ABRSM 2019 Harp Syllabus Review

Whenever a new exam syllabus is released, I find myself displaying a sense of excitement far beyond what is actually appropriate. I confess I love lists of repertoire, and love being able to order, track and extend a student’s engagement with the harp through an exam syllabus. So I was a happy harp teacher when I took a look through the new ABRSM syllabus taking effect this year.

A lot has remained unchanged, which is no bad thing. Generally I find that the amount and variety of technical work is appropriate for the different grades, and while there is no option for choosing supporting tests (different from Trinity Guildhall here) the sight reading and aural components are pretty good for each level.

I’m also liking that all the information that is required is clearly set out in one handy dandy download. No buying of the syllabus, no scouting around the website for all the relevant information and no deciphering of the description of the scales and arpeggios as there are examples all written out. Nice.

One important change is that the syllabus is now split distinctly between pedal and non-pedal harps, instead of having everything in the one list with a collection of symbols to show which instruments could play each piece. Did my head in on a number of occasions.

Non-pedal harp goes to Grade 8 which is fabulous as it does away with the conundrum of having an advanced student who doesn’t own/doesn’t want to own/can’t afford to own a pedal harp being denied the option of progressing through the exam system. Grade 6 and 7 on non-pedal harp are not entirely balanced with distinct holes occurring in classical and romantic music. Not altogether unexpected, and hopefully as time goes on more and more arrangements will become available to fill that gap.

Each grade is fairly well balanced. In the past it has been possible with unbalanced exam systems to have a student complete an ‘easy’ Grade or ‘difficult’ Grade within the same level depending entirely on which pieces were chosen. This ABRSM syllabus has largely managed to avoid this by keeping all pieces within any given grade at roughly the same level. There is a bit of a step up between each grade though, so it’s not so easy to fast track students through the levels. Not necessarily a bad thing!

The requirements state that a 46 string pedal harp is a requirement from Grade 4, so my assumption is that if the student has a smaller pedal harp they can still undertake Grades 1-3. Likewise, a minimum 34 string fully levered harp is required only from Grade 3. I’m thinking this is a good thing as I have a number of students with harps that are below the requirements, but are still able to play the early stages repertoire. And now it seems they can sit an exam too if they would like!

Overall this exam syllabus is a good mix of traditional and contemporary music, and approaches to education, with flexibility in how the music is performed (no dogged adherence to set fingerings for example) as well as maintaining the status quo in terms of exam content and supporting tests.

2 thoughts on “ABRSM 2019 Harp Syllabus Review

  1. Thank you for this detailed article. I’m happy to hear that now it’s split distinctly between lever and pedal harp. This makes it so much easier for our lever harp student that, as you said, are not interested in/cannot afford a pedal harp!


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