Piano Grade 1

The Grade 1 Piano 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. There is also an opportunity to build on basic improvisation.

Your exam will involve performance pieces from artists such as Ariana Grande, The Beatles and Sam Smith.

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 pianist. Piano 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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Piano 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 & InterpretationCandidates 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:

  • Let it Be – The Beatles
  • Tattooed Heart – Ariana Grande
  • Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
  • Can You Feel the Love Tonight – Elton John
  • I’m Not the Only One – Sam Smith
  • 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 BandAssessment Criteria Not Met PassMeritDistinction
Mark Range0-1112-1415-1718-20
Grade DescriptorInsecure basic
techniques

Inconsistent awareness
of timing/pulse

Inconsistent use of
rhythm, duration and
phrasing

Insecure sync/continuity

Insecure use of
articulation, expression
and dynamics
Secure basic techniques
some of the time

Awareness of timing/
pulse some of the time

Basic ability to use
rhythm, duration and
phrasing accurately
some of the time

Use of basic sync/
continuity some of the
time

Basic ability to use
articulation, expression
and dynamics some of
the time
Mostly secure basic
techniques

Awareness of timing/
pulse most of the time

Basic ability to use
rhythm, duration and
phrasing accurately
most of the time

Use of basic sync/
continuity most of the
time

Basic ability to use
articulation, expression
and dynamics most of
the time
Consistently secure
basic techniques

Awareness of timing /
pulse throughout

Basic ability to use
rhythm, duration and
phrasing accurately
throughout

Use of basic sync/
continuity throughout

Basic ability to use
articulation, expression
and dynamics
throughout

Technical Exercises (Scales, Arpeggios, Chord Voicings)

Attainment BandAssessment Criteria Not MetPassMeritDistinction
Mark Range0-89-1011-1213-15
Grade Descriptor Inability to maintain
pulse or tempo
accurately

Inability to recall musical
and rhythmic phrases
accurately
Basic ability to maintain
pulse and tempo some
of the time

Ability to recall musical
and rhythmic phrases
some of the time
Basic ability to maintain
pulse and tempo most of
the time

Ability to recall musical
and rhythmic phrases
most of the time
Basic ability to maintain
pulse and tempo
consistently

Ability to recall musical
and rhythmic phrases
consistently

Sight Reading / Improvisation & Interpretation

Attainment BandAssessment Criteria not metPassMerit Distinction
Mark Range0-45-67-89-10
Grade DescriptorInsecure ability to read
basic notation
OR inability to improvise
rhythm, harmony and
melody
Secure ability to
read basic rhythmic,
harmonic and melodic
notation some of the
time OR Secure ability to
improvise basic rhythm,
harmony and melody
some of the time
Mostly secure ability
to read basic rhythmic,
harmonic and melodic
notation OR Mostly
secure ability to
improvise basic rhythm,
harmony and melody
Consistently secure
ability to read basic
rhythmic, harmonic
and melodic notation
OR Consistently secure
ability to improvise basic
rhythm, harmony and
melody

Ear Tests

Attainment BandAssessment Criteria Not MetPassMeritDistinction
Mark Range0-45-67-89-10
Grade DescriptorIncorrect responses Some correct responsesMostly correct
responses
Consistently correct
responses

General Musicianship Questions (GMQ's)

Attainment BandAssessment Criteria Not MetPassMerit Distinction
Mark Range0-2 correct responses 3 correct responses4 correct responses 5 correct responses

Additional Information

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.

Piano Specification

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

  • Acoustic Piano
  • Digital Piano

A number of our exam centres in the UK have acoustic pianos. The remainder have digital pianos. Candidates are advised to contact Rockschool to check their nearest centre if they specifically wish to perform the exam on an acoustic piano.

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.
  • Grade 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 Rockschool will result in the examiner refusing candidates own equipment on the day.

Rockschool 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.

Please note 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.

Piano Syllabus

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Piano Syllabus (5.3MB, .pdf)

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Dates & Fees

Next exam period:

01 May 19 - 31 July 19

Next Closing Date

01 April 19

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Exam Fee

£45.00

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