TCL are April to May and November to December.
HKEAA- Exam Info For ABRSM (Application Info and Dates):
Graded Exam Info for ABRSM:
Diploma Exam Info for ABRSM: http://www.abrsm.org/?page=exams/diplomas
Diploma Exam Info for Trinity College: http://www.trinitycollege.co.uk/site/?id=230
Hong Kong website: http://www.trinitycollege.com.hk/index.php?lang=en