Piano teachers express their views on the new ABRSM Diploma (‘ARSM’)

The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) has launched a new performance diploma, the ARSM, designed as “a bridge between Grade 8 and the DipABRSM”. The new Diploma, ARSM (Associate of the Royal Schools of Music), is different to both Grade 8 and the DipABRSM in that it includes no supporting tests (technical work, sight-reading/quick study, viva (for DipABRSM) or programme notes). The repertoire list is taken from the DipABRSM syllabus, though much reduced, and candidates may include 10 minutes of own-choice repertoire of Grade 8 or above standard to create a recital programme lasting 30 minute in total. To all intents and purposes this “diploma” looks very much like a reinvented version of the Advanced Certificate or Trinity’s Advanced Performance Certificate.

Concerns about the new ARSM have been expressed by piano teachers via Piano Network UK, a large and very active Facebook group comprising piano teachers, pianists (professional and amateur) and piano lovers, of which I am co-administrator. I would like to share some of these views here. My colleague and friend Andrew Eales, who writes the excellent Piano Dao blog, will be publishing a more considered response to the ARSM, together with an interview with Penny Millsom of the ABRSM in which he hopes to clarify some of the issues raised below. 

Please note that any views expressed here are independent and my publishing them does not necessarily mean Andrew and I support or endorse them. They are drawn from a diverse range of British piano teachers of differing ages and experience. My own comments and views about the ARSM diploma are in italics.

Level of attainment, marking and assessment criteria

  • I find the fact that Distinction is set at 45/50 interesting (in comparison to 70/100 for the dip/Licentiate levels) – though I have yet to decide what this actually means, if anything, about the marking, relative standards required, contributions of the viva and quick study…
  • In my view, it is simply Grade 9. Something on easy terms just to get letters after people’s names. 
  • Any old examiner, presumably no requirement for them to be a specialist in your instrument. So the exercise itself is kind of worthless, and the marking will be pretty irrelevant. But here, have a qualification…

Is it really a “Diploma”?

  • It’s essentially a composite of other products/services that ABRSM already offer – an examiner who is already there to examine Grade 1 players, a repertoire list that already exists… from a business point of view it seems like a great idea because ABRSM don’t seem to have needed to do much at all to add this to their overall offer, but the market could be quite large.
  • I don’t understand why it is marketed at associate level
  • Doesn’t this just devalue the DipABRSM in performance? By all means have the equivalent of the Trinity Advanced Certificate but don’t call it a diploma when it so clearly isn’t!
  • Same repertoire as the DipABRSM. So like a diploma, minus the bits people complain about. So, not particularly educational. 
  • I just don’t think it is sufficiently rigorous to be called a Diploma
  • It claims “associate” status, but simply isn’t on that level. So it devalues genuine associate diplomas as a whole, and is misleading to potential students/parents.
  • By calling it a “diploma” ABRSM have blurred the boundaries between the graded amateur exams and the higher professional diplomas. And very few people, if any, outside the profession (parents of students for example) will appreciate the difference. My concern is that it may devalue the higher diplomas and lead to further dumbing down across all exams. I’m afraid I feel it is primarily driven by commercial interests on the part of ABRSM. 
  • One of the main purposes of a professional qualification – and especially having letters after one’s name – is so that prospective clients are reassured that we are properly qualified. 
  • Hard to believe that this will confer diploma status, and entitle the holders to put letters after their name. To the general public, there will be little difference between an ARSM and a FRSM, or anything in between
  • This is really just a money-spinner. I cannot understand the logic in it being marked out of 50, or am I missing something?! It doesn’t appear to be accredited at a particular level, and I agree with others that it shouldn’t really confer diploma status. 

Who it is for?

I can see this new Diploma suiting some of my more talented teenage students who would like to improve their performing skills and/or want a different challenge post-Grade 8. A number of adult amateur pianists whom I know have also commented that they would like to take this diploma because the format encourages one to “enjoy playing”. 

A couple of teachers who are keen to improve their performance skills have expressed an interest in taking the ARSM as a form of continuing professional development:

  • …to me it is simply about skill refreshing. I do appreciate others’ concerns but perhaps for piano teachers who haven’t done any serious practice in a while it could be a good thing?

If you have views on the new ARSM diploma please feel free to leave comments below or use the contact page to get in touch.


  1. Sounds suspiciously like someone, somewhere has employed a non-musician, certainly a non-teacher, probably a consultant with an MBA to answer the question of how do we develop our business. Money always talks loudest. Of course, I could be completely wrong, but I have come across this sort of thing in other spheres – as an example the sudden introduction of new shape and no distinguishable taste Black Magic Chocolates, which very soon disappeared. Perhaps this “Diploma” will also simply disappear. If it is not demanding, what is its value?

  2. Just for information, this is the Trinity ATCL

    · Recital (duration of pieces = 32–38 minutes excluding breaks between items)
    · Presentation skills and programme notes (400–700 words, not including translations of
    song texts)

    Other than the programme notes and the board approving the programme it is very similar. I understand that you do get a diploma examiner but this is just a short training course (a friend has just done it). I believe it also may be one examiner at Associate level but more for then next level.

    Trinity introduced this diploma in 2009 I believe. So have been awarding the letters ATCL based on this for some time now.

  3. I am attracted to the ARSM as a performance goal to strive towards. If all you want to do is play for pleasure for yourself and friends/small audiences, then it does offer a structured, examined and hopefully crtiqued objective.

  4. The LCM diploma costs £180 and is examined at any centre…….. The ARSM is £30 cheaper and is far better.

    The ARSM has a harder 20 mins of playing which the DIPLCM does not have in comparison.

    This ARSM is far better than that and I will be doing it and not just for the initials as I already have a perfomance degree.

    I think it is nonsense to assume it is not worthy! It is entry level exactly the same as LCM do to help people on their way to the more demanding diplomas.

    If someone came to me saying they had this diploma, I would ask what they had played and TBH a pianist can be incredible wthout initials, I believe James Rhodes didn`t take an exam!

    If someone is prepared to do the easiest possible music, that is up to them and any decent uni/college/orchestra etc will rumble them anyhow!

    Exactly why I will not be a member of FB groups anymore, as once one person starts, it just goes on and on and gets boring. I have never seem so many people acting like sheep and just sounding like politicans “here here”

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