MUSIC EXAM BOARDS: A Comprehensive guide

MUSIC EXAM BOARDS: A Comprehensive guide

by | Jan 20, 2020 | ABRSM exams, Counselling, LCM exams, Music Examinations, Rockschool Exams, Trinity Exams

Music exams, though not a compulsory part of music education, have become a common practice amongst students and teachers. They are used to set goals and evaluate the student’s progress. For the ones opting to take this route, it is important to first decide the genre of music that they want to learn or teach and then choose the right examination board for them to do so.

The examination boards available in India offer graded exams from Grades 1-8. Each board offers its version of foundation-level examinations that come before grade 1. The progression of these exams is like school, where Grade 8 prepares a student to enter higher studies in Music. Suppose the students don’t opt for a music degree. In that case, the examination boards also offer associate, licentiate, and fellowship level diplomas after grade 8 that help students specialise in either teaching or performance.

Below is a small peek at the examination boards available to choose from:

ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music)

An idea that cropped up in 1889 for two highly reputed music institutions to come together and create an examining body, ABRSM started internationally conducting graded examinations in 1948.

Today ABRSM conducts examinations for piano, music theory, bowed-string instruments, woodwind instruments, brass instruments, harps, percussion instruments, singing, music theatre and guitar. Their assessment consists of 3 pieces, scales and arpeggios, sight reading and aural skills.

Apart from the graded examinations, ABSRM also offers

  • Prep Test—a test with no pass or fail, designed to give an introduction to assessments for those just starting out
  • Performance Assessments—an independent evaluation assessment for musicians of all levels that aims to provide feedback with no pass or fail
  • ARSM—A performance-only diploma that tests the students only on repertoire
  • Music Diplomas— DipABRSM, LRSM and FRSM are available for teaching, performance and music direction
  • Other —Jazz, Practical Musicianship and Group assessment (ensemble) exams for various subjects.

ABRSM maintains strict standards giving high weightage to technical skills, sight reading and aural skills at all levels. It aims to create a solid foundation for anyone opting for examinations. When it comes to ABSRM, needless to say, there is no easy pass!

MTB (Music Teachers’ Board)

Music Teachers’ Board is a new and upcoming music exam board that is created by the teachers and for the teachers. MTB has been developing itself as an online-only examination and launched its first Ofqual-regulated examination in 2019.

MTB concentrates on education more than examination and thereby doesn’t restrict the pieces that a student must play for the exam as long as they follow their level-based guidelines. They provide complete flexibility over when the student can take the exam and also provide an instrument-specialized examiner to review each students’ exam.

It provides the students an option of practical grade that contains 3 pieces, technical work and musicianship elements like reading skills, aural skills and duet. It also has an option of performance grades which gives a minimum number of pieces along with a time limit within which students must prepare their performance.

As of 2023, it provides assessment for piano, singing, contemporary singing, keyboard, contemporary guitar, classical guitar, drums, contemporary drums, percussion, ukulele, mandolin, strings, flute, oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, recorder, ocarina, trumpet, cornet, horns, trombone, Euphonium, baritone and Music theory. Students have an option of 2 pre-grade levels before their 8 grades. This helps students to start their assessment experience from an absolute basic level and move forward from there. Apart from graded exams the board also provides an option of diploma at 2 levels – AMTB and LMTB.

This new exam board aims at truly recognizing the need of the hour and is concentrating on providing flexibility, specialized assessments, free access to learning resources, ease of operations, free choice repertoire, and reduced stress for both students and teachers. It is definitely a board to watch out for in this day and age.

LCM (London College of Music)

Founded in 1887, the London College of Music is one of the 8 colleges that form the University of West London. When it comes to music examinations, LCM is a paradise of choices! Whichever combination of skills you’d like to be tested on, LCM seems to provide it. Beyond the scope of the general subjects, they provide music examinations in school music performance, professional achievement, church music, traditional music and music theatre. Apart from music, they also provide assessments in creative media, drama and communication exams.

Talking just about music examinations, they have an option for piano, music theory, singing, keyboard, organ & accordion, guitar & ukulele, strings, harp, woodwind instruments, brass instruments, traditional music, church music and ensemble examinations. They also have a wide selection of jazz examinations for clarinet, guitar, flute, piano, saxophone, trumpet and trombone.

Their regular graded examinations test three pieces, technical work, sight reading, aural and viva. Besides that, they also have an option of leisure play and recital examination that give a degree of freedom in the selection of repertoire and a varied option of technical work and supporting tests. After the grade 8 level, they have four diplomas—DipLCM, ALCM, LLCM and FLCM in performance, conducting, composition & thesis and three diplomas for teaching and music theory as well as early childhood music teaching.

LCM provides varied and very strong foundation-level exams. They provide up to 3 exams before grade 1. Not only that, they have individual and group early learning exams for students aged 3-6 years. Some exams for the little ones even allow the parents to quietly sit in to keep the students comfortable!

Although LCM provides a high level of flexibility in the elements of the examination itself, its syllabus maintains a high standard of performance and concentrates on the practical application of concepts.


Trinity College London is an international board of Trinity College of Music that began offering music exams in 1877 to external students. They specialise in examinations for communication and performance skills. Not only do they provide assessments for music, but also for drama, combined arts and english language.

When it comes to music, Trinity College London conducts graded examinations in piano, singing, string instruments, guitar—classical, acoustic and plectrum, woodwind and jazz woodwind instruments, brass instruments, percussion instruments, electronic keyboard, organ and theory of music.

Their graded exams start from an Initial exam after which the student can progress from Grade 1 all the way up to Grade 8. Trinity College London provides a lot of flexibility to the students in the initial years allowing them to choose any combination of pieces from their vast syllabus. They are also the only board offering a choice in their supporting tests where students can select any 2 from sight reading, aural, improvisation and musical knowledge. Though don’t let the liberty they give fool you. They take their examination standards very seriously. As you enter Grade 6, the rules around choosing the pieces and supporting tests become stricter. So, even though you have the option of taking an easy route in the early years, without full exposure to all aspects of music education, you will not be able to cope with Grades 6-8.

Apart from the graded examinations, Trinity College London also provides performance certificates at 3 levels—foundation, intermediate and advanced—for various instruments (including singing) and ensembles. Their diplomas—ATCL, LTCL and FTCL—are available for music performance, teaching and theory.

In 2012 Trinity College London also launched the Rock & Pop examinations for bass, drums, guitar, keyboards and Vocals. These exams revolve around hit songs from all contemporary styles and focus on playing, jamming as well as improvising.

Trinity College London’s syllabus provides such an extensive selection of activities and repertoire that if studied carefully, not only do they make a varied and interesting syllabus but also the basis of a whole curriculum in itself.

RSL (Rockschool)

Rockschool was born in 1991 with a dream to provide formal education to the contemporary arts. After a successful start in the UK, they soon expanded their reach internationally. They entered India in 2005. Apart from the graded music examination, they also extend their reach to vocational qualifications and performance arts awards.

They provide music performance exams in guitar, bass, piano, vocals, drums, keyboard, ukulele, music production and music theory. RSL practices a performance and improvisation-based approach giving their fair share of weightage to technical work. If you are looking to be a performer of contemporary and popular music, especially in a band setting, these exams are absolutely the right match for you.

They start with a Debut exam that takes you to Grade 1 and proceeds up to Grade 8 after which there is an option of two diplomas—Level 4 and Level 6 diplomas. These are available for teaching, performance and creative enterprise. The Level 4 Diploma is for new professionals who are starting their practice and just entering the working industry whereas the Level 6 diploma is for established personnel looking to grow themselves in the field.

Rockschool comes with a completely new approach and idea and adds a path of formal assessments to it. Though a child compared to the other boards, RSL seems to have a new and fresh approach and exciting growth ahead of it.