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What are the benefits of playing pieces?

Experiencing a selection of good music is an essential part of musical learning.

In preparing for our exams, candidates can choose from a broad list of pieces appropriate to their standard, each presenting its own challenges.

Watch a performance of a piece from our Grade 5 Piano syllabus

What happens in the exam?

For this section of the exam, candidates prepare and present a selection of pieces or songs chosen from the relevant syllabus.

  • Instrumentalists play three set pieces
  • Singers perform three set songs at Grades 1 to 5 and four set songs at Grades 6 to 8
  • Repertoire lists for each grade can be found in the syllabus for your instrument

How do we choose the pieces and songs?

It’s important for students to experience different styles of music, so our syllabuses include a wide range of repertoire for them to choose from. We want candidates to find music that inspires them and that they enjoy learning and performing.

We have a panel of expert consultants – examiners, teachers and performers – who help us to refresh and renew our syllabuses. Using guidelines for each subject and grade, they put together an initial list of pieces or songs. They also refer to suggestions and feedback from teachers and candidates, and look at statistics showing the popularity of recently set pieces.

This means that the lists include music that we are sure candidates will enjoy playing and that suits a range of tastes and approaches. After final checks on levels of difficulty and availability of the music, we approve the final lists which appear on our syllabuses.

Marking criteria for pieces

ABRSM exams avoid the potential bias of instrument specialism by:

  • applying universal, non-instrument-specific criteria
  • focusing on the musical outcome, not the technical means behind it!

Marking principles

In each element of the exam, ABRSM operates the principle of marking from the required pass mark positively or negatively, rather than awarding marks by deduction from the maximum or addition from zero.

All instruments except Voice (Grades 1-8)








  • Highly accurate notes and intonation
  • Fluent, with flexibility where appropriate
  • Rhythmic character well conveyed
  • Well projected
  • Sensitive use of tonal qualities
  • Expressive, idiomatic musical shaping and detail
  • Assured
  • Fully committed
  • Vivid communication of character and style


  • Largely accurate notes and intonation
  • Sustained, effective tempo
  • Good sense of rhythm
  • Mainly controlled and consistent
  • Good tonal awareness
  • Clear musical shaping, well-realised detail
  • Positive
  • Carrying musical conviction
  • Character and style communicated


  • Generally correct notes
  • Sufficiently reliable intonation to maintain tonality
  • Suitable tempo
  • Generally stable pulse
  • Overall rhythmic accuracy
  • Generally reliable
  • Adequate tonal awareness
  • Some realisation of musical shape and/or detail
  • Generally secure, prompt recovery from slips
  • Some musical involvement

Below Pass

  • Frequent note errors
  • Insufficiently reliable intonation to maintain tonality
  • Unsuitable and/or uncontrolled tempo
  • Irregular pulse
  • Inaccurate rhythm
  • Uneven and/or unreliable
  • Inadequate tonal awareness
  • Musical shape and detail insufficiently conveyed
  • Insecure, inadequate recovery from slips
  • Insufficient musical involvement


  • Largely inaccurate notes and/or intonation
  • Erratic tempo and/or pulse
  • Serious lack of tonal control
  • Musical shape and detail largely unrealised
  • Lacking continuity
  • No musical involvement


  • Highly inaccurate notes and/or intonation
  • Incoherent tempo and/or pulse
  • No tonal control
  • No shape or detail
  • Unable to continue for more than a short section


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