Readers of my blog will be aware that I am a pianist and I have learnt up to Grade 7 with a Grade 6 in music theory. So when ABRSM contacted me to ask if I would like to review their new piano syllabus, I was more than happy to do so! My review is written from a students point of view. I will also be doing a brief comparison along the way, of my own ABRSM books, compared to the new syllabus and as I completed my Grade 7 in 2008, I am sure that a lot will have changed in the last 10 years.
For many piano students, learning to play the piano is often the first exposure of pure classical music. This can be quite daunting in itself, purely because classical music is not listened to on a regular basis. ABRSM always make the introduction to this genre of music, a relatively smooth one as with the support of piano lessons, the way classical music is structured becomes a lot clearer through each grade.
Each book from the syllabus details the outline of the piano exam including marks given per section and this is always a good reference to remember whilst one is practicing. This is a new and a positive inclusion to the book, as it was not there during my time of learning. They also always give a few sentences about each composer and this can help the player understand the style of each piece a lot better. This was one of my favourite parts to read in each book, so I am glad that it has remained the same! I also find it useful that the relevant scales and arpeggios have been listed on the back page of each book, which make it handy for a quick reference. Even in this years syllabus, there is a wide variety and excellent choice of composers: J.S Bach, Mozart and Beethoven are all featured throughout the grades and it is wonderful to see some of the newer composers that have been included as this always adds to the selection of the chosen pieces.
The books are also available with accompanying CDs, however these are not automatically included with each book. While I was learning, I was not informed of the CDs until about Grade 5 and I remember purchasing the CD separately. Of course purchasing the book with the CD will cost more, but I think it is vital for all piano students to purchase them and to listen to each piece, as they will gain a better understanding of what is expected of them, and how each piece should eventually sound. It would be even more beneficial for the higher grades (6,7 and 8).
I am happy to see that the books are still structured in the same format as before, and that there is still an option to obtain extra pieces incase you are not keen on any in the books (with your piano teachers discretion, as mine always use to insist on choosing pieces from the book!). As always, fingerings are clearly marked and are easy to follow as are the signs for dynamics and musical punctuations (e.g.staccato and accents etc.)
I always loved the colour scheme for the piano syllabus as one theme follows through for each grade, and this has stayed the same for the new syllabus too. I now plan to sight read the pieces from Grades 1 and 2 just to test whether they are of a similar standard to when I learnt to play, and to see how much has changed in the style of the chosen pieces.
If I was a piano student now, I would be very happy to learn the new syllabus and I hope all current piano students will enjoy learning these new pieces, no matter what grade they are.