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4 years ago
Philippa Bunting

Philippa Bunting

Philippa Bunting is ABRSM’s Learning & Qualifications Director, responsible for leading the design, development and review of all ABRSM qualifications and syllabuses.
With our new Piano syllabus for 2019 & 2020 just published, find out how feedback fits in to the syllabus development process and read about some of personal favourites from the new lists.
We’ve always built feedback from teachers and candidates into our syllabus development process. We reflect on what pieces are popular with candidates, note any suggestions or comments sent in to us, and monitor social media and the press. The voices of those most closely engaged with our syllabuses – teachers and learners – are vital to us in informing choices that are attractive and relevant to all.
Getting more people involved
We’ve now started to involve teachers even more, by running surveys and actively asking for repertoire suggestions. Many piano teachers may have received our recent survey, and the responses are currently helping us with our work on the 2021 & 2020 Piano syllabus.
We’re also increasingly seeking feedback directly from learners. And this year we held our first ever Piano Party where young pianists tried out and reviewed potential pieces for the lower grades of our new 2019 & 2020 syllabus. A few got the thumbs down, but others got the “golden buzzer”!
Looking at Grades 1 to 3
One result of our close attention to feedback has been a shift in our approach to repertoire at the earlier grades. We noticed that teachers were concerned that pieces at Grades 1 to 3 were becoming less accessible to players. So, this is something we’ve addressed in the 2019 & 2020 syllabus, by improving and smoothing out the progression route from Grades 1 to 3.
Approachable, attractive and rewarding
For these grades we made sure we worked with consultants who regularly teach beginner players. We were also careful to select pieces that are approachable both technically and in terms of style and character, while being attractive, engaging and rewarding to study.
On the other hand, we tried to avoid pieces with too many tricky elements. Individually these elements might be appropriate for a grade, but when many appear together in one piece they can push up the overall level so that it falls at the top end of difficulty. We also avoided pieces which sound easy, but are, in fact hard to play, as these can be discouraging and less rewarding for young players.
Additionally, we arranged the lists to enable young learners to negotiate the exam experience successfully, and deliver convincing performances, full of musical intention. List A is predominantly fast, digital, idiomatic (often, but certainly not exclusively, baroque/classical). List B is an invitation to express, and focus on the sound world of the instrument, with (again particularly at the low grades, where the most changes were made) clear indications as to mood that young learners can make sense of and respond to. List C is characterful – funny, jazzy, quirky, harmonically challenging – again we hope a real invitation to play into the room, to communicate and make a connection with the examiner.
A few personal favourites
A number of my favourite pieces from the new 2019 & 2020 syllabus are at these lower grades. There are some lovely, evocative pieces which encourage even inexperienced musicians to express themselves musically, and play with real imagination. At Grade 1, for example, we have Felix Swinstead’s Lonely Road and at Grade 2, Vitalij Neugasimov’s Lazy Bear and June Armstrong’s Unicorn. All three can be found in our Piano Exam Pieces books. 
Another piece that sticks out for me personally is at the other end of the spectrum - Kapustin’s Sonatina, Op. 100 on the Grade 8 list. I remember it from its only previous appearance on the Piano syllabus for 2011 & 2012, when everyone was quite excited by this ‘discovery’. The composer seemed to be new to most people at the time but the piece proved to be very popular and so I’m pleased to see it returning. We’ve published it in the Grade 8 Piano Exam Pieces book this time, which hopefully means even more people will encounter and enjoy it. The title is perhaps deceptive – it’s a fun but virtuosic jazzy piece written in classical sonata form. 
Whatever the grade, our aim is to provide an inspiring choice of music, with something for everyone – doing our best to help candidates do their best!

Look out for another blog post soon on how we develop our syllabuses.
Learn more about the new 2019 & 2020 Piano syllabus and the supporting resources for teachers and learners.



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