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14 January 2021

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ABRSM Performance Grades - All you need to know.

ABRSM Performance Grades - All you need to know.

From the latter end of 2020 the ABRSM started rolling out their new performance grades based on a video upload of four pieces as opposed to the previous model of three pieces plus scales, aural and sight reading and in this article,  I will go through everything you need to know in order to get a distinction in your performance exam.

First of all you will need to understand the logistics of how to prepare your video.

The performance must be a continuous video done in one take without any editing, where the performer and his instrument are in clear view. In the case of the piano this should include the pedals and if you have an accompanist they should also be visible, although not the main focus.

This video must be taken from a static position, i.e. using a tripod rather than someone holding the camera. A simple set up using a selfie stick and mini tripod works well such as the one below

At the beginning of your video you need to announce your name, instrument, grade, what pieces you’re going to perform and show a downloadable program form available HERE

Also, if you are taking a higher grade, that is 6-8, you will need to show some photographic ID.

If your fourth piece is from a different syllabus, you also need to show the title and opening few bars to the camera.

Finally, if the performer is under 18, a responsible adult must be in the room at the time of recording and also sign a declaration form when uploading to the ABRSM.

So those are the main logistics out of the way. If you have any further questions, please ask with a comment below.

How the exams are marked and what the examiner is looking for. 

There are 150 marks in total available for these exams, just like the old face to face exams and pieces still get 30 marks each. For more information on how the pieces are marked check out my video on “How to get a distinction at ABRSM - Pieces” below.

However there is a fifth element called “The Performance as a Whole” which is also worth 30 marks. In this the examiner will be looking for the following:

This means playing with conviction and commitment similar to the “performance” aspect on which the individual pieces are marked. However here a good mark involves a consistency throughout the whole exam, not just in one piece.

Sequencing and pacing: The choice and order of your pieces matter. Try to pick pieces that show a variety of styles and thus your ability to communicate in more than just one type of music. This applies to not just a variety of periods, but also moods and tempi. And when you construct your programme, try to create contrast between pieces that are next to each other. It maybe a good idea to start and finish with livelier pieces, a slow 2nd piece and a playful 3rd. The pacing of your performance, refers to not rushing from one piece to the next. Just like in a real concert, give a moment at the end of a piece, to let the atmosphere “settle” before scrambling to turn the page to the next piece.

Interpretation: Like the mark awarded in the individual pieces, the examiner will be looking for your musical ability, to understand consistently throughout the range of styles that you have chosen, how well you can convey the composers’ intentions.

Delivery: This refers to your technical abilities, how well you have mastered your instrument and can perform all the demands of the pieces you have chosen. Again, this mark is based on a consistent level demonstrated throughout your performance, so for a merit, the marking criteria mentions,
 “Mostly effective instrument management”
and for a distinction the wording is
 “Consistently effective instrument management”
Just to finish, sometimes, reading the examiner's comments gives us a good idea of what they are looking for. This is the comment for the “performance as a whole” received by one of my Skype students who recently got a distinction in their grade 6 piano.

Notice phrases such as “consistent sense of performance” and “range of styles were convincingly interpreted

ABRSM Performance Grades


  1. I'm looking at doing Grade 6 singing performance exam. I note in your post you say you have to show the music to the camera, the first few bars, if you've selected a song from another syllabus. As I understand it, you can also select a free choice piece (i.e. it doesn't have to be from another syllabus). Is that your understanding?

    Also, I was surprised to see in the syllabus that unless it states 'this version only', then 'candidates may use any edition of their choice' and also 'All items may be any key', which was a surprise. Just checking that's your understanding. Thank you in advance!

  2. Yes free choice pieces can be anything of the same standard. The benefit of using a piece from any syllabus of the same grade is it is just a way of checking the level of difficulty, but if you're confident you know the standard of your own choice, it can be anything you like.


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