ABRSM v Trinity

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Chris Lee, Aug 3, 2011.

  1. Chris Lee

    Chris Lee Guest

    Any views on the value of ABRSM grades against Trinity grades? (I know a lot of you don't think much of grades anyway!)
    I get the feeling that ABRSM is generally regarded as 'superior' but more difficult. I ask because my tutor suggests changing from ABRSM to Trinity at grade 6 (E flat bass) mainly to avoid the hassle of having to memorise umpteen scales (which I'll probably never see again - like F sharp and B flat minor) and because there is a better choice of set pieces.

    You doing grades? Got a view? Appreciate hearing it.

    Very Best, Chris

    Newbieish, EEflat Besson Sovereign
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 3, 2011
  2. Despot

    Despot Member

    I'd pretty much go along with your teacher!

    Unless someone specifically asks for ABRSM, I do Trinity with my students. Just a lot less hastle.
  3. I'd say if you plan to continue playing to college level, do ABRSM as learning the scales then will save you having to learn them anyway!
    Do Trinity for fun! (or if grade 5 theory provides too much of a challenge;))
  4. Chris Lee

    Chris Lee Guest

    Well at least that's a balanced response folks. A vote for each! I suppose teacher knows best but going from ABRSM to Trinity because its easier seems a bit defeatist to me. And as Tom says you really need to have the scales sorted to be a half decent band member, don't you?

    Thanks for your responses,

    Very Best, Chris
  5. Laserbeam bass

    Laserbeam bass Active Member

    Although this was on a completely different instrument, I went from Trinity Grade 5 to AB Grades 6-8. Didn't mind either way, but if my memory serves me from 25 years ago, the AB syllabus provided a more balanced and sterner musical test than Trinity. Of course my memory may be playing tricks on me :oops:
  6. ophicliede

    ophicliede Member

    The two examinations boards are on a par they have to be. It's really the content and choices within the syllabus that vary. Both boards you can learn endless scales from memory, however if you cannot retain the knowledge or it puts you under undue pressure whilst in the exam then you can perform scalic exercises from a book. If the memory test of learning scales makes the candidate perform their set pieces poorly because they are unsettled about playing all of the scales then Trinity has to be the exam for you. I have found over the years that Trinity have been pretty consistent with the examination syllabus and the examiners.
  7. toby hobson

    toby hobson Member

    ABRSM are obviously treated as the daddy of exams and would appear to hold 10% more kudos with many people and to be fair the syllabus does seem a little tougher piece wise in the higher grades but all exams have to be passed. Scales wise personally I don't dismiss them out of hand but I do refuse to A. spend my teaching life telling kids they cant do this, they cant remember that, thats just cheap teaching for me. I refuse to believe that if you have the knack of remembering lists then you are instantly a better player than someone who can't. Music college wise It doesn't matter who your exam board is, if you don't do it in the audition, your grade 8 exam could be with anyone, you wont be getting in though!! So ABRSM are the most well known and traditionally consistent to get a good pass but Trinity does have a number of advantages ABRSM refuse to acknowledge/implement.

    As Ive said, many people swear by scales, many teachers spend the majority of the lesson going on about them, I don't dismiss them its just many kids just cant remember lots of scales at once, many a fine player I have met wouldn't know his/her scales!! especially in banding where general technique is of a generally higher level than in other brass playing worlds.
    If scales hold you back then there are options with Trinity, remembering lists of things are not everyones bag, many a fine player has been put off by having to learn ridiculous amounts of scales, while I'm up for being comfortable in many types of keys, scales are not the only way to do this, Arbans exercises that go through all the keys for example are a brilliant way to gain familiarity with keys and changing key.

    2.You don't need to gain the grade 5 theory with Trinity which is both another expense and for many people......pointless
    3.Trinity have instrument specific exercises as part of the Syllabus for brass..Lip Slurs a good teaching tool.
    4.Grade 6 and 7 Aural tests with Trinity are pretty tough, but genuinely useful for a musician, strangely grade 8 is relatively simple!!
    5.Trinity syllabus have good cornet specific options in the higher grades as opposed to getting banding kids to learn Trumpet specific rep.
    6.In the lower grade you can use a CD backing with Trinity which in poorer areas is a useful tool to keep the ever spiraling cost of exams down.
  8. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    This is a very personal view, but I prefer not to use ABRSM. I have found their examiners to be VERY inconsistent and unknowledgeable about brass instruments. One classic comment was to a Grade 8 trumpeter:
    "Do you mind pointing that thing away from me, I don't like the noise they make."
    Yes, a complaint was made, but nothing came from it.
    Another was criticised for not keeping a steady tempo throughout the piece, in a piece whose tempo marking was "Molto Rubato" and had rit's, rall's and accel's throughout the piece.

    I prefer teaching the Trinity syllabus, I find it more interesting for the students and much more relevant to what they will need to do later in life (note to ABRSM - trumpeters need to learn more transposition than just Trumpet in C!).
    The selection of pieces at the higher level grades are of a similar standard, but I find that students have tended to prefer the ones from the Trinity list. At a lower level I find that the Trinity syllabus offers a wider selection from books that carry on through the grades. The only ones on the ABRSM syllabus that carry on through each grade tend to be published by the ABRSM and they are getting quite enough from the exams already, I would prefer to put my money (and, more importantly, the money from the parents of my students) into other publishers.
    A small note - I think it is very telling that in the ABRSM syllabus (tuba - Grade 6 &7) they even go to the trouble of telling you that certain items are "out of print". It does make me wonder what they are doing on the syllabus. Surely if they know it is out of print they should realise that it is pretty pointless putting it on the syllabus. I think it shows a serious lack of interest from the syllabus-writer - they haven't been bothered to look at any other music, they have just gone for what were once popular items and now are going to prove unavailable (and let's be honest, the tuba syllabus is short enough already without having certain items unavailable).
    I am frequently disappointed by the choices made by those who set the syllabus, especially for the low brass players. They seem to have a very limited idea of what is suitable and then, when a new study (or general) book is written, it is frequently a book that appears to have been written for the purpose of exams, rather than for musical developmental reasons.

    I find the scale requirements to be a minor detail - I expect all my students to learn their scales properly, regardless of whether they are doing an exam or not. They are a fundamental part of playing any instrument and they NEED to be part of your daily routine, regardless of what some examiner or syllabus-writer has decided you should know.

    From the perspective of which syllabus is preferred by universities and music colleges - I seriously doubt that any of them give a damn, just as long as you can actually play. Again, I can only speak from personal experience but when I have had students go for NYO, NYBB, Junior Guildhall, colleges, university etc the audition panel has gone much more on how the student actually played rather than any bit of paper they might have.
    When auditioning students for the more advanced youth groups in the area I tend to regard most bits of paper (exams) with a huge amount of scepticism. I have seen a large number of students come through with very high exam results but when asked to play something else (especially sight reading) they struggle. They have been "coached" through their exams rather than taught how to play the instrument.

    I once heard a teacher say that they preferred their students to have ABRSM exams rather than Trinity because they were of a much higher standard. Sadly, this particular teacher wouldn't have known a decent cornet player if they had walked up and introduced themselves as Roger Webster.

    If you are thinking of changing because you can't be bothered to learn scales - think again about your attitude towards scales.
    If your teacher doesn't want you to learn your scales, I hate to say it but I would question this person's attitude towards teaching (I would tend to refer to them as someone who coaches students through exams).
    Feel free to change (I know I would have you playing from the Trinity syllabus) but you WILL need your scales eventually - you can't hide from them forever.
    My apologies if this seems harsh, but I get very frustrated with students who aren't prepared to put the work in on their fundamentals.

    (in my last batch of exams, only one student failed the scales part of their exam - the first thing they did when they got the results was apologise to me! They actually achieved distinction, but they were embarressed about their scales result)
    mikelyons likes this.
  9. Chris Lee

    Chris Lee Guest

    Thanks Mike and Toby for taking time to give me these detailed and helpful responses.
    Mike - my experience is exactly what you describe - distinction at grade 5 ABRSM but knowing that I made a proper mess of the scales. I really believe that if you make a good 'musical' go of the set pieces there is a tendency to be a bit forgiving with the rest.
    I take the point about the scales, and since my real aim is to get to be a useful bandsman before I expire from old age I guess I'm inclined to bite the bullet, learn my scales, and carry on with ABRSM.
    Absolutely agree about the ABRSM music choice - some truly horrible stuff which does seem to be engineered to meet the exam requirements. And incidentally, they are not even correct in saying that a piece (the 'Happy Hippo', as it happens) is out of print because it isn't!. They did however advise me in response to my moaning at them that other Tuba choices in bass clef would be acceptable transposed to E flat - which rather begs the issue about which keys are relevant to the grade.

    Thank you all for your responses.

    Very Best, Chris
    Newbieish EEflat Besson Sovereign
    mikelyons likes this.
  10. Kiz7

    Kiz7 Member

    Spot on IMHO.

    I teach both boards and enter students depending on the parents attitude towards the exam boards. If parents insist on AB because that's what they did when they were learning and they believe it to be best then I'll enter a child for AB however if a parent just wants the best board for their child then I will advise them accordingly based on their child's strengths and weaknesses (for example, there is little point in a severly dyslexic child stressing over having to remember in excess of 100 scales, arpeggios, dominants and diminshed for Grade 8 when an alternative exsists that is equally as valid.)

    Those with an open mind generally opt for Trinity because the repertoire is much more varied and the aural tests are much more logical and relevent to the student on a musical level. Dodging the scales by doing Trinity is of course possible but the scale exercises that are the alternative aren't exactly easy and you can't dodge the lip flexibility test at all!

    It is worth noting that both the exam boards are held in equal regard by the universities etc as all graded examinations are accredited by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) Grades 6-8 are formally recognised within the UCAS Tariff for entry to UK higher educationas with a Grade 8 distinction for AB carrying exactly the same number of UCAS points as a Grade 8 distinction from Trinity Guildhall.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2011
  11. Getzonica

    Getzonica Active Member

    I've recently switched to ABRSM. I was prevouisly on Victoria College of Music and before that Trinity (and Guildhall before it merged). I have noticed how hard it is, compared to my previous board - the aural in particular is much more dificult but it asks you to do things that come in handy for A Level music.

    I decided to work towards Grade 5 theory before I switched as I thought it would be useful actually knowing all of it - and it has proved very useful as I feel I understand music much better than I did and same with scales - they come in handy so you might as well learn them - even the pointless ones! lol

    Your point here about the syllabus is interesting. I'm doing a trumpet concerto as one of my pieces (even though I'm a cornet player) and have actually found it interesting as I'm learning different skills.
  12. toby hobson

    toby hobson Member

    I agree with all of that........That was exactly my problem with scales as a young lad by the way, just couldn't remember lists of things, be it shopping lists, spelling lists, times tables lists its just not for everyone. Having said that i have nothing but respect for people who can do it all from memory, although I wonder what % of grade 8 ABRSM pupils forget their scales 1 day after the exam. The scales exercises are quite good in the Trinity book, because its hard keys in action,more akin to what you would have to do when playing in a group. I always hear "you should learn your scales because all music is made from scales" when for me its mainly little bits of scales that turn up in pieces. Another good practical use of scales is the latest "Winners" book " Scaley Winners" It has the scale arpeg etc at the top of each page then has the normal little tunes in that key. A good way of showing kids that being comfortable in a variety of keys is one of the important if not THE important thing about scales practice, not necessarily about having the ability to purely remember lots of stuff.
  13. toby hobson

    toby hobson Member

    mmmmm fair do's. Is there a variety of cornet specific stuff for trumpet pupils to do as a way to learn different skills? For some of them who I heard at college, it would of done them good! Struggled to play back row parts in our college band many of them!!
  14. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    I would suggest that again it comes down to the teacher - there will be those who aim to teach the relevant skills suitable for both instruments and there will be those who don't.
    It also depends largely on the playing circumstances of the student - those that are able to experience playing in a brass band (or brass ensemble) will rapidly develop those skills needed - those that don't have the chance to play in that style of group will probably struggle more.
  15. Ankanala

    Ankanala Member

    Excellent and very interesting thread!
    I have a foot in both camps here. I examine for ABRSM and chose the lists for Trinity having examined for them before ABRSM.
    I believe scales are essential and the Trinity approach does a disservice to the education of candidates, however I do understand that it can boil down to a memory test of lists. Nevertheless I have found over the years that the grounding it gave me, (although I hated them!), has served me well in all aspects of my career.
    I have been an examiner for over 20 years now and since being with ABRSM have tried in vain to get the brass syllabus separated to orchestral and brass band lists. I never get the support from the orcestral side to achieve this.
    Also I have tried to reduce the flexibility requirements of low grade arpeggios in line with the strings. How a young Grade 1 brass player is expected so slur an octave is beyond me. This shouldn`t be introduced until around Grade 4.
    Having said all this, I will always be ABRSM from a candidate and teacher, (and examiner!) perspective, although it is true to say that the standards have to be and are very similar.
    It is interesting to hear of niggles with the syllabus though and rest assured I take every opportunity I can at examiner seminars to push the cause of brass band candidates.

    Alan Morrison
    mikelyons likes this.
  16. blue juice

    blue juice Member

    A lot of universities have Grade 8 ABRSM as a pre-requisite for anyone wanting to take performance modules. My opinion is that the level of playing expected for both boards is similar however ABRSM demands a better all round level of musicianship. Why wouldn't you want to test yourself to the limit anyway? If you're only doing a grade to be able to say you're grade whatever I reckon you're playing for the wrong reasons. I had a big gap between my grade 7 and 8 where I worked on my all round playing and only really did grade 8 because it was required for uni.
  17. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    Alan - nice to know they have at least one decent brass player on their books.
    From a personal viewpoint I don't think that ABRSM do well for either brass band or orchestral players. If any trumpeter honestly believes that they will only ever be required to transpose for trumpet in C then they need to find an orchestra to play with, but that is all that ABRSM require even up to Grade 8.
    I would love to know who chooses the syllabus - some of the choices are completely baffling, especially when new books appear. The thought of asking my students to buy some of the rubbish that is on the syllabus is something I just couldn't do to them - when a new syllabus is published I tend to ask one student to buy one of the new books (or I do myself) just to see what it is like (especially if they are on multiple grade lists) and frequently end up putting the books on the shelf (or the shredder in one case) because I couldn't face inflicting such rubbish on potentially musical students.

    I agree wholeheartedly with you about scales being essential, but I would also ask why ABRSM (and Trinity for that matter) have such a limited view of the range for the instruments, especially when some of the pieces go above the required range for the scales for the grade. The fact that a C is the highest note required for Grade 8 scales is, with the way the modern brass instrument is written for, frankly ludicrous. There are students who can just about scrape a C who consider that because they have Grade 8 they are decent players, they then go out into the "real " world of ensembles and looking at solo literature they suddenly realise that Grade 8 really doesn't prepare you at all for the modern world.

    I guess it is possible that the syllabus writers will eventually enter the 20th century (I don't hold out much hope for the 21st).
  18. blue juice

    blue juice Member

    Grade exams and diplomas are also incredibly expensive.
  19. toby hobson

    toby hobson Member

    Yes......This is the overriding issue for both boards. The lower grades are going to get dropped at our place to be replaced by our own financially viable exam. But for many the cost of the exam, accompanist, original parts will mean Grades 4 upwards will be out of the practical price range. The kids doing instrumental exams in the future will be the same demographic as the kids who go on the school skiing trips!! This of course will become heightened with mass national unemployment just around the corner.

    All a bit sad really!!
    mikelyons likes this.
  20. MicahParsons

    MicahParsons New Member

    I Took Trinity Grade 7 and 8 Exams. I found that you had a wider selection of pieces/solos on offer in the Trinity Syllabus than the ABRSM Syllabus (although most of the pieces offered in the Trinity are also found in the ABRSM Syllabus). I found that if you were taking the normal scales route of Trinity (i took the Scales and Appegios route) you had to learn around the same amount of Scales as ABRSM. The only real difference i found is Trinity offer a scales or exercise and the way the the points were awarded (trinity awarded less points so the exam was out of around 100 where as ABRSM is out of 130). The only reason for me taking Trinity was due to the fact i did not have my Grade 5 Theory so instead of waiting to pass my theory i cracked on and did the Trinity exams.

    I would add that Both exam boards are equal in Difficulty and there is no major differences how the exams are run
    Although i would add i found both my exams at Trinity was done with an examiner from the Woodwind and String section of Instruments (may be a bias against Brass Instruments)
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2011

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