We’re well into our list of guides to the ABRSM Piano Graded exams and today we’re focusing on Grade 4. Unlike Grades 1-3, Grade 4 does differ slightly in its structure and introduces some fantastic techniques into any pianist's repertoire that will excel them into a fantastic level of play.
Much like the other grades, grade 4 exams consist of three pieces, scales and arpeggios, sight-reading, and aural tests, however what they do introduce is some slight differences in the ways the exam is marked, which we’ll break down below.
Before we jump into these differences, if you haven’t already, we’d highly recommend reading our guides to grade 1, grade 2 and grade 3 first as they are all full of some fantastic tips to help relax you before the exam (which can be applied to any level of play!).
Differences To The Exam
As always, the lead rule stands with Grade 4 and the approach that candidates should take...The examiners want to see you pass! Too often are examiners demonised as being too harsh or critical, but ultimately their sole purpose is to see you pass and encourage a joy for learning. Remember that they have been in your position before, so fully understand all of the pressures and nerves that can come with examinations.
If you are struggling with performing in front of others, read our guide to overcoming stage fright here.
When it comes to the sight reading stage of the exam, there are a few new techniques that you may need to learn and understand beforehand, namely: 6/8 timing, anacrusis (one or more unstressed notes before the first bar line of a piece or passage.), chromatic notes, pause signs and tenuto. If you are unsure on each of these, your teacher will be able to help you!
The Aural part of the exam also differs slightly in that you will be asked to play from memory a melody played twice by the examiner. The melody will be within the range of an octave, in a major or minor key with up to three sharps or flats. This is an exercise which your teacher should have practiced in depth with you as playing from memory can seem a little strange to some at first. There is only one phrase to sing at Grade 4 but it is longer and a little more challenging to remember than the Grade 3 tests.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes to the Aural at this level is to sing 5 notes from the score. You have to read the notes from a score in this test and sing (or hum) them aloud. You will be given the key chord and starting note first such as C in a C major chord. The key to this exercise is to sing slowly, not only does this give you more time to think about the next note, but the examiner will be able to help you by playing the right note if you get a note wrong. Thankfully however, there are only a number of ways of arranging only five notes one after the other, so if you practise a lot you will start to remember the patterns. If you are unsure, speak to your teacher for more practice!
Understanding the detail in music. This part of the exam should be relatively straightforward as it is similar to grades 1-3. Here you will listen to a short piece played on the piano. Afterwards you will be asked two questions. One question will be about either: The major key or minor key of the music, the tempo of the music and whether the music uses smooth or detached notes.
The second question however will be about what in the music gives the piece its character. Musical Character is essentially what gives the music it’s ‘feel’, or characteristics. For example, a piece that could be described as ‘dreamy’ or ‘peaceful’ likely sounds that way because it is slow in pace and gentle in dynamics, or it might have an expressive tune with a flowing arpeggio accompaniment. It’s important here to be specific and show off your knowledge, not only will it spark a nice conversation between you and the examiner, but speaking about music is every musicians favourite thing to do!
We hope this short guide to understanding the requirements of the grade 4 ABRSM piano exam helps you on your next step of your musical journey! If you are ready to step up your piano game and upgrade your piano, you may want to speak to our experts or visit our piano showroom today!