- Read key information to help your students in their preparation and on the exam day
- Find out how to enter the ARSM
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Music Theory exams – March 2021
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The next booking period for remotely-assessed Performance Grade and ARSM exams opens in February. For details, see our dates and fees page.
The ARSM syllabus provides the most important information that teachers and candidates need to know when preparing for the ARSM exam.
Other information about the ARSM exam (and answers to frequently asked questions) can be found below.
There are no upper or lower age limits.
Candidates do need to have passed ABRSM Grade 8 in the instrument being presented. A number of alternative qualifications are also accepted in place of an ABRSM Grade 8. Similarly, a Grade 8 in a closely-related instrument is accepted (see below for further information).
For more information on how ARSM moves candidates on from Grade 8, here is an explanatory video.
As an alternative to the ABRSM Grade 8 prerequisite for entry to ARSM, we will accept the following qualifications:
Grade 8 Practical from:
We will also accept Grade 9 Practical from The Royal Conservatory of Music [Canada].
Please note that:
We may request a copy of the certificate or other supporting documentation. If documentation cannot be provided when requested, or if a candidate is found to not have one of the specific qualifications listed above, their exam entry will be rejected without refund of the fee.
ABRSM Grade 8 (or listed alternative - see above) must have been passed before the ARSM exam closing date.
Yes, there are no time limits on the validity of the Grade 8 prerequisite.
Yes, as long as the instrument your student wants to play is closely related to the one they obtained their Grade 8 in. Closely related instruments are as follows:
ARSM Harp repertoire is for the pedal harp only; however, candidates can play one work on the non-pedal harp (see ‘can I play more than one instrument’ below).
We may request a copy of your student's certificate or other supporting documentation. If documentation cannot be provided when requested, or if a candidate is found to not have one of the specific qualifications listed above, their exam entry will be rejected without refund of the fee.
No, candidates don’t need a music theory qualification to take ARSM. As long as they have a qualification on the alternative qualifications list (see above) then they meet the requirement for ARSM.
Yes, candidates can choose a programme entirely from the ARSM repertoire list.
For a better understanding of what candidates should consider when constructing their programme, watch this video from our Chief Examiner.
Up to 10 minutes of the ARSM performance can be own choice repertoire. It does not have to come from current Grade 8 lists but should be at least ABRSM Grade 8 standard. However, candidates may find using these lists is a helpful guideline to show the standards required. This own-choice element gives candidates the opportunity to tailor their performance to their interests and to demonstrate the skill of building an effective programme.
Please note that candidates are also required to perform at least 20 minutes of repertoire from the ARSM repertoire lists in their 30-minute programme.
For instruments listed under ‘Main instrument’ in the table below, candidates have the option to play one work on a related instrument. However the majority of the programme must be performed on the main instrument.
Viola da Gamba
Piccolo, Alto Flute
E♭ Clarinet, Bass Clarinet
If the repertoire played on a related instrument is set on an ARSM repertoire list, it can count towards the 20-minute programming requirement; it is not necessary to meet this requirement on the main instrument.
We do not need to be informed if a candidate intends to take the related instrument option.
There is no advantage to be gained by offering a work on a related instrument.
There are different related-instrument options for Recorder, Saxophone and Trombone, which are given at the start of their repertoire lists or under 'information for specific instruments' below.
The performance should last 30 minutes, but it can be up to two minutes longer or shorter. The timing includes any breaks between items.
Woodwind, brass and singing candidates can take a longer break of up to three minutes during the exam. This is counted as part of the 30 minutes of performance time and must be taken from the 10 minute, own-choice allowance.
The examiner may stop the performance if the candidate goes over the time limit.
This is an interpretive decision which is left to the candidate’s discretion.
Candidates may use their discretion to decide whether to omit or include tutti sections or cadenzas in concerto movements or other works.
The observance of repeats and interpretative decisions such as phrasing, the realization of ornaments and the use of vibrato or pedalling are matters in which candidates are expected to use their discretion to achieve a stylistically appropriate and musically satisfying performance.
Pieces in a jazz style may be slightly embellished, as stylistically appropriate, but significant improvisation is not allowed.
Where the repertoire lists include an arrangement or transcription, the edition listed should be used in the exam; in all such cases the abbreviation ‘arr.’ or ‘trans.’ appears in the entry.
For all other pieces, the editions quoted in the repertoire lists are recommendations only and candidates can use any edition of their choice (in- or out-of-print or downloadable).
All own-choice repertoire should exist in a published edition (either in print or downloadable), which should be indicated on the programme form (PDF).
There is no specific requirement to perform from memory. However, candidates are encouraged to do so if they consider it will enhance their performance.
We advise singers to perform their programme from memory, with the exception of oratorio/sacred items and complex contemporary scores.
Please note that:
Performances should be accompanied where appropriate and candidates should provide their own piano accompanist. The candidate’s teacher may act as accompanist. Pre-recorded accompaniments are not allowed and the examiner cannot act as the accompanist.
Candidates and accompanists may bring a page-turner to assist with awkward page-turns; prior permission is not needed. Examiners are not able to help with page-turning.
Examiners may ask to look at the music before or after the performance of the whole programme. A separate copy of the music is not needed – examiners can use the candidate’s or accompanist’s copy.
Candidates who are performing from memory must also bring copies of their music.
Performing from unauthorized photocopies (or other kinds of copies) of copyright editions is not allowed. ABRSM may withhold the exam result where we have evidence of an illegal copy being used.
In the UK, copies may be used in certain limited circumstances – for full details, see the MPA’s Code of Fair Practice at www.mpaonline.org.uk. In all other cases, application should be made to the copyright holder before any copy is made, and evidence of permission received should be brought to the exam.
Our exams are normally conducted in English.
As there are no tests in ARSM which require a candidate to respond to questions from the examiner, an interpreter is unlikely to be needed. However, a candidate who is not comfortable using English may be allowed to bring an independent person into the exam room as interpreter. Please refer to our exam regulations for more information.
A suitable piano will be provided at ABRSM centres, which may be upright or grand. We can’t arrange for candidates to practice before the exam, but examiners will recognize that candidates may be unfamiliar with the instrument and candidates are encouraged to take a few moments to try out the piano before beginning the performance.
Yes candidates can bring a registrant; prior permission is not needed. Examiners cannot help with changes of registration. The registrant may also act as page-turner.
Yes, candidates may play their programme on any one or any combination of F and C recorders as may be appropriate. All works on the repertoire list are intended for treble (alto) recorder unless otherwise indicated.
Yes, candidates may play their programme on any one or any combination of E♭ and B♭ saxophones as may be appropriate. All works on the repertoire list are published for alto saxophone in E♭ unless otherwise indicated.
Yes, candidates may play their programme on either the tenor or bass trombone as may be appropriate or any combination, which may also include alto trombone. All works on the repertoire list are published for tenor trombone unless otherwise indicated.
The repertoire list is divided into four instrumental categories – Tuned Percussion, Timpani, Snare Drum and Multiple Percussion. Candidates must present a programme which includes at least one work from three of the four sections.
The singing repertoire is presented according to standard voice categories but candidates may perform suitable items from the list for any voice category.
The only language requirement is that the programme must include a minimum of two different languages.
All items may be sung in any key, except for items from operas, operettas, oratorios, cantatas and sacred works, which must be sung in the keys in which they were written (although original pitch may be adopted in Baroque pieces, if appropriate).
Every candidate will get a mark form with feedback and marks. Successful candidates receive a certificate and can add letters (ARSM) after their name.
Exam music should be available from music retailers worldwide as well as online.
ARSM repertoire lists are the same as the existing lists for the DipABRSM (Music Performance) diploma. We have made every effort to ensure that the publications listed remain available for the duration of both syllabuses.
We advise candidates to buy their music well in advance of the exam in case of any delays with items temporarily out of print or not kept in stock by retailers.
Apart from queries relating to exams, all enquiries about the music (e.g. editorial, availability) should be addressed to the relevant publisher. Contact details are listed at www.abrsm.org/publishers.
The prerequisite for entry to DipABRSM is an ABRSM Grade 8 (which includes having passed Grade 5 Music Theory). ARSM will be accepted as a substitute to this prerequisite as long as candidates can show that they have also passed ABRSM Grade 5 Theory. Some alternative qualifications and experience will also be accepted.
To find out how ARSM helps to prepare candidates for DipABRSM, watch this video.
No, ARSM and DipABRSM (Music Performance) are separate diplomas. Anyone who wishes to obtain a DipABRSM needs to take the exam in full.
The DipABRSM and LRSM diplomas in Music Performance are more wide-ranging qualifications than ARSM as skills and knowledge beyond the performance itself are assessed. Candidates need to demonstrate that they already have a strong foundation in all these areas before they can enter for LRSM. As such, candidates can only take LRSM (Music Performance) if they have passed DipABRSM (Music Performance). Some alternative qualifications and experience will also be accepted.
(*Advanced Certificate is no longer valid, this exam was withdrawn in 2001.)
Yes, these two exams do differ. The Advanced Certificate assessed a 30-40 minute performance, as well as Quick Study, Viva and Musicianship Tests. ARSM is a performance-only diploma, where candidates present a 30-minute programme.
ABRSM graded music examinations and diplomas are regulated in England by the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) and the corresponding regulatory authorities in Wales (Qualifications Wales) and Northern Ireland (the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment - CCEA). They are part of the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) in England.
The ARSM has been placed at Level 4 in the RQF, and appears in the register that can be viewed at register.ofqual.gov.uk as the ABRSM Level 4 Diploma in Music Performance (ARSM).
As part of its regulatory processes, ABRSM has assigned Guided Learning Hours (GLH) and Total Qualification Time (TQT) to the ARSM. These are figures designed to give an idea of the volume of work, expressed in number of hours, which could reasonably be required in order for a candidate to achieve the qualification.
Guided Learning Hours express the number of hours of direct supervision, e.g. lessons with a tutor, that a candidate is likely to need in preparation for a qualification. The Total Qualification Time encompasses Guided Learning Hours plus an estimate of the total number of hours of other preparation, e.g. personal practice, likely to be required.
For the ARSM, the figures are as follows:
Guided Learning Hours (GLH)
Total Qualification Time (TQT)
For further information on ABRSM’s accreditation and regulation, see www.abrsm.org/regulation.
The exams will not be recorded routinely but will be subject to the full range of quality assurance processes we always apply. These include moderating examiners regularly, analysis of mark form comments and results, recording of marks for statistical checks, an appeals process, ongoing annual CPD and occasional recordings for specific purposes.
DipABRSM is a more wide-ranging qualification than ARSM, requiring the demonstration of skills and knowledge beyond the performance itself. The two diplomas will both be accredited exams placed at Level 4 in the Regulated Qualification Framework with Ofqual. Level 4 covers a broad range of regulated qualifications across many different disciplines, including Music diplomas, and within this range of qualifications different degrees of content, depth and breadth are required. ARSM will sit lower in Level 4 than DipABRSM due to its focus on performance alone.