The most radical and indispensable piano syllabus ever! This will either be incredibly exciting for piano teachers & students- or highly controversial. Either way, it’s a must-own. In this episode I discuss some of the many controversial issues that this new syllabus raises, and give you a detailed verdict on these new books. Part two will review the individual grades.
- First impressions
- I sight-read through every single piece in every grade, and did the same with current syllabuses from ABRSM, RSL, RSL Classical, and LCM to get a thorough feel for how the new Trinity syllabus compares with the competition
- A look at recent trends in education such as decolonisation of music education, and commercial & ideological pressures on University music departments to move towards being ‘pop schools’
- The decline of classical music in education…
- Diversity in classical music
- IMO this wider context is essential to understand what is happening in this new Trinity syllabus
- Very diverse selection of music from many genres
- Diversity is great, but I have strong concerns that the new syllabus allows for focusing on narrow styles. such as minimalist film music or pop music in exams, with absolutely no classical music
- The cheaper standard editions miss out a lot of the classical music, emphasising commercial accessible music.
Discussion about cultural relativism
- Should we formally study rock/pop music?
- Such an overwhelming amount of non-classical music in this syllabus- why not just make a rock/pop exam that can be taken on piano?
- You can’t compare difficulty levels of playing rock/pop & classical- therefore I feel new syllabus is meaningless as a qualification
- Trinity do specify that you should play a balanced programme, but there’s no penalisation for playing just pop music for example, so this is a meaningless directive
- The importance of a balanced musical ‘diet’
- Less representation of non-white classical composers- a troublesome backward direction for Trinity
- Positive discrimination for women and non-white composers
- The problem of including so much pop/rock/jazz in an exam that doesn’t allow for improvisation or flexibility from the written notes
- The difficulty of arranging pop/rock music into written sheet music, especially at lower grades
- On the whole, Trinity have not done a great job with their pop arrangements (but there are some exceptions). ABRSM’s arrangements although still flawed are generally more successful.
- Nice that most pop arrangements are in the same key as the original so can play along
- Excellent selection of jazz that sounds authentically like ‘real’ jazz rather than what exam boards such as ABRMS have focused on in the past which I call ‘pedagogical jazz’- which sound like they’ve been written just for piano exams
- Maybe strange that Trinity feature improvisation for their aural tests and instead of sight-reading, but then don’t allow for any improvisation in styles of music where it’s desperately needed
- Fantastic fresh finds of obscure music, especially in classical music, and especially with women composers
- Fresh, enjoyable diverse music for all tastes
- Inclusion of so much game music, film music, etc will appeal to a lot of my teenage and adult students
- This syllabus is therefore so valuable to help music teachers make money!
- I can see this syllabus will be particularly useful to find and keep adult students who will be motivated by the goal of taking an exam, with music they will find very rewarding
- I find a lot of value in giving rock/pop/jazz with challenging rhythms to all my classical students who almost all have rhythm as their weakest musical element
- But I also find value in making sure that students primarily interested in classical are exposed to learning pieces in a diverse range of styles
- IMO all piano teachers should own the entire series of extended edition grade books. And thoroughly recommended to all students as well- I think they are indispensable as ‘graded anthologies’
- A wild range of difficulty levels within each grade. The overall difficulty level is very challenging, but with exceptions that can be very easy/simple. This makes it more difficult again on top of the other issues to take these grades seriously as a qualification
- In the higher grades such as grades 6 & 7, there are many enjoyable but musically superficial pieces with very low musical substance- again making it hard to take these qualifications seriously as somebody could pass their exam using only these pieces
- Have very strong feelings that it is not acceptable in the higher grades to have such heavy editorialising of Baroque and early Classical such as slurs and articulations without any notes of explanation. This is an abrupt around-turn from the 2021-2023 syllabus which aimed to be more like urtext editions
- It bothers me that the standard editions generally don’t include Baroque or Classical music, and focus their selection on commercial popular music rather than classical
- Syllabus exactly the same in terms of technical exercises, aural tests, scales, etc. Only difference is the new technical exercises tend to be in a more contemporary film-music style
- The 2021/2023 book is valid indefinitely, you can mix and match from both books indefinitely for exams
- Because of the inclusion of so much rock/pop/jazz, there are so many challenging rhythms across all the grades. Also an issue with RSL rock/pop syllabus.
- Unlike the 2021-2023 extended edition books, the new extended edition books include all new pieces, so it’s a no-brainer to buy the extended books if you can
- Very high quality books, good binding, professional typesetting (big improvement over 2021-2023)
- Recordings (available with extended edition) are generally excellent with only a few exceptions- not impressed that some seem to be played along with a click track. Impressed that all performances are credited
- Generally useful notes on each piece included at beginning of each book with only a few inaccuracies
- Trinity give excellent value for money by included everything you need in the extended edition book such as scales, notes, etc unlike ABRSM who seem to be quite greedy by making people buy separate books (LCM also offer good value for money by including all this in each grade book)
- As piano teachers, we can have several goals:
- Making money
- Having students who enjoy music
- Giving students the best education in classical music (if this is what the students want!)
- The new Trinity sylabus is excellent for the first two, maybe not so much for the third (especially the standard editions)
LCM by far my top pick for classical piano exams. Great diversity, solid benchmarking, very enjoyable pieces, thorough technical elements
- Current ABRSM syllabus pretty good, but organisation has many trust issues at the moment.
Trinity exams now only recommended by me for people needing motivation to learn pieces ‘for fun’, or teenagers wanting fun/easy qualifications or a less classical syllabus
- If Trinity enforced a balanced programme including mostly classical pieces, I would instantly go back to recommending them for all
- LCM allocate more time for exams at most grades than Trinity & ABRSM
Trinity’s webpage for their piano syllabus: https://www.trinitycollege.com/qualifications/music/grade-exams/piano
Buy the books here (currently 20% off all 9 of the extended edition books, an excellent deal): https://shop.trinitycollege.com/shop/powersearch/powersearch_results?catid=102316
Ebooks are available here- these are really excellent value for money! https://store.trinitycollege.com/collections/piano-exam-pieces-plus-exercises-from-2023
The intro/outro music is my jazz arrangement of the Rachmaninov Adagio from Symphony #2, you can watch the whole thing here if you like: https://youtu.be/hMqREAngb4s