DipABRSM - Learn more

The examination - status and structure

The entry prerequisite for the DipABRSM is a pass at Grade 8 ABRSM or equivalent, such as Trinity and the DipABRSM qualification is roughly equivalent to a successful first year of a music degree.  The DipABRSM (Teaching) focuses on the teaching perspective whereas the DipABRSM (Performance) focuses on achieving a high standard of performing.

The performance DipABRSM involves a 35 minute recital, a viva voce, submission of programme notes and a quick study, of a standard equivalent to around Grade 6, after five minutes preparation time.

The teaching DipABRSM involves a teaching skills viva voce and written submission and a quick study, again of a standard equivalent to around Grade 6, after five minutes preparation time.

In both cases, the candidate must pass all elements to be awarded the qualification of DipABRSM.

The focus of the information and advice here is the Teaching DipABRSM. Whilst this unit contains generic advice regarding teaching and learning a musical instrument, it is aimed at teachers who wish refresh their knowledge and keep up to date with best practice. It is an ideal resource for those studying for their DipABRSM (Teaching). It also provides specialist advice concerning the main areas and elements of piano teaching.

This free resource material is designed to enable you to research further into areas of piano teaching, playing and performance, and will add value and efficacy to your teaching and playing.

In regard to preparation for DipABRSM, please note that we do not claim to provide answers to questions which you may or may not encounter in the examination itself. Our purpose is to give you the knowledge, skill and understanding to approach answering any question in an effective, knowledgeable and authoritative manner.

N.B. We provide links to ABRSM syllabus information which is in the public domain. Any direct reference to this syllabus or quotation from it does not imply any endorsement on our behalf nor is there any link, support or endorsement from ABRSM for our materials and content.

Are you ready to study for the DipABRSM (Teaching)?

Assessing your own suitability for the DipABRSM (Teaching) is important.

The main focus of the examination is contained in the viva voce. Therefore you need to be sure that you have sufficient experience, knowledge and confidence in the following areas:

1) teaching - theory, practice and process
2) knowledge about the repertoire and instrument
3) confidence in giving in-depth answers to questions
4) your own playing abilities.

Knowledge of musical style

Imparting even a rudimentary knowledge about style to one's students is an essential part of the teaching process.

You are not being tested upon the finer nuances of specific aspects of say Baroque articulation. However, you will need to know essential points concerning stylistic features of a piece you are teaching. Effective application of your knowledge is essential to ensure a positive teaching process and musical product.

Choice of tempo is something to consider in relation to:

1) the style and character of the piece

2) the particular ability of the student.

Understanding of phrasing & articulation

Finding a simple way to sum up what phrasing and articulation mean may not be the easiest thing to do because the way we play a particular piece involves so many different variables.

It might be said that phrasing indicates the way in which the musical line or overall mood is conveyed, whereas articulation is more concerned with the detail of creating individual elements within that larger framework.

It is possible to pay attention to articulation detail within, say, a Baroque piece, yet give a performance that comes across in a way which does not sound phrased.

In these two rather unusual performances, one could be said to lack clear phrasing whereas the other is a more musical performance:

Knowledge of tone & texture

The capacity to create varied tonal qualities is an essential element of piano playing from the very start.

Textures cannot be created without an awareness of different levels of tone, and a capacity to perceive and aurally appreciate foreground and background.

It is not simply a question of one part being louder than the other.

The first performance shows clearly that there is an attempt to differentiate between RH & LH dynamic levels. However, the technique of legato is missing and the lyrical effect does not come across in a smooth and effective way.

You will notice a sense of musical understanding and textural differentiation between the melody line and accompaniment in the next video.

This is not simply down to one part being louder that the other, but to a definite sense of musical line and shaping in the LH, accompanied by an often sensitive and carefully shaped RH accompaniment:

Knowledge of technique

There is much to be said and understood relating to the term 'technique' but it is not within the remit here to undertake a comprehensive account of piano technique.

We can define sufficient technique as the physical capacity that enables a performer to achieve sufficient fluency, pace and musicality to give an authoritative performance. Observing good piano technique and understanding what constitutes good technique is most helpful. We are fortunate to be able to see clearly on video how the greatest pianists play. The most striking similarities are the lack of evident physical strain and the constant returning of the hand to a natural, unstretched shape.

Here are some good examples of excellent technique.

Daniel Barenboim - notice how the hands maintain the straight line down the finger 5 side of the wrist - it is the thumb that needs to extend instead of bending the wrist to reach out with finger 5.

Notice here how Martha Argarich's hands remain, or return quickly, to a natural, unstressed shape.

What constitutes poor technique compared with good technique may be understood from observation, analysis and experience. One of the roles of the teacher is to observe and analyse their students' playing with a view to identifying aspect of poor technique and advising on more helpful technique and healthier posture.

The observations and introduction to aspects of technique contained in this section can easily be amplified by visiting sections within the main database of other pieces.


Effective fingering is critical to the success of your student as a pianist and you may be asked questions about this important subject.

You will need to demonstrate that you understand the need to establish early confidence and fluency in your students by enabling them to assimilate a range of helpful fingering patterns. It is important that students become able to choose fingerings that relate not just to the notes to be played immediately, but which also set up the hand for the notes in subsequent bars in the piece.

Certain basic principles will dictate the decision to choose a particular fingering for a specific passage, but these principles should not override the need to be flexible and accommodate the needs of those with different hand sizes and shapes. Sometimes it is the musical context which determines the need to be creative with choice of fingering.


Ornamentation may appear to be a characteristic for the most part related only to Baroque music but, of course, it appears in all styles.

For example, it is prevalent in Romantic music in the form of cadenzas (in addition to more obvious forms of ornamentation) and in jazz styles, where improvisation and embellishment form a key part of the performance.

An in depth knowledge of professional performance practice regarding ornamentation is not something you will need to know (for instance in relation to harpsichord music). However the practicalities of choosing appropriate and manageable ornamentation in students' pieces are important, as is a basic knowledge of ornamentation terms and contexts.

You will be expected to be knowledgeable about ornamentation within your chosen pieces and to demonstrate how you set about teaching it.


Pedalling should be considered an integral part of piano playing. Its functions are broadly to:

1) provide legato continuity at places where it would otherwise be impossible

2) add ambience and resonance to cantabile lines

3) add colour and cohesion to quicker harmonic textures

4) colour the mood in a variety of styles and ways.

The question of when to introduce the pedal should be considered in relation to age, ability to reach the pedals comfortably, and musical context. By Grade 5, pedalling use should be comfortable and, where appropriate, frequent.

For extra help with pedalling technique please see the video below by David Owen Norris.

Teaching Strategies

The main focus of the teaching diploma examination is in the viva voce section, where you will need to demonstrate experience of various teaching situations, together with solutions to common problems encountered.

Sufficient knowledge in this area and willingness to offer solutions will stand you in good stead.

It is rare that students pick up new ideas or achieve results without considerable effort being made in the teaching and learning process. The teacher needs to be both proactive in teaching effective learning and practice strategies and responsive in identifying and solving problems that arise in learning and technique.

The E-MusicMaestro free resources material contains a wealth of relevant information on how to teach specific piano pieces from all periods. For extra advice on teaching issues you can refer to the E-MusicMaestro blog, which covers a range of teaching, learning and practice topics.

Practice Tips

The key to musical success comes from good teaching, support from parents / significant family members and quality and duration of practice undertaken by the student.

Strategies for good practice are abundant and, whilst professionals succeed by developing their own personal array of practice techniques, there are practice strategies that have been shown to be universally effective. In essence, the lesson should often be a template for subsequent practice and the teacher should to be specific about what and how the student needs to practise during the time between lessons.

Advice on appropriate aspects of practice relevant to specific pieces may be found in the free resources for piano teachers and much of the advice is applicable to other instruments.

Preparing for a performance or examination

There are then two distinct elements to the performance for you:

1) the viva voce and  2) the demonstration of specific aspects of your chosen pieces.

It is vital that you begin practising the pieces that you will focus on in the examination well in advance, to ensure you are able to demonstrate and also speak fluently and naturally in response to questions and issues raised by the examiners. Being able to convey what you know is crucial to passing the examination so do practise talking about how you teach the pieces.

The quick study

The quick study is an essential element of the DipABRSM.  Being able to play a piece after studying it for a short time is an invaluable attribute in a musician, both for the performer who may need to learn pieces quickly over a limited period of time and for the teacher, who will find that getting the gist of a piece without spending hours learning it makes professional life easier and more rewarding.

The quick study is not simply a matter of playing the notes. It is expected that the candidate will play musically, including the performance detail and giving a creditable characterisation of the style and mood of the music. The preparation time is to be used, in a sense, for learning a piece in all the usual respects - assimilating the essential elements of key, timing, structure and style - but within an accelerated time frame.

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