Guide To Passing Grade 2: ABRSM Piano

Following our highly requested tips for passing Grade 1 ABRSM and our top tips for helping your child want to practice piano, we are continuing our journey throughout the exam criteria and offering a number of tips and tricks to help yourself, your child or your student through the exam period and complete their Grade 2 exams!

Providing they have already completed Grade 1, Grade 2 is actually somewhat similar and there is not a massive leap between the two, so hopefully you will be able to enter this exam with a little more confidence as you already know exactly what exam conditions are like and that our number 1 rule still stands here…The examiner wants to see you pass!

Today we’ll break down the key differences as well as another few quick and easy tips to help improve your exam experience.

Child preparing for their Grade 2 piano exam.

The structure of Grade 2 exam consists of:

  • Three pieces
  • Scales and arpeggios
  • Sight reading
  • Aural tests.

Instead of seeing Grade 2 as a new ball park, ultimately the underlying principles remain the same the main things that the examiners are looking to explore in Grade 2 over Grade 1 is a little more attention to:

  • Hand Independence
  • Expressive Playing
  • Basic understanding of musical theory and concepts

So if these are areas that you are perhaps less comfortable in showing during your play, they are the areas to practice most!

Three Pieces:

Three pieces is often the most enjoyable part of the exam for many as it encourages exploration and the chance to perform a well known and memorised repertoire.

For Grade 2, the syllabus repertoire is organised into three lists which explore different traditions and styles, dating from the Renaissance period to the present day. Choosing one piece from each list gives candidates the opportunity to play a balanced selection and demonstrate a range of skills.

Some students may find some difficulty here finding a piece that they either like or understand why they need to learn, particularly the older pieces. For this reason, the number one tip we’d offer parents and students alike is to research the composers and find which pieces you relate to most.

Finger positioning on piano

We generally enjoy music that we understand and can put into context that little bit more, so if a student is struggling to understand Mozart Minuet in D, K. 7 for example, explore with them a little more about Mozart’s life, what a Minuet is, why he wrote them and how they changed the musical world, it’ll not only broaden their horizons to explore more, but also give them a better grounding behind the piece.

One option that some do forget is that at up until Grade 3, there is the opportunity to play duets if you or your student is still struggling to perform on their own, or feels more confident with a teacher beside them, however generally we’d recommend trying to overcome this fear sooner rather than later, but this may be beneficial to some.

ABRSM do also note that certain pieces may not be suitable for every candidate for technical reasons, e.g. hand size, or effects that cannot be realised on a digital piano. Other pieces may not be suitable because of wider context (historical, cultural, subject matter, lyrics if an arrangement of a song, etc.). Pieces should be carefully considered for their appropriateness to each individual, which may need consultation between teachers and parents/guardians.

Scales And Arpeggios:

As mentioned, for the remainder of the exam, the structure is rather similar to grade 1 so we won’t spend too much time on this. 

The only step up from Grade 1 when it comes to scales is that the examiner will want to see them a tiny bit faster with great quality and demonstrate that your abilities are developing. Arpeggios are brand new to Grade 2.

Sight reading / ear tests

The sight reading and ear tests are also exactly the same as Grade 1, however only introduce a few more techniques, for example in the sight reading parameters, D major E, G minors are introduced, along with tied notes.

For deaf or hearing-impaired candidates: Deaf or hearing-impaired candidates may choose alternative tests in place of the standard tests, if requested at the time of booking the exam. For more information, click here.

The Aural tests are also similar, however encourage a little more interaction and conversation between the examiner and the student, which is a fantastic learning tool. To clap the pulse of a piece played by the examiner, and to identify whether it is two time or three time. To sing as ‘echoes’ three phrases played by the examiner. To identify a change in either pitch or rhythm during a phrase played by the examiner.  To answer questions about two features of a piece played by the examiner, the first will be one of the following: dynamics (loud/quiet, or sudden/gradual changes), articulation (smooth/detached); the second will be tempo (becoming slower/faster, or staying the same).

Things to remember

Practice practice practice – Find the right piece for you.

There really is a plethora of choice when it comes to finding the right songs for your 3 pieces. Speak to your teacher about which styles you enjoy playing the most and have the most confidence in, they will be able to advise which choices may be best to demonstrate your talents.

Relax and take things slow

There’s often a tendency to rush during exams or in the lead up to them. Instead, before you start playing, take a breath, take in your surroundings and get into a great frame of mind, knowing that you are going to do fantastically!

Don’t strain yourself

Finally, don’t over practice or overthink! It’s easy to push your hands to the limits whilst practicing for an exam. Instead, practicing just 20-30 minutes each day in the run up to your exam is far more beneficial than trying to cram in everything just a week or two before the exam.

Much like Grade 1, Grade 2 is generally one of the more straightforward grades to pass, it may sound obvious, but if you are prepared, you will pass. Most students get around 70% on their Grade 2 exams. If you are still feeling nervous or unprepared, speak to your teacher, they will be able to help you take the next step forward! 

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