So you’ve done grade 8, maybe a while ago, and you’re thinking ‘what next?’ Why not do a piano diploma or an advanced certificate? This is basically a piano recital of about 35 minutes in front of an examiner, which also includes providing programme notes as you would for a professional recital, and then a few extra elements depending on the exam board and level. Teachers should definitely consider this as it gives an internationally-recognised qualification with letters after your name! I also encourage my diploma students to perform their programme at an informal concert for friends or even a public recital around the time of their exam so they can share their achievement with a wider audience.
With performance diplomas there are a number of options and I have experience preparing students for both ARBSM and Trinity College recital diplomas. In fact, if you want to get a taste for how some of the pieces go I’ve recorded a few of the pieces which you can access from this page, some just audio, some with video. With both ABRSM and Trinity you aren’t limited to the official lists of pieces (which are quite long anyway – much more so than with the grade 1-8 lists) though there are some limitations on what else you can choose to offer (see below). The general idea is that you present a balanced programme with some contrasts of style and period, and a meatier sonata or longer piece somewhere in the programme. More on this below.
There are three levels of performance diploma, which get progressively harder, and we’ll concentrate here on the first two: The DipABRSM or ATCL (Trinity College) diplomas are the first stage, with roughly equivalent repertoire, most of it more challenging than at grade 8. Once you have attained one of these you can if you wish go on and do the LRSM or LTCL with even more advanced repertoire, from which there are also lots of recorded examples below. The first diploma requires about 35 minutes of music whereas the second LRSM is longer, around 40 minutes.
There are no minimum age requirements, however, you’ll usually need grade 8 to start with, and having taken a Trinity diploma (ATCL) it’s worth pointing out that you can’t then do an ABRSM diploma at the next level up – you’ll have to stick with Trinity (the LTCL) or go back and do the DipABRSM first. Also be warned that with ABRSM diplomas there is a viva voce element – an interview with questions on the pieces and programme notes from the examiner – and a quick study (like sight-reading) which make for additional challenges.
Choosing your own programme: with both ABRSM and Trinity you can stray from the set repertoire but please check the exam regulations. With Trinity diplomas you can construct your own programme in part or entirely but it requires approval in advance of the examination by writing to the exam board and the chosen pieces must not appear in any other lower or higher exams. With ABRSM diplomas you can only play 20% of your own choices in timing terms, so about 7 mins if your programme is exactly 35 minutes long. Again the choices must not overlap with any material used in other ABRSM exams, even those set for past years.