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About Performance Grades

Introducing Performance Grades

Performance Grades are digital exams that we assess from a video recording submitted by the candidate. They're available for the following levels and subjects: 

  • Initial Grade: Piano, Bowed Strings and Drum Kit only 
  • Grades 1 to 8: a range of instruments and singing, including Singing for Musical Theatre and Drum Kit
  • Grades 1 to 5: Jazz instruments

The exams are equivalent in demand and value to our Practical Grades. However, they have a different emphasis with a strong focus on performance, including communication, interpretation and delivery. 

Performance Grades are available on demand. There are no booking periods or exam sessions so you can choose when to book, record and submit the exam. You can submit your video when you book or at any time during the next 28 days.   

The qualification specification is available to download on this page. It includes information about exam requirements, preparing for the exam, the marking criteria and results. For repertoire lists and information about your exam programme, use the syllabus selector below.  

You should also read our information about recording, uploading and submitting your exam. This is available on our Performance Grades guidance page.

Entry requirements - if you are taking Performance Grade 6, 7 or 8 you must pass Grade 5 (or above) in Music Theory, Practical Musicianship or a Jazz Practical Grade before you book your exam. For more information, see the section on entry requirements below.

Why take a Performance Grade?

Performance Grades are open to learners of any age and you can start with any grade and skip grades if you want to. We've designed them to inspire and challenge and to recognise and celebrate progress.  

Working towards a Performance Grade encourages learners to develop their performance skills and get the most from their music making. 

Who can take Performance Grades
Entry requirements

Performance Grades are open to candidates of any age.  

There are no entry requirements for Initial Grade and Grades 1 to 5. 

If you are taking a Performance Grade 6, 7 or 8 you must pass Grade 5 (or above) in one of the following subjects before you book your exam: 

  • Music Theory 
  • Practical Musicianship 
  • Jazz Practical Grade (Piano, Flute, Clarinet, Sax, Trumpet/Cornet/Flugelhorn or Trombone)  

This is to ensure you have the all-round musical knowledge and understanding needed to successfully interpret and perform music at the higher grades.   

  • Exams passed from 1 January 1994 onwards – there is no need to send us your certificate as we can check our records to verify your qualification. If we are unable to verify your qualification, we will ask you to provide a copy of your certificate. 
  • Exams passed before 1 January 1994 – you should send us a copy of your certificate at the time of booking.  

We also accept the alternative qualifications listed below.  

Accepted alternatives

We accept the following alternative qualifications: 

  • Australian Music Examination Board: Grade 5 (or above) in Theory of Music 
  • London College of Music: Grade 5 (or above) in Theory of Music (not Popular Music Theory) 
  • The Royal Conservatory of Music (Canada): both Advanced Rudiments and Basic Harmony 
  • Royal Irish Academy of Music: Grade 6 (or above) in Theory and Harmony 
  • Trinity College London/Trinity Guildhall: Grade 5 (or above) in Theory of Music 
  • University of South Africa: Grade 5 (or above) in Theory of Music 
  • Dublin Institute of Technology Conservatory of Music & Drama: Grade 5 (or above) in Musicianship 
  • Irish Leaving Certificate: Grade B (or above) in Music (Higher Level) and grade H3 
  • The Open University: A224 Inside Music 
  • Music Teachers’ Board: Grade 5 in Music Theory 

If you would like us to consider any other qualification: 

  • Contact us at [email protected] at least three weeks before you book your Grade 6 to 8 exam. 
  • Provide a copy of your certificate and/or mark form and full details of the content of the course/qualification – for example a copy of the syllabus, a course/module transcript, examples of past papers.  
  • Provide a translation for any documents that aren’t in English.  
  • We will confirm by email if your qualification is accepted. You should send this confirmation email to us at [email protected] when you book your exam. 

What’s in the exam

Pieces or songs 

  • A performance of four pieces or songs presented as a continuous programme.  
  • For Jazz Performance Grades, all pieces must be from the syllabus – with at least one from each list.
  • For all other subjects, three pieces or songs must be from the syllabus (one from each list) and one is your own choice.   

You can find repertoire lists, programme requirements and timings in the syllabus for your subject, see below.    

young girl smiles with a violin
How we mark exams

There are 150 marks available in total. You need: 

  • 100 marks for a pass 
  • 120 marks for a merit 
  • 130 marks for a distinction 

Each piece or song is marked out of 30 and there are 30 additional marks available for the performance as a whole. 

You can find more information about marking, including the marking criteria that examiners use, in the relevant qualification specification, available to download at the top of this page.   


Why don’t Performance Grades include scales, sight-reading and aural tests?

Performance Grades provide an alternative to Practical Grades. All our exams offer a framework for motivating and recognising achievement, rather than a curriculum for teaching. 

We believe that learners should develop a wide range of skills to provide a foundation for musical performance and help them to grow as musicians. These skills include those assessed through our technical, sight-reading and aural tests: technical agility, responding to notation, and hearing and understanding how music works. We will always encourage and support the development of these skills through our books, resources, apps and teacher development work. 

We also know that all teachers have their own approaches and will continue to build technical, sight-reading and aural skills into their lessons in the way that best suits their students. When it comes to exams, they can now choose between one that assesses these skills individually in different sections, and one that assesses them holistically by focusing entirely on performance. Strengths in these core areas of musical skill will still be of enormous benefit and will positively affect the musical outcome in the exam. 

How should I select the fourth, own choice, piece?

The fourth piece can be another piece from the ABRSM syllabus or any published piece of a similar level.  It should be broadly the same standard (or above) as the repertoire set for the grade being taken. There are plenty of ways to identify suitable music, from looking at exam listings past and present to the guidance publishers give on their books. 

Choose music you enjoy, that matches your musical personality and that you can play confidently. Aim to choose a piece that completes the set of four in a musically satisfying way. 

You can present your pieces in the order that feels best as a performance.  

a man plays his bowed strings instrument

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an exam