Getting to Grade 1 piano: Progression and Exam Options

More children than ever, that I teach, are practicing and earning their ‘piano certificates’ by working through the LCM beginner exams. It’s fits so nicely with the early years / infant curriculum, and gives such a sense of achievement in a similar way to dancing rosettes or swimming badges. We talk about them as ‘certificates’ rather than exams, and are super well prepared before we play to lovely examiners at Elegance music (Millhouses) or AS music (Woodseats). There’s usually a chocolate reward afterwards too!

There’s a brilliant independent review from website ‘Pianodao’ here of the new syllabus from pre-prep to grade 1.

Pianodao’s conclusions:

The journey from taking up the piano to reaching Grade 1 can, for many young children, be a long and at times frustrating one.

There is no doubt that there are children for whom the three-step LCM exam offer will be appealing, and parents who will warmly welcome the independent progress report that an exam provides.

How wonderful then that LCM have produced such a stimulating syllabus to meet the needs of those young players.
Whether used to augment, divert from, or even replace an existing method-based approach, the well-considered range of exercises and fabulous pieces are sure to offer considerable appeal, while the “questions on rudiments” work well to support effective teaching and learning.

The books themselves are genuinely outstanding, too, offering not only some exciting musical material, but a pedagogic foundation that will stand any player in excellent stead for Grade 1 once they are ready.
I warmly recommend that you take a look!

LCM’s First Steps


From my own experience:

Grade 1 piano is a long, long way from beginning, and may take children 2/3/4 years to get to from starting out, often starting in Y1/2 it can be anywhere from Y3/4– Y5/6 before your child might be ready for grade 1. The requirements for grade 1 are on the bottom of this table. The exam boards offer different methods and pre-grade 1 tests. I have sorted them into ‘levels’ and listed the requirements for you, alongside the common tutor books they might be using. It’s not a definitive list, and is designed to be a helpful guide for you.

There are 3 examination boards available for us to choose from in Sheffield. They all have examination sessions in Oct / Nov, March and June/July.

1)      ABRSM – Associated Board of the Royal School of Music

2)      Trinity College London

3)      LCM – London College of Music (administered by University of West London)


Pre-Preparatory Stage 

LCM Pre-preparatory

i)                    6 exercises, both hands in 5 fingered positions including dynamics (f, p, mf, mp, cresc, dim). At least one exercise in clapping a rhythm. 

ii)                   4 pieces, fun recognisable tunes, either middle C position, both hands in C-G position or a move up / down. All pieces stay in a 5 fingered position, but may start up or down one from a familiar position.

iii)                 Note recognition Treble C-G and Bass C-F

The children can pass with a pass, merit or distinction. Parents are welcome to sit in the exam room as an observer.


Preparatory Stage

ABRSM Prep Test

i)             3 exercises from memory, different hand positions (all 5 fingers), children to demonstrate legato, staccato, cresc and dim.

ii)            2 pieces, one can be a duet. Your child will work from PianoStar 2 and the Prep Handbook

Key signatures: C major, G major, F major

4/4 or ¾ time signatures

iii)                 Simple aural – clapping, singing back 3 notes, and answering simple questions about dynamics.

All children receive their certificate on the day, with encouragement for things they did well, and notes for improvement.

LCM Step 1 Exam

i)  5 exercises from a choice or 10, dynamics, staccato / legato. Ability to move up or down from a 5 fingered position. Introduction of triplets

ii) 4 pieces from book:  Many pieces now use chords, or 2 hands moving independently together. Mostly in C major, but     sharps / flats introduced as accidentals

4/4 or ¾ time signatures

iii)                 Musical knowledge questions:

Note names, note lengths, rests, recognition of musical symbols (treble clef, staff etc…)

Children can pass with a pass, merit or distinction.


Initial Exams

– both exams are a useful stepping stone from Prep  to Grade 1

LCM Step 2 Exam

  1. Scale: C major, G major and D major, 1 octave hands together.
  2. 5 exercises (from an option of 8), stretching hand out of position, Alberti bass, ledger lines, simple arpeggio patterns
  3. 4 pieces (2 A list, 2 B list)

Big dynamic contrasts, syncopated rhythms, use of key signatures – G,F,D majors, accidentals, grace notes, accents, new time signature 3/8

     4. Musical knowledge: As step 1, plus dynamics, key signatures and time signatures

Children can pass with a pass, merit or distinction.


Trinity Initial Exam

  1. Scales and broken triads: C major, A minor. One octave hands separately.
  2. Exercises: 3 from a choice of 6. These test tone, balance and voices / co-ordination / finger & wrist strength and flexibility.
  3. 3 pieces, of which 1 or 2 can be duets. Key signatures C, G or F major. Accidentals and dynamics. Legato / staccato passages.
  4. 2 supporting tests from sight reading, aural, improvisation or musical knowledge (as in the grade exams)


Children can pass with a pass, merit or distinction.

ABRSM Initial Exam – very similar in content and ability to LCM Step 2



Grade 1 options: Comparing the requirements of the 3 boards

ABRSM Grade 1:

i)                    Scales and broken chords, hands separately 2 octaves: C, G,D and F majors, A and D minors.    C major contrary motion.

ii)                   3 pieces from 3 lists (A,B and C), A list tends to be classical / baroque and C list tends to be modern/ jazzy.

iii)                 Sightreading

iv)                 Aural (recognising 2 or 3 time & clapping along, singing back 3 echoes, identifying a change in pitch and answering simple questions about musical features)

Trinity Grade 1:

i)                    Scales and Broken chords, F and G majors, D and E minors, hands separately 1 octave.  C major contrary motion, contrary motion chromatic.

ii)                   Exercises: 3 from a choice of 6. These test tone, balance and voices / co-ordination / finger & wrist strength and flexibility

iii)                 3 pieces from the syllabus, no set A,B,C structure giving the children wider choice.

iv)                 2 supporting tests from sight reading, aural, improvisation or musical knowledge


LCM Grade 1:

i) Scales: C, G, D and F majors, A and D minors, 2 octaves, hands separately.

C, G and D major hands together 1 octave.

Broken chords, C and G majors and A minor AND arpeggios 1 octave in C and F major and D minor

(For children who would prefer there is a study option available as an alternative.)

ii) 3 pieces from 3 lists A,B and C. Similar to ABRSM, A and B tend to be baroque/ classical / romantic and C tends to be jazzy or modern.

iii) Viva Voce (Musical Knowledge) – as Step 2

iv) Sight reading

v) Aural Tests: Identifying 2 or 3 time, clapping on the beat, identifying pitch (higher and lower), singing the tonic note.

Both LCM and ABRSM offer pupils a choice of jazz exams as well. And for those pupils who worry about the supporting tests, LCM offer a graded “Leisure Play” option, where you play 4 pieces instead of 3, but no scales, sight-reading or aural is required in the actual exam (we will still work on these areas in lessons, as they are an important part of musicianship) & a Recital Grade option – 5 pieces or 4 and sightreading / viva voce.

All Grade 1 exams are marked in a similar way with children receiving a pass, a merit or a distinction as a grading.


For those pupils who want to play solely popular music – Trinity offer a Rock and Pop exam – exam pieces are learnt to backing tracks. If this is something your child is interested in, check out the Trinity website for full details.


Higher grades follow similar patterns to grade 1 in the make-up of their exams. Children can easily switch from one board to another, I am happy to help you choose based on your child’s strengths, abilities and choice of pieces that most appeals to them. The important thing is firstly the enjoyment factor, and secondly that they are progressing, and learning all the time, regardless of which syllabus they are following.