Choosing Alternative Pieces for your ABRSM exam can be dizzying. Luckily, guest author Fiona Lau is here with a quick roundup of the best of each grade.
There are always 9 alternative pieces listed for ABRSM grades 1-7 and 20 for grade 8. They are well worth looking at and apart from anything else, will give you and the examiner a break from the well worn ones in the grade books. They will also provide a useful graded guide to non- exam material.
Amongst the other pieces for grade 1 list A are Giga, Arnold (Encore, book 1, ABRSM) – a great tune and some not too tricky hands together passages. Beethoven’s Air from Little Russia (The Best of Grade 1, Faber) only has 8 bars of original material to learn. David of the White Rock, arr Barratt (Chester’s Easiest Songs of The British Isles) is a beautiful arrangement for list B, while list C’s Chatterbox Charlie, Drayton (Piano Time Dance, OUP) is Calypso Joe– like.
In grade 2 list A the stand out favourite alternative for me is The Prince of Denmark’s March, Clarke (Encore, book 2) – it’s always good for pupils to be able to play a well-known tune. For the same reason, list B’s Jupiter, arr Benziger, is worth a look (Piano Mix 2). Watts’ Rock Pools in list C (Razzamajazz Repertoire Piano, Mayhew) is bound to be a favourite.
Choosing between the grade 3 list B alternatives is tough- Burgmuller’s Angelic Harmony (25 Easy and Progressive Studies, ABRSM), Carroll’s Dwarfs of the Mist (Forest Fantasies, Forsyth) and Saint- Saen’s L’elephant, arr Heumann, Encore book 2) – are all serious challengers, and in list C the lovely arrangement of Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Richards (Piano Mix 3) would suit pianists who love a spiritual as well as England rugby fans!
At grade 4 list A the Clementi Allegretto (Encore, book 2) needs nimble- fingers while Nevada’s Ninette’s Musette is a delightful Parisian cafe styled waltz (Romantic Impressions, Schott).
Grade 5 has 3 core repertoire pieces listed as alternatives for list A: a Bach Little Prelude, a Mozart Petite Piece, and a Scarlatti Sonata. I will love teaching the list C Kabalevsky’s Novelette to my moody teenagers, and exploring Nikki Iles Up on the Hill with those who appreciate jazz.
The grade 6 list A includes a Beethoven sonata movement that has previously appeared at grade 5 and that always feels good! Alfred’s Spirit series is excellent and Cervantes Les Trois Galopes from Beyond the Romantic Spirit, although quite tricky, will appeal to those who love jazzy dance tunes. Cornick’s cool jazzy Modulations (Encore book 3) makes a welcome return to list C.
Grade 7 has 2 alternatives from Encore book 4: Loeillet’s Giga provides a Scarlatti- like, straight forward list A choice, while at the other end of the scale in list C, there is Willie Wagglestick’s Walkabout, Bonsor. This is boogie-woogie fun at its best and one of my favourites.
Grade 8 has 32 choices in total and I would encourage you to look, listen and try them all!
By Fiona Lau, Music Teacher and Education Consultant