Check the shownotes for timings if you just want to listen to the review for one particular grade

Show Notes:

Init [2:13]

  • Terrible (almost non-existent) selection of Baroque/ Classical
  • Wild range of difficulty levels
  • For me, mostly unremarkable pieces
  • Much prefer the 2021-2023 syllabus, pieces more fun, more character, less bland
  • Both RSL offerings strong at this level, for me, ABRSM in 2nd place

Grade 1 [3:06]

  • Very strong Classical selection. Often technically challenging
  • Useful technical pedagogical selection of Classical & Romantic, enjoyable pieces
  • Highlights-
    • Toccatina (Victoria Proudler)- faux Bach
    • Railbird Rag (Sam Cleaver)-  a little challenging but fun
  • Criticisms- Terrible arrangements of Heard It Through The Grapevine (Marvin Gaye), and Titanium (David Guetta ft. Sia)- lazy arrangement. Most pop arrangements at this grade not fantastic- could be more skillful
  • Std edition has mostly easier non-classical pieces aimed at youngsters in particular
  • RSL Classical better for jazz & pop than Trinity, classical pieces fun- but limited choice compared to Trinity. LCM by pick for solid rewarding pieces with good benchmarking. Trinity has best ambitious classical pieces, but overall selection inconsistent

Grade 2 [7:15]

  • Immediately noticed repeat sign missing at beginning of 1st piece- will be confusing
  • Not great Baroque/ Classical selection- not inspiring
  • Highlights-
    • Petit nuage (Hedwige Chrétien)- sounds great at this level, achievable, great find by woman composer
    • Night in the Woods (Alexander Goedicke)- challenging but rewarding, loads of character
    • Jupiter Storm (Alison Mathews)- almost like pop music, students will love it
    • Hedwig’s Theme (John Williams)- great arrangement- v. generous to include a more ambitious chunk which is left out of exam
    • It’s a Walk in the Park (Gilon Fox)- excellent gd2 jazz/blues
    • Many strong pieces
  • Criticisms- some clunky pop/jazz arranging but nothing too awful at this grade
  • ABRSM not great for this grade, but the ABRSM pop grade 2 pieces are much stronger than here. LCM shines here with by far the best classical pieces. But Trinity is strong at this grade compared to others with extended edition

Grade 3 [11:23]

  • Very challenging at this grade, sometimes wildly so (eg LH staccato 3rds in Turkish March duet at speed). Already tricky 3 against 2 cross rhythms in several pieces
  • Not impressed when I see swing rhythm quavers set incorrectly against triplets (All Blues)
  • Felt overwhelmed by sheer amount of non-classical music, but I do like the Baroque/Classical selection. When looking at this book, felt more like rock/pop syllabus to me than classical
  • Lots of film music at this level, some lovely, some bland
  • Lots of use of pedal at this grade that feels almost like a norm in this book- I don’t see it to this extent in other grade 3 syllabuses- seems too ambitious to me
  • High frequency of highly challenging pieces for this level
  • Highlights-
    • Little Stream (Ilona Jurníčková), but wildly ambitious
    • Mad World (Tears for Fears)- lovely arr but ambitious- eg repeated 3rds in RH, pedal, etc
    • Someone Like You (Adele)- but crazy cross rhythms for gd 3
    • Tres Palabras (Osvaldo Farrés)- nice jazz voicings
  • Criticisms-
    • Happy (Pharrell Williams)- good chorus but verse v. clunky arrangement.
    • Dynamite (BTS)- terrible tune to pick that doesn’t translate well to piano. Won’t sound much like original. Rhythms don’t match what is sung
    • All Blues (Miles Davis)- terrible clunky arr. With some terrible voicings. Wide range of difficulty within piece. Not skillful arr.
  • ABRSM too easy for this grade. LCM solid & rewarding. RSL not one of strongest, easier than Trinity & LCM. ABRSM pop gd3 looks v. good compared to pop here. Trinity by far the most challenging of all boards

Grade 4 [18:09]

  • V small Baroque/ Classical selection although nice pieces if somewhat challenging. None in std edition!
  • Again, many wildly ambitious pieces for this level. But also some v easy ones- wild range of difficulty levels
  • Highlights-
    • Goblin & The Mosquito (Florence Price)- also in LCM gd4- can’t be coincidence? How much is Trinity looking to other exam boards for inspiration?
    • Star Wars Main Theme (John Williams)- very effective apart from terrible ending (v common in grade books!)
    • Polperro Beach (Adrian Sutton)- lovely film music but challenging
    • Ground Background Music (Super Mario Bros)- v effective. Def. on challenging end but will be very popular
    • Time Keeper’s Lament (from Primal)- gorgeous haunting game music with deep feeling, v. achievable
    • Piel Canela (Bobby Capó)- gorgeous charming Latin American jazzy piece- great rhythms & harmonies, v. effective arr.
  • Criticisms-
    • Lag Jaa Gale (from Woh Kaun Thi?)- great to include Bollywood but this sounds nothing like original. Terrible arr. Original v melismatic so perhaps not best choice for this level. LH particularly clunky & uncreative
    • Doctor Who Theme (Ron Grainer)- terrible arr. Incredibly tricky to make good arr. by just using tune and simple harmonies, needs more creativity.
    • Avril 14th (Aphex Twin)- why not just make it more similar to original? I don’t see why notes had to be changed, didn’t particularly make it easier. Could have made it possible to play with original with same notes.
  • ABRSM easiest of all boards, solid rewarding pieces. LCM my pick for solid ‘classical’ pieces, also includes diverse pieces such as effective enjoyable Egyptian piece. RSL excellent at this level. RSL classical can’t compete, but interesting that Prelude in C (Bach) is at gd 4 vs Trinity gd5

Grade 5 [25:01]

  • Not the most adventurous Baroque/Classical pieces but solid enough. Bach Prelude in C in gd 4 RSL classical.
  • Highlights- So many strong diverse pieces here but just a few:
    • Fantasia in D minor (Handel)- should be popular, easy to love
    • Engagement Party (La La Land)- V effective piece and one of first to sound like it could be ‘professional’, ie what a ‘real’ pianist plays
    • Mii Channel Theme (Kazumi Totaka)- fun game music w/ sophisticated jazz harmonies & latin rhythms, love it!
    • Spanish Polylogarhythms (Andrea Vicari)- love it, lovely Dorian melody w/ Latin jazz
    • Fina Estampa (Chabuca Granda)- love this, v. sweet, some gorgeous harmonic moments, tempo marking ‘Peruvian Waltz’- like we’re supposed to know what this is!!
  • Criticisms-
    • Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh (from Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai)- terrible choice to arrange- LH in particular  incredibly uninventive, loses everything that made it sound Asian. Same key as orig, can play along but is fast!
    • Pop songs generally suffer from clunky arrangements at this grade
  • ABRSM v. strong, but more substantial performance pieces on the whole from Trinity. LCM my pick- more traditional classical but with great contemporary and ‘ethnic’ music as well. Lots of ‘misses’ here for Trinity at gd 5, but so many pieces that it’s worth it for the ones that are effective. Gd 5 generally good across the boards (not RSL classical, no competition at all). Gd5 ABRSM pop stronger than Trinity

Grade 6 [30:46]

  • Feel particularly at this grade that there are too many populist pieces with little musical substance. But will keep some students happy! Should be in a separate pop/rock exam?
  • Horrified to see editorial slurs, articulations, etc in Baroque/ early Classical with no explanation
  • Great selection of Baroque/ Classical, often very expressive
  • Notes- nonsense about modes (where is Phrygian and Phrygian Dominant in Evening on the River Nile?!). Could have talked about v obvious modes in Snowfall instead (same writer). Also, notes for ‘Something for the Weekend’- they bring lots of attention to the title as if clueless about the innuendo.
  • Highlights-
    • Adagio (Baldassare Galuppi)- beautiful Baroque slow mvt
    • Un Recuerdo (Ignacio Cervantes Kawanagh)- love this! Why not say composer was Cuban in notes? Just because is a Cuban Waltz does not mean he is automatically Cuban. Gorgeous charming piece
    • People will love the Einaudi (I Giorni), but too easy for this grade?
    • The Journey to the West (Princess Mononoke)- gorgeous but v easy for this level
    • Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)- v effective arr- I personally would add more instead of cutting the song off half-way
    • Love Yourself (Justin Bieber)- excellent arr with enough classical textures for me to feel comfortable with this in an exam. Shame not in std edition
    • Something for the Weekend (Alexandra Skevington)- love it, inventive blues
  • Criticisms-
    • My Funny Valentine (from Babes in Arms)- so much potential in this song- but chose to stay v close to original instead of being inspired by the many gorgeous arrangements
    • As said above, concern over lack of musical substance in so many of the choices
  • ABRSM v strong selection at this grade. LCM- fantastic varied choices w/ musical substance!! RSL v strong at this grade

Grade 7 [38:11]

  • Again, some odd incorrect notes about modes
  • More nonsense about modes in the notes- where is the Dorian mode in Spain (Chick Corea)? Did they mean Aeolian?
  • The 2 Classical pieces are quite dull- who is going to choose them against all the syrupy sweet populist choices? A tiny percentage of pre-20th Century pieces, percentage of ‘classical’ in general quite low for this grade
  • Highlights-
    • Aria from Goldberg Variations (Bach)- lovable- but again v heavy editorialising
    • Lots of loveable pieces in this grade, the Romantic pieces in particular are well-chosen, some challenging
    • Mandala (James Treweek)- interesting enjoyable piece- mix of Latin rhythms, film music, minimalism, odd time signatures
    • Navajo Vocable For Piano #1 (Connor Chee)- Gorgeous minimalist accessible film-music-style. Substantial length.
    • Airships (Charles Tebbs)- another gorgeous minimalist film-music-style piece. Some unusual lovely harmonies, but book is starting to feel like book of ‘mindful/ chill/ film-music’
    • Push Pull (Alexandra Skevington)- V inventive unique jazz, love it
    • Mixed Nuts (from Spy x Family)- lovely rewarding typical catchy Japanese jazz/pop. Substantial length
    • Kiss From A Rose (Seal)- wow, gorgeous arrangement of great song. Classical enough to be in an exam. Not in std book ☹️
    • Long Drive in the Rain (Charles Tebbs)- wow! Gorgeous sophisticated contemp. Jazz. Amazing achievement to make something this good for gd 7. Substantial length.
    • Corcovado (Jobim)- Stunning arr, love it Substantial length
  • Criticisms-
    • Too much minimalist film music!! Some really lacking in musical substance
    • Fallin’ (Alicia Keys)- terrible arr- loses all the feel of the original. V clunky arr with no creativity. Where are all the gospel elements from the original?
  • ABRSM- some great content at this level but not consistent. LCM only board I would now take seriously for classical. Thorough technical exercises. Pieces obvs chosen for pedagogical merit as well as being rewarding- not just to sell books! Trinity have very strong selection of diverse pieces at this grade

Grade 8 [46:52]

  • Scandalous that Trinity have such heavy-handed Baroque & early Classical editorialising at this grade with no notes of explanation.
  • Suddenly very unadventurous choice of classical pieces- eg Scarlatti Sonata, Haydn Sonata, Schubert Sonata, Debussy Clair de Lune, Chopin ‘Minute’ Waltz… what happened to all the great unusual finds like most of the other grades?
  • This grade doesn’t suffer like gd 7 from so many pieces with little musical substance- on the whole a really good selection
  • Wild range of difficulty levels, including some of the most difficult pieces and passages I’ve seen in a grade 8 book
  • A few misprints in The Heart Asks Pleasure First
  • Highlights-
    • Deep River- supposedly by Coleridge Taylor- but I was shocked at how the incredibly sophisticated harmonies didn’t sound like him at all- then discovered just how much this has been freshly arranged by Julian Joseph almost to the point where I would not say this is by Coleridge Taylor. Not really covered in notes.
    • Erinnerung (Dora Pejačević)- gorgeous harmonically interesting piece by fascinating woman composer- I love this
    • Chameleon (Martin Butler)- gorgeous atonal piece clearly influenced by jazz, v. adventurous choice. ‘Luminous’.
    • Rule The World (Take That)- v. adventurous contemporary classical reworking of pop tune, fantastic. Real musical substance. Substantial performance piece
    • Hoe-down (Rob Colley)- I love this but my God it’s challenging! Harmonically inventive
    • Vignette (Paul Edis)- gorgeous French-style ennui-filled waltz, with incredibly challenging cross-rhythms (4:3 & 8:3 in slow tempo!)
  • Criticisms-
    • Horrible clunky ending for A New Adventure (Mark Choi)- syrupy sweet film music with stirring melody
    • The Luckiest (Ben Folds)- like 2nd rate sugary music for Disney animated film. Too easy for grade 8? Not difficult technically or musically.


Buy the books here (currently 20% off all 9 of the extended edition books, an excellent deal):

Ebooks are available here- these are really excellent value for money!


It’s pretty obvious that there’s a repeat sign missing at the beginning of the 1st bar after the anacrusis in the first piece of the grade 2 extended edition book:

I’ve spotted 3 bars with misprints in The Heart Asks Pleasure First in Grade 8:

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: