London College of Music Pre-Grade 1 Piano Exam Syllabus

I’m delighted to have written, compiled and annotated the new London College of Music Exams Pre-Grade 1 2021 – 2024 syllabus.  I also worked on the Grade 1 – 8 2021 – 2024 piano syllabus, too, selecting some of the repertoire as well as writing many of the performance notes, as I had done for the previous syllabus.

The new Grade 1 – 8 piano exam syllabus contains a wide variety of styles and genres, and it was certainly a challenge to find the necessary large collection of works for each grade; piano pieces which offer a disparate and representative compilation  from early Baroque through to the present day.

As might be expected, the syllabus contains a complete cross section, from educationally useful pieces intended to help build a solid technique written by familiar composers, to works by female composers such as Florence Price, Teresita Carreno-Tagliapietro, and Modesta Bor, as well as lesser-known composers from across the world, like the Dutch composer Gerard Hengeveld, Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh and Turkish composer Ahmet Adnan Saygun. And my little piece Dancing Through The Daffodils (from No Words Necessary) has been included in List A of the Grade 6 syllabus.

There are piano arrangements at almost every level alongside original pieces, and, as always, with the LCM, it’s possible to acquire the pieces on the main list, all the technical work, sight-reading tests and discussion questions from just one handbook. You can find out more about this syllabus, here.

The LCM offers three pre-Grade 1 exams; Pre-Prep, Step 1 and Step 2. This is the first time that I have written and compiled a complete syllabus, and it has been a really fascinating and worth-while experience, as well as a steep learning curve.

All three pre-Grade 1 syllabuses contain a varied collection of pieces, exercises, and, for Step 1 and 2, a small group of scales. However, there are no sight-reading or aural tests at this level, but, in each exam, there will be a brief discussion at the end, where the candidate must answer a few musicianship questions posed by the examiner.

Each syllabus hand book also contains detailed performance notes for each piece, as well as biographical notes about the composers.

Pre-Prep Exam 2021 – 2024

The Pre-Prep syllabus is intended for students who have only just started on their musical journey, and the pieces are necessarily simplistic, employing very basic rhythmic patterns, time signatures and note patterns; they mostly stay in a five-finger position throughout, and last no longer than 8 – 12 bars.

The exam commences with a group of exercises, of which there are eight in total, and, in this syllabus, students must select five to play in the exam. These consist of a rhythmic test (which can be ‘tapped’ on the piano lid), a rote exercise, or a piece to be played from memory, not necessarily ‘reading’ all the notes, and the remainder are extremely short pieces (from 4 – 9 bars in length) often requiring different touches, such as legato, non-legato and staccato. Mostly separate hands, these little tests contain imaginative titles and I hope they are fun to play.

Moving on to the pieces. There are ten in total; five in List A and five in List B, and students must present two from each list. The pieces in List A are generally slightly shorter than those in List B (this is true for all three syllabuses).

Series editor, Imogen Hall, and I selected a mixture of nursery rhymes, famous tunes, and various pieces, some specially commissioned, by renowned Contemporary educational composers.  In this syllabus there are two duets, and both may be played with a teacher or fellow student in the exam, which should prove helpful for those who are anxious about taking a piano exam alone. The exam ends with a discussion, which, in this case, is a note recognition test.

Students who like to sing along whilst they play will love the duet version of Happy Birthday. Those who like upbeat numbers will enjoy Rosa Conrad’s duet, Popcorn, or my piece Monkey Goes Bananas and the traditional tune, 1 2 3 4 5, Once I Caught A Fish Alive, whereas students who prefer more reflective styles will savour Andrew Eales’ Stuck Indoors, Marcel Zidani’s Wintry Wood or my piece, On The Magic Carpet.

Here is the full list of pieces, and you can hear a selection by clicking on the links below:

List A

Monkey Goes Bananas by Melanie Spanswick

Wintry Wood by Marcel Zidani

Popcorn (Duet) by Rosa Conrad

1 2 3 4 5 Once I Caught A Fish Alive Trad: Arr. Spanswick

Happy Birthday To You (Duet) Trad: Arr. Spanswick

List B

Westminster Chimes Trad: Arr. Spanswick

Stuck Indoors by Andrew Eales

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Trad: Arr. Spanswick

The Grand Entrance by Melanie Spanswick

On The Magic Carpet by Melanie Spanswick

Step 1 Exam 2021 – 2024

Step 1 moves to a marginally higher level. This syllabus also features eight exercises, which focus on a wider range of important technical tools, such as slightly more demanding rhythmic patterns, longer melodic phrases, hand coordination, and a little more movement around the keyboard, although there is no turning of the hand (or placing the thumb under, or over, the hand) at this level. 

Candidates must prepare four exercises for this exam. There is a rote study, and, as with the Pre-Prep syllabus, a clapping exercise, as well as basic use of the sustaining pedal. There are also three five-finger scales in the keys of C and G major, and A minor, which must be played hands separately and together.

Step 1 contains twelve pieces, and students must present two from each list. I have included nursery rhyme arrangements, a film tune, as well as renowned classical favourites, a duet, and a collection of original repertoire.  In this syllabus, hands start to work together, but, generally, they stay in the same position, with little movement.

Fun upbeat tunes include Juan Cabeza’s Miniature No. 1Study in C for Full and Brilliant Tone by Ferdinand Beyer, and that  perennial favourite, The Jolly Farmer by Walter Carroll. Expressive works include Exploring Castle Ruins by Barbara Arens, and my piece, Out Of This World. For those who enjoy singing along whilst playing, Wendy Stevens’ Ketchup will prove popular, and younger students will enjoy Camille Saint-Saëns’ The Elephant, written here as a duet for teacher and student. My arrangement of Let It Go from Disney’s box office hit, Frozen, is sure to please many.  Watch out for Kittens Up A Tree, which features a glissando at the end!

This exam ends with a general musical discussion; some example questions have been suggested in the hand book.

Here’s the full list of pieces, and you can hear a selection below:

List A

Allegro in C by Daniel Gottlob Türk

Exploring Castle Ruins by Barbara Arens

Out Of This World by Melanie Spanswick

Miniature No. 1 by Juan Cabeza

The Elephant (duet) by Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns

Polly Put The Kettle On Trad Arr. Melanie Spanswick

List B

Study in C for Full and Brilliant Tone by Ferdinand Beyer

The Jolly Farmer by Walter Carroll

Kittens Up A Tree by Melanie Spanswick

Ketchup by Wendy Stevens

Hickory Dickory Dock Trad: Arr. Melanie Spanswick

Let It Go by Robert Lopez Arr. Melanie Spanswick

Step 2 Exam 2021 – 2024

The Step 2 syllabus is pre-Grade 1, and, therefore, the pieces are a little more demanding than those found in Step 1. Of the eight exercises, four must be presented in the exam. Amongst these studies is a rote exercise, a clapping test, and a selection of exercises featuring such technical skills as two-note chords and triads, scalic  passagework, more taxing hand coordination, and the Alberti Bass. The scales for this level highlight the following keys: C major, D major, G major and A minor, and are to be played one octave, hands separately and together.

I hope the twelve pieces proffer an engaging group of styles and genres, including original pieces by educational composers, as well as film themes, classical favourites, nursery rhymes, and a duet.

Those who enjoy ‘off-beat’ rhythms will love Elissa Milne’s Smooth and Crunchy, Olly Wedgwood’s Honey Bee Boogie, or the duet, Under The Sea (from the Disney Film, The Little Mermaid). For students who like majestic grandeur, Imogen Hall’s arrangement of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice will be a popular choice, as will the arrangement of Jupiter from Holst’s Planet Suite. For a more reflective, expressive style, why not try June Armstrong’s evocative M for Moonbeam. And if you prefer something scary, my Ghostly Goings On should fit the bill!

In Step 2, hands now move out of the five-finger position and hand-turning has been introduced (or tucking the thumb under, or over, the hand). There are more demanding rhythms at this level, and students are expected to cover a larger amount of the keyboard.

This exam ends with a general musical discussion; some example questions have been suggested in the hand book.

Here are the pieces, and you can hear a selection by clicking on the links below:

List A

Little Story by August Eberhard Müller

Melody in C by Thomas Dunhill

Smooth and Crunchy by Elissa Milne

Ghostly Goings On by Melanie Spanswick

The Wheels on the Bus Trad Arr. Melanie Spanswick

The  Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas Arr. Imogen Hall

List B

Secret Passage by Melanie Spanswick

M for Moonbeam by June Armstrong

Honey Bee Boogie by Olly Wedgwood

If You’re Happy And You Know It Trad: Arr. Melanie Spanswick

Under The Sea (Duet) by Alan Menken Arr. Melanie Spanswick

Jupiter from The Planets by Gustav Holst Arr. Melanie Spanswick

I believe these syllabuses are fairly comprehensive for the young (or more mature) player, and I hope they are engaging for both teachers and students.

Find out more and purchase the syllabus, here.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


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