Review of the Trinity Piano Exam Syllabus, 2021-2023

EPTA UK is delighted to present a collaborative review of the new Trinity piano exam syllabus. Commentary comes from a team of four members of the EPTA UK management committee:

Liz Giannopoulos
Karen Marshall
Margaret Murray McLeod
Murray McLachlan

Contents

Initial
Grade 1
Grade 1
Grade 1
Grade 1
Grade 1
Grade 1
Grade 1
Grade 1

The exceptionally wide-ranging, new piano syllabus launched by Trinity last week goes out of its way to provide maximum flexibility and opportunity for candidates to flourish. The two-list format is quite different from ABRSM, and even though numerous pieces in both boards interchange and connect from grade to grade, the current Trinity list prioritises flexibility and freedom of choice to an exceptional extent. The sheer number of choices on offer is staggering, and though past syllabus material is present, the fact that candidates themselves have not known the music previously means that they are presented throughout the whole selection with an extremely diverse and contrasted range (though some teachers may sigh a little at the some of the musical recycling on offer). In particular the Initial and Grade 1 selections are especially attractive and child-friendly. The Initial grade makes the wise step of including lots of one-hand-position pieces - essential for developing confidence and secure foundations. There is also an admirable sense of pacing and space between the Initial and Grade 1 repertoire.

Throughout, the benchmarking is very commendable and understandable. Perhaps this is an improvement on past syllabuses, where there have sometimes been a few surprises.

Of course, it is up to teachers to guide and steer their pupils towards balanced programmes - we can never hope to find a complete curriculum in the requirements for any individual exam. But Trinity’s approach, with a wide range of challenges in its aural tests (singing is not the essential element that it unquestionably is in ABRSM exams), sight-reading (not a compulsory test in the early grades), exercises (fantastic to have these included), scales, arpeggios and repertoire, can certainly help teachers create excellent schemes of work for all their pupils. A pass at Grade 5 theory is not a prerequisite for entering the higher grades, but certainly a lack of understanding of the core skills necessary to pass this exam will affect how candidates perform in Trinity Grade 6 exams and above. Teachers who neglect the development of their students’ intellectual understanding of how music works do so with dangerous consequences! Not that there is a lack of opportunity for teachers to stimulate the intellectual and creative development of their mentees in Trinity exams: there is a long-standing Trinity tradition of allowing candidates to perform their own original compositions in grade examinations and this continues in the new syllabus, offering, in appropriate circumstances, fantastic opportunities for teachers to encourage and develop creative skills for particular pupils. Perhaps Trinity does not have the same level of support materials that other boards have, especially for the improvisation and musical knowledge sections, but that is something which can be overcome: it is largely down to the enterprise, curiosity and experience of the teacher to find material suitable for their pupils’ education - we should never look to any exam board for a complete solution to all our needs. Resources should always come from a wide variety of sources. (Murray McLachlan)

Early Learners (Initial, Grade 1, Grade 2): Liz Giannopoulos

The Initial Grade, Grade 1 and Grade 2 piano syllabus (2021–2023) from Trinity each feature a choice of 12 pieces in the core repertoire book (including one duet) and a further nine additional pieces. Unlike other boards, the selection is not grouped into lists, giving the learners freedom in choosing three pieces. There is scope for the candidate to focus on a style or genre of music, or to explore a broad range of diverse material. Ranging from the Renaissance style of Praetorius to the contemporary work of Ben Crosland, for the most part each syllabus appears to offer a consistent level of technical challenges. These three grades represent a delightful collection of repertoires which will capture the imagination of early pianists. There is something here for everyone!

Initial Grade

Initial
Initial Extended

 

Musically nutritious

 

In a fixed hand position with repeated phrases and imitation between the hands, Old German Dance (Praetorius) offers a simple introduction to the use of scale patterns in repertoire. Realisation of the dynamics and perhaps some variation of articulation will help to convey the dance-like character. Similarly, Reinagle’s Allegretto (no. 9 from 24 Short and Easy Pieces, op.1) offers simple melodic patterns and rhythms whilst requiring balance between the hands and some consideration for fingering. Into the Distance (Wild) features call and response figures between the hands. With interesting dynamic contrasts and a tempo change it has all the elements of a good story for the more imaginative performer.

A safe choice

With hands mostly in unison and the simplest note values once the key signature and accidentals have been negotiated The Giant (Papp) is likely to be a relatively quick and easy learn. The real fun in this piece will be exploring the character of this giant with a suitably heavy marcato touch and a confident forte dynamic. Boogie (Daxböck) is likely to be a popular choice and this piece provides a solid foundation on which to build an understanding of the 12-bar blues. The leaping left hand is likely to necessitate learning by rote.

Recital, concert, festival

There are many ‘crowd-pleasers’ to choose from in this selection. The duet Please Stay, Chihuahua (Gerou) will require a steady pulse throughout, even when frequently changing from staccato to legato articulation. The accompaniment is not overly challenging, and I can see this being a popular performance choice for pianist siblings. Careful counting is needed for Kindergarten Blues (Gruber) which introduces the added skill of chord playing. The contemporary style of this jazzy number will likely prove popular.

Special mentions from the additional pieces

What fun to see Spies on a Mission (Harris) featured on this syllabus. Contrasts of dynamics and articulation will help tell the story and carefully counted rests will add to the sense of suspense. There is an unusual tonality to Heumann’s Spanish Guitar Player which features a carefully articulated left-hand melody and will require some attention to balance when the right-hand accompaniment joins in. 

Grade 1

Grade 1
Grade 1 Extended

 

Musically nutritious

 

King William’s March by Clarke is a familiar tune with a triumphant nature that I am sure will appeal to many learners. Pianists will be grateful for the simplicity of the left hand, allowing them to focus on some acrobat leaps required in the right. Accuracy of articulation and light quavers are a must to keep this marching along. Türk’s Arioso looks deceptively simple but will require some careful choreography and dexterity to achieve the finger substitutions to ensure crisp repeated notes. A few accidentals and clef changes add to the challenges. Space Walk Rag (Hawthorn & Suschitzky) is a delightful introduction to the style of ragtime. The leaps in the left hand are appropriate to the style and yet manageable at this level whilst there is just enough syncopation in the right hand.

A safe choice

Last Waltz (Terzibaschitsch) is a sorrowful yet romantic duet, with a plaintive, undulating melody passing between the hands offering opportunities to develop musical shape. The candidate also has the opportunity to accompany the melody in the lower register of the piano. Bober’s Stealth Mode, to be played ‘sneakily’, is ideal for the developing and expressing of a narrative. The relatively simple melodic line will need to be carefully controlled as performers need to match the tone, dynamics and articulation of notes played by the crossing left hand. Hall and Drayton’s collaborative The Very Vicious Velociraptor is likely to draw young students by virtue of its title alone! The ‘very fast and snappy’ step-wise melody will need to be carefully controlled to maintain an even tone and it’s likely that there will be elements of rote learning in this piece, especially in the descending scale passages that pass between the hands.

Recital, concert, festival

Holland’s Donkey Trot combines an ostinato, non-legato accompaniment with a right-hand melody in thirds. There’s ample opportunity to demonstrate independence of articulation between the hands. The legato thirds may prove challenging and some careful organisation of fingering will be needed. Walking Together by Norton introduces compound duple time. Long legato phrases call for careful shaping, and balance between the hands will need consideration. There is some fingerwork to consider here too. Pirate Stomp (Yandell) is sure to be a popular foot-tapping crowd-pleaser. The introduction and first section trip along comfortably with parallel fifths in the left hands and the melody sitting comfortably in a five-finger position, although the second half throws in some more challenging suspensions which might be more suited to Grade 2.

Special mentions from the additional pieces

It’s always encouraging to see traditional repertoire at the earlier grades and the inclusion of Diabelli’s Bagatelle is a fine introduction to the Classical style with long legato phrases over simple broken chord harmonies; a great opportunity to learn about chord progressions and inversions. Crosland’s Hand in Hand introduces a simplified boogie woogie-style bass line with a jazzy melody. Relatively simple and in a catchy style, this accessible 12-bar blues alternative is likely to be popular. 

Grade 2

Grade 2
Grade 2 Extended

 

Musically nutritious

 

Minuet in G (Böhm) is a delightful example of this Baroque dance style featuring scale and arpeggio patterns, imitation between the hands, light articulation and subtle dynamics. A carefully judged tempo is important to ensure the quavers are played evenly. Similarly, Hässler’s Allegro in C is a shining example from the Classical era and introduces semiquavers for the first time in the syllabus. This will need to be performed with confidence and precision to accurately capture the triumphant feel of a fanfare. Island in the Sun by Heumann requires part playing in the right hand and care should be taken to adequately project the melody whilst sustaining the accompanying notes. Although no articulation is marked the style calls for legato phrasing which should be emphasised with dynamic shaping. The chord progressions and style of this soothing duet are reminiscent of the style of Enya.

A safe choice

Mazurka (Szymanowska) features a running quaver melody with repeated patterns throughout. The simplicity of the chordal accompaniment will be quick to learn and needs to provide a solid foundation for this dance. Proksch’sFreuDich/Feelicitous also features a ground bass of repeated, staccato notes. The relentless rising melody is based on a repetitive rhythmic motif, which will benefit from close attention to the legato and staccato phrasing. The temptation to rush the semiquavers should be resisted. One cannot help but wonder if Crosland’s Bendin’ the Rules really does ‘bend the rules’! With the hands playing almost exclusively separately and the simplicity of the rhythm, this choice might be more at home in the Grade 1 book, although the detailed articulation which is so often a feature of Crosland’s style will be key to a convincing performance.

Recital, concert, festival

Yandell’s Fun Fair Blues heralds the first ‘swung quavers’ in the Trinity syllabus and is a great ‘show piece’. Calling for a confident approach, a steady walking bass will be needed to support the swinging melody which features strong dynamic contrasts, staccato and legato phrasing. And of course, the well-placed accents should not be overlooked. Orpheus in his Underpants (Tanner) is a tongue-in-cheek representation of the well-known Can-Can. It is rhythmically challenging in places and Tanner includes a lot of detailed musical instructions. However, once mastered, the humour of this piece is likely to make it a timeless crowd-pleaser. 

Special mentions from the additional pieces

Shepherd’s Melody by R. Mohrs stands out in the book of additional pieces with such contrast between the two sections. The opening Largo in 6/8 time features a lyrical line in G minor, whilst the second section Allegro is reminiscent of a foot-stomping barn dance in common time in G major. Two pieces in one, this offers a great opportunity for candidates to demonstrate versatility. Poor Mouse (V. Mohrs) is another interesting alternative. Although it appears simple at the outset, each repetition of the melody is increasingly more complex. A driving tempo is indicated and the accelerando will need to be carefully judged throughout the last four bars to reach an appropriately climactic conclusion.

Intermediate One (Grades 3 and 4): Karen Marshall

Overall, I think Trinity has done an excellent job here! The benchmarking is consistent, there’s a wide range of styles and periods and most importantly the music is very attractive to the ear! Any misgivings? Not really… apart from a personal point of view. There really is rather a lot of duplication from the past season: some music from last year’s syllabus is now in the alternative list. Moreover, certain popular choices from a few years back have been resurrected. Hound Dog (Leiber & Stoller arr P. & S. Wedgwood) and The Highway Robber (Bartók) are two examples of this. We must remember, though, that this music is still new to our students. Having reviewed the Trinity syllabus for 2018–2019, I think they have made significant improvements. Notably, they seem now to have a stronger commitment to the Classical Canon. It is encouraging to see the inclusion of music that supports development towards the higher grades: sonatina movements and contrapuntal pieces in two parts are featured, and this is most welcome.

Grade 3

Grade 3
Grade 3 Extended

 

Musically nutritious

 

Sonatina by Gedike provides a wealth of pedagogical opportunities for teaching musical form. It explores Alberti bass, call and response, and classical harmony. This is unquestionably an excellent foundational classical piece. The Night of the Sleepy Panda by Edric Tan (just 15 years old, congratulations Edric!) could inspire students to attempt their own compositions. Packed with teaching opportunity as the key is B major, its challenges include tonal balancing and pedalling. Study in D minor by romantic composer Albert Loeschhorn was part of my own piano teacher Christine Brown’s teaching curriculum. Well worth working hard at (it’s not easy for the grade), it is full of rewarding challenges. In particular it needs grace and elegance in its semiquaver figurations.

A safe choice

We really are rather spoilt for choice here! Looking in the main album I’d recommend Les coucous bénévoles by Couperin. The harmony is beautiful. It is a feast for developing articulation. This piece very nearly appeared in one of my own publications, I think it will prove popular. Having taught this music before, I know both these pieces were back in 2015 very safe and popular choices. The Highway Robber by Bartók is fast but very repetitive, fitting easily around the hands, and Hound Dog by Leiber & Stoller (arr. P. & S. Wedgwood) is huge fun with its walking bass line, swung quavers and jazz harmonies. Students love it! 

Recital, concert, festival

The Diabelli Rondino duet is gorgeous! Such fun with attractive melodies developing light finger work (with varied articulation) and a varied dynamic range. nDcvr Agnt by Lynch is going to attract a large number of players. With its code name title and sneaky melodies exploring the full range of the keyboard, this is an excellent piece for keyboard geography! A standout piece from the jazzy pieces is I’m Late! by Nikki Iles. Perfect for a concert, you can hear the words ‘I’m late’ within the music (the line from Alice in Wonderland said by the rabbit as he rushes around). It’s complete with lovely syncopation, exciting harmony and a wealth of teaching content. What a super edition to the list!

Special mentions from the additional pieces

These are all very strong as the entire Graded album from 2018–2020 is included (really useful to have the music already) plus a small number from other publications. There’s a whopping 35 pieces in total. From the old album (now in the extended edition) I like the Sonata in G major by ScarlattiBetween the Fingers by GrahamRain by Schönmehland Sunrise on the Matterhorn by Rollin. I was thrilled to see The Clock by Haydn arranged by David Blackwell from the title I wrote with him for Foundation Pianist Book 2 (Faber Music) and also Elena Cobb with her Polka Butterflyfrom Higgledy Piggledy Jazz which is such fun! Do also check out the additional duet Spanish Dance by Moszkowskifrom Pauline Hall’s Mixed Doubles.

Grade 4

Grade 4
Grade 4 Extended

A lovely selection of music with loved returning repertoire like Forty Winks by Mark Tanner and Schumann’s Siciliennefrom his Album for the Young. Again, the entire Grade 4 album is repeated in the syllabus with items also drawn from Trinity’s publications of Raising the Bar and Piano Dreams. The odd third party is included with a piece from Piano Tales for Peter Pan by Nikki IlesWendy Bird. Again, with the large choice of 35 pieces there is plenty to choose from. Benchmarking is again consistent and there are no pieces that appear overly challenging. One or two slightly easier but they demand high levels of interpretation to get high marks.

Musically nutritious

As already mentioned, a returning piece from a few years ago is Sicilienne by Schumann. This is brilliant for teaching the difference between compound duple and simple duple time. A much-needed Sonatina movement (at this level) appears with Allegretto by Kuhlau (from Opus 55), part of my own repertoire library; it is full of technical content to develop the fingers - and become familiar with the graceful phrasing essential for this style of music. Calypso by Knowles is fantastic for developing rhythmic skills. It provides the opportunity to expressively voice chords in a dance style. I have to say I do find this rather catchy! 

A safe choice

Back from 2015 is Tanner’s Forty Winks, a welcome Latin-style piece to explore. Articulation will need some careful attention but there are no nasty surprises within the bars. Again, back from the same syllabus is Tower Hill by Giles Farnaby. This is a good introduction to Renaissance music and enjoys lots of thumb prints from the period in terms of harmony and the part writing. Even though quite brisk, it falls easily under the fingers. It’s an attractive play. Remembrance by Mifsud is a lovely lyrical piece. It will take some learning as students won’t be that familiar with the key at this level, the voicing will need careful attention, but once learnt this piece will be very solid in an exam (even if nerves kick in). It’s not technically demanding, rather just needs judicious pedalling and an expressive student to pull it off.

Recital, concert, festival

Perhaps one of the most challenging on the list is Étude no. 23 by Lemoine. There’s a lot going on here! However, for a concert it will no doubt impress with its sforzandi chords, chromatic runs and sudden dynamic changes. This music is exciting! Balloons in the Air by Borislava Taneva is beautiful. Get your students’ pedalling sorted, notes accurate and the keyboard geography choreographed then this piece simply needs expression, making the music tell the story of the title. At adagio speed it’s easily controlled, there’s lots of time to find the chords (the harmony is rather special). Lights in the Rearview by Ben Crosland is bound to be heard many times by examiners. There’s the opportunity for drama and energy. Pedal, syncopated rhythms and detailed articulation require careful attention. Marked ‘driving forward’ this piece does need to go at some speed!

Special mentions from the additional pieces

A good selection here, starting with the whole of last year’s album. Previous favourites for me include Andantino by ElgarPor una Cabeza by Gardel (arr. Farrington) and Burgmüller’s Barcarolle. Again, one of my own titles is here by chance - Foundation Pianist 2 (Faber Music), with Aquarium from Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns (arranged by David Blackwell). I’ve taught this many times: It is ravishingly lyrical and fits beautifully around the hands. Do check out Nikki Iles’ Wendy Bird from her Piano Tales for Peter Pan (EVC Publications) - it’s just lovely. The books are well worth the purchase! So too is OUP’s African Miniatures for Young Pianists with Kwela no.1 by Roux. This is satisfying to play and not at all challenging. What a great opportunity to explore music from Africa.

Intermediate Two (Grades 5 & 6): Margaret Murray McLeod

Grade 5

Grade 5
Grade 5 Extended

Here we are presented with a fine selection of pieces. There will surely be something for everyone to enjoy. 

Musically nutritious

The sonata movement of Dušek affords an opportunity to study classical style and form. Good fingerwork is needed for this.

Valse sentimentale by Schubert is a joy to play, and once the LH is secure, adding the melody and feeling the rubatomovement will provide a valuable learning curve. 

American Amy Beach is one of a growing number of women composers being recognised today. Her piece Pantalon is from a set of pieces describing characters from the commedia dell'arte. Look it up on-line to understand the character and see what he looks like. This is a piece to stir the imagination and encourage a sense of fun.

A safe choice

Large Wave (Wedgwood) is by one of our most popular composers of educational music. At first glance it may appear difficult, but it is not fast, lies comfortably under the hands and has quite a lot of repetition. When playing the demisemiquaver groups, place the hands over the complete group so that a quick movement of fingers and hands will ripple through them. 

Tom Gerou’s March of the Roman Legionaires will appeal to many youngsters. One can imagine the troop of Roman soldiers marching steadily past and disappearing into the distance. It will need a steady beat and crisp staccato to mark the footsteps and firm accents in the LH. From bar 3, the regular pattern of the jumping fifths would work with fingers 3, 1, 5, 2.

Recital, concert, festival

Tchaikovsky’s Sweet Reverie is one of those pieces that casts a spell on the listener. It requires very careful balancing of melody, bass line and inner accompaniment. Practise just melody and bass (clarinet and cello?) until satisfied, only then adding the quietly throbbing inner part. The phrases continually rise and fall most expressively.

John McCabe’s Sports Car is another entertaining piece. Its texture is transparent and there is a fair amount of repetition. However, eventually it is going to go fast, so separate hands and slow practice will pay off here so long as it is kept light at this stage. Both this and the next piece, Typhoon by Ross Petot, will make impressive pieces for concerts or festivals. This has an even faster metronome mark! If you have ever experienced a typhoon, you will recognise the gusty effects as each two-bar phrase rushes towards its last accented beat, and the change of time signature creates even more turbulence for a few bars. Later it sounds as though the storm is dying down, only to suddenly erupt again for the spectacular ending. 

Grade 6

Grade 6
Grade 6 Extended

 

Musically nutritious

 

Although written for harpsichord, the Allemande by Couperin works well on the piano. Keep the touch fairly light, and make sure that the ornaments do not “stick out” or delay the beat. The ornaments have all been realised stylishly [(1) is the mordent, (2) the pralltriller or short trill, (3) here the start of the trill is held back by the tie, (4) is a schneller, starting with the principal note.]

This light-hearted movement, Finale from Sonata in C major, Hob.XVI/35 by Haydn, requires neat and often agile fingerwork. Precision is needed over the various note-values; do not allow the dotted quaver-semiquaver figures to slacken into crotchet-quaver triplet patterns. This contrast shows up clearly in the LH part from bar 30 onwards. Feel free to add a few more dynamic contrasts but remember that the early piano did not have the volume of the modern piano.

Stamping Dance by Bartók offers an excellent introduction to one of the most important composers of the 20thcentury. A bold, confident attack is required for this folk dance. Bartók was very particular about the various accents he employed. Notice the difference between the simple line used at the beginning, the strong inverted V (Bar 27), the more usual accent (bar 30), as well as the sf.

A safe choice

The Prayer of the Matador by Norman Dello Joio, is such an expressive, moving piece, that it will be a very popular choice. One can imagine the fearful feelings of the matador before he goes out to face the bull. Many of the phrases fall, which adds to the brooding mood. The melody suggests words while the hypnotic habanera rhythm keeps the song moving. Pedal can be used right through many of the bars, changing every crotchet beat when the melody is in the LH.

Epilogue by Huang-Hsu would be another good choice for the rather nervous performer. The Maori word Tawahimeans ‘over the river or sea’, so perhaps it helps to think of staring out to sea as dusk falls. The only challenging passage occurs at bar 5 for six bars. Careful, slow practice will soon make the LH passage safe, and once the notes are comfortably in the fingers, the slow tempo helps to keep it under control. 

Recital, concert, festival

Khatchaturian’s Ivan is Very Busy will make a great concert piece and an excellent study for staccato. What is Ivan doing? Is he searching for a lost toy or playing with his train set? The dynamics are very important and should be followed meticulously, especially noting the crescendi from bar 67 and the splendidly bravura ending.

Alfredo Casella’s Galop final is another exciting piece. The left hand is playing staccato almost non-stop and could become tired when played at speed. Using finger staccato, keep the thumb close to the key-surface and let the other fingers do the tapping! However, at bar 47, the action will change to allow more bounce. Once the performance is confident, always be careful not to begin too fast to allow for the speeding up near the end.

Jazz pieces have become very popular in recent years, and there has been a lot of fine music written for players young and old. Jazzin’ Grace by Wilkinson is no exception. Great care should be taken over the rhythm in the early stages, though. One useful method of practice is to tap a slow beat, 4 in a bar, with the LH while playing the melody in the swing rhythm. It is also worth marking (with an x or arrow) where a note coincides with a beat (the B flat in bar 3 and the dotted crotchet in bar 5). It is important to mark all the accented notes firmly, of course.

Advanced (Grades 7 & 8): Murray McLachlan

Grade 7

Grade 7
Grade 7 Extended

Overall, this is one of the most enterprising, original and intriguing selections of music in any grade exam syllabus I can recall! To have Fanny Hensel, Fibich, David Earl and Alan Bullard as bedfellows – not to mention the likes of Philip Lane, Theodore Chanler, Paul Harris, Thomas Peter-Horas, Ludwig Schytte and Anton Eberl – is little short of extraordinary. I freely confess to never having heard the names of some of these fascinating figures, let alone listened to their music! Quite the embarrassment of fascinating riches. Space forbids more than a fleeting mention of some of this colourful material but do check out the post-Schumannesque richness in At Miss Florence’s (David Earl) as well as the fast metre changes in Alan Bullard’s 8th Prelude from 2017. Clearly Trinity Grade 7 could prove an education for pedagogues as much as for pupils. 

Musically nutritious

Baroque and Classical Challenges

There is no substitute for hard graft when it comes to developing secure, neat and graceful pianism, and no better period to nurture finger co-ordination and independence than the eighteenth century. Being able to separate each finger, to work each digit without movement from the others, takes time, patience, micro-practice in small sections and the ability to articulate notes without undue heaviness. Pupils may well find the nimble angularity of the deceptively challenging J. S. Bach A major Two-Part Invention no. 12 BWV 783 frustratingly reflective of their technical shortcomings (it is mercilessly exposing for those who cannot control their fingers and separate digital movement from the use of the forearms) but a wise mentor will work patiently with them, building up from a small number of notes realised at a slow tempo to larger chunks at a more fluent speed.

Similarly the contrapuntal challenges evident in Handel Capriccio in G minor HWV 483 may prove just a little too taxing for pianists who have not yet developed the ability to separate voices effectively in one hand so that two dynamic levels can co-exist happily at the same time. Contrapuntal technical facility within the same hand takes mindful nurturing, reflective and patient practice… and courage. Those who are prepared to work heroically and motivate by inspired leadership can venture forth here. But if you have a student whose musical tastes rarely extend out of piano lessons beyond popular music, pastiche and Ludovico Einaudi, then this would probably be an ill-advised choice…

Arguably Haydn Finale of D major Sonata Hob. XVI:24 is technically rather less onerous than the Handel, but it requires a fastidious discipline, an impeccable sense of rhythmic control, and a really focused, vibrant and intensely persuasive characterisation if it is to leap off the page with conviction. ‘The devil is in the detail’ is unquestionably an appropriate strapline for piano teachers to attach to this wonderful piece - a staple of the repertoire which sadly can lose all credibility in an exam from candidates who are not fired up with a quasi-evangelical zeal in their recreative approach. 

A safe choice

Poulenc Assez modéré (no. 1 from Trois mouvements perpétuelsis extremely short, attractively memorable, and easily learnt with lots of repetitions. It is the perfect choice for pupils with precious little time spare to practise, but who nonetheless have performance flair and enthusiasm. An ideal option for all except those with very small hands, who may find some of the tenth leaps a little awkward, if not impossible - use of the sustaining pedal is certainly appropriate here. 

Hensel Mélodie op. 4 no. 2 - Fate was not kind to Felix Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny, who has never received the recognition her significant musical talent unquestionably deserved. This gorgeously vocal miniature immediately exudes charm and is relatively unchallenging from a technical perspective. Patience, care over voicing, texture and pedalling may be prerequisites for success, but slow and patient work will undoubtedly be repaid in music that could prove very rewarding all round. 

Recital, concert, festival

Philip Lane Struttin’ at the Waldorf is a real showstopper that will brighten up a concert programme immediately. Inspired by the ‘top hat and tails’ style of Fred Astaire, this extremely colourful and rhythmically infectious crowd-pleaser is full of cheeky surprises, jazzy swagger and joie de vivre. It is the sort of piece pianists of all ages and stages would like to at least attempt to play and seems destined for numerous outings not only in exams, but also in school concerts, festivals and on YouTube channels. We expect nothing less from the composer of Private Detective (a very popular former Trinity Grade 6 choice). 

Grade 8

Grade 8
Grade 8 Extended

There is a delicious mixture of the traditional and the unfamiliar in the final grade’s diverse list of options. On the one hand, regular favourites that appear just as much in past Grade 8 ABRSM as Trinity syllabuses are in evidence (Mozart Sonata in B flat K570 and Debussy’s Minstrels). On the other, it is refreshing and stimulating to see works by living composers, as well as shockingly neglected figures from past generations. We really are spoilt for choice in a syllabus that truly caters for just about everyone. 

Musically nutritious

J. S. Bach E major Prelude and Fugue book 1 has long been a challenging Grade 8 choice: it has featured in numerous ABRSM exams (even pre-1980 ones!). Its fugue is a challenge even for diploma-level players as it requires considerable facility and co-ordination, including the ability to dash off double note work with apparent ease and élan. Not therefore something for the faint-hearted. 

Scarlatti Sonata in C ‘Pastorale’ K 513 appears harmless in its opening lines, but soon changes into a fast-moving, bravura dance that requires excellent position shifts and deft handling of arpeggiated figures. A light and nimble technique is essential here in music that is challenging to play if not memorised in advance (try leaping around the keyboard whilst staring at the music simultaneously - if you can avoid feeling dizzy and stressed then you are exceptional!). 

A safe choice

Czerny’s Feodora is a really exquisite find. It comes from his Album élégant des dames pianistes op. 804 and is relatively easy to assimilate, encouraging and indeed demanding a beautiful tone, singing melody line and sensitivity to texture. It is relatively straightforward, but extremely inspiring to learn. Away from his extensive studies, Czerny’s music is shockingly neglected – it includes substantial sonatas and concertos – so this tiny gem is a reminder that his music can offer a tremendous amount to the younger player in search of something out of the ordinary. 

In contrast Granados’ Andaluza (Spanish Dance no. 5) is much more familiar. It is sequential, immediate, and easily picked up, with lots of repetitions and pianistically-friendly figurations. To be honest, this has tended to be perceived in certain circles as a Grade 7 piece. It may be surprising to find it in this slot on the syllabus, but possibly examiners will expect extra care and precision from Grade 8 candidates as a result? Certainly, it is a piece which many pupils have found relatively easy to pick up quickly on many an occasion, and it usually turns out to be enjoyed and successful in performances.

Janáček’s Nelze Domluvit! (no. 6 from On an Overgrown Path) may appear offputtingly episodic and epigrammatic on a first encounter but will quickly repay stud y- especially for those who love impassioned brevity, volatile shifts of mood and nostalgic melancholic beauty. Once the notes have become less ‘alien’ to a newcomer, the music quickly falls into place and could prove fascinating and deeply rewarding for particular students.

Recital, concert, festival

Bartók’s Bulgarian Rhythm no. 2 comes from the six dances that conclude his seminal collection Mikrokosmos (all six for many years were popular choices from Dip ABRSM candidates). It is extremely brief but immediately arresting - jazzy and excitingly energised, requiring deft co-ordination skills but rewarding once mastered both for the performer and the listener. 

Scott Joplin’s The Cascades may require left hand facility and relaxed co-ordination but is perfectly manageable and exciting in performance. Away from The Entertainer and Maple Leaf Rag, Joplin is not quite as popular as he once was, but this surprisingly contrasted Rag unquestionably makes a strong impression in recitals, with its quirky move from elegant restraint into exciting diminished seventh arpeggio flourishes.