ABRSM launches a new Diploma

The ABRSM has announced the launch of a new performance-only Diploma, the ARSM (“Associate of the Royal Schools of Music”). This will be an “entry level” Diploma, somewhat lower than the DipABRSM, and intended to “bridge the gap between Grade 8 and DipABRSM”. Details are sketchy at present, but the ARSM will consist of a 30-minute performance consisting of music selected from the current DipABRSM repertoire list and own-choice repertoire of Grade 8 standard. At present, it is not clear whether candidates will be required to produce programme notes, but there is no sight-reading/quick study element to the ARSM, nor a viva voce.

Currently, the gap between Grade 8 and the Associate level Diploma (DipABRSM, ATCL, DipLCM etc) is very wide. At Grade 8 candidates play three pieces lasting approx 10-12 minutes in total. They may play a single movement of a sonata by, say, Beethoven, Haydn or Mozart as part of their Grade 8 programme, but at Associate Diploma level, candidates are expected to play a full sonata (for example, Beethoven ‘Pathetique’ Sonata, Mozart Sonata in F K332, Schubert Sonata in A, D664). The candidate’s standard of playing, musical insight, musicianship and general level of attainment is expected to be considerably higher than at Grade 8, and the time taken to study for and complete a diploma can be around 2-3 years. The first, Associate, diploma is an equivalent standard to the first year’s study in conservatoire, while the highest, Fellowship, diploma is equivalent to a Masters module.

There is quite a lot of snobbery surrounding Diplomas, with the ABRSM diplomas being considered “better”, in no small part due to the ABRSM’s longstanding reputation and its royal affiliation. In fact, the repertoire lists for Associate, Licentiate and Fellowship diplomas across the main exam boards are almost identical, and all carry the same QCF and EQF points, providing candidates with a recognised professional qualification which can be used as a pathway to further study, for example at conservatoire or university. Ultimately, the choice of diploma and exam board should be based not on snobbery but on the candidate’s personal preference, which Diploma syllabus is most appropriate/ beneficial for the candidate and so forth.

So what will the new ARSM offer to candidates? Already some of my piano teaching colleagues have commented that it will be “Grade 9 without the scales, aural and sightreading” or that is it simply a “money spinner” for the ABRSM. Some anxieties have also been expressed about whether this new diploma will lead to further dumbing down or devaluing of the higher diplomas. However, a number of adult amateur pianists whom I know have expressed interest in the ARSM and regard it as a useful opportunity for those seeking a challenge post-Grade 8 but who do not feel ready to attempt the Associate diploma.

Further details about the ARSM will be available next month and I will share them here. Meanwhile, I would be very interested in people’s views on this new diploma – please feel free to leave comments below, or contact me direct with your views.





  1. Thank you Frances for picking up on this very quickly, and some of the controversy surrounding it! I think the idea itself is a welcome one, but the implementation is at best, messy. For me there are real concerns regarding accreditation, the naming of their diplomas, and how this fits with other boards.

    For instance, a possible neater solution would be to rename DipABRSM as ARSM, and then introduce a DipRSM at the lower level. As the higher ones are named LRSM, FRSM, one who isn’t familiar would naturally assume the pattern DipABRSM-ARSM-LRSM-FRSM (also now they are introducing ARSM, why was DipABRSM ever called that?!). This would therefore not demean other Associate diplomas, but there are already inconsistencies. For example, the DipLCM is the same level as DipABRSM and ATCL according to QCF, however it is clearer of a lower level (the ALCM, despite being one level higher – level 5 – is completely comparable with DipABRSM/ATCL). This begs the question – will ABRSM move DipABRSM to level 5 and introduce ARSM at level 4? It’s all becoming rather messy indeed, especially if one mixes and matches some of the boards!

    It seems like the ARSM is probably a reincarnation of the Advanced Certificate, and it may have been simpler to just call it this. I know that the original DipABRSM was an amalgamation of Advanced Cert repertoire and some others, which already creates some unusual repertoire disparities when compared to Trinity.

    If we assume that many people might not even make it, or want to get to, Licentiate level, then these early diplomas are causing quite a confusion indeed!

    Just my thoughts.

  2. When I first saw this I was delighted, as I thought it was introducing a performance ‘recital only’ diploma into the ABRSM family; same level as DipABRSM but similar in style to ATCL. Very disappointed to discover that it wasn’t. (I am not interested in the ‘add ons’ of the dip, just the performance, which is why I am preparing for ATCL, and will stick with it.)

    I agree with you, and others, that this will undoubtedly devalue all associate level diplomas, and I cannot understand why they would to it. A big mistake in my humble opinion.

    Personally, I don’t see the need for ‘something to bridge the gap’. I believe it is a good thing that there is a massive jump after 8, as it asserts clearly that grades are amateur and diplomas are professional, and don’t just run into one another! Just accept that it will take two or three years (or more) to get there! Trinity Advanced certificate or an ABRSM performance assessment both work as interim goals, if one considers it necessary.

    • Thank you for your detailed comment Cherie. I agree that it’s important to retain the distinction between the grade “amateur” exams and diplomas which are recognised professional qualifications. I think this new diploma could be more like a “Grade 9”

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