When you take our Keyboards exams and work through our songbooks, you’ll improve your skills while playing some great classic and recent rock and pop music. The song lists for our Keyboards exams include music by ABBA, David Bowie, Michael Jackson and Miley Cyrus.
Our exams and songbooks are ideal for all keyboards players – whether you’re self-taught or taking lessons. We’ve designed the exams so they’re about performance and creativity, giving you the skills you’ll need as a rock and pop musician. You can take the exam on a variety of keyboard instruments, including electronic keyboards, synthesisers, digital pianos and acoustic pianos.
For each exam you’ll play three songs and perform one of the Session skills.
Watch our videos on the Keyboards grade pages to see professional musicians playing some of the music and demonstrating the technical skills you’ll be working on for your exam.
Professional keyboards player Curtis Stansfield performs music by Abba, Whitney Houston and David Bowie from our keyboards syllabus. He’s playing to backing tracks from the CDs in our Rock & Pop keyboards songbooks.
We’ve produced a songbook for each grade. Each book is an invaluable resource - it includes the sheet music for six songs, a CD with demo and backing tracks, performance notes and guidance on technical skills and Session skills.
And keep an eye on the website for more songs – we’ll be adding new tracks for each exam, available as downloads from our online store.
As you progress through the grades you’ll explore great classic and contemporary rock and pop music. Our song lists will keep growing – new tracks will be available in our online store.
You decide the set list for your exam to show what you can do. As well as choosing two songs from our song list, you’ve got the option to play your own cover version of a song or a song that you’ve written.
This song may:
• be unaccompanied
• be played to a backing track (you can record this yourself)
• include your own vocals, performed live in the exam
• include an accompaniment played or sung by any one other live musician.
Please see page 12 of the syllabus for full information on choosing songs.
If you are playing on an electronic keyboard, synthesiser or digital piano, then you can choose the keyboard voices, function keys and expressive techniques available on your instrument in order to communicate successfully the musical mood, character and style of the songs. All songs should be played without auto-chord accompaniment and without auto-drum backing rhythms or styles. Right hand and left hand parts in all songs should be played as written – i.e. in the left hand, the full bass clef part should be included. Fingered or single fingered chords should not be played.
If you are playing on an acoustic piano, then care should be taken with song choice to ensure that the style can be successfully conveyed on the chosen instrument.
On all instruments, Songs 1 and 3 must be played along with the backing track. Only Song 2 may be played unaccompanied if wished.
If you have an instrument with fewer keys than is required in the song, you can adapt the music slightly – e.g. lower (or higher) notes may need to be omitted, or may be shifted to a different octave.
For further information please see page 27 of the syllabus.
The Session skills - Improvising and Playback – develop important skills that musicians need.
When performing the Improvising Session skills test, keyboards candidates are responsible for choosing a suitable tone quality and using appropriate expressive techniques to communicate the style of the music. This may include (depending on the grade of exam being taken): choosing a suitable keyboard voice; changing the voice at some point to add contrast; using a variety of dynamic levels; use of sustaining pedal, soft pedal and effects (fills, dual voice, split voice, etc). If using an acoustic piano it is understood that not all of these can be demonstrated.
Keyboards candidates can choose whether to play a lead melodic line, rhythmic chords, or a combination of the two.
When performing the Playback Session skills test, keyboards candidates should follow the musical direction in the written score, and copy the expressive techniques heard on the track. No variation or improvisation is required – the song chart/recording should be copied as accurately as possible, including details of phrasing, articulation and dynamics.