Grades and exam boards explained

ABRSM, Trinity, MTB, LCM... where to start?

Grades are a traditional and structured method to assess the student's current ability and gives milestone targets to achieve throughout their learning journey.

This article is focused on exam boards and grading system in the UK. Other countries may use a different system which this blog article does not cover.


Most music studios and teachers support students to work through their grades. Different exam boards will have their own specification for what the exam will cover. But common to all exam boards is the element of assessment either as live performance or a pre-recorded continuous video assessment.

Whilst there is not an official stance on how to distinguish between beginners, intermediate and advanced levels, Grades serve as an approximate guideline.

Initial/ prep: elementary

Grade 1: early beginner

Grade 2: mid- beginner

Grade 3: late beginner

Grade 4: early intermediate

Grade 5: mid- intermediate

Grade 6: late intermediate

Grade 7: early advanced

Grade 8: advanced

ARSM, Diploma, LRSM, FRSM: typically only taken by those whom plan a career in music either performance or education.


10-20 years ago, ABRSM was the most prestigious, dominant and internationally recognised exam board. However now in 2020, Trinity has built up a good reputation similar to ABRSM. Younger exam boards also include London College of Music and Music Teachers Board.

ABRSM is the typical route for classical music, with a focus in the repertoire and their publications on classical and baroque genres of music. Due to their history, they boost a good selection of examination centres across the UK.

Trinity is more chosen for student whom are interested in the Jazz. Modern/ Popular route. This is based on my teaching experiences in the UK. The repertoire list is more expansive than ABRSM, to appeal to a different audience.

Unfortunately I've not had experience working with London College of Music nor the Music Teachers Board, however both of these have grown in steady popularity over the course of 2020 largely due to COVID-19.