Piano Exams: A Piano Teacher’s Guide

Piano exams can spark an array of questions from your piano students and their families. We’ve tried to answer some of them!

Piano Exams: A Piano Teacher’s Guide

As piano teachers, we have the (sometimes difficult) decision of whether to encourage our students to sit exams or not.

You may be faced with an array of questions from your student, their families, and you probably have your own questions as well. We’ll try and answer as many questions as we can, but if we’ve missed any leave us a comment!


  1. Should My Students Take Exams?
  2. How Do I Know Which Exam Board To Choose?
  3. Can I Use The Syllabus Without Students Taking The Exam?
  4. Who Can Sit Exams?

Should My Students Take Exams?

Exams are a controversial topic, and where one teacher will tell you exams are the best thing for improving students’ music skills, another will tell you you should avoid the ‘Exam Express’.

Check out our blog detailing both the pros and cons of exams to help form the decision for your own students.

Exams Are A Great Motivator

If a student is wanting to do well, piano exams take a high level of motivation and commitment. Having the goal of taking an exam, with a deadline to aim to, can provide a student with a nudge to up their level of practice. This can be particularly useful for a piano teacher with students who are interested in music but who lack the motivation to practice on a regular basis.

By providing them with a reason why they should practice, their half-hearted practice sessions will turn into dedicated practices. They don’t want to fail the exam, so they’ll put in the work. 

This then eases your weekly battle of encouraging them to practice. 

But of course, exams are not the only way (and certainly not the best way for every student) of motivating students.

Other ways you can help with your students’ practice:

Piano Practice Guide For Motivating Students

Turn Off Autopilot in Piano Practice

Exams Make Progression More Visible

As a teacher, you can see how well your students are doing. You can tell them how impressed you are with their level of progression. But sometimes achieving grade exams can be the visible evidence a student (and their families) need in order to understand how well they’re doing. Which then showcases how well you’re doing as teacher.

Exams are a fantastic way of measuring student progress, and the physical element of holding a certificate stating that you’re a good musician can really boost a student’s confidence in their abilities. 

As we know, music is subjective. What sounds good to one person may not sound good to another. This is why examiners follow a mark scheme in order to be objective, focusing on elements such as pitch, time, tone, and performance.

If you’re interested in learning more, and even having a go at marking exams yourself, check out How To Mark A Piano Exam.

And to gain an insight into what it’s like to be a piano examiner, click here.

How Do I Know Which Exam Board To Use?

Exam boards know that students have different interests and different styles of learning. They also appreciate that piano teachers will have different aspirations for their different students. This is why there’s a huge array of exam boards all with different offerings.

Click here for a comparison of Australian Piano Exam Syllabuses

Listen to Nicola Canton detailing different exam syllabuses and the main differences between them

Frequently Asked Questions

When it comes to piano exams, these questions frequently come up:

  • How long do they take?
  • How much do they cost?
  • What do I have to do?

It depends.

As frustrating as this answer is, it’s the absolute truth. With the vast array of exam boards comes a vast array of options. This means the length, cost, and content changes depending on the exam board you have chosen.

Learn more about a selection of exam boards:

  • Trinity College London
    Features of Trinity College Piano Exams: Allows students taking early grades to choose their supporting tests. Also offers a rock & pop syllabus full of great contemporary repertoire.
  • Music Teachers Board
    Features of Music Teachers Board: The exam is recorded in audio or video within the MTB app and is marked by specialist examiners, meaning you can take the exam anywhere, anytime.
  • Con Brio Online Examinations
    Features of Con Brio exams: Vast selection of pieces for students to choose from; they want the pianist to love the exam repertoire, not just play it for the grade.
  • AMEB Exams
    Features of AMEB: Biggest examination board in Australia. Highly trusted. Leads the way in contemporary learning approaches and technologies.
  • RCM Exams
    Features of RCM Exams: Diverse repertoire lists and a tonne of resources available for free online. Awards outstanding candidates with prizes.
  • ABRSM Piano Exams
    Features of ABRSM: The world’s leading provider of music exams, offering assessments to more than 630,000 candidates in 93 countries every year. Their examiners participate in ongoing professional development to ensure their high standard is maintained.
  • Rockschool Piano Exams
    Features of Rockschool Piano Exams: Encourage students to explore a range of modern styles and genres. Places an emphasis on the skills students need to become successful contemporary and versatile musicians.

Can I Use The Syllabus Without Students Taking The Exam?

By working through an exam syllabus and preparing your students for exams, you’re able to help them build on their: 

  • Technique 
  • Aural skills 
  • Sight reading 
  • Musical knowledge 

You can purchase the exam book and guide your students through the pieces, exercises and scales. You can source resources to help you train them to be able to answer the supporting tests.

For a more in-depth look at the supporting tests, check out

Everything But The Pieces (Sight Reading and Aural Tests)

Everything But The Pieces (Technical Work and General Knowledge)

It’s then up to you to assess if there’s a necessity for the student to sit the actual exam, or if you think the exam experience would hinder rather than help.

Some students lack the interest to work on technical skills without having a clear goal or reason, and having the aim of passing the exam is the motivator they need. Others are simply happy with the knowledge they are progressing and boosting their music skills.

Who Can Sit Exams?

Piano exams are traditionally associated with young students. It’s seen that children and teenagers take exams, but once a student reaches a certain age, that’s the end. Some students and their parents even see it as a race to get to a certain grade before they reach a certain age.

BUT this is not the case.

There’s no age limit on piano exams!

If you’re a teacher with adult students, either who have returned to piano after a break or are completely new the instrument, you can suggest exams to them. We know students in their 60s and 70s who have decided to take piano exams, either to prove to themselves that they can, or because they’re a new exciting goal.

Adult students sometimes feel as though they’re unable to participate in the exam process as they’re “too old” and don’t want to be sat in a waiting room with students over half their age performing at higher levels. The emergence of online and video exams have led to an increase in adult students taking exams as there’s no pressure from feeling compared to other, younger, students.

Confidence Boost For All Ages

No matter how old you are, the experience of playing in front of an examiner, while incredibly valuable, can be terrifying. While some students are unfazed by performing in front of anyone, others suffer from performance anxiety. The more practice they get (in live exams, video exams, and recitales) the easier performing becomes.

As their piano teacher, you can help guide them through the process of dealing with any performance anxiety they may face. 

This is then a skill they can then transfer to other walks of life, for example, public speaking and giving presentations.

Click here for tips on how to tackle performance anxiety.

This Is Just The Start

There is so much more when it comes to exams and exam preparation. Please look through the blogs and listen to the podcasts mentioned above. Hopefully, they’ll give you a wider insight into the world of exams.

Preparing students for exams can be hard, but in TopMusicPro we have SO many resources for piano teachers to help take the stress away, from transforming techniques to practice hacks. 

Tim Topham

Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular Integrated Music Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as integrated teaching, creativity, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.

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