2008 vs 2015 - New Technical Requirements Simplified Darlene Irwin     October 25, 2015

In Canada, music teachers are very fortunate to have several exam systems to choose from. Two of these systems include Conservatory Canada and The Royal Conservatory of Music. They both offer many excellent resources for assisting teachers and they both have an accredited examination system which includes all levels of study in many disciplines.

Every seven to ten years, The Royal Conservatory of Music revises their syllabus and teaching materials. The previous revision for the Piano Discipline was in 2008. The changes to the Piano Discipline for 2015 are extensive, exciting and sometimes overwhelming! These changes involve all aspects of the curriculum, including repertoire, technique, ear training and sight reading. 

I found an excellent article this week published by Dr. Chris Foley on his very informative website The Collaborative Piano Blog. It's entitled 10 Things You Need to Know About the 2015 Royal Conservatory Celebration Series and Piano Syllabus. He lists the main changes to the RCM examination system with many great links for additional information. There are many teachers, including myself, who use this system for their students. It's important that teachers be aware of all of these changes as our students prepare for exams in the upcoming months and years.

For this blog post, I would like to focus on the new 2015 Royal Conservatory of Music Technical Requirements, comparing the new material to the previous requirements of 2008. Here are some of the main differences between the 2008 and the 2015 Technical Requirements, as listed in the new Royal Conservatory of Music Syllabus:

  • Across the board, the 2015 technical requirements are more streamlined and easier to understand. Generally, there are less requirements per grade. However, teachers need to study the syllabus very carefully because there are quite a few additions as well.
  • Previously, one of the hardest thing for students on exams was the confusion of having to do scales hands separately or hands together, one octave, two octaves or three octaves, legato or staccato. Scales, triads or chords were sometimes hands separately two octaves AND hands together one octave. This has now been simplified. For the most part, staccato scales have been removed altogether.
  • Minor Dominant 7ths have also been removed. They are the same as the major Dominant 7th so it tended to be confusing for students. 

    Here is a grade by grade comparison (Level A - Grade 10). I have listed some of the main changes in each grade:

    • Level A - new C+ Triad Sequence, ascending only, solid and broken.
    • Level B - slight changes to Penta-Scales. Students are now required to do all inversions ascending and descending for broken triads.
    • Grade 1 - minimal changes. Requirements reduced from 26 to 23. Chromatic scale is now 1 octave instead of  tonic to dominant only.
    • Grade 2 - huge changes. Requirements reduced from 41 to 24, six key signatures instead of eight, no natural minor scales, no contrary motion. However, there is one more formula pattern.
    • Grade 3 - huge changes. Requirements reduced from 53 to 23, 2 fewer key signatures, no hands separate AND hands together scales. All scales are hands together, 2 octaves except the chromatic scale. All triads are hands separately only, 2 octaves.
    • Grade 4 - requirements reduced from 54 to 33. Seven key signatures instead of 8, no f#- scale, no cadences required for triads. All triads are now hands together, 2 octaves.
    • Grade 5 - requirements reduced from 59 to 43, no f#- or c#- scale, formulas have been changed from E Flat+/c- to A+/a-,  no diminished 7ths.
    • Grade 6 - two fewer key signatures, 2 formula patterns instead of 3, no hands separate 4-note chords, arpeggios root position only.
    • Grade 7 - four fewer key signatures, no b flat-, 2 formula patterns instead of 4, no hands separate 6ths or broken octaves. Cadences are longer.
    • Grade 8 - four fewer key signatures, no 3-octave staccato scales, formula patterns changed from A+, B+, B flat+, b- to E flat+/e flat-, no octave scales. Cadences are longer.
    •  Grade 9 - six key signatures instead of twelve, no b flat-, g#- or f#- scales, c#- and f- formula patterns instead of b flat- and g#-, no chromatic octaves. More complicated cadences.
    • Grade 10 - Huge changes. Requirements reduced from 294 to 108. Six key signatures instead of twelve, no formula patterns, no special exercises, Alternate pattern chords only (no regular broken chords). Cadences are more complicated. 

    I have found in my own teaching that it's so much easier for students to have this material written down on one organized chart. The 2015 scale charts are now available on our website in hard copy or in digital format. Student Technique Organizers are a great resource for both teachers and students.

    Here are some of the reasons that my students love using The Student Technique Organizers:

    • Scale Charts save time. They are super organized, simple and easy-to-use one-page colour-coded guides for each grade.
    • Charts are also weekly practice guides. All the material for each level is divided into six days.
    • Students or teachers can write specific information in the boxes i.e. key signature, raised notes, fingering reminders etc.

    Technique is a very important part of any piano exam. Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post entitled "Terrific Technique Takes Time". In this article, I talked about the Seven Timely Tips for Terrific Technique. These tips have helped me as I have prepared my students for their practical exams and I hope that they will help you as well. Practicing technique every day is like going to the gym for your fingers.

    Successful technique requires great Preparation, Perseverance, Patience and Practice.

    Have your students take time to prepare their scales, chords and arpeggios well and they will be rewarded with greater technical facility and an increased confidence to do the best that they can on their practical exams.

    ♥︎ Remember - Great Music Comes From the Heart ♥︎

     Photo credits: Playing Piano, 12-2009Time, 01-2008 


    Terrific Technique Takes Time Darlene Irwin     April 13, 2015

    Spring is in the air and many music students are busy preparing for practical exams.

    As the exam approaches, quite a lot of time is spent preparing and memorizing all the required pieces. However, it is VERY important that students also take time to work on their scales, chords and arpeggios. Successful technique requires great perseverance, patience and preparation.

    Here are seven teaching tips that have helped my students to do their very best on the technical portion of their exams.



     Take Time to Learn Correct Fingering

    • Fingering matters. Learn the correct scale fingering from the start. Fingering is also essential for fluent triads. Watch the 2nd and 3rd fingers in the middle of the triads.
    • Say the finger numbers out loud as you play scales hands separately. This will help to reinforce fingering. Learn to play one key correctly before attempting to play the others.
    • Drill, drill drill. Muscle memory takes time. Playing scales correctly is like learning to ride a bicycle….with enough practice, they eventually become second nature.
    • Skeleton Scales are a fun way to help students learn fingering and visualize patterns. Play a C+ scale (RH) - 1 on C, 2 and 3 together on D and E, 1 on F, 2, 3 and 4 together on G, A and B, 1 on C and so on up and down the scale. Repeat with the left hand. Once you have mastered C+, try this exercise in different keys.

     Take Time to Use The Metronome

    • The Metronome is your best friend. Play scales with the metronome from the very beginning.
    • The metronome is also 'The Great Controller'. You must learn to control the notes… can’t let the notes control you!
    • LISTEN carefully and make sure you are not going faster or slower. Try to ‘Catch the Beat’
    • Slow practice gives you time to listen and think about arm weight and tone production. The scales need to be played consistently and correctly. Only then can you start to increase the speed.
    • Remember…..Slow practice is really Fast Practice in Slow Motion.

    Take Time to Discover Patterns

    • Know your key signatures. Watch for and compare Relative Major and Minor scales. Did you know that the descending Melodic Minor scale is the same as it’s Relative Major?
    • Watch the 4th finger in hands-separate scales. It is almost always played on the same key. The 3rd and 4th fingers generally take turns.
    • In the hands-together scales with the pattern 123123412312345, the 3rd fingers generally play at the same time.
    • Identify all of your required scales that have the same patterns and practice them one after the other.
    • Memorize these three tricky scales separately (f#-, g#- and c#- melodic). Be careful because the pattern changes on the way down.
    • ‘The Student Music Organizer’ has a very handy Comparative Fingering Chart on the back inside cover. This can be colour-coded to show which scales share the same fingering patterns.
    • For hands-together scales, watch the right hand on the way up and the left hand on the way down.
    • For scales containing lots of black keys, watch black and white keys for patterns. i.e. G flat+ - play the white keys closes to the 3-black keys. D flat+ - play the upper white key each time. B+ - play the lower white key each time.
    • I call d- and g- harmonic the ‘Grand Canyon’ scales. You have to jump from black key to black key across the canyon (2 white keys). The f#- harmonic scale has a white-white canyon!
    • Dominant and Diminished 7ths also have patterns with the white and black keys.
    • When arpeggios start on black keys, the thumb generally comes on the first white key (unless the notes are all black).


    Take Time to Practice Technique All Year Long

    • Technique will not cram well…..practicing all year long builds confidence and finger strength.
    • All technique should be up to grade speed before applying for an exam.
    • Challenge yourself - strive to have your technique at the speed of the next grade.

    Take Time to be Organized

    • The Student Technique Organizers are a great resource for both teachers and students. These handy Scale Charts are one-page practice guides for the RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) technical requirements.
    • Scale Charts save time. You can tell at a glance what’s hands-separate, what’s hands-together, what’s one octave or what’s 2 octaves. The major keys are in upper case and the minor keys are in lower case.
    • The Scale Charts are colour-coded and easy-to-read: green for hands-separately, white for hands together. Diminished 7th are also colour-coded. There are only 3 of them…the rest are inversions of the originals.
    • Scales are listed on the top of the chart, chords in the middle and arpeggios at the bottom.
    • The charts are also Weekly Practice Guides. (divided into six days)
    • You can write specific information in the boxes i.e. key signature, raised notes, fingering etc.
    • On-Line digital Scale Charts or regular charts will be available shortly for the new 2015 requirements.

    Take Time to Plan Your Exam

    • Start your exam with technique. This helps to warm up your fingers. It also lets you get a feel for the piano and the arm weight required to produce the sound that you want AND it gives you time to relax and feel comfortable in the room before playing memorized pieces. When you start with your technique, you are telling the examiner that you are well prepared….go ahead, ask me f#- melodic….I CAN DO IT!!
    • Mock Exams help. (See previous blog post - ‘8 Essential Keys for Successful Exam Preparation’).  Scroll to the bottom of the blog post for lots of great ideas on doing Mock Exams with students.

    Take Time to Listen and Think Before you play

    • In your exam, mentally prepare to play each scale, chord or arpeggio. Pre-think the patterns and where you are going before you start.
    • Listen carefully to what the examiner has asked for…then repeat it over in your mind. Is it right hand or left hand, Harmonic or Melodic, legato or staccato? Don’t be afraid to ask the examiner to repeat the request.

    Successful exams require strong technique and strong technique takes time. Work on your technique all year long, not just before an exam. Practicing technique every day is like going to the gym for your fingers.

    Take time to prepare and you will be rewarded with a greater technical facility and you will have the confidence you need to do your very best on your exam. 

    ♥︎ Remember - Great Music Comes From the Heart ♥︎


    Photo credits: Playing Piano, 12-2009, Time, 01-2008