Music exam boards – ABRSM or Trinity?

Having always taken ABRSM exams as a child, this is what I have continued to enter my students for.  However, while ABRSM was always the one to use, there are other exam boards out there today that are catching up.  One of these is Trinity – this article is a comparison between their exams and those of ABRSM.

Conceptions

For a long time it has been thought that ABRSM is the better music exam board out of the two.  However, the fact that the UCAS points offered for the higher grades are now the same tells a different story.  Some people think that the pieces for Trinity are easier, and I’ve read in several places that with Trinity it’s easier to pass but harder to get a Distinction.  I’m not sure where the opinion that pieces are easier with Trinity comes from – as although there are instances where, for example, a grade 5 piece for Trinity has been set for grade 4 with ABRSM, there are also instances where this has happened the other way round.

Below are the key components of each exam, and a few other factors to take into account:

Pieces

ABRSM – There are 3 lists of pieces (A, B and C), each with 6 different choices.  The candidate picks one piece from each list.

Trinity – There is a long list of pieces and the candidate picks 3 contrasting choices.  There is also an option to enter your own compositions or play as part of a duet for one of the pieces.

Technical exercises

ABRSM – there is a large number of scales, arpeggios, dominant 7ths etc – which increases with each grade you take (and the number you’re asked to learn can vary depending on which instrument you play!)

Trinity – the scales and arpeggios are a similar standard to ABRSM, but there are less of them (and NB it is possible to do the exam without playing any scales).  Candidates need to prepare 1) a bowing exercise (from memory), and then either 2) Scales, Arpeggios and a technical exercise or 3) Three studies

Supporting tests

ABRSM – in addition to scales and pieces, students are also tested on sight reading and aurals.

Trinity – students can choose 2 out of:

  • Sight reading
  • Aural
  • Improvisation
  • Musical knowledge

Other factors to consider

  • Venue – as Trinity is a smaller board than ABRSM, there are less centres across the UK, therefore you may need to travel further to take an exam.
  • Exam dates – When entering for an ABRSM exam, you pick a preferred week and your exam could be any time during this week – however the week you have selected is not guaranteed, so you usually find out the date of your exam a few weeks before.  With Trinity, you select the date of the exam at the time of entering.
  • Results – ABRSM exam results are usually sent out a couple of weeks after the exam.  Trinity – you are given the result at the end of your exam (with a mark sheet sent out later)
  • Theory – to take grade 6 and above with ABRSM, you need to have also passed Grade 5 Theory.  This is not the case with Trinity – there is no theory prerequisite.

With all of these factors in mind, I am strongly tempted to start moving my students across to Trinity exams instead of ABRSM – I feel like these exams suit today’s students better, whereas ABRSM exams have barely changed in lots of years!

I’d be very interested to hear any thoughts you have on this – please feel free to leave a comment below!

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