Graded Music Exams – A guide with our friends at MTB

Are you considering putting yourself or your child forward for a graded music exam?

Graded music exams can be a fantastic way of celebrating achievement and putting milestones in a musical journey. Our friends at the examination board MTB have put together this wonderful guide – all you need to know about preparing for a graded music exam.

Annotated sheet music for a graded music examination

About music grades

When a student learns a musical instrument, the progress from beginner to advanced performer is divided by music grades. Starting with Pre-Grades followed by Grades 1 to 8, they provide a structured approach to measuring progress. Learners can take an exam to test their proficiency in their chosen instrument, after an appropriate standard has been reached. Afterwards, they receive a marksheet which highlights where to improve, where they are doing well, and provides a qualification with a certificate. The ‘award’ for a music grade can fall into several categories, including pass, merit, and for top candidates, distinction.

Why take music grades?

Following the graded system of exams while learning an instrument has a number of valuable benefits for learners. It provides structured targets and motivates students to work towards achieving the standard required to take and excel in their next graded exam. It also provides them with a sense of achievement when they successfully complete their exam. A certificate marks this achievement, rewarding them for their hard work.

Furthermore, a certificate is of value as a qualification that shows their standard of ability in their instrument. Importantly, it can be used to show their suitability for progression to Music GCSE, A level or higher education. Attaining Grades 4-5 shows that the candidate could achieve higher in the Performance element at GCSE music, and Grades 6-8 the Performance element for A level. MTB grade 6-8 qualifications also offer UCAS Tariff points for entry into UK universities. In the wider musical world, exams provide a benchmark for other musicians, allowing them to understand each others’ level of ability. As such, it can be important when joining a musical band, orchestra or group. Lastly, an exam marksheet gives detailed feedback to candidates and teachers. This allows them to identify areas of success as well as areas that require improvement.

Musician playing the piano whilst preparing for a graded music examination

When should I take a Graded Music Exam?

Learning an instrument through the graded system provides good motivation for students to improve as they prepare for their exam. If learners are struggling to make progress, setting a date for the exam can be a great motivator. However, sometimes it is sensible to ensure that the candidate is prepared and confident enough to take their assessment successfully. Rushing to take an exam too soon can lead to a disappointing result. Trying too early to tackle more difficult repertoire can have a long-term negative effect on the growth of a student’s technical ability.

The teacher will be best placed to advise when a learner is ready to be entered for their next exam. Teachers will often also suggest that their students learn pieces and exercises outside specific exam content. This helps to bridge the gap between grades, and provides a well-rounded learning experience. Self-taught students may opt for practice attempts at a grade exam, to see how they perform in an exam situation. These attempts serve as a guide to whether they are ready.

How best to prepare for graded music exams

Learners can best prepare for graded music exams through regular practice, ensuring they have learnt and prepared all the required elements for the exam in advance.  MTB also offer Free Practice Exams, and candidates may benefit from these or mock exams before attempting the real thing. Again, teachers are in the best position to help prepare their candidates for these exams. If parents have any questions, they should discuss these first with the teacher.

About Music Teachers’ Board (MTB Exams)

The logo of the Music Teachers' Board who offer graded music examinations

The Music Teachers’ Board (MTB Exams) provides an exciting new way to take instrumental grades 1 to 8 in 26 instruments. Exams are recorded in audio or video with their app, submitted online and marked by their specialist examiners.

Their assessment model, of recording the exam in audio/video, is modelled on the GCSE music coursework structure and has been adapted to work with instrumental qualifications. This has moved this form of assessment into the 21st century with the introduction of an app to record and submit the exam.

MTB was developed over several years and their first Ofqual regulated qualifications were launched in March 2019. The board now have over 1,200 exam centres across 45 countries.

For more information please visit the Music Teachers’ Board website here:

You can also download a PDF document with more information about the Music Teachers’ Board and the examinations they offer here.

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