ABRSM vs. TRINITY – The difference between these two music examinination boards

Which is better? ABRSM or Trinity? The debate has been going as long as I can remember between fans and supporters of both sides. Some believe that ABRSM is superior and better suited to prepare music students for the full musical experience because it includes stricter rules for Music Theory, Scales and Aural Training. Others defend Trinity as more liberal and allows space for composition.

First a look at the two main music examining boards in the United Kingdom, which are also very popular in Dubai Music Schools and the region in general:

ABRSM, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, represents four well-established music colleges — the Royal College of Music, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Many believe that ABRSM is bigger worldwide than Trinity College and some would insist it is better. Being bigger, it has more exam centers that allows for travel flexibility.

Trinity exams are conducted by Trinity College London, also a well-reputed music college in the UK. They have slightly different requirements, but many believe that they generally reflect a similar standard to ABRSM exams, with some variations that have been the focus of the fierce debate. Trinity says it also conducts music exams for around 700,000 students globally, roughly the same number as its rival.

Regarding the music exam itself, the biggest difference music teachers say is in the supporting tests.

In ABRSM, there are four components: You must play three pieces, do scales, aural tests and sight reading. As for the music exam pieces, you need to choose three music exam pieces one from each of three lists A, B and C.

In Trinity there is a choice. You pick only two of the following four supporting tests: Sight Reading; Aural; Improvisation; Musical Knowledge about a piece you are playing. This means that a student can focus on his/her strengths – for example if you really find the aural difficult, you won’t be penalized. As for the music exam pieces, in Trinity College, you also must choose three music exam pieces, but these can be any three from the whole book. One of the pieces can be a duet with your music teacher, who would accompany you in the exam. You can even offer your own composition as an alternative to one of the music exam pieces.

Then again, does the ABRSM approach make for a more all-round musician? Should everyone, for example, be able to sight read or it allows the student to
decide if he/she wants to avoid sight reading through the entire studies on an instrument? The scales seem of a similar difficulty, but there are less of them in Trinity. Many music students, especially in the higher grades feel inundated by the sheer number of scales they need to know for ABRSM. To make up for the fewer number of scales, Trinity College has additional Technical exercises, short little pieces which test things like tone, balance, coordination flexibility whereas ABRSM tests this is in the main pieces.

Although some music teachers would argue that the idea behind having to play from three different lists, is to allow you to experience playing different styles of music. They believe that while the Trinity option might be more popular with music students, that of the ABRSM in the long run might produce better all rounded musicians.

While the above is a view generally shared by music teachers at the Music Chamber Academy in Dubai, who has one of the highest scores of Distinction in the region. The teachers at the Academy have shown a preference to ABRSM, which also is reflected by the number of candidates for the annual exams.


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