Introducing the new ABRSM Percussion syllabus

The new Percussion syllabus is here and I’d like to introduce you to what it has to offer. The previous syllabus was released 30 years ago and so much has changed and evolved in that time, not least the way percussion is played and performed. We really hope that the changes to the syllabus mirror this progress and make it more relatable to the requirements and challenges of being a modern day percussionist.

What’s new?

It’s now possible to take an exam on a single strand of percussion or on all three together. The syllabus options are: Snare Drum, Timpani, Tuned Percussion or Combined (one piece on each strand, and for Practical Grades, sight-reading on one of the three). This gives learners more options as they progress through the grades and allows them to play to their strengths.

Wider range of repertoire

The breadth of repertoire on offer has also expanded. There are now three groups of ten pieces to choose from at each grade with a much wider range of styles. The pieces include many new commissions from leading composers such as Jill Jarman and Alan Bullard, adding to the ever-growing range of percussion repertoire. These can be found in ABRSM’s new percussion repertoire books, along with already established works such as Sejourne’s Nancy and pieces from Atkatz’s Tributes for Snare Drum. There are more accompanied pieces too, with Grades 1 to 3 requiring at least one piece to be accompanied, but not just with a piano. There are options for percussion accompaniment as well! So teachers can play a duet with their candidates in the exam.


Another brilliant change is that ABRSM are the first exam board to include multi-percussion pieces on the syllabus within the Snare Drum repertoire. This is much more in-line with modern expectations of percussionists and there is a cumulative feel through the grades in terms of adding more percussion instruments as you go.

Revised technical and sight-reading requirements

For Practical Grades, scale requirements for Tuned Percussion have been updated too, so they are in line with other instruments and are based around a key centre at each grade. However, for Timpani and Snare Drum candidates prepare two specially commissioned studies instead of scales and then play one, chosen by the examiner, in the exam. The studies are included in the ABRSM books and available as free downloads from the website.

Finally, for Practical Grades there are updated sight-reading requirements, with new Percussion Sight-Reading books available to help candidates prepare.

From the examiner’s perspective

These are exciting changes for examiners too! However, the same ABRSM marking criteria still apply in the exam with a focus on assessing the five elements of music making:

  • Pitch
  • Time
  • Tone
  • Shape
  • Pe

Time is particularly important for percussionists, as it’s the foundation of all we do – keeping a regular pulse and producing rhythms with clarity. Pitch doesn’t only refer to striking the right notes on a xylophone or tuning the timpani accurately, but includes swapping between instruments in a multi-piece, or perhaps making all of the rim sounds consistently on the snare drum. Tone is important too, so make sure an even sound is produced on all instruments, and shape and performance are that magic dust that bring a piece to life!

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