This week’s post is a guest post by Frances Wilson – pianist, piano teacher, concert reviewer and blogger as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. Frances asks the pertinent question – why take a performance diploma?

Why Take a Performance Diploma?


Frances Wilson

Grade 8 need not represent the pinnacle of learning, and for the talented student or adult amateur pianist it can act as a springboard to further study. The major exam boards (ABRSM, Trinity College London and London College of Music) all offer Performance Diplomas which provide a framework for the honing and maturing of performing and teaching skills.

Anyone who thinks a diploma is a simple step up from Grade 8, think again. While it is a logical next step for a competent musician who has achieved Grade 8, a diploma, even at the lowest, Associate level is significantly more involved, requiring a high degree of attainment, combined with a professional attitude to preparation, technical facility, communication, musicality, presentation and stagecraft. The diploma itself is a professional qualification, recognised by other musicians and music professionals around the world. Diplomas can be taken outside the formal framework of music college or a university course and as such offer opportunities for serious independent learning and personal development. Diplomas also offer the chance to study without restrictions on length of study or the requirement that one is taught within an institution.

Trinity College London defines the Associate and Licentiate Diplomas as follows:

Associate (ATCL, AMusTCL) The standard of performance is equivalent to the performance component of the first year in a full-time undergraduate course at a conservatoire or other higher education establishment.

Licentiate (LTCL, LMusTCL) The standard of performance is equivalent to the performance component on completion of a full-time undergraduate course at a conservatoire or other higher education establishment.

[Source: Trinity College London website]


The criteria and standards one is expected to meet are therefore far higher than for Grade 8. There are many other requirements to be considered and met when taking a Performance Diploma, and the rigour of the exam is reflected in the expected learning outcomes and assessment objectives. For example, unlike in the grade exams, at Diploma level you select your own repertoire (either from the broad syllabus published by the exam board, a combination of pieces from the syllabus and own-choice repertoire, or by submitting a programme entirely comprising own-choice repertoire). This encourages you to think carefully about how to structure a balanced and imaginative programme, as if for a public recital, which demonstrates your ability to handle complex repertoire across a range of styles, tempi and moods.

You can expect to study for an Associate diploma for at least two years, given the complexity of repertoire required, but this experience offers important insights into aspects such as:

·       Structure, musical “architecture”, harmony

·       The composer’s creative vision and how to interpret it

·       Personal interpretative insights into the music based on study, reading, listening, going to concerts

·       Historical contexts

·       Technical challenges such as Baroque ornaments, cadenzas, rapid passagework, devising an appropriate programme displaying a mixture of styles, tempi, expression etc

·       Learning how to be a performer: to project and communicate the composer’s intentions to a high level, and to perform with original creative flair

·       Drawing on one’s own personal experiences (not necessarily musical ones) in individual performances

·       Developing a mature musical and artistic personality

·       The satisfaction of achieving a personal goal.

Add to that the opportunity to spend a long time learning music you love deeply and carefully, and the entire Diploma experience can be extremely rewarding and enjoyable.

If you are taking or considering taking a Performance Diploma, why not join Graham Fitch and Frances Wilson for a special Diploma Day in London on Sunday 12 June at which participants will receive detailed advice on programme planning, managing performance anxiety and stagecraft, as well as specialist one-to-one tuition in the form of masterclasses. Further details here.

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Frances Wilson is a pianist, piano teacher, concert reviewer and blogger on classical music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. A passionate advocate of adult amateur pianism, Frances co-founded the London Piano Meetup Group in 2013 has hosted and participated in many workshops, masterclasses, courses and meetups for adult pianists. She completed Licentiate and Associate Performance Diplomas (both with Distinction) in her late 40s, having returned to the piano after a long break. Frances writes a regular column on aspects of piano playing for Pianist Magazine’s online content and is a guest blogger for classical music sites HelloStage and InterludeHK.

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