Keyboard Grade 1

The Grade 1 Keyboard exam is for candidates who have been typically learning for six months to one year. They have mastered the key basic debut level skills and have since acquired greater use of technique, rhythms, co-ordination and musical understanding.

At Keyboard Grade 1 you will be examined on your choice of three performance pieces from artists such as Taylor Swift, Bat For Lashes and Rag'n'Bone Man, with some keyboard-specific techniques that could include single patch settings, layers and the basic use of effects/sound manipulation (eg. pitch bend).

Exam Times

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

Key Features at: Grade 1

  • Performance Pieces
  • Technical Exercises
  • Supporting Tests

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The essential syllabus for the aspiring, contemporary keyboardist. Keys Grade 1 will provide you with everything you need for your Grade 1 exam, including a diverse range of repertoire, a truly innovative range of supporting tests and a vast array of professionally recorded backing tracks and audio examples.

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Rockschool Keys Grade 1

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 to Grade 5); Quick Study Pieces (Grade 6 to Grade 8)Candidates are given an unseen
test to prepare and perform
This accounts
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

The pieces in the grade book can be used for both the Grade Exam and Performance Certificate. The expectation and length of pieces are designed so candidates can concentrate on the requirements of notation accuracy, values, evenness of sound, tone quality/ consistency, technical control and sync at a beginner level.

Featured Repertoire:

  • Can’t Stop the Feeling – Justin Timberlake
  • Tattooed Heart – Ariana Grande
  • Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
  • Daniel – Bat For Lashes
  • Human – Rag’n’Bone Man
  • Wildest Dreams – Taylor Swift

Technical Exercises

At Grade 1 there are three groups of technical work: Scales, Arpeggios and Chord Voicings.

All scales and arpeggios need to be played hands separately, in straight feel, ascending and descending. Pentatonic scales are right hand only.

The examiner will ask for a selection from each group and Groups A and B need to be played to a compulsory metronome click. Group C does not require a metronome and can be played at a tempo of the candidate’s choice.

The book can be used in the exam for Groups A and B. Group C needs to be played from memory. For Group C, candidates will be required to close their grade books.

Note: the use of any notes or any reading from the grade book when performing Group C will result in a deduction of marks for this element. (See Assessment Criteria).

Any fingerings shown in the grade book are for suggestions only.

Group A: Scales
Tempo: 60 bpm
Range: Two Octaves
Rhythms: Eighth notes, finishing on a quarter note

  • F major (right hand)
  • F major (left hand)
  • G major (right hand)
  • G major (left hand)
  • D natural minor (right hand)
  • D natural minor (left hand)
  • E natural minor (right hand)
  • E natural minor (left hand)
  • F major pentatonic (right hand)
  • G major pentatonic (right hand)
  • D minor pentatonic (right hand)
  • E minor pentatonic (right hand)

Group B: Arpeggios
Tempo: 100bpm
Time signature: 3/4
Rhythms: Quarter notes, finishing on a dotted half note

  • F major broken chord (right hand)
  • F major broken chord (left hand)
  • G major broken chord (right hand)
  • G major broken chord (left hand)
  • D natural minor broken chord (right hand)
  • D natural minor broken chord (left hand)
  • E natural minor broken chord (right hand)
  • E natural minor broken chord (left hand)
  • C augmented arpeggio (right hand)
  • C augmented arpeggio (left hand)
  • C diminished arpeggio (right hand)
  • C diminished arpeggio (left hand)

GROUP C - Chord Voicings

  • C diminished
  • C augmented

Candidates will be asked to play either the C diminished or the C augmented triads from memory.

The examiner will state the exercise. This test is performed in free time (without backing track or click), but the examiner will be looking for the speed of your response.

Supporting Tests

At Grade 1, candidates will be offered the choice between Sight Reading or Improvisation and Interpretation. Both are previously unseen and examples of each are given in the grade book.

Sight Reading

Key: F major or G major
Tempo: 70bpm
Time signature: 4/4
Rhythms: Whole, half, quarter notes, associated rests

The Sight Reading test is in the form of a 4–6 bar melody.

Candidates will have 90 seconds to practise 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.

Improvisation & Interpretation

Key: F major or G major
Tempo: 70bpm
Time signature: 4/4

The Improvisation test is in the form of a 4–6 bar chord progression, with all chord symbols indicated.

Candidates are required to improvise single note melodies with either left or right hand. It is permissible to play chord voicings, or use both hands, but marks will only be awarded for melodic content.

Candidates will have 90 seconds to practise 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. 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 Grade 1 there are two ear tests: Melodic Recall and Chord Recognition. Both are previously unseen and an example of each is shown in the grade book.

Melodic Recall

Tempo: 95bpm
Rhythms: Whole, half notes

The examiner will play three notes one after the other. Candidates are to state whether the second note is higher or lower in pitch than the first and whether the third note is higher or lower in pitch than the second. The test will be played twice, each time preceded by a one-bar count-in. 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.

Chord Recognition

Tempo: 95bpm
Rhythms: Whole notes

The examiner will play a sequence of chords each with a C root note, then ask the candidate to state the chord quality of each chord from a choice of major, minor, diminished or augmented. The test will be played twice, each time preceded by a one-bar count-in.

Credit will be given for speed of response.

General Musicianship Questions (GMQ'S)

At Grade 1 candidates will be asked five questions, one from each of the following groups:

  • One question relating to harmony
  • One question relating to melody
  • One question relating to rhythms
  • One question relating to technical requirements
  • One question relating to genre

Candidates can choose the piece on which basis the questions will be asked. It must be one of the pieces performed in the exam.

The exact bars or phrases will be chosen by the examiner.

The questions will cover the following topics:

Group 1: Harmony
Interval construction of major / minor / augmented / diminished triad chords

Group 2: Melody
Pitches in the bass clef within the stave.

Group 3: Rhythm
Whole, half, quarter, eighth notes, associated rests. Eighth note triplets.

Group 4: Technical
Fingering used in a minim length phrase. (Either hand).

Group 5: Genre
Different artists from the same genre as the piece chosen.

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

Free Choice Pieces 

For all Keys grades, candidates are able to play a number of free choice pieces in the examination:

  • Grade Examinations: Two Free Choice Pieces (at least one piece must  be from the grade book)
  • Performance Certificates: Three Free Choice Pieces (at least two pieces must be from the grade book)

Click here for grade specific Free Choice Criteria and wider requirements which need to be observed in full to be eligible for use in the exam. Prior approval is not required but any deviation/simplification/omissions from any aspect of the criteria or requirements may be reflected in the marks awarded.

All pieces must be performed to a backing track (without the examined part on the track) except in cases where pieces have been selected from previous Rockschool syllabi and do not have a backing track.

If there is any doubt or questions about the appropriateness of the chosen piece, please contact us directly and we will advise.-->

Notation

All notated work is to be played as written. There should be no changes or arrangement (unless previously agreed with Rockschool). Each piece is specifically written/presented carefully to achieve a number of outcomes appropriate for the grade.

Exclusions:

  • At Debut and Grade 1, if any three or four voiced chords notated in the pieces are unachievable, candidates may either reduce the amount of notes in the voicing or play as a spread chord if stylistically appropriate.
  • At all grades, if any two handed/open voiced chords notated in the pieces are not achievable, candidates may either reduce
    the amount of notes in the 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.
  • In any Level 3 piece containing chord symbols, voicings may be presented as deemed appropriate.

Musical Interpretation

For all piano grades, Rockschool 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. This also applies anywhere in the exam, whether within a performance piece or any other prepared/unprepared element.

Note: Where there is notated articulation, expression, dynamic or pedal markings, these have been specifically written and must be observed.

Using Own Equipment

Candidates must bring their own keyboard and appropriate stand for use in the exam, plus any additional required equipment
(i.e. power supply, sustain pedal).
The keyboards must fit the following criteria:

  • Debut: Minimum of four octaves/49 keys, touch sensitive, sprung or weighted keys and a sustain pedal.
  • Grade 1 – 5: Minimum of five octaves/61 keys (unless chosen repertoire/technical facility of keyboard demands a wider range), touch sensitive, sprung or weighted keys and a sustain pedal. Please note that octave transposition facilities may be required from grade 4 upwards.
  • Grades 6 – 8: 88 keys, touch sensitive, sprung or weighted keys and a sustain pedal.

Any keyboard instrument with multiple voice/timbre options and the facility to store and manipulate settings according to the level will be appropriate for the Rockschool Keys exams. Alternatively, MIDI keyboard and laptop set ups may also be used. Please note, a realistic piano sound will need to be used for any piano arrangement pieces.

In addition, it is recommended that keyboard instruments or laptop/MIDI keyboard setups have the following functions:

Debut (entry Level 3) & Grades 1–3 (Level 1)

  • single patch settings and registrations
  • Basic layering (e.g. piano/pad)
  • pitch bend/modulation (grade 2 upwards)

Note: octave transposition facilities for smaller keyboards may be required, depending on repertoire selection.

Level 2 (Grades 4–5)

  • Multiple patch settings and registrations
  • Layers
  • Splits
  • Octave transposition facilities
  • Pitch bend/modulation

Level 3 (Grades 6-8)

  • Multiple patch settings and registrations
  • Multiple layering
  • Multiple splits
  • Octave transposition facilities
  • Pitch bend/modulation

Please note, digital pianos may not have the full range of functions available to take a keyboard exam.

For further information, please email info@rslawards.com

Rockschool recommends that candidates 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 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.

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.

Keyboard Syllabus

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Keyboard Syllabus

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