Instrumental exams | Oxfordshire County Council

Instrumental exams

Exams can be a useful tool for encouraging practice and are a good measure of progress.

Woman playing violin

Why take an exam?

Exams are a great way to:

  • have something to work towards
  • challenge yourself
  • show your achievement
  • record your improvement.

Exam resources

Information about resources will be given to your child by their teacher.

Music Service exam systems

Oxfordshire County Music Service operates three different systems depending on the standard reached.

For the first few years (up to about Grade 2 Standard), all students will be assessed by their teacher using a specially written assessment system. After this students can be entered for a more traditional exam for no charge at Grades 3 and 4.

At Grades 5-8, students are entered for Trinity College London exams for which parents/carers are charged.

Assessments

Assessments are carried out by the teacher as part of normal lessons so there is less pressure on younger students to perform in exam conditions.

The assessments can be done at any time and can be repeated if the required level is not reached.

The results of the assessments will be available for parents/carers and will be included in the end of year reports.

Students will be assessed in ten ‘activities’ all of which take place in normal lessons:

  1. Piece – Rhythm and pulse
  2. Piece – Notational accuracy
  3. Piece – Expression and articulation
  4. Piece – Playing from memory
  5. Technical exercises
  6. Listen and copy
  7. Improvisation
  8. Aural Skills
  9. Posture
  10. Sight Reading

Each of these activities will be assessed at 12 levels of gradually increasing difficulty over the first few years of learning. The activities at level 1 will start to take place during the first ten weeks of learning. The assessments will be integrated into lessons and should complement learning. Assessments have been specifically written for all instruments at all levels.

Upon the successful completion of levels 4, 8 and 12 a certificate and sticker will be awarded. Level 12 corresponds approximately to Grade 2. After this level students can be entered for the existing Grades as and when appropriate.

Grades 3 to 5

Assessments for Grades 3 to 5 will be in the format of an exam. Examiners will be Music Service staff and will be specialists within the family of instruments being examined, for example, a woodwind teacher will examine all members of the woodwind family. Students will need to do the following in the exam:

• Play three pieces at least one of which should be accompanied (this can be a CD recording).

• Play scales, arpeggios or rudiments as specified in the syllabus.

• Two out of four supporting tests of their own choice from aural, sight-reading, improvisation or musical knowledge.

Marks

These exams are marked out of 100 and there are three levels of pass:

Total 100, Distinction = 87, Merit = 75, Pass = 60.

Grades 6 to 8

These exams are taken under the regulations of Trinity College London, are assessed by a Trinity College London examiner and normally take place at the Centre for Music in Oxford. Students passing exams at Grades 6 to 8 earn UCAS points which can contribute towards higher education applications. Parents/carers wishing their child to take exams at this level will be invoiced for the cost of the examinations.

From 1 September 2013, Trinity College London examination prices are:

  • Grade 6: £64.00
  • Grade 7: £71.00
  • Grade 8: £80.00.

For more information see www.trinitycollege.co.uk

Students will need to do the following in the exam:

  • Play three pieces at least two of which should be accompanied.
  • Play scales, arpeggios or alternative tests as specified in the syllabus.
  • Sightreading
  • One of the two supporting tests of their own choice (aural or improvisation).

These exams are marked out of 100 and there are three levels of pass:

Marks

Total 100, Distinction = 87, Merit = 75, Pass = 60.

How exams are assessed

Performance of pieces

Distinction

You should:

  • play technically very securely, and be comfortable and relaxed with playing your instrument
  • play accurately the indications the composer has used
  • show a sense of enjoyment of performing the piece, with lots of expressive playing
  • be very confident in conveying the mood and style of the piece, with a strong sense of communication with the audience.

Merit

You should:

  • have rhythm strongly under control, with no errors other than an occasional slip
  • play notes securely throughout the range, without poor tuning
  • have phrases well shaped and balanced throughout
  • use dynamics well, without loss of tone or pitch
  • make a better than average tone, played securely and comfortably throughout the range
  • create a fluent and enjoyable performance.

Pass

You should:

  • have rhythm mostly under control, with a basic feel for the music
  • play notes mostly accurately
  • play at a speed to match the piece, with the pulse held steady
  • attempt the basic dynamics, as shown in the piece
  • attempt sensible articulation and phrasing, with breaths and bowing, etc. placed appropriately
  • make a reasonably nice tone, in a way that is comfortable to play.

Below pass

You will:

  • not have controlled the rhythm well and not kept together with the accompaniment, where provided
  • have played more than a small number of wrong notes
  • have allowed the pulse to be unsteady, perhaps while searching for notes
  • not have produced a good tone, or lost control of it
  • not have paid enough attention to musical directions.

Scales, arpeggios, rudiments and technical exercises

Distinction

You should:

  • show a quick response, with no delay for thinking time
  • be technically fluent and play with no apparent effort
  • make a very good tone, with good tuning
  • play with a musical shape and feel.

Merit

You should:

  • how a confident response and start off promptly
  • be well prepared and technically secure through the whole range
  • show neat and secure articulation
  • show signs of comfort with these and the instrument.

Pass

You should:

  • need only a little thinking time before starting
  • show knowledge of key signatures and sensible fingerings
  • play these adequately, though with some slips
  • play at a moderate speed, with a steady pulse.

Below pass

You will:

  • start after delays for thinking time, or play slowly and unevenly
  • play too many wrong notes
  • show poor preparation of the different types of scales, arpeggios and exercises
  • have technical problems that stop you playing fluently.

Sight reading

Distinction

You should play fluently, read confidently and accurately and convey the style and mood of the piece.

Merit

You should have most notes and rhythm accurate, play with a steady pulse throughout and obey most of the indications marked.

Pass

You should have notes and rhythm fairly accurate, play with a fairly steady pulse throughout, obey most of the indications marked.

Below pass

You will show poor attention to note values, find notes slowly, miss key signature and accidentals and forget dynamics and articulation.

Last reviewed
21 December 2016
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