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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 4 and 5

ABRSM LogoBy the time a pupil reaches the level of the intermediate grades 4 and 5, repertoire needn’t be governed by an exam syllabus. Pieces outside of the ‘exam books’ therefore become increasingly important as a player begins to widen their musical horizons.

The ABRSM books for these two grades offer up some interesting music. At grade four, there is a lovely arrangement of a Cimarosa Piano Sonata which will need delicate tonguing to convey the con eleganza performance direction. I can also recommend trying the Honegger Romance in the same book, as this is an original and unusual piece for flute and piano with some scrunchy harmonies to become accustomed to.

Not everyone will take to it, but Allegretto by Russell Stokes (also in Easy Jazz Singles) is sure to be a winner. If you’re starting to think about some programme planning for pupils’ concerts, this selection is about as varied as it gets!

One of the best pieces on the entire syllabus can be found in the Grade 5 book. Léo Delibes’s Morceau is a wonderful vignette that will really appeal to those with a love of French Flute School music.  Written as a sight-reading test for the Paris Conservatoire, the challenge at this level is both technical and artistic. Perhaps here, the first teacher-pupil conversations about changes of sound could take place.

The Largo and Vivace by Daniel Purcell will introduce pupils to a little-known British composer, while Mike Mower’s Mango Tango will provide some jazz-based interest. The big hit of the Grade 5 book, however, is bound to be The Playful Pony from Luna’s Magic Flute by Blaž Pucihar which is a wonderfully tuneful and happy piece. I’m sure that girls in particular will love it!

The exam books alone are unlikely to keep all teachers occupied until 2017 though, and there is a wealth of lovely flute music further down the syllabus lists. It needn’t cost a fortune either, as there are good value books available which cover several grades. Here are some of my favourites to provide your students with a broader knowledge of repertoire:

List A

If you are a fan of CPE Bach, then the volume of his Six Sonatas could be for you. This book can be used for grade 4, 5 and 6, therefore represents long-term value for money.

Classical Music for Flute by Peter WastallPeter Wastall’s Classical Music for Flute had gone out of fashion over recent years, but it is a great hunting ground for simple pieces in the Classical style. The Sonata in C by James Hook is bright and sunny, and will be really useful in developing the neat articulation needed to bring out the clarity of the writing. This is a charming piece which really deserves its revival, and should be popular for Grade 5.

Another good book to invest in is the Telemann Suite in A minor which covers Grades 3-5. All the movements are lovely, and ultimately it is an ideal work to perform in its entirety with a school orchestra. At under £10 (at time of going to press), it works out just around £3 per grade!

List B

Although Latin Connections contains just one set piece (for Grade 4), this is a book that both teachers and students will absolutely love. ‘What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life’ by Michel Legrand is probably one of the least well-known tunes on a contents page that lists all the greats of Latin music. Add in the benefits of a playalong CD and hours of pleasure can be had for not that much money!

Blaž Pucihar: Flute at PlaySome more of Blaž Pucihar’s beautiful tunes can be found in Flute At Play, which is set for grades 4 and 6. This book is beautifully presented with full colour illustrations and a good quality CD. The music isn’t a pushover, and both Flute At Play in a jaunty A major and Dreamy Flute, with its slow sustained melody, will give a Grade 4 pupil a real workout. Flute At Play consists of ten pieces altogether which form a complete story, so there is plenty of scope for performance away from the exam – if you have enough students at this level, you could have a concert with a different player for each piece!

If you are able to splash out, there are some other lovely things to explore, especially at Grade 5. If you have a really promising student, they may be ready for the Claude Arrieu Sonatine, first movement, which is difficult but well worth the effort. As the whole work is on the Diploma list as well, you might find this student able to perform the whole work at some future date! Gerard Meunier’s atmospheric Au Crepuscule (At Dusk) is a beautiful sweeping melody which will stretch musical flexibility, but once mastered will be returned to many times. All the Goran Marcusson arrangements in the album Frösöblomster (Flowers from Froso) are delightful, with Song of Summer being particularly approachable at this level.

List C

There are two study books in particular that will serve you well at several grades. There’s a lot of good material in Flute Studies Volume 1 published by Breitkopf, including some general practice notes. It starts at a basic level and, exam-wise, will take you through to grade 6. Kohler, Gariboldi et al are included, but set at grade 5 is a challenging Allegro by Pal Jardanyi. Rhythmically simple, the G minor centre modulates constantly, with the E flat major meno mosso section visiting D flat and G flat majors before returning home. Great for expanding aural awareness!

If you would prefer something a little more contemporary, try Allen Vizzutti’s Dynamic Dances. The Flamenco on the Grade 5 list is great, with strong Spanish rhythms (it brings Toreador’s Song from Carmen to mind). This is one of the easier pieces in this book, so it will readily add another dimension to technical work for more advanced players.


There is plenty here to make the exam route more interesting as well as stimulate a young flute player. Enjoy the variety on offer!

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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!