Grade Examinations Working Party Report
Published: 1993 Author: Richard Wright
i Background and general aims
The EGTA (UK) Grade Examinations Working Party was established in November 1991 according to guidelines put forward by the Executive Committee with the aim of making recommendations to the various Examination Boards (subject to the agreement of the full membership of EGTA) on how the guitar grade exams might be modernised and improved. The Working Party (Jane Bentley, Elspeth Compton, John Compton, Luke Dunlea, Stephen Goss, Stuart McGowan, Janet Robinson, Chris Susans and Richard Wright) has met on a monthly basis since then and this report represents the results of its findings.
We have not tried to present either a detailed history of guitar grade exams, or an analysis of the different boards’ syllabuses past and present. We have been more concerned with looking at some of the general principles and underlying assumptions behind the formation of these syllabuses, and trying to find practical solutions to the problems that have become apparent over the years, without, as far as possible, making structural changes to the conventional examination format.
ii What’s wrong with the existing approach?
All our recommendations stem from three basic criticisms. First, there is the question of parity with other instruments. The amount of time needed for the average conscientious and well-taught guitarist to reach Grade 1 is often far greater than his or her counterpart on other instruments, and certainly far greater than the one year implied by the broadly annual increments of the grade system. The introduction of the Preliminary or Preparatory Grade (a pre-Grade 1 test), while in part admitting to the problem, does little in itself to ameliorate it.
Of course absolute parity among instruments may never be possible to achieve – or even define (as it is, wind instruments are generally held to be easier than piano or strings as far as the grades are concerned) – but it can only be discouraging for pupils when one child has passed flute Grade 3 before the equally capable guitar-playing sibling or classmate has entered Grade 1.
The cause of the parity problem is simple enough. The guitar has always relied exclusively on its own solo repertoire (including transcriptions) for its source of exam material. The easiest available pieces have been used for Grade 1, the next easiest for Grade 2, and so on. On the face of it this would seem logical enough, but the amount of chordal and contrapuntal activity in solo guitar music can make even the easiest pieces too demanding to achieve a musically satisfying and technically secure result in the time that it takes players of other instruments to reach Grade 1. Considering that much of this material was not written for the modern guitar anyway (but for the lute or the 19th-century guitar) and that it was certainly not intended for predominantly young children setting off on a course of graded examinations, there is no reason why it should be suitable. The 19th-century guitar was a much smaller instrument and therefore less demanding on the left hand, and the different tuning of the 3rd string makes much of the Renaissance lute music more awkward than is often realised. Even in our own century, when much new guitar music has been written, there has until quite recently been very little work done on developing a genuine ‘early grade’ repertoire.
Second, we feel that the individual grades, regardless of the level at which they actually begin, have never accurately reflected or monitored the different stages of technical development. Between Grades 1 and 8 the pieces gradually get longer and more difficult to play, but there is no clear sense of specific aspects of technique being introduced, grade by grade, in a controlled and cumulative way. This is particularly relevant for the guitar as no other string instrument has quite the same range of idiosyncratic left-hand techniques to deal with (the various barres and ligados) - not to mention the two different (but equally fundamental) types of right hand stroke and, within the right hand, the separate roles of the fingers and thumb.
Third, the different parts of the guitar exam (pieces, scales, arpeggios, etc) seem to bear little or no relation to each other in terms of both the amount and the type of musical and instrumental knowledge required by the candidate at any given level. We don’t see any point, for instance, in asking a candidate to prepare a scale in a key remote from, or using significantly higher positions than, the ones he or she will typically be using – and hopefully learning to understand the workings of – in the pieces at that grade. To do so only results in rote learning, especially when a scale such as E flat minor, for instance, will almost invariably be played with the same left-hand fingering as D minor.
Our proposed solutions to these problems are best understood by grouping the nine exams (Preliminary Grade and Grades 1 to 8) into three separate stages. These will deal with general criteria and how they relate to the test pieces. Scales, arpeggios and sight-reading (whilst involving the same criteria) will be discussed separately.
i First stage (Preliminary Grade, Grades 1 and 2)
As it is the most important and the most problematic, for the reasons stated above, this stage involves the most far-reaching of our recommendations. To achieve both a more measured approach to initial technical development and, for the sake of parity, earlier access to the examination ladder, we would like to see a predominantly melodic, single-line approach in the chosen pieces. Most teachers use this sort of material with absolute beginners – it is invaluable for developing the basic technical co-ordination and quality of tone on which equally basic musical concepts such as rhythm, phrasing, legato, and a sense of line depend – and we would like to see its use extended to the grade system. It is also essential that the beginner’s reading skills develop with confidence, fluency and real understanding from the outset. Single-line material is a great help in this respect too as it is obviously easier to read one note at a time than more than one.
But of course there is no readily available repertoire of this type to draw on that covers the necessary range of musical styles – one would have to be created. We should not be too concerned about that however (either in terms of the principle involved or how to go about it) as the bowed strings provide ample precedent in their syllabuses. The use of arrangements in the pre-20th-century lists seems to be very much the norm. In the current ABRSM violin syllabus for instance, the first appearance of an original pre-20th-century violin composition seems to be Grade 3, and it is not until Grade 5 that everything listed is original.
Apart from removing the unnecessary physical burdens associated with the premature use of chordal and contrapuntal music, this approach makes available to the guitarist music of an inherently higher quality than he or she has traditionally been exposed to – in short, the same great tunes by the same great composers that everyone else uses. It also gives the guitarist access to the first few keys on the flat side of the key cycle that are understandably rare in the conventional repertoire, but which it is essential for guitarists to be able to read and understand at the same stage of their musical development as players of other instruments.
This brings us to the question of accompaniment. For single-voice instruments, the advantages of using piano accompaniment in an examination are obvious enough: the provision of harmonic and rhythmic support enhances the overall musical experience, the sense of performance, and makes the music sound complete. Of course, playing with accompaniment is an integral and unquestioned part of their performance culture and not of ours, but it would surely be wrong to deny melody-playing guitarists the same benefits that other string players enjoy. Having gained parity in the ‘time-scale versus difficulty’ area we would be throwing it away in the area of actual musical performance.
The easiest and most logical choice of instrument to accompany the guitar is of course the guitar itself, though it would be essential for the two parts of any arrangement to be as distinct as possible in terms of their respective musical roles in order to compensate for the sameness of sound, otherwise it might be difficult for the examiner to concentrate on what the candidate is doing. The difference between what we are describing here and actual guitar duets is that the candidate’s part would have to be the one providing the musical initiative at all times – the ‘lead guitar’ if you like. Some guitar duets will fall into this category but probably not that many. The piano could in theory be a substitute, but problems of balance and timbral compatability would make it something of a compromise.
The provision of an accompanist for an exam would be an added responsibility for the guitar teacher and possibly an added expense for the candidate or candidate’s parents. But there is little room for special pleading here: teachers of all other non-keyboard instruments accept this situation as a matter of course. Some of them are able to accompany their own pupils on the piano, but all guitar teachers should be able to play guitar accompaniments of the sort we are proposing.
The aims of this first stage should be to develop and test the basic technical skills of the right hand (apoyando and tirando strokes) and left hand (holding down initially one and later two fingers at a time and executing simple position shifts), and the co-ordination between the two hands. At each grade this will of course be coupled with the appropriate working knowledge of musical rudiments. Also, by not introducing the ligado (i.e. the concept of the technical slur) until the second stage, we have the opportunity to establish the phrasing slur (and other articulation marks) in the guitarist’s consciousness during this stage.
The Preliminary Grade pieces should consist of two short accompanied melodies that use the ‘white notes’ of the 1st position, one to be played on the upper three strings with alternating right hand fingers and the other to be played on the lower four strings with the thumb. We would exclude the stopped notes on the 5th and 6th strings so as to limit the number of notes using ledger lines that the candidate would have to know at this level. From the open D up to the G on the first string there are no ledger lines, and the low E and A are visually distinct enough to make identification relatively easy. These pieces should use the 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 time signatures and the following note values (with equivalent rests): semibreve, minim, dotted minim, crotchet, and beamed quavers. Phrase marks should be used where appropriate from this exam onwards.
At Grade 1 (and from there on) three test pieces should be used. These should have key signatures up to and including one sharp and one flat, and incorporate any of the remaining notes of the 1st position that might typically be found in those keys. Dotted crotchet / single quaver groupings and single quaver rests should be introduced at this point. Two left-hand fingers can be in use together if they are placed one at a time (this will apply mostly to the third piece as we shall see).
At Grade 2 we would introduce the 2nd and 3rd positions, the keys of D major and B minor, and beamed semiquavers. The 6/8 time signature should be included at this grade (providing that only its simplest rhythmic formulations are used, e.g. dotted crotchets and beamed quavers), and also triplet quavers in simple time signatures. The simultaneous placing of two left-hand fingers should be expected here (providing that not too many strings separate them).
We feel that in Grades 1 and 2, the first two pieces should again be of the single-line type, each containing passages for alternating right hand fingers and passages for the thumb. The third piece however should be an unaccompanied solo piece of the broken chord, tirando type. This should be written in two voices, the upper voice for notes played by the right hand fingers (with stems pointing up) and the lower voice for those played by the thumb (stems pointing down). Given that the general technical requirements we have outlined preclude the use of most stock 19th-century pieces of this type, it is possible that this item would have to be specially composed. As such it would also constitute the modern piece or study of the three to be presented, allowing the remaining two accompanied melodies to represent the traditional classical periods (the obvious source for the type of arrangement in question). By doing this, the three lists of pieces will retain their historical identity, but also reflect the specific technical characteristics we are trying to incorporate.
ii Second stage (Grades 3, 4 and 5)
We see Grade 5, with its traditional connotations of being a landmark exam, connected to the GCSE performance standard etc, as a key target within our overall proposals. We would define it as being a level at which candidates should have developed a sense of what the solo classical guitar is all about – what its basic repertoire sounds like, where it comes from, and what skills are required to perform it. Grades 3 and 4 will need to help us arrive at that point. This is the stage therefore that the traditional solo repertoire should begin to be used, bringing with it the inevitable barres and ligados, those problematical left-hand techniques that are unique to the guitar.
To solve the problem of when and how to move from an exam in which two out of three pieces are accompanied to one which is entirely solo without a loss of continuity, we propose that at Grade 3 the three lists of pieces should contain a roughly equal number of solo and accompanied pieces. The candidate would be free to choose between two accompanied pieces and one solo piece (as in Grades 1 and 2), one accompanied piece and two solo pieces, or three solo pieces. Providing at least one piece was played solo it would be consistent with what has gone before. This would make Grade 4 an entirely solo exam which should act as a preparation for the more pivotal Grade 5. Given that the solo pieces used from Grade 3 onwards may well contain a mixture of right hand techniques, they should be chosen to be as unambiguous as possible with regard to which type of right hand execution is required for which passage.
Grade 3 should include the use of the 4th and 5th positions, the keys of B flat major and G minor, and dotted quaver / single semiquaver groupings in both the simple and compound time signatures. left-hand fingers should be expected to find more than two notes at a time (even the easiest chords can make this unavoidable).
Grade 4 should see the introduction of the half-barre, and ascending and descending ligados of a semitone or whole tone compass. This is also where we would introduce the implied 3-part writing of the type in which the ring finger has to bring out the melody while the thumb plays bass notes and the index and middle fingers play a simple internal accompaniment.
Grade 5 should see the introduction of the full-barre, and, as a result of the work done on the separate ligado techniques at Grade 4, simple left-hand mordents and trills. As in the case of the bowed strings, candidates should have acquired some skill in the use of vibrato.
The optional single-line material at Grade 3, where the left hand is not under undue pressure, would be ideal for the initial development of vibrato. These pieces would also provide a good opportunity for introducing ligados and the half-barre in advance of Grade 4, the latter where a melody moves between first finger notes on neighbouring strings but stays on the same fret. It is also worth pointing out that the position at which a particular barré or ligado is played is a factor in determining its degree of difficulty, and therefore whether or not it belongs at one grade or another.
Finally, we have not advocated knowledge of specific positions higher than the 5th at this stage, because the majority of pieces that are straightforward enough to fulfil the other criteria listed will spend most of their time in the lower half of the fingerboard anyway. If any pieces that were appropriate in all other respects did make use of higher positions, this would clearly not be a problem, but since a detailed knowledge of that part of the fingerboard is an important requirement in our proposals for Grades 6 and 7, it would be as well to use Grade 5 to consolidate knowledge of the lower positions. It should also be understood that throughout this stage the appearance of a disproportionate number of sharp keys in the solo pieces is inevitable. We have therefore not specified the introduction of particular keys beyond two flats.
iii Third stage (Grades 6, 7 and 8)
Just as with the previous stage, we are confronted here with a landmark exam (Grade 8) and two others that precede it and act as a preparation for it. However, there is a mystique surrounding Grade 8 that causes it to be regarded not as a landmark on the way to higher things, but as some kind of ultimate standard in itself. All too often the pieces chosen are too near the top end of what is after all a very small repertoire when compared with the piano or violin for example. It must be remembered that Grade 8 is only an amateur qualification; there must be a clear distinction between it and the various Diploma Examinations in terms of the relative difficulties of the pieces chosen and not just the standard of performance expected.
It should be stressed at this point that we are in no sense trying to lower standards: our aim all along has been the opposite. We feel sure that the measured approach we are advocating for technical development up to Grade 5 will provide the basis for a far higher standard of playing at Grade 8 than is generally to be found at the moment, and that the current ‘too much too soon’ approach is in fact counter-productive. We feel that Grade 8 should encourage a more qualitative, comfortable type of performance, with the beginnings of a truly professional sound in evidence, rather than the fraught attempts at unnecessarily difficult repertoire (Walton’s 1st Bagatelle, Tárrega’s Study in A after Alard, etc) that are the norm in most cases, and that Grades 6 and 7 should, via the kind of applied techniques proposed here, help prepare for it.
The pieces at Grade 6 should test a knowledge of the fingerboard up to the 9th position (with particular regard to the inner and lower strings), combine barrés and ligados for the first time, and introduce the simplest left-hand extensions (i.e. between the first and second fingers), re-entrant arpeggio fingerings, passages of moving 3rds and 6ths, and passages where an inner part has to be brought out. Pieces in which the 6th string is tuned to D could also be introduced here.
The Grade 7 pieces should consolidate and develop further the technical features introduced at Grade 6 (other types of left-hand extensions for example) within a context of slightly more demanding music. Artificial harmonics and the tuning of the 3rd string to F sharp could be considered at this level.
At Grade 8 fingerboard knowledge and facility in the 12th position and above would be required. We would also welcome the inclusion of a compulsory concerto movement. There is an irrational fear of concertos among many teachers who work at the Grade Examination level. The movements used in the TCL Grade 8 syllabus (where this has been an established feature for some time) are bar for bar among the least difficult of the pieces listed, but to play them with piano accompaniment (where the quality and quantity of the candidate’s sound will be at a premium) constitutes just the kind of mature and intellectually challenging musical activity that this grade should, in our view, be about. Ironically, the other large forms that one might expect to come across at Grade 8 (Sonata 1st movement, French Overture, etc) are more of a problem. The vast majority of these pieces are simply too difficult. Where an exception occurs (the first movement of Giuliani’s Sonata in C, Op.15 for example) it is often disproportionately long when compared to examples of the shorter forms from the same period that will inevitably be under consideration for the same exam list. Length is, after all, a factor of difficulty, and we feel there should be as much consistency applied to it as any other.
We have already questioned the value of learning a large number of scales that use identical left-hand fingerings, particularly during the early grades when many of the keys involved are not experienced in any other way. What matters at this level is that the candidate understands what scales are (how they are made up, what a key actually is, etc), and learns how to play them rhythmically, legato, and with a good tone. This can be better acheived, in our view, by making the scale – and arpeggio – requirements subject to the same criteria of key, positional knowledge and technique as the pieces. The scale requirements for violin and cello exams tend to display more cohesion in this respect. These instruments also have a metrical, rhythmic approach to scale playing which we feel should be adopted by the guitar syllabuses. While maintaining the various right hand finger permutations with which guitar scales are played, we would at some stage specify the use of the tirando stroke alongside the more customary apoyando.
At the Preliminary Grade we would ask for five-note major and minor scales using the separate finger and thumb registers as in the pieces, for example C or G major (fingers) and D minor (thumb). We notice that in the ABRSM Preparatory Test for Piano, where five-note scales are also used, similarly shared out between the left and right hands, they appear in the guise of written out exercises and are not called scales at all let alone defined in terms of key. This might be a good approach for the guitar too, given that the pieces at this grade would not be defined in terms of key as such or use key signatures.
One octave scales should be brought in at Grade 1, using the separate finger and thumb registers as before, e.g. G and F major (upper octave with fingers, lower octave with thumb), D minor (fingers) and A minor (thumb). Chromatic scales could also be introduced at this grade. The 1st position is the only place where these can be played without changing position and as such they make excellent left-hand exercises. We would suggest the chromatic scales starting on A (thumb) and G (fingers). For Grade 2 we advocate continuing with one octave scales, again in the separate finger and thumb registers, but exploring the scope for position shifting offered by the keys and positions included at this grade. Additionally we would, where possible, ask for the same scale to be played in both the 1st position (using open strings) and the 2nd position (using no open strings). C major is a good candidate for this treatment, as is D minor, the upper octave of E minor and both octaves of G major.
The second examination stage should feature the various two-octave scale forms, again with alternative fingerings in both hands. The keys used from now on should include those that gradually explore the cycle of fifths in both directions. Double stop scales can also feature at this level, starting at Grade 3 with four-note scales in tenths such as G major and A minor in 1st position, then C major in 1st and 3rd positions, and so on to gradually include scales in 3rds, 6ths, 10ths and 8ves that have a full octave range. Three octave patterns need not start until the third stage. By Grade 7 all major and minor keys should have been introduced in either two or three octave patterns, but the three octave patterns for the range of keys from G to B (which use the 12th position and above) should be saved for Grade 8.
The way in which arpeggio playing has traditionally been tested in guitar examinations is, in our view, both inadequate and inappropriate. Every instrument except the guitar not only has exam arpeggios that are played in the same way, with the same fingering, as the arpeggio passages that occur in their actual pieces of music, but also uses the same technique and choice of fingering regardless of what musical function a particular arpeggiated sequence is meant to fulfil. For single-voice instruments the arpeggio only has a melodic function anyway, each note giving way directly to the next, making the arpeggio from a technical standpoint nothing more than a scale with some notes missing; it is used, together with scales, to help the player locate, execute, and understand the function of certain basic intervals. For self-accompanying instruments such as the piano or guitar however, arpeggios have an additional, harmonic function which requires the individual notes of the arpeggio to ring on under each other until the harmony changes. Of these instruments though, only the guitar has to adopt a different approach to the way each type of arpeggio is fingered.
Arpeggio technique on the guitar usually refers to the method of playing broken chord passages with the tirando stroke, fingered in such a way that as many notes as possible are played on different strings. The resultant over-ringing creates the rich, accompanimental sonority that is an essential characteristic of much guitar music. For guitarists this is the most frequently applied and easily understood type of arpeggio and it clearly belongs to the harmonic category. The concept of an arpeggio being a melodic exercise, an aid to intervallic awareness as it is for the violinist or French horn player, is less well understood by the guitarist though it is clearly no less important. Unfortunately neither of these is properly catered for in the present exam requirements. What we have at the moment are arpeggio forms written in the melodic style, but with fingerings which in places make up chord shapes thus inviting us to let the notes ring on beyond their prescribed value. Although it is in the nature of the guitar that the absolute integrity of note values will be unavoidably compromised from time to time, we do feel that the basic question of the technical relevance of the harmonic type versus the enhanced linear perception afforded by the melodic type is sufficiently important to try and find a better approach to examining arpeggios than exists at present.
As soon as we abandon the idea that all guitar arpeggios should follow a fixed, transposable, left-hand formula with matching right hand finger patterns, it becomes very easy to create for each grade an interesting and varied menu that accommodates the two distinct types of arpeggio function described above, using fingerings, keys and positions that fit the agreed criteria for that grade, and combining them in ways that reflect real musical situations. For example, at Grade 1 one could have the lower octave of F major played with the thumb and the upper octave of G major played apoyando with index and middle fingers (both melodic), and the upper octave of E minor played p i m a with the top three strings open (harmonic). At Grade 2 one could have the lower octave of G major played with the thumb in the 2nd position and using the 4th string for the D and upper G (melodic), the upper octave of F major played with index and middle fingers, starting in the 2nd position and changing to 3rd position for the 3rd finger C (also melodic), and so on. Our proposed restrictions on how many left-hand fingers should be held down at any one time may limit the number of harmonic arpeggios that can be played at this stage. However, all the examples quoted so far have used closed inversions. By using some of the expanded inversions so common among standard guitar chord shapes, access to the open strings is immediately regained.
For the second and third exam stages we would gradually expand the harmonic type of arpeggio to incorporate broken chord inversions built on each rising degree of the common chord. Over-ringing should occur for all notes within each inversion but not between inversions, thus: 135–351–513–135 and back down again. This would be suitable at Grade 3 in C major or G major played p i m – p i m etc, starting in the 1st position and changing to 3rd position for the triad at the upper tonic. With the introduction of the half-barré at Grade 4 it becomes a highly transposable formula that can help lay the groundwork for the comprehensive knowledge of the fingerboard that we should be seeking. As far as the right hand is concerned it could be developed to include the full chord (four notes to each group, played p i m a), inverted versions of both, and even a sextuplet version in which the arpeggio ascends and descends within each group.
The melodic two octave arpeggios with the conventional exam fingerings can be brought in at the second stage (where we are dealing with a working knowledge of the first five positions), and the three octave ones at the third stage, but with the G to B range of keys saved, as with the scales, until Grade 8. Care should be taken with all arpeggios of this type to avoid any over-ringing of notes: a true, note-on-note legato approach must be demonstrated here.
We would also like to introduce the notion of applied arpeggios. By this we mean the combining of related chords into cadential sequences of some sort (e.g. IV–V–I or II–V7–I). Coupled with the various right-hand patterns suggested above (in the harmonic category), and coming in at a level where the left hand can cope with chord shapes that support consistent voice-leading, this kind of applied arpeggio exercise would help to develop a sense of key far more effectively than playing an arpeggio on the tonic chord alone. It also relates to the keyboard harmony test that is an option in the aural tests at Grade 6 and above (ABRSM). In this the candidate is asked to play a short melody on the piano and harmonise the closing cadence correctly.
Dominant and diminished 7th arpeggios should be required from the second stage onwards (the customary starting points for these arpeggios on all string instruments at the moment are Grades 3 and 5 respectively). Both forms are best suited to the melodic fingering approach. Dominant 7ths must resolve on the tonic – standard procedure for the bowed strings but not yet done on the guitar. As with the scales, all arpeggios should be presented in a metrical form.
We feel sure that the extensive use of single-line pieces and the systematic introduction of keys and positions in our proposals for the early grades will contribute greatly to improved music reading skills among guitarists. But of course the actual sight-reading tests used in the examinations have an important part to play as well, and in the past both the content and presentation of these has left much to be desired.
Parity is a real issue here – or to be more accurate, the question of how to moderate between different instruments being tested for the same discipline at the same grade. There have been piano sight-reading examples at Grades 1 and 2 for instance that, when transcribed, are much easier to play on the guitar than the equivalent guitar tests for the same grades (as well as having clearer part-writing and being more musically coherent). Each hand is typically required to move in intervals of no more than a third, over a total range of no more than a fifth. The wind and string instruments’ tests diplay a similar control of parameters, but the guitar’s do not.
At each grade the tests should, in our view, be of a standard of difficulty two grades lower than the pieces in the exam being taken, and should adhere to the specific criteria associated with that lower grade. Grade 8 candidates should therefore be able to sight-read Grade 6 pieces and Grade 2 candidates Preliminary Grade pieces. Preliminary Grade candidates should be required to recognise a few related notes with the same note values, any rhythmic content being confined to an unchanging note, and this principle should be extended for Grade 1.
The tests should be written in a musical style appropriate to the guitar and familiar to the candidate at the level in question. The aim should not be to surpise the candidate or catch him out with the unexpected but to relate the process to his normal experience and exploit and encourage his aural memory and capacity for informed musical guesswork. At the early grades in particular the technical style of the piece should be unambiguous: it should be clear from the outset whether it is to be a single-line melody or a broken chord piece. Later on, when mixed textures may appear, they should change over at logical points (e.g. phrase endings), and where for instance a chord is used it should be preceded by a rest large enough to aid its preparation. Sight-reading items should be written with strict adherence to part integrity (i.e. finger notes with stems pointing up, thumb notes with stems pointing down) including the use of rests to complete bars in which a voice drops out. It is also important that a large enough staff size is used for sight-reading tests both in the actual exam and also the published specimens, and that the excessive use of phrase marks and other editorial instructions should be avoided for the sake of visual clarity.
vii Viva voce
While not of paramount importance, the idea of a viva voce section makes sense in the light of these recommendations. We have tried to make the different sections of the exam relate to each other more closely by making them subject to certain common criteria. This in turn should give each grade a more distinct character. Having to answer questions based on these criteria might help the candidate understand the central issues more clearly.
viii Structural alternatives
Although we made it clear at the beginning of this report that our aim was to try to work within the conventional examination format, there are some areas where change might be considered. First, we feel there is a case for having a number of fixed programmes to choose from rather than the customary free choice of pieces from set lists. This would ensure that having been careful not to introduce, say, the half-barre before Grade 4, it would not then be possible to avoid it. Another way round that would be to have a section of compulsory technical exercises at each grade. The current ABRSM violin syllabus operates a combination of both systems: candidates have to prepare pieces 1 and 2 from the same list, but they have a free choice for the third piece.
Second, there is the idea of having four pieces at Grades 6, 7, and 8. For the purposes of these exams – and the guitarist’s general understanding of the instrument’s playing techniques and performance styles – the guitar’s repertoire falls more naturally into four periods than three: the Baroque and pre-Baroque lute literature, the 19th-century legacy with its seminal technical studies, the Spanish Romantic/Latin American/Segovia repertoire with its uniquely expressive use of the instrument’s tonal resources, and the modern period. These periods contain distinctly separate but equally important lessons for the guitarist, yet at the moment all the boards use the standard three lists in which it is customary for the first list to feature Baroque and pre-Baroque music, but for the second to feature a mixture of 19th-century and Spanish Romantic pieces and the third to feature a mixture of Spanish Romantic and contemporary pieces. This makes it possible to avoid playing any post-Segovia repertoire at all, and tends not only to undervalue the early 19th-century inheritance but also to ignore the fact that no other instrument has a Romantic-Nationalist tradition occupying anything like such a significantly large proportion of its overall repertoire.
Of course the question remains of how to reconcile this idea with the possible extra workload for the candidate (proportionally easier pieces?), the amount of time allowed for each exam (less of a problem in view of the prevalence of short pieces in the guitar repertoire), and the fact that players of all other instruments would still only have to prepare three pieces.
- 2 accompanied melodies (1 fingers, 1 thumb)
- position I (‘white’ notes only)
- no left hand on 5th or 6th string
- 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 time signatures
- semibreves down to beamed quavers (with equivalent rests)
- 5-note scales
- 3 pieces (2 accompanied, 1 solo)
- position I, complete range
- key signatures up to 1 sharp, 1 flat
- dotted crotchet, single quaver (with rest)
- 2 left-hand fingers (held together, placed separately)
- 1-octave scales and arpeggios (including chromatic scales)
- positions II and III
- key signatures with 2 sharps
- 6/8 time signature
- beamed semiquavers, triplet quavers (simple time signatures)
- 2 left-hand fingers placed at same time
- choice of solo or accompanied pieces
- positions IV and V
- key signatures with 2 flats
- dotted quaver, single semiquaver
- left hand to place more than 2 notes at same time
- 2-octave scales and arpeggios, double-stop scales, dominant-7th arpeggios
- all pieces solo
- simple ligados
- 3-part textures (ring-finger melody, thumb bass, inner part with index and middle fingers)
- full barré
- simple left-hand mordents and trills
- diminished-7th arpeggios
- up to position IX
- barrés and ligados combined
- re-entrant arpeggio fingerings
- simple left-hand extensions
- moving 3rds and 6ths
- melody in middle voice
- 3-octave scales and arpeggios
- 6th string to D
- 4 pieces?
- further left-hand extensions
- artificial harmonics
- 3rd string to F sharp
- all major and minor scales and arpeggios (not to full range)
- position XII and above
- compulsory concerto movement
- all scales and arpeggios to full range
Copyright © 1993 by EGTA UK