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ABRSM Jazz Grades - Any Good & Why Only 5 ?


Well-Known Member
Café Supporter
Surrey, UK
I've been thinking of doing some jazz grades on the saxophone and have bought some of the books and CDs from the ABRSM jazz grades. I like quite a few of the tunes they offer and reckon that putting myself through an exam or two could give my learning some structure and discipline and also highlight things I need to work on more.

For those of you who have done the ABRSM grades - how did it work out for you ?

And it seems from the ARSM grades that they only go up to grade 5. Is that right and why ?



Poole, Dorset, United Kingdom
Hi Rhys,

I teach the ABRSM Jazz syllabus, and I quite like the structure. Trinity Guildhall run one too, but I'm not really familiar with their system.
I think the reason they only go up to 'Level 5' is that after this point you'd really need a band in the room to measure the skill of the player, CD backings just won't provide the necessary test of skill. It could be argued that after level 5 the examiners would have a tough time too, since the requirements to reach the standard won't be so cut and dried, and most of ABRSM Army won't be jazzers anyway, and may lack the stylistic knowledge required for higher grades.

Personally I think that the standard required for the jazz grades is higher than fir the 'equivalent' practical music grades, i.e. Grade 4 practical is not so taxing musically as Level 4 Jazz.

Anyone else got any input?



Well-Known Member
Skabertawe, South Wales
Hi Dudes!

I've followed the ABRSM Jazz Grades syllabus on Trumpet, Alto Sax and Trombone, and done the exams up to Grade 5 on the first 2. I found them an excellent structure of learning, the tunes are all pretty authentic and give a wide range of styles to cover. Improvisation is part of the learning - from 8 bars in Grade 1 to 32 bars in Grade 5, and tunes, which can be performed with CD backing or live musicians/band, are usually about 2 minutes or so long, involving either 1 or 2 choruses. Scales etc include modes, pentatonic and blues scales, and can provide an excellent structure for learning, and the exam takes into account that some people are better at sight reading and some are better at playing "by ear". Various theories abound about why there are only 5 Grades:

1. They are at a slightly higher level than classical grades.
2. There is not enough interest beyond Grade 5.
3. It cost a lot of money to set up - cannot be repeated.
4. It was an expensive experiment.
and perhaps others.

Trinity Guildhall do jazz grades for sax up to Grade 8 but not for trumpet/trombone. Thames Valley University (TVU) administer the London College of Music Jazz Grades, which cover sax, trumpet & trombone up to Grade 8, and are pretty good but I would have preferred The ABRSM system. Following the syllabus does not necessitate doing the exams but is a good structure nevertheless (I did up to Grade 5 on Trombone but did not submit to the exam process in that instance).

So, highly recommended, and would allow you to structure your learning and assess your ability at the very least.
Kind regards

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