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Exploring the 2018 ABRSM Flute Syllabus: Grades 1 and 2

So here we are again! Astonishingly it’s 8 years since ABRSM introduced a selection of the music for each grade in one book. This seemed such a big event back then, but now we are all used to the format, like it or not!

The marketing of the ABRSM volumes has been even more targeted this time, and can now be accessed in three ways:

  1. New Exam Packs (Grades 1-5) containing pieces, scales, sightreading and a download code to access performance and accompaniment material.
  2. Selected Pieces for Grades 1-7 containing pieces and the download code.
  3. Scales and Sight-Reading Packs for Grades 1-5

As excellent as these books are, they will become very familiar all too soon! I want here to draw attention to the part of the syllabus that is often neglected nowadays: the alternative pieces. ABRSM examiners are always delighted when players come in with something different, so they really are worth investigating!

Grade 1

Depending on your point of view, the entire syllabus for Grade 1 can seem either safe – with many familiar tunes and books listed – or a little disappointing in that there’s not a lot new. That is really a teacher issue though, and I’m sure that your students will love what’s on offer! Quite a number of the alternative books set for Grades 1 and 2 are great value for money, including Time Pieces Volume 1, Harlequin Book 1 and  Winner Scores All. These books contain pieces for higher grades too, and as they are compilations they also give plenty of additional repertoire.  Study books that fall into this brief include Fifty for Flute Book 1, 125 Easy Classical Studies and Skilful Studies.

If you’d like to branch out a little and still provide a good return on investment, the  Grade by Grade series definitely fits the bill.  This is an alternative ‘exam pack’ with pieces, scales, sight-reading and aural specifically tailored to the Grade 1 player., along with creative tasks which are great fun. Each piece has performance directions to help overall musical understanding, the scales are linked to the keys of the pieces and the both the sight-reading and aural content is very well explained. A performance and accompaniment CD is included. The famous Haydn Minuet and the Susato Rondo set on List A are both very tuneful and have  just the right amount of challenge to effectively stretch a younger player.  On list B Helen Long’s Spooked  is great!

Helen Long – Spooked sample

It’s an imaginative piece with quirky changes of rhythm and articulation in A minor that really capture the title. The piano part is an integral part of this piece, which  gives a great starting point for the understanding of vertical structures. In other words for players to learn that there’s someone else playing with you!

Also on List B,  Ten Top Pops is another book crammed full of pieces kids will want to play.

Set for Grade 1 is the Theme from Wallace and Grommit – who can resist that?! The main difficulty with playing something well-known is playing what’s on the page and not what’s in your head! You’ll also need a good pianist but that shouldn’t be a problem – everyone will want to  have a go at this one!

The most interesting study book on List C is Sad Song or Articulate from Thirty One, Two, Three  Studies. Each of these little gems has a title to give focus to your practice. You can sing Sad Song as well as play it, as it has easy rhythms and a straightforward phrase structure. Articulate is a little more of a challenge and the rhythms can catch you out. As you might expect from this title, tonguing is the challenge but clear dynamic markings help with managing those contrasts so loved by examiners!

Grade 2

This is only a small step up from Grade 1 and, as some books will be already be familiar, the transition should be seamless. There are plenty of classical tunes and familiar songs to encourage tonal development and they are great for singing too!

A lovely choice for List A is Hook: He Piped So Sweet from An English Garland. Those with a naturally good sound will love this piece as it is so beautiful! There are bars rest to count and pauses to negotiate, so working with a pianist will be a top priority. The 12 popular songs from 18th century London that make up this unusual book are wonderfully evocative of the period. Composers include Thomas Arne and William Reeves, and titles such as ‘Sweet Patty’ and ‘While Phillis Refuses’ will really appeal to some. It’s also set for Grade 3 so more good value!

Harlequin Book 1 is a familiar and well-loved book, so it’s lovely to see that some new pieces have been set from it. The repetitive form of Tchaikovsky’s Ancient French Song makes this piece easy to learn, and it’s good for those struggling with the second octave as all the repeated sections are up there. You’ll also need to have a singing sound to make this sound really French – despite the Russian composer!

List B is all about singing too, and although  Wouldn’t It Be Loverly will be the ABRSM book  blockbuster there are some great – and surprising! – alternatives. There is something for everyone here!

Mr Benn from Mr Benn for FluteYounger players will be thrilled by the inclusion of this popular song and if they are real Mr Benn fans they will be able to learn all the other pieces in the album too!  The familiarity alone should make light work of practising, which is good news as it’s not as easy as you might expect. (The piano part also has it’s moments!) They can play The Wizard for Grade 4 if they can wait that long!

At the other end of the style spectrum  is the Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black from HartbeatI’m not sure quite what Mick Jagger would make of his heavy rock number being played by fledgling flutes, but I daresay he is delighted to reach a new audience! Paul Hart has arranged this really well  so the piece is pitched at exactly the right level for the grade. Put away your prejudice – if your student is a good player with attitude, you can’t lose – and their parents and grandparents can rock along too!

There is plenty of good music to choose from on List C, but Jasmine Flower from More Graded Studies Book 1 is possibly the nicest. The Simultaneous Learning concept behind this book points you in the right direction before you start. This should help your student to focus on the musical as well as the technical detail. However, in this case I think they’ve missed a trick. The pentatonic scale used here (D major minus a few notes) is easily practised, and the impact this tonality has on the origin of the piece will really help the understanding of the style. You could even add in some improvisation exercises. Mike Mower has a similar piece in his excellent Junior Musical Postcards which encourages exactly that. It’s a really appealing piece and certainly makes a change from all that jazz.

This new syllabus certainly provides a great deal of choice for younger players.  Mixing and matching between the ABRSM publications and other books will definitely help making the exam process stay fresh for another four year!

Find this exam music and more using the Just Flutes Exam Music Finder

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Exploring The 2014 ABRSM Flute Syllabus: Grades 6 and 7

By the time we reach this more advanced level, playing skills should be at the point where the choice of repertoire is based on stylistic considerations rather than technical ones. The 2014 ABRSM syllabus reflects this, with a myriad of pieces to choose from.

The good thing here is that most of the works are originals rather than arrangements. At Grade Six, List A is dominated by Baroque composers but the inclusion of a Walckiers Scherzo in the ABRSM book and a movement from a little-known concerto by Leopold Mozart further down the list means that you also have viable alternatives. The Walckiers in particular will be very popular despite its foray into E major for the lyrical trio, and the ‘bien rhythme et avec verve’ performance direction at the start gives you a flavour of its upbeat style. The Leopold Mozart Presto is similar and perhaps more tricky, but both pieces offer a refreshing change from the ‘there’s nowhere to take a breath’ dilemma. Perhaps the most interesting Baroque piece is actually in the unaccompanied section, again in the ABRSM book, with a sensitive arrangement by Trevor Wye of a Handel Allemande in C minor.

French music is well represented in the List B pieces of both grades. The wonderful Roussel Aria will have a much wider audience as it’s now in the book, and Caplet’s dreamy Reverie is available in The Flautist’s Collection Book 3, a lovely selection of music edited by Paul Edmund-Davies. These two pieces should be on everyone’s radar! For fans of Gaubert, the Sicilienne is still with us, and it is one of his most loved pieces. When bought together with the Madrigal, it represents a very good purchase.

List B opens up still further with two pieces by living artists. The American flautist and composer Gary Schocker is starting to gather a real fan base in the UK, and Spring Energy (or Heigh Ho) from Dances and Daydreams is typical of his quirky style. Here, strong rhythm, changing metre and unexpected harmonies give the almost-familiar melody a twist. Luckily the main theme keeps recurring in various guises to help with the technique, and the ending is suitably abrupt. Another contender for Best Piece of the Syllabus is And Everything is Still… by Andy Scott. Andy is really beginning to make a name for himself, and this is one gorgeous piece. Grab a copy now and enjoy the simple melody which ‘unravels alongside delicate harmonic statements, creating a calm and gentle atmosphere.

Sticking with living composers, Rob Buckland’s Charming Snakes in the ABRSM book will really appeal to those wanting to move away from the more traditional studies for the solo piece. The exotic writing contrasts a rhythmic dance-like figure with a flowing chromatic melody to produce a compelling piece that would stand up very well in a concert.

At Grade Seven, the ABRSM book may be less appropriate, as by now students often wish to purchase complete works. However, it does still have a part to play in introducing unusual repertoire at a reasonable cost. If you missed the Popp Sonatina in C last time round, here is another chance to savour its virtuosic flute writing. You need reasonable fingers for this, but everyone enjoys flashing around in an easy key! The Sonatina by the Dutch composer Jaap Geraedts is a gem – tuneful and rhythmic, with good ensemble skills essential for a successful performance. The charm of André Caplet’s Petite Valse is embodied in the rubato, where almost every bar changes speed. An excellent choice if you have already learned the Reverie at Grade Six, these two pieces together work well in a concert. The excellent With Life (also available in Russell Stokes’ book Tricky Jazz Singles) provides the best change of style for list C.

Away from the AB book there is an even broader range of genres. The pick of the Baroque choices on List A is possibly the B minor Sonata by Telemann. This is quite a dark work, and the two set fast movements have real technical challenges, especially as the writing is all in the lower registers of the flute. The other movements are not so hard, and playing the complete sonata is perfectly possible at this level.

If you prefer something sunnier, you might like to look at the Rondo from the Sonata in D major by the nineteenth century German composer Johann Wilms. This is a lively Allegro, with a spritely theme and a brief D minor interlude. Thirds and sixths abound in the duet style writing with the piano, which helps the ensemble, and the whole piece is very approachable, not to mention enjoyable!

Two works jump out from List B. The first is an absolutely delightful Nocturne by Lily Boulanger from a bargain of an album entitled Flute Music by Female Composers. Worth the money for this wonderful vignette alone, with its beguiling melody and simple accompaniment, this rather special book contains a range of material from the Baroque to contemporary works and will hold your interest for a very long time. Fujiko in Vocalise: Songs Without Words is another good piece by Andy Scott, this time in a more obvious jazz style. Its languid melody becomes ever more improvisatory without losing its melancholy and reflective feeling. Allthe pieces in this album, edited by Clare Southworth, have a song element but they are varied and well worth dipping in to.

Another alternative to the more traditional studies set for the solo list is the Polka from Dynamic Dances by Allen Vizzutti. If you have already used this book at Grade 5, you will appreciate the rhythmic drive of these pieces which evoke the character of the dance with a modern twist.

If you want to play the Kohler Study from Op 33, you might like to purchase the duet part published separately by IMC. This adds another layer of difficulty – performing the solo version will seem very easy by comparison!

These grades are important for a developing flute player and the need for variety as well as technical development has never been more acute. There is a great deal of interesting material here, which will make the task just a little easier.

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Exploring The 2014 ABRSM Flute Syllabus: Grades 1 to 3

ABRSM LogoThe publication of a new ABRSM syllabus is about as big an event as it gets in the publishing world these days, and having a piece set for grades 1-3 will generate a great deal of interest. The two parts of the 2014 listing (the AB books themselves and the extra set repertoire) will represent a large part of the material used by many flute teachers over the next few years, so it is fascinating to see what we have in store and how we can make it work for us.

The ABRSM books themselves provide a good range of styles for young players to experiment with.  The traditional Irish tunes set at Grades 1 and 2 provide a real finger workout, and Renaissance music makes a welcome appearance at Grade 2 with ‘Que je chatouille ta fossette’, attributed to Attaingnant. This piece appears in Music Through Time Volume 2, but is sure to be played much more often now. There is also a lovely arrangement of a Scarlatti Minuet at this level and a stunning Pergolesi song ‘Tre giorna son che Nina’ set at grade 3 which will need a musical player with a silky sound to perform it successfully.

A Flautist's CalendarThe neglected English composer Keith Amos is included at Grade 1 with ‘Lupin, the Pot-Bellied Pig’, a tuneful march sure to be very popular with younger players.  Grade 2 includes ‘February’s Rain’ from another over-looked book, ‘A Flautist’s Calendar‘  by Richard Kershaw. This is a contender for the loveliest piece set at any level, with a beguiling melody and flowing accompaniment.

There is also some rather obscure repertoire included, especially at Grade 3 where both the Claude Arrieu ‘Chanson de la Pasteur’ and David Gordon’s ‘Amazonian Mood’ will take some learning. If in doubt though, you can stay on safe ground with ‘Edelweiss’ at Grade 1!

The solo pieces have the usual mix of straight study, jazz, and simple tune. Highlights here are Nicky Iles’s ‘Jazz Waltz’ at Grade 1 which is a challenge to swing, and the enigmatic ‘Waltzlet’ by Mike Mower at Grade 2. My personal favourite though is Graham Lyons’s ‘Study in C’ which will keep your Grade 3 pupils happy – no key signature and a witty melody!

And what of the pieces that are not in the books? As this syllabus lasts until 2017 we will all surely need them. Luckily at these early levels it is possible to use the same alternative books for several grades, and these will obviously be the best place to start.

Harlequin Book 1Top of my list is ‘Harlequin’, an imaginative set of pieces put together by Simon Hunt and Cecilia McDowall. Harlequin Book 1 serves Grades 1, 2 and 3 and includes a CD which represents extremely good value. Composers used range from Daquin to McDowall herself, whose Grade 2 Circus Rag is not to be missed!

Another multi-purpose album is ‘Winner Scores All’ which appears at Grades 1 and 3. Here the flute part and accompaniment are sold separately and there will shortly be a CD playalong version too. ‘Truly Scrumptious’ set for Grade 1 is the main attraction, but both the Aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and a Grieg Norwegian Dance are tuneful alternatives for Grade 3. As with Harlequin, the repertoire is so varied that the book can be made to work really hard outside the exam environment as well.

Louise Chamberlain (aka Pam Wedgwood) has two pieces from her book ‘Step It Up!’ on the Grade 2 listing. Although both ‘Red Admiral’ and ‘King of Swing’ are jazz-based, this is a nice collection of tunes that most pupils will enjoy, especially as this CD has two speeds for each piece.

Hartbeat’ is an album worth buying for the cover alone! Paul Hart’s light style is already very popular and ‘Rainy Day in Paris’ will not disappoint you. This is the easiest piece in the book, and indeed ‘Lonely and Blue’ actually appears in the ABRSM Grade 4 book. Don’t let that put you off buying it though as there’s a wealth of good material here.

Globetrotters for FluteGlobetrotters’ is another interesting book that appears both in the Grade 1 ABRSM book and separately at Grade 3. Subtitled ‘12 pieces in styles from around the world’ and including a CD, both the Grade 1 ‘Guanabara Bay’ and the Grade 3 ‘Hole in my Shoe Blues’ have lyrics to help learning and a second flute part which really adds to the fun. This will prove to be a very popular book with developing players.

Two books from very well respected composers supplement the unaccompanied music lists. Philip Sparke’s ‘Skilful Studies’ and  James Rae’s ‘Style Workout’ provide interesting contrasts of style, with Sparke’s ‘Classical Theme’ at grade 2 being based almost entirely on a D major scale, whilst Rae’s ‘High Five’ at grade 3 is quite a  challenge. In 5/4 with some tricky rhythms, this will really test all round ability at this level.

However you choose your exam music, have fun and enjoy the new challenges it brings!