Following on from our guides to both Grade 1 and Grade 2 ABRSM Piano exams, today we’re focusing on Grade 3 where things perhaps step up a smidge, however, just as the previous exams, it’s important to note that these exams are not as stressful as they may seem and should actually be something you actively look forward to, showing off your skills and developing an increasing love for the piano.
Grade 3 is an interesting one as it’s where many piano players hit what is known as their first ‘wall’, in that there may be a slightly more complex piece of theory or practical that just takes a little longer to grasp. Don’t panic though! With just a little help from your teacher and a little hard work, these walls are incredibly satisfying to overcome.
The first thing to note is that Grade 3 follows a very similar pattern to the first two exams, so you should feel right at home straight away. This being: 3 pieces, where the candidate chooses one piece from 3 separate lists, each designed to demonstrate a different feat of piano playing. A selection of scales and arpeggios, should be played by memory. Sight reading a short piece of previously unseen music and finally an aural test.
Whilst there are not many differences between the previous grades and grade 3, we will break down a few of the key measures to take and things to know before your exam to ensure you have the best experience possible!
Differences in the exam:
Three pieces: Grade 3 is the final grade in which candidates can opt to perform a duet if they so require, whilst 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 know for some.
Scales and Arpeggios:
When it comes to scales and arpeggios, Grade 3 definitely steps up a notch, most notably, the use of similar motion, contrary-motion, and chromatic contrary-motion scales. Whilst these may sound like a mouthful, with a little practice, your teacher should be able to explain them in easy to follow terms. This video also excellently demonstrates the kinds of scales included in this grade.
The next difference, or rather advancement comes in the sight reading part of the exam, which essentially introduces a few new concepts to the candidate, such as outside 5-finger position, 2 note chords in either hand and a simple semiquaver pattern. Again, you may have briefly encountered these terms before, however if you are unsure, simply check in with your teacher!
How To Prepare For The Grade 3 Exam:
Preparation for the grade 3 exam is incredibly similar to that of the other exams too, don’t over practice on the day, get enough sleep etc. However this time, we thought we’d offer some additional guidance to help overcome both a fear of performing or how to help settle any existing nerves you may have.
1. Perform For Your Family!
One of the most common things that students can become stressed about is the idea of having to perform in front of other people. To overcome this, we often advise students to practice all three of their pieces in a row to your family or friends. Once you’re comfortable, try recording the pieces and watching it back to see how you’d improve for next time, don’t forget, you only get one chance to play them in the exam.
Whatever happens, it’s important to just keep going! Try not to restart and always keep moving forward, the show must go on after all!
2. Understanding The Music
One of the most common things we see students forget to do at this level is remember what their chosen pieces are actually intended to sound like! Whilst you may know the note patterns inside out, at this grade level, intention behind the piece becomes more significant. Is the piece supposed to be slow and melancholic? Or is it fast, jumping and lively? Watching your chosen pieces on places such as YouTube or listening on streaming services are great methods of realising the intent behind the composition.
One added way to feel more ‘connected’ to the sound is to make sure you have read up about the composer (are they dead or alive, where are they from, what else did they write), this will help give you a better understanding of the music.
3. Memorising Your Scales
During lessons or practice at home, it’s easy to get into the habit of practising your scales and arpeggios in a particular order. Instead, one method we love is to instead ask your teacher, parents or friends to ask you to play them in a completely random order, that way you know you’ve learned the scale and not just the order!
4. How Often Should I Practice?
On the lead up to your exam, we would recommend practising every day for around 30 minutes. However ultimately this is up to you and as long as you are feeling comfortable with all of the exam material and have covered all the requirements then you should be comfortable. However, there is no point spending half an hour just practising your pieces but neglecting the other requirements, so it’s always best to practice your weaker areas first!
We hope you enjoyed this short guide to Grade 3, do you have a particular area that you often struggle with? We’d love to help and hear from you! Check out our other helpful blog articles here, or contact our experts today to either see if it’s time to upgrade your piano, or if there are any other ways to improve your playing!