Classical Piano Debut

The Debut Piano exam is for candidates who have been learning a short time and have developed elementary skills, techniques, co-ordination and musical understanding.

There are two main types of exam available at Debut, either a Grade Exam or Performance Certificate, which can be booked as a face-to-face exam or recorded video exam and is also available in some centres as a live-streamed video exam.

Exam Times

Grade Exam: 15 minutes (approx.)
Performance Certificate: 12 minutes (approx.)

Key Features at: Debut

  • Performance Pieces
  • Technical Exercises
  • Supporting Tests

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Classical grades for the modern musician. RSL Classical Piano Debut will provide you with everything you need for your Debut exam, including a diverse range of repertoire, a truly innovative range of supporting tests and a vast array of professionally arranged and recorded backing tracks.

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RSL Classical Piano Debut Book

Exam Structure

There are two main types of exam available, a Grade Exam or Performance Certificate, which can be booked as a face-to-face exam or recorded video exam and is also available in some centres as a live-streamed video exam. More info about our video exams can be found here...

Grade Exam

3 Performance Pieces
(two of which may be Free Choice Pieces)
Candidates choose to play either Performance Pieces or Technical Exercises firstThese account
for 60% of the
exam mark
Technical Exercises
Candidates choose to play either Performance Pieces or Technical Exercises firstThese account
for 15% of the
exam mark
Sight Reading or Improvisation & Interpretation.Candidates are given an unseen test to prepare and performThis accounts
for 10% of the exam marks
Ear TestsCandidates respond to one melodic recall test.These account
for 10% of the
exam marks
General Musicianship QuestionsCandidates answer 5 questions based on one of the pieces performedThese account
for 5% of the
exam marks

Performance Certificate

5 Performance Pieces only
(three of these can be Free Choice Pieces)
These account for 20% of the exam mark each.

Performance Pieces

The performance pieces in the grade book can be used for both the Grade Exam and Performance Certificate, and designed so candidates can demonstrate the required assessment criteria.

Featured Repertoire:

  • Yann Tiersen – La Valse d’Amélie
  • Ludovico Einaudi – Una Mattina
  • Pauline Hall – Martian’s March
  • Melanie Spanswick – Celebration (DUET)
  • Trad. Spiritual – Swing Low Sweet Chariot
  • Helen Madden – Andante Verde
  • Zenobia Powell Perry – Vignette No. 1
  • Béla Bartók – Play
  • Elvina Pearce – Sand Castle
  • Claude Debussy – Claire de Lune
  • RSL Classical Piano – Repertoire List

Technical Exercises

At Debut there are three groups of technical work: Scales, Broken Chords and Technical Studies.

  • All scales and broken chords need to be played hands separately, legato, ascending and descending, in the keys and octaves shown.
  • Pentatonic scales are right hand only.
  • There is no memory requirement, and candidates may use their book for all technical sections at this grade.
  • Any fingerings shown are suggestions only.
  • All groups are played unaccompanied (without metronome or click).
  • Candidates will be marked on tone quality and consistency, maintenance of pulse, and accuracy. Performances slower than the stated minimum tempo may be subject to qualitative judgement by the examiner, according to extent and commensurate with the grade.

GROUP A: SCALES

Minimum tempo: 52bpm
Range: One octave
Rhythms: Quavers (eighth) notes, finishing on a crotchet (quarter note)

  • C major (right hand)
  • C major (left hand)
  • A natural minor (right hand)
  • A natural minor (left hand)
  • C major pentatonic (right hand)
  • A minor pentatonic (right hand)

GROUP B: ARPEGGIOS

Minimum tempo: 92bpm
Time signatures: 3/4
Rhythms: Crotchets (quarter notes), finishing on a dotted minim (dotted half note)

  • C major broken chord (right hand)
  • C major broken chord (left hand)
  • A minor broken chord (right hand)
  • A minor broken chord (left hand)

GROUP C: TECHNICAL STUDIES

Minimum tempo: 80bpm
Candidates perform their choice of one of the technical studies from the grade book.

Supporting Tests

At Debut, candidates will be offered the choice between Sight Reading or Contemporary Improvisation & Interpretation. Both are previously unseen and examples of each are given in the grade book.

SIGHT READING

In the sight reading test, the examiner will give the candidate a 4–6 bar melody in the key of C major, to be played unaccompanied. Candidates will first be given 90 seconds to practise. After the practise time, the examiner will ask the candidate to commence the test.

  • Minimum tempo q = 60 bpm.
  • Candidates are tested on their ability to perform previously unseen pitches and rhythms. No dynamics are shown, however, candidates should maintain an even tone quality throughout.
  • While the assessed part of the test is not played to a metronome click, candidates may ask to hear the minimum tempo on a metronome at the start of, or throughout their practice time. Additionally, candidates may ask to hear a few seconds of the tempo on a metronome before the assessed part of the test begins.

CONTEMPORARY IMPROVISATION & INTERPRETATION

Key: C major
Tempo: 60bpm
Time signature: 4/4

The Contemporary Improvisation & Interpretation test is in the form of a 4–6 bar chord progression, with all chord symbols indicated.
Candidates may improvise either a melodic line or a chordal part to complement the backing track.
Candidates will have 90 seconds to prepare after which the examiner will play the backing track twice. The first time is to practise and the second time is to perform the final version for the exam. For the first play through, there will be four clicks. For the test, there will be a one bar count-in. During the practice time, candidates will be given the option of a metronome click throughout or a one bar count-in at the beginning.
The backing track is continuous so once the first playthrough has finished the count-in of the second playing will start immediately.

EAR TESTS

At Debut there is one ear test, assessing melodic recall skills. An example is shown in the grade book.

MELODIC RECALL

Tempo: 95bpm
Rhythms: Minims (half notes)

The examiner will play two minims one after the other. Candidates are to state whether the second note is higher or lower in pitch than the first note. The test will be played twice, each time preceded by four clicks. There will also be a C root note at the beginning of the test for reference. For this exercise, candidates are to use the words ‘higher’ or ‘lower’. Credit will be given for speed of response.

GENERAL MUSICIANSHIP QUESTIONS

At Debut candidates will be asked five questions on topics relating to their choice of piece performed in the examination, and general musical and instrumental knowledge.

Music Knowledge:
At Debut candidates will be asked to identify:

  • The treble and bass staves
  • The treble and bass clefs
  • Note pitch names (within treble stave only)
  • Minim (half) and crotchet (quarter) note values

Instrument Knowledge:
In Debut candidates will be asked to identify:

  • One of the following parts of piano: black and white keys, middle C (C4)

Assessment Criteria

Performance Pieces

Attainment BandDistinctionMeritPassBelow PassBelow Pass 2
Mark Range18–2015–1712–146–110–5
Command of InstrumentConsistently clear production of sound and even tone quality throughoutMostly clear production of sound and even tone quality overallSome clear production of sound and generally even tone qualitySound produced is unclear with uneven quality of tone producedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Sync or PulsePerformance consistently synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance mostly synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance sometimes synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance not synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse not maintainedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Accuracy & Understandingall of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated throughout.

Understanding of musical structure shown all of the time.
Most of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated overall.

Understanding of musical structure shown most of the time.
Some of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills generally demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure shown some of the time.
Written music not accurately performed or equivalent skills not demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure not evidenced.
No attempt and/or incomplete performance
Style & ExpressionConsistently convincing projection of the music.Mostly convincing projection of the music.Some convincing projection of the music.Music not convincingly projected.No attempt and/or incomplete performance

Technical Exercises

Attainment BandDistinction MeritPassBelow PassBelow Pass 2
Mark Range13–1511–129–104–80–3
Command of InstrumentConsistently clear production of sound and even tone quality throughoutMostly clear production of sound and even tone quality overallSome clear production of sound and generally even tone qualitySound produced is unclear with uneven quality of tone producedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Sync or PulsePerformance consistently synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance mostly synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance sometimes synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance not synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse not maintainedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Accuracy & Understandingall of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated throughout.

Understanding of musical structure shown all of the time.
Most of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated overall.

Understanding of musical structure shown most of the time.
Some of the written music accurately performed or equivalent
skills generally demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure shown some of the time.
Written music not accurately performed or equivalent skills not demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure not evidenced.
No attempt and/or incomplete performance

Ear Tests

Attainment BandDistinction MeritPassBelow PassBelow Pass 2
Mark Range9–107–863–50–2
Accuracy & UnderstandingAll of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated throughout.

Understanding of musical structure shown all of the time.
Most of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated overall.

Understanding of musical structure shown most of the time.
Some of the written music accurately performed or equivalent
skills generally demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure shown some of the time.
Written music not accurately performed or equivalent skills not demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure not evidenced.
No attempt and/or incomplete performance

Supporting Tests

Attainment BandDistinction MeritPassBelow PassBelow Pass 2
Mark Range9–107–863–50–2
Command of InstrumentConsistently clear production of sound and even tone quality throughoutMostly clear production of sound and even tone quality overallSome clear production of sound and generally even tone qualitySound produced is unclear with uneven quality of tone producedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Sync or PulsePerformance consistently synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance mostly synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance sometimes synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance not synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse not maintainedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Accuracy & UnderstandingAll of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated throughout.

Understanding of musical structure shown all of the time.
Most of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated overall.

Understanding of musical structure shown most of the time.
Some of the written music accurately performed or equivalent
skills generally demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure shown some of the time.
Written music not accurately performed or equivalent skills not demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure not evidenced.
No attempt and/or incomplete performance

General Musicianship Questions

Attainment BandDistinction MeritPassBelow PassBelow Pass 2
Mark Range5 correct responses4 correct responses3 correct responses2 correct responses0–1 correct responses

Performance Certificate

Attainment BandDistinctionMeritPassBelow PassBelow Pass 2
Mark Range18–2015–1712–146–110–5
Command of InstrumentConsistently clear production of sound and even tone quality throughoutMostly clear production of sound and even tone quality overallSome clear production of sound and generally even tone qualitySound produced is unclear with uneven quality of tone producedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Sync or PulsePerformance consistently synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance mostly synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance sometimes synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance not synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse not maintainedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Accuracy & UnderstandingAll of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated throughout.

Understanding of musical structure shown all of the time.
Most of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated overall.

Understanding of musical structure shown most of the time.
Some of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills generally demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure shown some of the time.
Written music not accurately performed or equivalent skills not demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure not evidenced.
No attempt and/or incomplete performance
Style & ExpressionConsistently convincing projection of the music.Mostly convincing projection of the music.Some convincing projection of the music.Music not convincingly projected.No attempt and/or incomplete performance

Additional Information

NOTATION

All notated work is to be played as written. Where a candidate wishes to perform alternative content an equivalent level of technical outcomes must be demonstrated. Otherwise, there should be no changes or arrangement (unless previously agreed with RSL Awards). Each piece is specifically written/presented carefully to achieve a number of outcomes appropriate for the grade.

Please note that fingering indications are given as guidance only. Fingering technique is not in itself assessed, only the resulting musical outcome.

Exclusions:

  • At all grades, if any two handed/open voiced chords notated in the pieces are not achievable, candidates may adapt the chord voicing or play as a spread chord if stylistically appropriate.
  • At all grades, candidates are free to execute voiced chords notated in the pieces with either hand or combination of hands.

MUSICAL INTERPRETATION

For all piano grades, RSL Awards encourages individual musicality, articulation, expression and use of dynamics when performing. This would include for example own legato/staccato, pedalling, dynamic levels, accentuation, cresc.../dim, phrasing etc, in keeping with the style of the piece. This also applies anywhere in the exam, whether within a performance piece or any other prepared/unprepared element. Unless stated, ornamentation is given as a guide and is open to stylistic interpretation.

PIANO SPECIFICATION

The following instruments are accepted for use in Classical Piano exams, at all grades.

  • Acoustic Piano
  • Digital Piano

A number of our exam venues in the UK have acoustic pianos. The remainder have digital pianos. Candidates are advised to contact RSL Awards to check their nearest centre if they specifically wish to perform the exam on an acoustic piano. See also https://www.rslawards.com/music/find-a-centre

USING OWN EQUIPMENT

Candidates may bring their own digital piano or keyboard for use in the exam, which must fit the following criteria:

  • Debut: Minimum of four octaves/49 keys, touch sensitive, sprung or weighted keys and a sustain pedal.
  • Grade 1: Minimum of five octaves/61 keys, touch sensitive, sprung or weighted keys and a sustain pedal.
  • Grades 2–8: 88 keys, touch sensitive, sprung or weighted keys and a sustain pedal.
  • Candidates must use a 'realistic' piano sound for their exam.

Candidates will need to note on the application form that they wish to use their own equipment when applying to take the exam. Owing to scheduling constraints and the potential impact on subsequent exam times, the absence of prior notification to RSL Awards will result in the examiner refusing candidates own equipment on the day.

RSL Awards also recommends that candidates who wish to bring in their own equipment contact their exam centre to make any practical arrangements beforehand and also bring their own assistance to carry the equipment in/out of the exam room.

Own equipment needs to be practicable and reasonably portable so as not to impact on exam timings.

Note also that whilst it is acceptable for candidates to use their own equipment for use in the exam, if any outcomes required at a particular grade either cannot be demonstrated or are demonstrated less securely as a result of the equipment, this may be reflected in the marks awarded. Rockschool cannot advise whether or not candidates use their own equipment. A decision to do so is entirely at a candidate’s discretion/risk on this basis.

Candidates cannot use either pre-programmed backing tracks or internally generated, pre-programmed rhythms.

MAKING NOTES IN THE EXAM

It is not permitted to make any notes at any time during the exam.

With the exception of Technical Exercises where memory requirements apply, it is permitted to use grade books which contain notes made during the course of a candidate’s study.

For General Musicianship Questions, the examiner may use his or her version of the selected piece as the basis to ask the questions if such notes contained on the candidate’s version are deemed sufficiently extensive or might assist the candidate when answering the questions.

Classical Piano Syllabus

Download the RSL Classical Piano Syllabus

RSL Classical Piano – Syllabus Specification

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