Classical Piano Grade 8

The Grade 8 Piano exam is for candidates who have now consolidated their playing to a high level. They have mastered the key skills up to Grade 7 and developed heightened technique, use of expressive devices, rhythmic complexity, fluency, co-ordination and musical understanding. Candidates will be able to improvise to an advanced level with effortless assurance and personality plus demonstrate seamless musical form and structure. There will be an innate stylistic conviction and distinctive musicality with strong individuality. Communication will be commanding.

There are two types of exam available at Grade 8, 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: 30 minutes (approx.)
Performance Certificate: 28 minutes (approx.)

Key Features at: Grade 8

  • Performance Pieces
  • Technical Exercises
  • Supporting Tests

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Classical grades for the modern musician. RSL Classical Piano Grade 8 will provide you with everything you need for your Grade 8 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 Grade 8 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:

  • Johann Sebastian Bach – Prelude and Fugue in C minor
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Allegro
  • Edvard Grieg – Papillon
  • Claude Debussy – Arabesque No. 1 in E
  • Bill Evans – Blue in Green (Take 3)
  • Scott Joplin – Maple Leaf Rag
  • Ludwig van Beethoven – Allegro
  • Francis Poulenc – Mouvements perpétuels
  • Clara Schumann – Impromptu: Le Sabbat
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor – Cameo No. 3

RSL Classical Piano – Repertoire List

Technical Exercises

At Grade 8 there are three groups of technical work: Scales, Arpeggios and Technical Studies.

  • Candidates must prepare natural minor, harmonic minor and melodic minor scales
  • Major scales, minor scales, chromatic scales and arpeggios (including those from previous grades) need to be played:
    – hands together
    – ascending and descending
    – either legato or staccato articulation (as directed by the examiner)
    – across four octaves (except half-whole and whole tone scales, which must be played over two octaves)
  • The examiner may also ask for legato or staccato.
  • Groups A and B (scales & arpeggios) must be played from memory. Candidates may use their book for Group C (Technical Studies).
  • All groups are played unaccompanied (without metronome or click).
  • Any fingerings shown are suggestions only.
  • 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: 176 bpm
Rhythms: Quavers (eighth notes), finishing on a semibreve (whole note).

  • C half-whole diminished (two octaves)
  • C whole tone (two octaves)

GROUP B: ARPEGGIOS

Minimum Tempo: 132 bpm
Time Signature: 3/4, 4/4
Octave range: 4 octaves
Rhythms:
- 3/4: Quavers (eighth notes), finishing on a dotted minim (dotted half note).
- 4/4: Eighth notes, finishing on a semibreve (whole note).

  • Diminished 7th arpeggio – from the starting notes C, C# or D
  • Dominant 7th arpeggio – from the starting notes G, D, A, F, Bb, or Eb
  • Additional Scale
    Candidates will be asked to perform one additional scale from any of the Group A exercises in any of the previous grades, selected by the examiner. The scale will need to be played ascending and descending, in quavers (eighth notes) and hands together. The examiner will confirm the scale, number of octaves, whether legato or staccato, tempo and time signature.

    Additional Arpeggio
    Candidates will be asked to perform one additional arpeggio from any of the Group B exercises in any of the previous grades, selected by the examiner. The scale will need to be played ascending and descending, in quavers (eighth notes) and hands together. The examiner will confirm the scale, number of octaves, whether legato or staccato, tempo and time signature.

    GROUP C: TECHNICAL STUDIES

    Candidates perform their choice of one of the technical studies from the grade book.

Supporting Tests

At Grade 8 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

Key: Any
Time signature: Any
Dynamics/articulation: any
In the sight reading test, the examiner will give candidates a piece of music of up to 24 bars in length, to be played unaccompanied. Candidates will first be given 90 seconds to practise. After the practise time, the examiner will ask candidates to commence the test.

CONTEMPORARY IMPROVISATION & INTERPRETATION

In the Contemporary Improvisation & Interpretation test, the examiner will give candidates a 16–24 bar chord progression in any key. Candidates will first be given 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 each playthrough, the backing track will begin with a one bar count-in. The tempo is q = 60–200.

Key: Any
Tempo: 60–200 bpm
Time Signature: 4/4, swung 4/4

Candidates have the choice to improvise either a melodic line or a chordal part to complement the backing track. During the preparation time, candidates will be given the choice 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 Grade 8 there is one ear test, assessing melodic recall skills. An example is shown in the grade book.

MELODIC RECALL

Key: C major, C natural minor or C harmonic minor
Tempo: 95bpm
Time Signature: 4/4
Rhythms: Minims (half notes), crotchets (quarter notes), quaver (eighth notes).

The examiner will play a two-bar diatonic melody in the key of either C major, C natural minor or C harmonic minor, with a range up to an octave. There will be a C root note at the beginning of the test, then the melody will be played twice (each time preceded by four clicks). After this, candidates will hear a one bar count-in and will then need to play the melody back to a metronome click. The first note of the melody will be either the root, third or fifth. It is acceptable for candidates to play over the track as the test is being played and there will be 10 seconds to practise after the second playing. The piano can be used to assist at any time prior to being counted in to perform the exam version.

Note: the 10 seconds is pre-recorded on the audio track so the count-in for the exam version may begin while candidates are still
practising.

GENERAL MUSICIANSHIP QUESTIONS

The Examiner will ask five questions on topics relating to the candidate’s choice of piece performed in the examination, and on general musical and instrumental knowledge.

Music Knowledge
At Grade 8 candidates will be asked to identify:

  • The meaning of tempo marking e.g. bpm, allegretto, poco moto etc. and key signature marking
  • Any note pitch name (bass and treble staves plus all ledger lines)
  • Any note and rest values within the chosen piece
  • The meaning and application of any expressive musical marking found in the piece including all dynamic markings, rit., rall., a tempo, subito, simile, molto and poco a poco
  • The construction of three of four cadence types; perfect, imperfect, plagal and deceptive, in the key of C, D, F or G major. The examiner will choose one cadence from the list and state the key. The candidate must then state the chord progression as chords from the chosen key

Instrument and Stylistic Knowledge
At Grade 8 candidates will be asked to:

  • Identify the location, function and use of any part of the instrument
  • Give a brief explanation of stylistic and technical

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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