Today’s video is on MTB, or the Music Teachers’ Board, and their online examinations. We’ll talk about what the MTB is, how the exam works, and all of the details involved in submitting your recordings. Let’s get started!
What is MTB?
The Music Teachers’ Board is relatively new, and they were qualified by Ofqual in 2019 (an England-based board which allows for accredited examinations). There are 1,500 exam centres across 50 countries, but what many of us are interested are their online exam options, especially those of us living in non-populous areas.
The idea of an online MTB exam is that it’s less stressful since you record a video in your own normal environment. The exams can also be taken at any time – there is no waiting period, and you can submit as soon as you are ready. This contrasts with traditional exam boards, who only hold exams at specific times, and at specific centres, each year. This can save in travel costs, and the exams themselves are cheaper as well.
How it works
To submit an exam to MTB, you need to first have a look at their syllabus, select a few pieces, and then make a single, unedited recording. You can submit it via their app or desktop site, but the important part is that you’re not submitting multiple recordings, or a video-edited recording, to simulate an exam situation as much as possible.
(We’ll talk more about the syllabus and piece selections below.)
You have a choice of either doing the Practical Grades or the Performance Grades. Practical Grades are more traditional, in that you must prepare a few pieces, but also some technique, and demonstrate your sight and ear capabilities. I’ve also seen many notes about this type of Grade needing to be completed with a teacher (MTB specifies that a teacher must record your exam for Practical Grades, but it would be worth reaching out to them if you want to verify this or not. If you find out, please let me know as well!)
The performance grades involve preparing 4-5 pieces and have a target duration. There is no sight, ear, or technical component to these exams.
Every aspect is PREPARED (no unprepared sight/ear as per, say, RCM).
For the Practical Grades, there are two preparatory levels, and then it goes from grade 1 to grade 8. Unlike the RCM, there is no List A, B, C, etc. pieces to choose from – you select from the list as a big free-for-all.
Prep A and B require three performance pieces, with 25 marks given to each. You need to prepare some technical exercises, which are worth 25 points.
In grade 1-8, you still need to prepare 3 pieces, but now they’re worth 20 marks each. The technical exercises are still worth 25 marks, and then the sight/ear component is worth the remaining 10.
Grade 5 seems pretty on-par with Gr 6-7 RCM. It’s probably equivalent to about ABRSM 5. A couple of pieces at this level are Fur Elise and Chopin’s Prelude in Em.
Grade 6 seems more like gr. 7-8 RCM. There’s a Bach invention, and the piece I Giorni, at this level.
Grade 7 is roughly equivalent with RCM 8. Some pieces at this grade include Debussy’s Reverie and Mozart’s alla turca.
Grade 8 features some Bach Prelude and Fugues and is equivalent to about RCM 9-10. You’ll also find some Schubert impromptus, Chopin’s Waltz in C#m and Raindrop Prelude, as well as some Debussy like Clair de lune.
Free choice pieces
One important piece of information, though, is the MTB syllabus is not the be-all-end-all. They allow for “free choice” pieces and specifically mention that graded pieces from other schools (such as RCM and ABRSM) are fair game. In the Free Choice Guidance section of their website, they tell you how to verify that your selected pieces are appropriate using the Free Choice Approval Service.
This is a hugely awesome feature since it allows a ton of flexibility to music students.
MTB’s performance grades are a neat departure from regular practical grades in that you simply perform 4-5 pieces at a target length. The idea is that this mimics a concert performance, and gives you practice selecting balanced and diverse repertoire. It’s more of a “real world” type of examination. You’re also allowed to include some words about your pieces, and even stage choreography. You’re welcome to submit a recording in front of an audience (even if it’s just your parents), or to record solo. You have about 30% leeway with your target duration, assuming you include the right amount of content, and a good variety.
The important thing here is to demonstrate a wide variety of technical skills, to make up for the absence of formal scales and other technical requirements. They recommend choosing pieces with varying tempi, mood, styles, genres, and periods.
They also encourage you to choose repertoire that plays to your strengths. For example, if you struggle playing very fast, you don’t need a repertoire with a bunch of fast pieces. This is another “real world” aspect of performance grades.
Finally, when considering a performance, you must also consider the visuals. Consider your attire, how you look when you’re performing, and be sure to consider the audience’s perspective. That’s why it’s useful to treat this as a real performance (even including audience members). Make sure your video includes a full view of you, your piano, and your hands.
You are required to create a programme for your performance. This can be written – audience members (and the examiner) would receive a list of the pieces you’re performing and the composers they’re written by – but it can also be verbal if you’re comfortable with that. If you want, you can add more information about your programme, such as briefly discussing the pieces you’ve chosen – something that would help the audience better understand your selections. These written or verbal additions shouldn’t exceed a page.
The duration requirements for grades are very flexible, and these are the following guidelines:
Grade 1: 5 minutes
Grade 2: 6 minutes
Grade 3: 8 minutes
Grade 4: 10 minutes
Grade 5: 12 minutes
Grade 6: 15 minutes (minimum 12 minutes, maximum 18 minutes)
Grade 7: 18 minutes (minimum 15 minutes, maximum 21 minutes)
Grade 8: 22 minutes (minimum 19 minutes, maximum 25 minutes)
Here is a video from MTB about performance grades: https://youtu.be/3qyZIW0uRxA
Here is a very useful document on exam specifications as of Feb 2021: MTB-Exams-Syllabus-Specification-February-2021.pdf (mtbexams.com)
Instructions for submitting your recording
Your best bet is to use the app on smartphones or tablets (Android and ios). Once you record a full, unedited take, you can decide to restart it or not. You’ll need to verify your identity using an ID card, or an alternate form.
You should receive your marks within a few weeks. Your marks will be given on a marksheet which includes comments on your pieces and any technical elements. You’ll then receive a certificate after 4-6 weeks. The exam results need to be certified for accuracy, and it’s possible (though unlikely) that your mark will be slightly adjusted.
Pricing for MTB exams is more affordable than traditional exams, and ranges from 30 pounds ($38) at the preparatory level to 74 pounds ($93) at a grade 8 level. Diploma levels are more expensive still, but this is true of all exam bodies. Diploma-level examinations are much longer, the pieces are much more challenging, and they require some serious expertise to evaluate.
There are two diploma levels you can get beyond Grade 8 with the MTB exam board: AMTB and LMTB. AMTB is equivalent in difficulty to being a first-year undergrad music student, and LMTB is equivalent to getting a bachelor’s degree in music.
Specifications here MTB-Exams-Diploma-Syllabus-Specification-May-2021.pdf (mtbexams.com)
Syllabi for these levels can be found in the piano section.
To complete your music education, I strongly recommend doing some theory examinations, which isn’t something the MTB offers at this time. Someone with a bachelor’s degree in music would also have a well-rounded understanding of history and harmony, and I consider it an essential component of any musical education.
The MTB exams are well worth exploring for those of you who are interested in taking exams from the convenience of your own home and on your own schedule. It is especially useful for those of you who don’t live in a country that conducts music examinations, or who would find traveling to a larger center difficult or prohibitive. This democratizes the experience of learning music even more, and I’m very excited that something like this exists.
If you’re familiar with MTB, I’d love to hear about your experiences and any insights you might have. Please drop me a line!
I’m also interested in recommending this to current CPP students, so if you’re taking classes with me right now, stay tuned!