Ukulele Debut

The Debut Ukulele exam is for candidates who have been learning a short time and have developed elementary skills, techniques, coordination and musical understanding. There are two types of exam available at Debut, either a Grade Exam or Performance Certificate.

Exam time

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

Key Features at: Debut

  • Performance Pieces
  • Technical Exercises
  • Supporting Tests
  • Ensemble Backing Tracks and Duet Arrangements

Buy Your Book

The Rockschool Ukulele Debut book contains everything you need to pass your Debut exam in one essential book. Featuring a truly diverse range of contemporary repertoire from some of the world's most iconic artists, including Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars & Bob Dylan.

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Ukulele Debut Grade Book

Exam Structure

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

Grade Exam

Prepared Work
Candidates are required to play three performance pieces and Technical Exercises which cover scales, arpeggios and chord voicings.

Unprepared Work
Candidates are required to complete either a Sight Reading or an Improvisation & Interpretation test, and two Ear Tests which begin to develop Melodic and Rhythmic recall

The Debut exam lasts 15 minutes and is taken in the following order:

  • Performance Pieces*
  • Technical Exercises*
  • Sight Reading OR Improvisation & Interpretation
  • Ear Tests
  • General Musicianship Questions

*These elements can be taken first or second at the candidate’s request

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

Prepared Work
Candidates are required to play five performance pieces. There is no unprepared work in the Performance Certificate.

The Debut Performance Certificate lasts 15 minutes.

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. At Debut they are short, typically up to one minute in duration. 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:

  • Marry You – Bruno Mars
  • Rolling in the Deep – Adele
  • Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan
  • Shake it Off – Taylor Swift
  • Lean On Me – Bill Withers
  • Demons – Imagine Dragons

Technical Exercises

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

All exercises need to be played in straight feel, in the keys, octaves and tempos shown. Candidates may use their book during the exam for all groups.

Groups A & B need to be played to a click. The examiner will play the click at the given tempo and candidates should begin to play after four clicks.

Group C is played as announced by the examiner.

Group A: Scales
Tempo: 65bpm
Rhythms: Quarter Notes
Range: As shown in grade book

  • C major
  • C major pentatonic
  • A minor pentatonic
  • G major

Group B: Arpeggios
Tempo: 65bpm
Rhythms: Quarter Notes
Range: As shown in grade book

  • C major
  • A minor

Group C: Chord Voicings
Open position chords. Individual chords will be strummed once as directed by the examiner.

  • Major Chords: C, F, G & D
  • Minor Chords: Am, Dm

Supporting Tests

In this section, candidates can choose between a Sight Reading test or an Improvisation & Interpretation test. The examiner will ask which the candidate has chosen before then showing them the test. Once the candidate has chosen, they cannot change their mind.

Sight Reading

Duration: 4 bars

  • Rhythms: Whole, half and quarter notes
  • Key: C major
  • Pitches and instrumental compass: Open/first position > C&D on the 3rd string; E on the 2nd string
  • Tempo: 65bpm

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. 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

Duration: 4 bars

  • Key: C major
  • Improvisation & interpretation requirement: Single-note melodies only
  • Tempo: 65bpm

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. 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

There are two Ear Tests in this grade. The examiner will play each test twice.

Test 1: Melodic Recall

Candidates will hear two half notes one after the other and will be asked whether the second note is higher or lower in pitch than the first note.

The test will be played twice. Each time the test is played it is preceded by a one bar vocal count-in.

The tempo is 85 bpm.

Test 2: Rhythmic Recall

Candidates will hear a two-bar rhythm played to a drum backing on the high A (1st) string.

The test will be played twice. Candidates will be asked to play the rhythm back, before identifying the rhythm from two printed examples shown to them by the examiner.

Each time the test is played it is preceded by a one bar count-in. There will be a short gap for candidates to practise. Next candidates will hear a vocal count-in and will then need to play the rhythm to the drum backing.

The tempo is 85 bpm.

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 examinations, candidates are able to play a number of free choice pieces:

  • Grade Examinations: Two free choice pieces (a minimum of one piece must be from the Ukulele grade book)
  • Performance Certificates: Three free choice pieces (a minimum of two pieces must be from the Ukulele grade book)
  • 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 they 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.

Free Choice Pieces can be performed to a backing track (without the examined part on the track), or as a solo piece (without backing track).

Candidates are reminded that RSL examination regulations state that pieces must be performed to the exact requirements as detailed in the relevant syllabus guide. If a performance piece over runs, the examiner can halt the performance and grade material demonstrated until that point only. Candidate mark sheets in this instance will automatically be referred to the Head of Assessment at RSL and may be returned to the candidate with accompanying notes.

Free Choice Pieces must be available in fully notated sheet music. Candidates need to bring a copy of the sheet music for the examiner to refer to during the examination. It is acceptable for candidates to refer to their own duplicate copy during the performance. Candidates are reminded that both copies need to fully reflect the interpretation and intended performance of the piece. Examiners will retain all photocopied materials from the exam session.

If there is any doubt about the appropriateness of the chosen piece, please contact freechoicepieces@rslawards.com.

Instrument Specifications 

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.

Download the Ukulele Syllabus

Download the Ukulele Syllabus

Ukulele Syllabus (2020 Edition)

Ukulele Syllabus (2017 Edition)

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