Drums Grade 5

The Grade 5 Drum exam is for candidates who have the intermediate skills and techniques and have developed an increasing sense of stylistic conviction. This is demonstrated through instrumental techniques, rhythmic complexity, coordination and balance of the kit and maturing solo and improvisation work. There are two types of exam available at Grade 5, Grade Exam or Performance Certificate.

Exam time

Grade Exam: 25 minutes (approx.)
Performance Certificate: 20 minutes (approx.)

Key Features at: Grade 5

  • Snare drum techniques: cross stick, rim shot, Texas shuffle, four­way coordination
  • Single and double strokes, paradiddles, Flams and ruffs, rolls, hands and feet patterns
  • Playback and performance skills

Buy Your Book

As you prepare for your grade exam, you'll need the supporting info in the Drums Grade 5 book for the lowdown on four-way coordination, Texas shuffle rhythm, and cross-stick technique.

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Drums Grade 5 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 5 the pieces last up to a maximum of 2 minutes 30 seconds. The pieces are over two pages and are designed so the candidate can retain focus and concentrate on notation accuracy, stylistic sense of groove, technical control including execution of stylistic drum techniques, developing solo and improvisation elements, sync and the communication of the music through performance.

Rockschool Repertoire:

  • 4:44
  • Don't Let Go
  • Window Seat
  • Hard To Handle
  • Chuck E's In Love
  • Hold The Line 
  • Geek
  • Rollin'
  • Do Balanço
  • Tiberius
  • Smack Talk
  • Slam Dunk Funk

Technical Exercises

At Grade 5 there are six 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

Eighth, eighth note triplets and sixteenth notes.

To be played first time with singles and with doubles on the repeat

GROUP B - Paradiddles

Single paradiddle in sixteenth notes using the whole kit (bass drum follows the right hand)

Triple Paradiddle Sixteenth notes using the whole kit (bass drum follows the right hand)

GROUP C - Flams and Ruffs

Flam accent and single drag tap

GROUP D - Rolls

Tempo: 75 bpm

Five stroke roll phrase

GROUP E - Hands and Feet patterns

Four patterns

GROUP F - Fill

Tempo: 90 bpm

In the exam, you will be asked to play the Fill exercise from the Grade 5 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. The candidate is to perform the repeat.

Supporting Tests

At Grade 5 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 5 book.

Sight Reading

Tempo: 80-120 bpm

At Grade 5 there is an element of improvisation. This is in the form of a two bar development. At Grade 5 the notation consists of quarter, dotted quarter, eighth, dotted eighth and sixteenth notes and quarter note and eighth note rests in 4/4. The test is 8 bars long and is on the whole kit. 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: 80-120 bpm

In Grade 5, the improvisation and interpretation test contains a small amount of sight reading. This consists of a two bar groove at the beginning of the test. You will be asked to play the notation as indicated and complete the test developing the groove and ending with a two bar drum solo. This is played to a backing track of eight bars.

Ear Tests

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, eighth, eighth note triplets, dotted eighth and sixteenth notes. 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 three printed examples.

Groove Recall

Tempo: 80-120 bpm

The examiner will play you a two bar groove that is repeated played on the crash, hi hat (open and closed), ride, bell of ride, cross stick, 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 countin. There will be a short gap for you to practise. Next, you will hear a vocal count-in and you will then play the groove back with the metronome backing. You will then be required to identify the style of the groove from asset of three listed by the examiner.

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 5 you will be asked to identify:

  • Drum voices on the stave
  • The meaning of the time signature marking
  • The meaning of bpm markings
  • Repeat marks, first and second time bars, D.C., D.S., al Coda and al fine markings
  • Stylistic drum notation
  • All note values used in the chosen piece
  • Equivalent rests
  • One type of rudiment that can be used stylistically in the solo or development section of the piece
  • Use of drum voices, rhythms and techniques in drum solo sections

Instrument Knowledge

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

In Grade 5 you will be asked to identify/explain:

  • Any part of the drum kit and drumstick
  • How to tune the drum kit
  • Cross stick, choke cymbal, bell of ride and accent

Assessment Criteria

Performance Pieces

Attainment BandAssessment Criteria Not MetPassMeritDistinction
Mark Range0-1112-1415-1718-20
Grade Descriptor• Incomplete performance
• No attempt
• Techniques hesitant and/or incorrect
• Rhythm/pulse mostly inaccurate
• Notation/harmonic work hesitant and/or incorrect
• Stylistic direction hesitant and/or incorrect
• Solo/improv limited in stylistic understanding
• Sync largely not achieved
• Sense of stylistic performance not achieved
• Some secure techniques evident
• Generally secure rhythm/pulse
• Some notation/harmonic accuracy evident
• Some stylistic direction evident
• Adequate solo/improv
• Sync evident
• Some sense of stylistic performance
• Secure techniques overall
• Secure rhythm/pulse overall
• Notation/harmonic accuracy observed overall
• Stylistic direction observed overall
• Stylistic solo/improv overall
• Mainly synchronised
• A sense of stylistic performance overall
• Consistent and secure techniques
• Consistent rhythm/pulse
• Notation/harmonic accuracy detailed throughout
• Stylistic direction detailed throughout
• Convincing and stylistic solo/improv
• Consistent sync
• Highly confident and assured stylistic performance

Technical Exercises

Attainment BandAssessment Criteria Not MetPassMeritDistinction
Mark Range0-89-1011-1213-15
Grade Descriptor• Incomplete performance
• No attempt
• Techniques hesitant and/or incorrect
• Rhythm/pulse mostly inaccurate
• Notation/harmonic work hesitant and /or incorrect
• Stylistic direction hesitant and/or incorrect
• Solo/improv limited in stylistic understanding
• Sync largely not achieved
• Sense of stylistic performance not achieved
• Some secure techniques evident
• Generally secure rhythm / pulse
• Some notation/harmonic accuracy evident
• Some stylistic direction evident
• Adequate solo/improv
• Sync evident
• Some sense of stylistic performance
• Secure techniques overall
• Secure rhythm/pulse overall
• Notation/harmonic accuracy observed overall
• Stylistic direction observed overall
• Stylistic solo/improv overall
• Mainly synchronised
• A sense of stylistic performance overall
• Consistent and secure techniques
• Consistent rhythm/pulse
• Notation/harmonic accuracy detailed throughout
• Stylistic direction detailed throughout
• Convincing and stylistic solo/improv
• Consistent sync
• Highly confident and assured stylistic performance

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.

Guitar 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

01 October 18

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Exam Fee

£66.00

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