How Many Piano Grades Are There?

There are a total of 9 grades in the ABRSM piano exams, the Initial grade and grades 1 to 8. The initial grade is the easiest and grade 8 is the hardest. Each grade tests you in the following areas: scales and arpeggios, sight-reading, and aural testing.

The ABRSM structures its exams based on a specific structured framework created to determine if someone is a beginner or an advanced musician. To do this, 9 piano grades were developed, and a National Qualifications Framework.

Besides the grades, 3 pass standards apply:

  • Straight pass
  • Pass with merit
  • Pass with distinction

Piano Grades in the UK

Piano grades in the UK are divided into 3 main categories. In theory, exams need to be passed in order because this is how they were designed. You are recommended to first pass the Initial Grade, then Grade 1, then move on to Grade 2, and so on.

However, you are not restricted and can take the exam for whatever Grade you are comfortable with.

Initial Grade

The Initial Grade serves as a starting point to determine your skills from the get-go. You are tested for your aural skills (pitch recognition test), and sight-reading skills, and you have to play a few scales, arpeggios, and three piano pieces from a carefully-selected repertoire.

The maximum score for this grade is 150 points. 100 points is the minimum requirement for a straight pass, 120 points is passing with merit, and over 130 points is passing with distinction.

Basic Piano Grades

  • Piano Grade 1 – Scales like C major, A minor, and G major need to be mastered.
  • Piano Grade 2 – Includes Aural assessments and more knowledge about arpeggios and scales.
  • Piano Grade 3 – Students need to work on scales in contrary motion (like E- major) and similar motion (like A majors).

Intermediate Piano Grades

  • Piano Grade 4 – Non-instrument-specific criteria are analyzed and the focus is put on the musical outcome.
  • Piano Grade 5 – Involves mastering all previous levels at an advanced stage.

Advanced Piano Grades

  • Piano Grade 6 – Includes a larger focus on aural tests and advanced music.
  • Piano Grade 7 – Aural tests need to be mastered and 3 piano compositions need to be beautifully played. Near perfection and fine-tuning are expected.
  • Piano Grade 8 – You have to master broken chords, arpeggios, and scales.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What Is The ABRSM?

ABRSM is short for The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. It is practically a registered charity and an examination board in London. It offers music exams and was established during the late nineteenth century.

Basically, the following Royal schools are a part of the ABRSM:

  • The Royal Northern College of Music
  • The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
  • The Royal College of Music
  • The Royal Academic of Music

If you want to get certified, you do this through the ABRSM.

What are piano exams?

ABRSM piano exams are tests meant to determine the current piano-playing expertise you have. You are assessed by a worldwide recognized organization so you can prove your skills.

According to the grade you reach, various opportunities can appear, ranging from playing for an orchestra to being known all around the world.

Practical Piano Exams – How they work and what to expect

The ABRSM practical piano exam is a one-on-one session in which the skills of the piano player are assessed.

Grade 1 piano exams last around 12 minutes. The time spent during the examination gradually becomes longer. Grade 8 piano exams usually take around half an hour.

The exam involves simple procedures:

  • The identity of the candidate is confirmed
  • The test is performed
  • The examiner grades the candidate

Examiners use an app to mark exams and audio record the performance. Sometimes, 2 examiners are present.

One will mark and run the exam and the other one is just an observer. Short pauses can appear between sections, pieces, or songs. This is sometimes necessary for examiners to record comments.

What is the highest piano grade?

The highest piano Grade is 8. It requires very high technical skills, and the ability to play the instrument with the use of proper skills and styles.

Exam repertoires for Grade 8 piano are long and technically demanding.

Is Grade 1 piano hard?

Grade 1 piano exams can be hard for some candidates. The pieces required cannot be performed without an appropriate level of note recall and reading fluency.

Can you fail Grade 1 piano?

Grade 1 piano can be failed. Examiners mark how pieces sounded. Every piece you play gets an individual mark up to 30. To pass, you need at least 20.

When one piece is failed, it is reflected in the individual mark. This does not affect marks received on the other pieces played.

Candidates are allowed to take the piano exam as many times as needed. Previous results are not taken into account when grading.

Can I skip piano grades?

When you study ABRSM piano grades, you can skip one or two levels if this is what you want. However, it is not recommended.

A large part of the system involves learning and the creation of a complete experience. Also, the lessons learned in the training you do for the previous grades can be very useful during the current exam you take.

Piano grades are about the journey, not just the destination!

How long does it take to get to Grade 1 piano?

Grade 1 piano takes most children between 1.5-2 years. However, this varies a lot from one candidate to the next.

Then, one grade per year tends to be achieved. For adults, the time can be a lot shorter.

How long does it take to reach Grade 8 piano?

For most people, it takes 5 to 6 years to reach Grade 8 piano, with constant practice.

Tips for Passing Piano Exams

In the month before you take the piano exam, do the following:

  • Understand everything about the piano pieces you play, including background and context. This helps a lot with appropriately playing the piece.
  • Make sure you can play the piece’s left hand alone. This reduces hesitation and stumbling.
  • Play every piece a few times per week (every day if possible, but you need to give yourself a break eventually!). Use a metronome and experiment with tempo. When you play at a lower tempo, it is easier to figure out what you do right and what you do wrong.
  • Around one week before the exam, arrange a couple of play-throughs. This helps you remove jitters and be more comfortable.
  • Before you start, take some seconds to figure out how you will begin. This involves setting the tempo and thinking about the sound of the piece when you play it.
  • Because aural tests can be uncomfortable, listen to all Classical music genres. This allows you to be more aware of the stylistic trends.
  • Look for someone to practice with. This can make the practice of arpeggios and scales much easier and more fun. You can also test each other and it is much easier to figure out what someone else does wrong than what you do wrong.
  • Define exam order since you are allowed to start with pieces or scales. This choice can make the experience more comfortable.
  • Do a mock exam the day before the exam to test yourself. This also helps you to get rid of nerves.


If you want to learn how to play the piano and be officially acknowledged as a virtuoso, you need to be aware of piano grades and the ABRSM.

Certification is available to prove the piano skills you have, but there are numerous things you might not know about the examination process. This is why everyone interested in one of the most loved musical instruments in the world should know the following things.

Passing the ABRSM piano grades can be a huge accomplishment in the life of an aspiring musician. Although you do not need to pass them to have a career in the music industry, they can help you become better and some piano jobs require them.

Make sure you take the grade exams seriously. They are much tougher than they initially seem, especially if you are a beginner because the experience can be very stressful.