A Music Exam Syllabus Worth Considering

What the Piano Exams Are About

The Royal Conservatory of Music (Canada) is a world-renowned institution established since 1886, known for its high standards in teaching, performance, examining, publishing and research. Together with the National Music Certificate Program (USA), they have set the standard for excellence in music education. The RCM and NMCP are not merely about piano exams – they offer graded exams for almost all instruments, including voice and Speech Arts and Drama, as well as music theory, musicianship and piano pedagogy examinations

Each exam establishes clear, progressive learning goals. The certificates, diplomas and medals achieved from these exams are internationally recognized.

The National Music Certificate Program aims to provide a progressive assessment program for every candidate. Successful completion of all grades (from Preparatory A through Grade 10) is a phenomenal achievement and demands focus and perseverance. Hundreds of music teachers in America have subscribed to this truly wonderful certification program.

What's In It For Me?

Good question. From experience, the certificate program allows each musician to journey through a logical music course offering the best repertoire in their performance field, and encourages the musician to grow in all aspects of music including performance, technique and knowledge in music theory, history and analysis.

 When you have completed all grades, you would have acquired a proficiency in your instrument that is note-worthy. You would have built a strong understanding of various styles of music, and how to perform them accurately. You would have also developed a firm foundation of technical skills that would allow you to attempt even the most difficult of repertoire for your instrument. A candidate who has successfully completed Grade 10 (in any instrument) would be counted on to perform with confidence, to communicate the essence of the music, demonstrating a command of your instrument and understanding the stylistic and structural elements of your repertoire.

In short, you’ll get a kick start to being a successful musician.

Overview of the NMCP/RCM Piano Exams

The NMCP/RCM Piano Exams are offered for the following grades: Preparatory A and B, Grades 1 through 10, and the ARCT (Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto) diplomas for Piano Pedagogy and Piano Performance. There are four main components in a piano exam: Repertoire, Technical Requirements, Sight Reading and Ear Training.

Each exam is scored based on a 100-point system. Majority of the points (marks) is dedicated to performing repertoire. The rest of the points are divided between technical requirements (scales, arpeggios, etudes) as well as Ear Test and Sight Reading. For example, the breakdown of points for a Grade 6 piano exam is as follows:

Repertoire (3 pieces memorized) : 56 points

Technical Requirements (including 2 etudes)  : 24 points

Ear Tests : 10 points

Sight Reading:  10 points

Total Possible Points (pass = 60) : 100 points


As you can see, focusing on and mastering the repertoire pieces in your graded exam is key to success. Alongside this, concentrating on performing your technical requirements proficiently will also add to your success. Develop your aural and sight reading skills, and you’re on your way to a remarkable performance at your piano exam!

A little note about pre-requisites: starting from Grade 5, you’ll be required to enroll in music theory exams as well. Suffice to say, it’s always a good idea to begin theory studies as early as possible. Here’s the deal: beginning in Grade 5, you must complete the required theory exams in order to receive Practical Examination Certificates. These are certificates officially sent to you in recognition of your achievement passing a certain graded exam. (And believe me, they will look AWESOME framed and displayed on your wall!)