I’ve had quite a few viewers and course participants from Australia ask me about AMEB, the Australian Music Examinations Board, which is the standard piano school in Australia. On this channel we’ve also discussed RCM (Canada/USA), ABRSM (UK/worldwide) and Trinity (UK/worldwide), so I figured it was time to have a look at Australia’s school.
This is an Australian-specific school, so if you’re in Canada or the US, you won’t be able to take these examinations. However, if you’re interested in the curriculum, you can follow along no matter where you live or what level you’re at.
That’s my favorite part of the syllabi created by the music schools. It gives piano teachers and students a sense of direction. A sense of what level you’re at, what music you’re capable of playing, and where you’re going. It’s an immensely helpful resource, whether you’re self-taught or not. I use the RCM syllabus in my studio near-daily.
In this episode we’re going to take a birds’-eye view of AMEB for anyone interested in checking it out. Let’s get started!
The Australian Music Examinations Board: Details
AMEB came into existence way back in 1887, though back then it was simply a programme of music examinations from the universities of Adelaide and Melbourne. It was officially pronounced AMEB in 1918 as a national body.
With AMEB, you can study and take exams in a large variety of disciplines, some non-musical. In addition to the myriad instruments you can learn, they also include speech and drama.
For piano players, they have a few different options. Their “piano” option is much like the RCM and ABRSM in that it’s mainly Classical-focused. But there’s also the “piano for leisure” category, which focuses on contemporary music, as does “rockschool keyboard”. These are great alternatives for kids (and adults!) who want an alternative to classical.
However, we’ll be discussing the standard piano exam and syllabus in this video. I do encourage you to explore their website if you want further information on their programs.
AMEB’s Level System
ABRSM’s piano grades are divided into three levels:
- Level 1 is preliminary to 4th grade
- Level 2 is 5th to 8th grade (certificate of performance)
- Level 3 is associate and licentiate diplomas (AMusA and LMusA)
AMEB Piano Syllabus
AMEB just recently updated their syllabi – the piano syllabus was fully revised in November 2018. The newest publications are called “Series 18” grade books, handbooks and recordings and there’s a book for each of the nine levels (preliminary to grade 8).
In addition to these Series 18 repertoire books (which we’ll talk more about soon), they also have a Technical work book in two volumes (level 1 and level 2), and a single sight reading book that covers the preliminary level all the way up to grade 8.
The new syllabus contains “Series 17” and “Series 18”, both of which you can play from for exams. The old syllabus (Series 15-17) is being phased out and starting in 2021 you’ll only be able to use the new syllabus.
I could stand to be corrected here, but it looks like they come up with a new Series every 5 years. Series 17 came out in 2014, and Series 18 came out in 2019. But it looks like the syllabi are completely rehauled every decade or so, which is much like the RCM. I’m making a guess here, though, so please let me know if I’m off for those of you who are more familiar with AMEB.
Their syllabus isn’t freely available (like the RCM/ABRSM), but a digital download is inexpensive at $10.
I love the AMEB syllabus because it’s so detailed and comprehensive. They have huge repertoire lists with dozens of selections of each list per grade. This is awesome for both teachers and students who are interested in exploring a wide variety of repertoire.
Another benefit of the syllabus, and this is something the RCM does as well, is it has a comprehensive book list. So if you’re looking for general reference music books, books on repertoire, performance or technique, it gives you a ton of fantastic options to study.
The RCM syllabus has always been my go-to because I’m Canadian, and because the syllabus is so robust. However, it looks like AMEB has an even more robust syllabus, so if you’re interested I encourage you to explore it.
AMEB Repertoire books
Each of the 9 repertoire books contain a small selection of pieces at each grade level. They include music that spans the Baroque era all the way to modern pieces. There’s an emphasis on Australian composers (just like how the RCM emphasizes Canadian composers).
The graded repertoire books are divided into lists A, B and C for level 1, and lists A, B, C and D for level 2. This is in line with what the RCM and ABRSM does.
The comparison of difficulty is quite similar to ABRSM. At a grade 5 level you’re given a Bach invention, for example, which is a late-intermediate assignment. In grade 7 you’re given a Bach sinfonia, which is early-advanced. This means the Level 2 grades are quite difficult – again, much like ABRSM.
To compare this to the RCM, it seems like grade 5 AMEB is about equivalent to grade 7 RCM. Grade 6 AMEB is around grade 8-9 RCM, and Grade 7-8 AMEB is comparable to grade 9-10 RCM.
To go along with the repertoire books, you can also purchase digital recordings of each of the pieces. The recordings are done by top Australian performers.
Like the other major music schools around the world, an AMEB study path doesn’t just involve learning repertoire. It also involves learning technique, aural skills and sight reading. These are all skills you’d be demonstrating in an examination setting.
Interestingly, students at Level 2 (Grade 5 to 8) can now do what’s called a “collaborative piano exam”. This involves working with other musicians and is a really great way to fill the gap of piano players always being solitary creatures.
Another cool thing you can do with AMEB is a repertoire-only exam, which is available for both Level 1 and Level 2. You prepare 4 pieces at level 1, and 5 pieces at level 2, just like you would with a regular test. You don’t have to prepare any technical exercises for the exam.
The point of this is that you’re still developing technique, just through your pieces. And the assumption is that you’re still practicing technical exercises, you’re just not asked to perform them in an exam.
A standard exam is thus called a “comprehensive exam”.
As the AMEB says,
“Although Technical work is not examined separately in an AMEB Repertoire examination, the gradual accrual of technical skills still forms part of the examination criteria at each grade. Examiners will be assessing candidates on their technical ability as demonstrated in the performance of the repertoire requirements, so candidates will still need to work on technical skills in the practice room – they just won’t be examined separately through Technical work in examination. Similarly, the development of sight-reading ability, aural skills and general knowledge is essential for a well-rounded musician, and students will need to continue to work on these areas to reach their full potential, even if they are only being formally assessed on the performance of repertoire.”
A note that the repertoire-only exams are only available for regular piano students, not rockschool or piano leisure students.
Something unique about AMEB exams is that they’ll actually ask you questions (the syllabus details what kind of questions these are). For example, in level 2 exams, they might ask you about the composer, the style period, and so on.
Exam length is similar to the other schools. A preliminary exam will run 12 minutes (it goes by in a flash!) whereas a grade 8 exam is about 50 minutes.
AMEB offers theory exams from a Grade 1 to 6 level. These grades, however, don’t correspond with the repertoire grades.
Up until a grade 5 level, you’re not required to do a theory exam to get your certificate when you do a practical exam. But starting from Grade 6, you need to pass a music theory test in order to pass your practical test.
Here’s a table of what theory test you need to pass at each grade level (starting at grade 6). It’s helpful to know that Trinity and ABRSM exams also count for this.
There are three types of theory exams with AMEB: Theory of Music, Musicianship, and Music Craft. Here’s a quick explanation of the three different types of theory:
“Theory and Musicianship are quite closely linked up to Grade Four level. Both syllabi focus on Keys and Scales, Intervals, Chords, Time and Rhythm, Transposition, Terms and Signs and Rhythmic Invention but Musicianship tends to introduce Keys, Scales and Intervals at a faster rate than Theory. As Theory progresses there is a greater focus on the creative aspects: Harmonisation, Melody Writing and questions about General Knowledge. At Grade Four level Musicianship introduces an Aural component. This features recognition of scale forms, intervals, triad positions, motion and cadence recognition questions. There are also Time and Rhythm, Expression and Mood and Form questions. From Grade Four to Associate, Musicianship exams comprise a Written and an Aural component. Theory has no Aural component.
Music Craft was developed to teach the theoretical and aural aspects of music in different ways to Theory and Musicianship. Thus, pitches are described using the Helmholtz system, harmonies are described using a mixture of Roman Numerals and figured bass, cadences are described differently to the Theory and Musicianship syllabi (e.g. Authentic rather than Perfect). Also, terms include German and French words.”
Some other neat facts about AMEB’s theory exams is that you can do the written exams online. They even have online courses from grade 1-3, and I suspect there will be more where that came from in the future.
If you’re Australian, I highly recommend looking into the various programs AMEB offers – especially since you don’t need to be into Classical music to benefit from it.
For non-Australians, it still might be worth a look if you’re looking for a great curriculum and would like an alternative to the RCM, ABRSM and Trinity schools.
As a non-Australian, and as someone who’s never taught via AMEB, I’m sure there are significant gaps in my knowledge. Still, I hope this enough to get you going, and I hope it helps you compare some of the options that are out there.