music grades are they equal in difficulty for different instruments

(29 Posts)
ReallyTired Tue 03-Jun-14 22:30:54

Ds has recently started one to one singing lessons after years of singing in a church choir. The teacher wants to prepare him for grade 5 associated board singing exam. Ds has been learning guitar for three years and will soon take grade 3 guitar with Trinity Board.

Looking at the music I get the impression that grade 3 guitar (Trinity) is harder than grade 5 singing (Associated Board). Certainly my son thinks that his guitar grade is harder. Traditionally Associated Board exams have carried more snob value, but I feel this is unjustified.

So if there are any music teachers out there or anyone else with loads of musical instrument experience: Are grade exams for different instruments and boards equal?

JulieMichelleRobinson Tue 03-Jun-14 23:15:54

From my experience... which is fairly limited:

Violin ABRSM and violin Trinity look around the same, though of course you can avoid scales. Scottish board fiddle grades look technically way easier... but while remaining in first position up to grade 5, factors like speed, ornamentation, variation of the melody etc. come into play.

Viola ABRSM grade 8 looks around the technical standard of (in my opinion) violin grade 6. That is primarily because the higher positions aren't used so much by violists, while there is likely to be greater emphasis on tonal quality and expression. Having tried to play the grade 8 viola music, they are actually of a similar standard with a lot of double stopping required - it just looks easier because it's not high.

ABRSM classical piano and Rockschool contemporary piano are actually more or less on a par. That is to say, I find the Rockschool grade 8 rather technically challenging. In the early grades, however, the Rockschool pieces are very formulaic and rely heavily on patterns, perhaps because many students will be learning them by ear? There are more scales required for Rockschool if you take the full exam (rather than performance certificate). I haven't seen Trinity but I've been using LCM jazz material. The LCM grade pieces for jazz piano are marginally easier than ABRSM grades, but the jazz grades require improvisational skills even at grade 1 and by grade 6 it's like "here's a lead sheet, play!" They are assessing a totally different subject.

Flute and clarinet grade 1 are way easier to get to than violin grade 1, even though the music may look of a similar standard. I think the clarinet grade 2, however, is a big jump up while violin grade 2 is not a huge step up from grade 1. All the instruments have their big jumps at different places.

Singing is... well... singing. For a start, you'll only ever have one note at a time. You have to sing the pieces from memory. And you will be marked on intonation (not an issue on guitar), breath control/technique, vocal quality and expression. Nerves can seriously affect intonation. But pieces can look easier than they are, and perhaps be easy to play/sing the notes but hard to sing/play really well.

Nationally, all the exam boards seem to be treated the same by Ofqual, if that helps, but they assess slightly different skills, I think.

ReallyTired Wed 04-Jun-14 10:08:51

My impression is that passing singing grades depends more on innate talent and a person's sense of pitch. Ds has near perfect pitch so he will have no problems with sight reading an unaccompanied piece. I can see that singing would be harder to pass if the person lacks natural talent.

A non talented musican can get to grade 5 in most instruments through sheer hard work.

Swannery Wed 04-Jun-14 10:25:04

You're forgetting that he's been singing in a church choir for years. So he's been learning singing for all that time. That will have helped his singing skills in lots of ways, not least by improving his tone. Starting singing grades from scratch, without having been in a choir, would be much more tricky. I think that most people find the sight singing part of it the hardest bit, but again your son will have plenty of experience of sight singing from choir. Singing a folk sing has to be easier than learning scales.
IME some instruments are easier than others in terms of passing grades. Piano is notoriously hard at grade 1, whereas with some brass and wind instruments grade 1 hardly seems worth bothering with. The stringed instruments are harder than the easier wind and brass instruments too.

HercShipwright Wed 04-Jun-14 11:06:37

swannery I agree that for me, and for my DDs, singing a folk song is definitely easier than learning scales. For DS though I know he'd infinitely prefer his grade 5 scales to singing even a grade 1 level folk song. Because he can't sing and hates singing. DD1 has always found her singing exams to be easier and more enjoyable than her other studies - until the compulsory foreign language songs kicked in at either grade 6 or grade 7. I know she found her grade 8 recorder exam infinitely easier than her grade 7 singing, just because of the foreign language lyrics which she found almost impossible to learn (well, she got distinction so obviously not actually impossible - but far more of a worry to her and more effort than the playing). Singing is easy (up to a point) for those who can sing. For those who can't...not so much.

ReallyTired Wed 04-Jun-14 11:33:57

My son is singing a foreign language song for his grade 5 singing. He is going to Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck. He knows the lyrics inside out by singing it regualary at weddings. Whether he can sing it to grade 5 standard will be another matter.

HercShipwright Wed 04-Jun-14 11:40:25

Really - you don't HAVE to for grade 5 though. DD2 isn't. At least - I haven't heard any moaning from her about it. Mind you she sang a gaelic song for Grade 4 out of choice so perhaps she wouldn't moan like DD1. Or maybe she just hasn't learned it yet - her grade 5 is more than a month away so she hasn't got The Fear yet.

Your comment about knowing standard repertoire inside out just underlines the fact that your DS finds it easier because he is good at it and extremely well practised. grin

Swannery Wed 04-Jun-14 11:42:39

I think singing in Latin is an easy option for church choristers, and less likely to be criticised than singing in a live foreign language, where people are more aware of bad pronunciation. My DD sang a German song at a festival, and the adjudicator explained that she was an expert on singing in foreign languages, and had written a book on the subject, and that the book included the song my DD was singing! She picked up on tiny errors.
NB I can't stand Panis Angelicus, but many people seem to like it!
My DD also finds singing exams far easier than instrumental exams, but I bear in mind all the time she has spent singing in choirs and other groups, which means that overall she has done loads of singing practice, but in a pain free way. You do need a good memory, to learn all those songs off by heart, but children seem to have that.

ReallyTired Wed 04-Jun-14 11:57:45

"I think singing in Latin is an easy option for church choristers, and less likely to be criticised than singing in a live foreign language, where people are more aware of bad pronunciation. "

I think you are right. I suspect that well known music will be marked more harshly than a lesser known piece. I agree than sinigng in a live language is harder than Latin.

I don't what the difficulty would be like for a non choister to sing in Latin. No one in my area studies Latin at school. When I sang Latin as a child I had some clue what the lyrics meant which helped with learning them. My son has absolutely no clue what the latin means. I think my son would be very happy to sing in German, but utterly hate singing in French.

ReallyTired Wed 04-Jun-14 12:41:58

I suppose that ds has found grade 3 guitar hard as he is having to develop strength in his fingers to manage the chords.

Swannery Wed 04-Jun-14 12:56:48

Classical guitar, if that's what he's doing, is notoriously difficult.

Nocomet Wed 04-Jun-14 14:18:06

Really, his grade 5 singing. DD did Panis Angelicus for grade 5 too. She's curious to know how old your DS is as her version would be too high for an older make.

She also sings in the church choir and likes Latin. She gets to do Pie Jesus a lot, cursing the last very high note when she had a cold.
Thus in their GCSE music performances we had everything from heavy rock drumming, through pop and show tunes to a brilliant classical pianist and DD singing church Latin. It really was quite a mixture. Although to me DD dueting a pop song was the oddest, because it wasn't her normal Music exam stuff at all.

She's dyslexic, she finds playing an instrument impossible. Either she can read the music or work out flute fingering, but not both at once. Singing just comes naturally.

I asked their excellent pianist if he found it hard work and he said no. He got good enough quickly enough that he enjoyed practicing.

Singers I guess are born good enough, that practice isn't the chore a violin is.

ReallyTired Wed 04-Jun-14 14:42:12

ds is twelve years old and still can reach the high notes with ease at the moment. He is at the stage when boys sound amazing. (If I dare boast!) Alas we know it will not last.

There are two versions of the Art of Song and ds is doing the medium-low voice version. His arrangment can be sung by a tenor. The highest note is top D and the lowest note is bottom E. His singing teacher reckons that ds has 12 months before his voice breaks.

I think that singers have to have good pitch. Either someone has good pitch or they don't and beyond a certain point it can't be taught.

Swannery Wed 04-Jun-14 14:52:04

If you sing a lot your sense of pitch will improve. And your tone will improve too. So children in choirs have a big advantage.
My DD did grade 5 aged 10, and is now taking practical musicianship grade 5 so that she can then move on to grade 6 (not that there's any rush with singing, especially as most of the higher grade songs are best suited to older children and adults). PM is a great option for singers.

mummytime Wed 04-Jun-14 14:53:51

My DD sings regularly in all kinds of languages (including Russian which she doesn't have a clue about).
A lot of Church Choirs work on the RSCM awards and syllabus. Bronze is about Grade 2/3, Silver is grade 4/5 I think and Gold is 6/7. But Bronze is pretty straightforward for most regular choristers. Also if he has done instrument grades he will already know a lot of theory.

HercShipwright Wed 04-Jun-14 14:56:56

DD2 is 10. ISTR that DD1 did Cry me a river for her grade 6. Now, DD2 is a great little actress (she does a lot of MT) and can certainly spit out the venom. And she does like singing CMAR at home. But I just wouldn't be entirely comfortable with her singing that song in an exam context in a year's time. I wasn't wild about DD1 singing it either, but at least she was 13. Which is slightly better than an 11 year old singing it.

ReallyTired Wed 04-Jun-14 15:02:41

"If you sing a lot your sense of pitch will improve. And your tone will improve too. So children in choirs have a big advantage."

You are right to a point, but it does depend on how serious the choir is. Ds' chuch choir is not selective, but demand a high level of commitment out of the children. They are prepared to have any child provided that they attend the practices. I don't think that ds gained anything being in the school choir.

I think that anyone can learn to sing to a tolerable standard. I am not sure that anyone can learn to sing to a standard to pass grade 5.

Relative pitch can be developed with practice, but absolute pitch is something you are born with.

Swannery I feel that most children lack the emotional maturity to sing with expression expected at the more advanced grades.

DeWee Wed 04-Jun-14 17:18:28

I think there are different standards to the different instruments. Dd1 did her grade 5 singing a year (age 12)before she did grade 5 piano, with much less practice. Now doing the piano too helped (things like aurals being the same) but I do feel that it is much harder on the piano.

And I think until recently some of the brass instument grades started at 3 because grades 1 and 2 were regarded as too easy.

PollyCazaletWannabe Wed 04-Jun-14 17:27:54

I did grades in piano, flute and singing and reached grade 8 on all 3 at roughly the same time, aged 18.
I started piano lessons aged 7, flute lessons aged 9 and singing lessons aged 15, so the piano took me nearly 4 times longer than singing to reach grade 8 standard.
I found singing very much easier. For one thing, an instrument like the piano or guitar, and to a lesser extent the flute, requires quite a lot of coordination, whereas of course, although there are physical skills required in singing, to a certain extent you just open your mouth and the sound comes out!

Fram Wed 04-Jun-14 17:50:04

DD is doing clarinet and piano, and I would say piano is definitely more difficult- 2 staves to read for a start!

I am surprised Panis Angelicus is a grade 5 piece though! Seems far simpler than grade 5 piano pieces. (I can remember it word/note perfect, and haven't sung it for 20 years!)

schilke Wed 04-Jun-14 19:21:36

However, piano you just have to hit a key, whereas for brass/wind you actually have to work to hit the right note wink I don't suppose much comes from comparing them and that they have all been levelled out in some way.

JulieMichelleRobinson Wed 04-Jun-14 20:49:34

I think that what is marked is the final performance, however, not the effort required to reach it. smile

ReallyTired Wed 04-Jun-14 22:05:02

I don't think you can compare singing music with piano music. It is not possible to sing chords. You do not need a sense of pitch to play the piano in the same that you need a sense of pitch to sing. Unlike instrumental players, singers have to sing all their pieces off by heart for grade exams. They even have to sing one piece unaccompanied.

Swannery Thu 05-Jun-14 09:41:04

At the very high, professional levels, arguably things level out, as for each instrument you are looking at the level that can be reached by a talented person who started their instrument as a young child and has worked extremely hard at it ever since. I don't believe that things in all cases level out during grades 1 to 8 though. Grade 8 is an intermediate level, and it is much easier to play at an intermediate level on some instruments than on others. Eg it is far easier to get to grade 8 on trumpet or saxophone than on organ, oboe or classical guitar. I would not recommend the latter instruments to a not particularly musical or not particularly industrious child, as they are likely to give up early on. For such a child I would recommend one of the easier wind or brass instruments.
Singing at an intermediate level is relatively easy, especially if the child has some natural ability and has the chance to sing in a decent choir. But it's not so easy to become really good - professional level.

JaneParker Thu 05-Jun-14 09:54:29

Singing (if you can sing) is a .. piece of piss.... really, absolutely dead easy. My siblings and I put ourselves in for grade 8 singing without a single lesson and got distinction, merit and pass respectively. With my 5 children one got grade 8 at age 12 (boy ) , one grade 8 when she was about 14, the youngest 2 grade 7 when age 12 (they did grades 3/5/6/7 and might do 8 once the broken voices settle down). The other child just did grade 5 singing. If I compare the grade 7s and 8s of those children with their instruments there is no comparison. However they still before the exam sang them every day for months and had to learn the pieces off my heart. Also inherently all can sing so to that extent it was easy. May be if a child is tone deaf or has no voice it might be hard.

I got four grade 8s. Piano was the hardest in my view, violin second, music theory where I got almost full marks I found fairly easy as I like maths, singing very very easy for me but then I did spend most of my teens at the piano sight singing so I suppose did a lot of practice and I have perfect pitch although that is not necessarily a help except with some aural tests. (I just have to hear the alst chord to jknow what a piece has modulated to rather than work it out in a relative pitch way).

Do be aware that grades 6/7/8 carry with them UCAS points and whem y 2 something lawyer daughter even recently was doing some applications she was getting out all those piano, singing and cello certificates for the higher grades. So my advice is by all means miss out earlier grades but try to do all of 6 7 and 8 and get grade 5 theory done as young as you can manage it.

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