Drums Grade 1

The Grade 1 Drum exam is for candidates who have been learning for a relatively short period and have mastered the key basic skills. There are two types of exam available at Grade 1, Grade Exam or Performance Certificate.

Exam time

Grade Exam: 20 minutes (approx.)
Performance Certificate: 15 minutes (approx.)

Key Features at: Grade 1

  • Moving between cymbals, open hi-hats, syncopated accents
  • Single and double strokes, paradiddles
  • Playback skills

Buy Your Book

The Drums Grade 1 book is the essential companion to your Grade 1 exam. It covers fundamental techniques and introduces you to the core music theory behind six styles of rock and pop.

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Drums Grade 1 Cover

Exam Structure

There are two types of exam available, a Grade Exam or Performance Certificate.

Grade Exam

3 Performance Pieces
(two of which may be Free Choice Pieces)
Candidates choose to play either
Performance Pieces or Technical
Exercises first
These account
for 60% of the
exam mark
Technical Exercises
(Section A, B, C and D for Level 3 qualifications)
Candidates choose to play either
Performance Pieces or Technical
Exercises first
These account
for 15% of the
exam mark
Sight Reading or Improvisation & Interpretation
Debut–Grade 5
Candidates are given an unseen
test to prepare and perform
This accounts
for 10% of the exam marks
Quick Study Pieces
Grade 6–8
Candidates are given an unseen
test to prepare and perform
These account
for 10% of the exam marks
2 Ear TestsCandidates respond to 2 aural tests.These account
for 10% of the
exam marks
5 General Musicianship QuestionsCandidates answer 5 questions based
on one of the pieces performed
These 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

At Grade 1 the pieces last up to a maximum of 1 minute 15 seconds. Pieces are over two pages and the length of piece is designed to enable the candidate to remain focused on the requirements of notation, technical control, coordination, balance and sync.

Rockschool Drums '18

  • Queen - I Want To Break Free
  • Wilson Pickett - In The Midnight Hour
  • Sam & Dave - Soul Man
  • Wretch 32 - Liberation
  • Michael Jackson - Billie Jean
  • Usher - Yeah! 

Rockschool Originals

  • Kaiser Roll
  • Bend And Snap
  • Jangle Road
  • West Coast Rollin'
  • Deep Trouble
  • Munky Fusic

Technical Exercises

At Grade 1 there are four groups of technical work. The examiner will ask a selection from each group and before you start the section you will be asked whether you would like to play the exercises along with the click or hear a single bar of click before you commence the test.

GROUP A - Single and Double Strokes

In eighth notes alternate bars

GROUP B - Single and Double Strokes

In sixteenth notes alternate bars

GROUP C - Paradiddles

Single paradiddle in sixteenth notes

GROUP D - Fill

In the exam, you will be asked to play the Fill exercise from the Grade 1 book to a backing track. The groove is shown in bars 1-3 and the examiner will choose one fill from a set of four to be played in bar 4.

Supporting Tests

At Grade 1 you have the choice between Sight Reading or Improvisation and Interpretation. The tests are previously unseen and an example can be found in the Grade 1 book.

Sight Reading

Tempo: 80 bpm

At Grade 1 you will be offered a Sight Reading test that is in the form of a four bar rhythm played on the snare drum. The test is made up of half and quarter notes and quarter note rests. The examiner will allow 90 seconds preparation and practice time and will offer the option of practicing with or without a metronome. The candidate will then perform the test for the examination.

Improvisation & Interpretation

Tempo: 70-80 bpm

At Grade 1 the test is four bars long and the candidate will have 30 seconds preparation time. The test is in the form of a notated one bar groove that should be developed and a one bar fill. The examiner will offer the metronome as a guide. The candidate will then have a complete practice run-through with the backing track and then on the repeat, the test will be examined.

Ear Tests

There are two tests which are Fill Playback and Recognition and Groove Recall.

Fill Playback and Recognition

Tempo: 70 bpm

The examiner will play you a one bar fill played on the snare drum with a metronome backing. You will hear the test twice. The test is made up of quarter and eighth notes and quarter note rests. Each time the test is played it is preceded by a one bar count-in. There will be a short gap for you to practice. Next, you will hear a vocal count-in and you will then play the fill back with the metronome backing. The candidate will then be required to identify the test from two printed examples.

Groove Recall

Tempo: 80 bpm

The examiner will play you a two bar groove that is repeated played on the hi hat, snare and bass drum with a metronome backing. You will hear the test twice. Each time the test is played it is preceded by a one bar count-in. There will be a short gap for you to practice. Next you will hear a vocal count-in and you will then play the groove back with the metronome backing.

General Musicianship Questions 

Music Knowledge

The examiner will ask you four music knowledge questions based on a piece of music that you have played in the exam. You will nominate the piece of music about which the questions will be asked.

In Grade 1 you will be asked to identify:

  • Drum voices on the stave
  • Quarter note and eighth note values
  • A rest in the piece
  • Instrument Knowledge

The examiner will also ask you one question regarding your instrument.

In Grade 1 you will be asked to identify:

  • The following parts of the drum kit – bass drum, snare, high tom, medium tom, floor tom, hi-hat, ride cymbal and crash cymbal
  • Two main drum kit makes

Assessment Criteria

Performance Pieces

Attainment BandAssessment Criteria Not MetPassMerit Distinction
Mark Range0-1112-1415-1718-20
Grade Descriptor • Incomplete performance
• No attempt
• Basic techniques not shown
• Rhythm/pulse largely
inaccurate
• Notation accuracy largely inaccurate
• Sync not achieved
• Unsure in presentation
• Basic techniques evident
• Rhythm/pulse evident
• Notation accuracy evident
• Sync evident
• Some confidence in presentation
• Secure basic techniques overall
• Secure rhythm/pulse overall
• Notation accuracy observed overall
• Mainly synchronised
• Confident presentation overall
• Consistent and secure basic techniques
• Consistent rhythm/pulse
• Notation accuracy detailed throughout
• Consistent sync
• Highly confident and assured presentation

Technical Exercises

Attainment BandAssessment Criteria Not MetPassMerit Distinction
Mark Range0-89-1011-1213-15
Grade Descriptor • Incomplete performance
• No attempt
• Basic techniques not shown
• Rhythm/pulse largely
inaccurate
• Notation accuracy largely inaccurate
• Sync not achieved
• Unsure in presentation
• Basic techniques evident
• Rhythm/pulse evident
• Notation accuracy evident
• Sync evident
• Some confidence in presentation
• Secure basic techniques overall
• Secure rhythm/pulse overall
• Notation accuracy observed overall
• Mainly synchronised
• Confident presentation overall
• Consistent and secure basic techniques
• Consistent rhythm/pulse
• Notation accuracy detailed throughout
• Consistent sync
• Highly confident and assured presentation

Ear Tests

Attainment Band Assessment Criteria Not MetPassMeritDistinction
Mark Range0-567-89-10
Grade Descriptor• No attempt
• Responses not offered
• Notation/pitch largely inaccurate
• Rhythm/pulse largely inaccurate
• Improv/solo largely absent or inappropriate
• Sync largely absent
• Responses vague or incorrect

• Notation/pitch accuracy evident
• Rhythm/pulse evident
• Improv/solo evident and generally appropriate
• Sync evident
• Adequate Responses
• Notation/pitch correct overall
• Secure rhythm/pulse overall
• Improv/Solo convincing overall
• Mainly synchronized
• Accurate responses overall
• Notation/pitch accuracy correct throughout
•Consistent rhythm/pulse
• Convincing improv/solo throughout
• Consistent sync
• Accurate responses

Supporting Tests (Sight Reading OR Improvisation/Interpretation)

Attainment Band Assessment Criteria Not MetPassMeritDistinction
Mark Range0-567-89-10
Grade Descriptor• No attempt
• Responses not offered
• Notation/pitch largely inaccurate
• Rhythm/pulse largely inaccurate
• Improv/solo largely absent or inappropriate
• Sync largely absent
• Responses vague or incorrect

• Notation/pitch accuracy evident
• Rhythm/pulse evident
• Improv/solo evident and generally appropriate
• Sync evident
• Adequate Responses
• Notation/pitch correct overall
• Secure rhythm/pulse overall
• Improv/Solo convincing overall
• Mainly synchronized
• Accurate responses overall
• Notation/pitch accuracy correct throughout
•Consistent rhythm/pulse
• Convincing improv/solo throughout
• Consistent sync
• Accurate responses

Supporting Tests (General Musicianship Questions) 

Attainment Band Assessment Criteria Not MetPassMeritDistinction
Mark Range0-2345
Grade Descriptor• No attempt
• Responses not offered
• Notation/pitch largely inaccurate
• Rhythm/pulse largely inaccurate
• Improv/solo largely absent or inappropriate
• Sync largely absent
• Responses vague or incorrect

• Notation/pitch accuracy evident
• Rhythm/pulse evident
• Improv/solo evident and generally appropriate
• Sync evident
• Adequate Responses
• Notation/pitch correct overall
• Secure rhythm/pulse overall
• Improv/Solo convincing overall
• Mainly synchronized
• Accurate responses overall
• Notation/pitch accuracy correct throughout
•Consistent rhythm/pulse
• Convincing improv/solo throughout
• Consistent sync
• Accurate responses

Additional Information

The Value of RSL Qualifications

RSL advocates an open access approach to qualifications, providing a range of syllabi, designed to accommodate a wide variety of candidates of different ages, experience and levels of achievement. RSL awards qualifications that are listed on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) in England and Northern Ireland by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual). RSL is committed to maintaining and improving its reputation for excellence by providing high quality education and training through its syllabi, examinations, music and resources.

UCAS Points

For students applying for work or University, many potential employers see graded music exams in a very positive way. Recognised qualifications demonstrate an ability to dedicate commitment to extra–curricular activities, providing evidence of versatility which many students find beneficial within UCAS (Universities & Colleges Admissions Service) applications and for university entrance interviews. Our qualifications carry allocated points on the UCAS tariff.

Selecting Free Choice Pieces (FCP’s)

For all examinations, candidates are able to play a number of Free Choice Pieces.

Free Choice Pieces must demonstrate a comparable level of technical and musical demand to the pieces given in the set selections in the grade books which can be referred to as an indication of appropriate level.

Free choice pieces must be in a modern popular genre such as Pop, Rock, Jazz, Country, Blues, Soul, Reggae, Film and Musical Theatre. Own compositions are also acceptable.

Pieces should be selected carefully to ensure that the pieces provide suitable opportunity for candidates to demonstrate the relevant assessment criteria. Candidates are reminded that if a chosen Free Choice Piece does not meet these requirements this may impact on the level of achievement possible within the examination.

All pieces must be performed to a backing track (without the examined part on the track) except in case where pieces have been selected from previous Rockschool syllabi and do not have backing track or have been specifically arranged by Rockschool as solo pieces.

Instrument Specification

Candidates are reminded that it is their responsibility to select and provide an appropriate musical instrument for each syllabus to allow demonstration of the relevant stylistic and technical skills within their performance. At all levels of examination, if any outcomes or assessed criteria cannot be demonstrated or are demonstrated less securely as a result of the equipment, this may be reflected in the marks awarded.

Drums Syllabus

Get a copy of the Debut - Grade 8 syllabus:

Drums Syllabus (1.5MB, .pdf)

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Dates & Fees

Next exam period:

23 October 18 - 15 December 18

Next Closing Date

15 January 19

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Exam Fee

£43.00

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