HomeEducationLCME Piano Syllabus: Grades 4 & 5

LCME Piano Syllabus: Grades 4 & 5

Welcome to your essential resource for acing the London College of Music Exams (LCME) Piano Syllabus for Grades 4 and 5. This blog offers invaluable insights into technical work, supporting tests, recommended repertoire, and alternative works in the syllabus to fully prepare piano students or teachers for the LCME Piano examination. From getting to grips with new techniques to selecting the perfect musical pieces, read on to find out more!

If you’d like to view another post in the blog series, click here!


By Katrina Fox, Amy Wakefield, Karen Marshall, and Murray McLachlan

Grade 4

LCME Piano Handbook Grade 4

Headlines for Grade 4:

  • ‘A,B and C’ sections are not organised into period, but now following the lead of other Boards in using style to differentiate between them. For example, the A section’s theme is Dance
  • Tending to lean on the ambitious side with regards to benchmarking at times- some pieces definitely approaching Grade 5 level!
  • Technical requirements are significantly higher than other boards!
  • A high expectation of musicianship and expression will be needed in many of the pieces

Supporting Tests and technical work, some thoughts:

There are scales a-plenty in this Grade 4 syllabus and pupils will need to dedicate a large portion of time to learning these (comparison- 6 major scales hands-together compare with ABRSM’s 2 major scales with hand-together! Quite a large difference). More chromatic scales are included then in other exam syllabuses including contrary-motion chromatic scales. Having said this, one could always choose the study. Actually, in this case, I would probably be tempted! The study by Heller is a nice choice and there is plenty to be ‘gleaned’ from its Scherzando style. It could be a fun choice for pupils who enjoy staccato and fast little semi-quaver flourishes.

Additional tests are included in the book, for example some sight-reading exercises. It is interesting that despite the difficult rhythms which are included many of the pieces, the performer is expected to achieve just ‘quaver’ rhythms as an additional skill here. This seems a little ‘out-of-sync’ to me and it might helpful if the extra tests were more in line with the pieces. 

Overall, I enjoyed the imaginative choice of pieces here and have ‘spotted a few gems’, not just for exams but for ‘enjoyment’ pieces and recitals. As mentioned before, pupils may have welcomed the presence of more ‘popular’ or ‘well-known’ tunes occasionally. However, if the teacher carefully supplements the syllabus with a similar function, they will no doubt find the learning process here fruitful and enlightening.

Repertoire

Musically Nutritious

Elfin Dance by Edvard Grieg

Clouds by Samuel Maykapar

Chromatic Polka- Louis Kohler

Argentijnse Tango from ‘Melodie en Rhythme’ by Gerard Hengeveld

Safe Choice

Way Cool by Philip Keveren

Recital, festival, or Concert

The Goblin and the Mosquito by Florence Beatrice Price

Prelude in D flat major by Catherine Rollin

Ballade from ’25 Easy and Progressive Studies’, Op.100 by Johann Burgmuller

Polonaise in F by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach

The Grade 4 ‘A’ section comprises three dances. Firstly, this delightful little Polonaise. It is quite straight-forward to look at; however, as with much Bach, there are ‘twists and turns’ and surprising difficulties. For example, the 10th leaps which appear several times. These could be practised so that you add the octave above the D which will make the jump seem much smaller than it is. Articulation is not indicated but given its dance-style, you may decide it appropriate to use detached notes.

Chromatic Polka- Louis Kohler

This Chromatic Polka is a goldmine of useful pedagogic content. It has its own ‘tricky corners’ but is fun to play and useful for working on Chromatic scales, articulation and natural phrasing. This is also seen on the previous Grade 4 ABRSM flute syllabus. Incidentally it might be useful for the performer to imagine a flute here to create nice ‘sliding’ chromatic passages and short and crisp staccato in-between.

Elfin Dance by Edvard Grieg

This is a classic choice for Grade 4 and has always been enjoyed by many at this level. This will give the performer much opportunity to show character in their playing with call and response phrasing as well as contrasts in articulation and dynamic. Lots of hand position changes and leaps are used here to create the different ‘voices’ so it would be worth practising these areas carefully. Rotation is used and care should be taken to keep these quavers very light; maybe you can imagine a horn in the deeper ‘unison’ parts.

Clouds by Samuel Maykapar

This is a highly imaginative piece by Maykapar starting with both hands in unison. It should be noted that the fingering is quite tricky here and there are several ways you could play this. It might depend very much on the individual; therefore, the teacher/pupil shouldn’t be afraid to try out different fingering ideas. The tranquillo section is very effective and requires legato pedalling and leaving plenty of space between the phrases (maybe imagining different clouds?). A lovely choice for an imaginative player.

Prelude in D flat major by Catherine Rollin

A great opportunity here to explore harmony with different chords and inversions. The key looks a little off-putting. Nonetheless, as with many pieces with lots of black keys, this fits rather well ‘under the fingers’. The left-hand leaps at bar 9 will be made much easier by releasing the hand and using pedal to create the legato and the fingering does kindly indicate this in the score. Interestingly, balance will be expected at this level by bringing out the top notes of chords, which will certainly need guidance from the teacher in technical work.

Kleiner Morgenwanderer- Robert Schumann

My initial reaction when opening the page is ‘slight horror at the difficulty!’ Was I correct when trying this out? Absolutely! This is a hugely difficult choice for Grade 4 and I would only contemplate giving this to the most confident of Grade 4 pianists. Rhythmic difficulties are apparent, not to mention awkward position changes and a very subtle approach needed with regards to pedalling (teacher-guidance needed here to make appropriate choices with no indication on the score!). Doubtless a lovely piece but maybe a touch over-ambitious!

The Goblin and the Mosquito by Florence Beatrice Price

I really enjoyed this imaginative title and even more so while playing this through. Lots of imagery can be used here with the flourishes (mosquitos?) and mischievous rhythms (probably the goblins!). Lots of ‘tricky corners’ here! However, it probably isn’t as hard as it looks and certainly sounds impressive. It nicely explores the ‘geography’ of the piano and a ‘light-fingered’ pianist is needed to create the touch required. A fun and inspiring choice!

Shall by Halim El-Dabh

At first sight, this is interesting to look at. It has a difficult metre and lots of changes in these too. Certainly, metronome work is essential to ensure the beat remains steady, but it would also help to accent the first beat to begin with and an omit the ‘marked’ accents, after which confident the performer could add these back in. There are some awkward moments, for example, negotiating the overlapping of chords in bar 3 could be off-putting to a Grade 4 pianist (maybe the skills of a nearer grade 5 pianist would be advantageous!).

Way Cool by Philip Keveren

This piece proves to be a firm favourite with Jazz-lovers. It has ‘funky’ rhythms and a ‘catchy’ melody – in other words, plenty to love. The tempo is on the sprightly side however, with gradual speeding and use of metronome, though this will be achievable with a little patience. There are no indications here for pedalling but there is plenty of articulation marking, so it would be useful to have a nice, crisp staccato. Accents will help emphasise the off-beat which will make your performance sounds even more ‘jazzy’.

Top picks from Piano Anthology- Grades 3 & 4

LCME Piano Anthology Grades 3 and 4

List B:

Ballade from ’25 Easy and Progressive Studies’, Op.100 by Johann Burgmuller

This piece is ‘classically’ used as a Grade 4 choice and comprises of much content to ‘bring on a pupil’. The light, right-hand chords are staccato, but will require a small and quick release so as not to stray too far from the keys. This will help with control and keeping a light ‘misterioso’ feel. It is notoriously difficult to co-ordinate the left-hand semi-quavers with the right-hand chords. Slow practise is essential and building the speed up very gradually. The middle section needs a more lyrical approach and slight feeling of ‘freedom’ and legato.

Pizzicato Polka from ‘Sylvia’ by Leo Delibes

It is nice to see a more ‘popular’ melody used here. This might well suit an adult learner who perhaps enjoys learning a piece they recognise. It would be a lovely way to work on staccato technique whilst likening it to the sound of ‘pizzicato strings’. Perhaps some preparation might be helpful, including staccato scales, or maybe even one note with each finger to develop the evenness needed. It could certainly be a nice choice and enjoyable to learn!

List C:

Jelly Baby Jazz from ‘A Bag of Sweets’ by Michael Jacques

This is written ‘as it says on the label’ – ‘bright and bouncy’ and not to mention, it has an amusing title. This could appeal to youthful pupils looking for something engaging to learn. The piece does have its tricky elements; for example, the three-part texture in the left-hand to begin with, dotted and off-beat rhythms and left-hand staccato chords. Plenty is to be used pedagogically and separate hands work would be very useful so to take care over the different parts and the articulation which is marked.

Argentijnse Tango from ‘Melodie en Rhythme’ by Gerard Hengeveld

Hengeveld writes a Tango which will test the Grade 4 pianist, particularly in rhythmic ability but also in the use of chords and ornamentation. The right-hand needs to accent semiquavers to create a conflicting rhythm with the left-hand chords. Definitely clapping, tapping and plenty of listening work will help prepare the pupil to play the ‘tango’ rhythms and create a dramatic effect. Though the tricky rhythms do appear off-putting, students do seem to enjoy a ‘tango’ at this level and this would be well-worth exploring as an option.

Grade 5

LCME Piano Handbook Grade 5

Headlines for Grade 5:

  • Lots of new unknown repertoire including material by unknown female composers and living composers from around the world. Much of it is extremely attractive and exciting along with being very diverse.
  • The music in the album appears to be challenging for the grade at times. Benchmarking is not always consistent if just the album is used, however this is totally balanced out using the Anthology which provides a vast number of additional choices well within the grade boundaries.
  • Music is of an extremely high musical, technical and pedagogical content. Time will tell whether LCM candidates have the musical palette for it. It’s very sophisticated. We really hope that candidates will dive in and enjoy!
  • Music from film, musicals and popular genres do appear across the syllabus but not as frequently as students have suggested they’d like. However, jazz miniatures and more typical popular pastiche music does appear in the Anthology. RSL Classics in particular do this very well and if a student is doing a recorded exam, they could use that album book to supplement the chosen pieces (details on how to do this are in the introduction section under Recorded examinations)

Supporting Tests and technical work, some thoughts:

Aural tests are less in scope than some other boards. Beating time and identifying the metre but also having to state the rhythm values for a two-bar passage. Not easy, especially for those with a specific learning difficulty. Naming intervals and cadences follows. These tests could be reviewed to look at making them wider in their scope, but also more useful, particularly linking with the viva concerning style and period. Sight Reading is very logical and accessible with a clear remit. The Discussion is a little woolly in its description but can easily be prepared for through good teaching. Shouldn’t a student understand all that they are playing theoretically, it’s a noble aim that can only improve performance? The scale requirement is substantial but manageable with a wide range of shapes and keys. The exercise as an alternative to scales is a lovely example, more detail about it below.

Choices outside the Graded Album are indicated. Anthology (Anth), Alternatives (Alt)

Repertoire

Musically Nutritious

A – Allegro by Kuhlau

B – “P”: Poissarde

C – Sutherland’s Law Theme

Additional: Wiegenliedchen by Schumann (Anth – B)

Safe Choice

A – Gigue in G by Gambarini

B – Drifting by Hounsome (Anth)

C – Blues from Lazy Days by Chappell (Anth) Additional: Cheesecake Walk by Draper (Anth)

Recital, festival, or Concert

A – La Joyeuse by Rameau (Alt)

B – Waltz in B minor by Schubert

C- Time Traveler by Olson Additional: All’ungherese by Ligeti (for very technically advanced students only)

Study instead of scales – Study in F by Heller

Have a listen here:

It’s a beautiful piece of music, very accessible and a good alternative to scales in terms of time, however, it doesn’t provide the same level of technical or harmonical pedagogy. It could be incredibly useful for several candidates and well worth considering! An exercise in balance of melody and accompaniment along with a variety of articulation and dynamics.

List A

Gigue in G by Gambarini

Written by a remarkable female composer who lived just 35 years and died in childbirth in 1765, the original piece of music had no title. This has been added later by editors as the piece is very much like a Gigue in 6/8 time, quick and dance-like. Although the editorial tempo suggestion is given in the performance notes as none was given in the original music. The added editorial articulation brings a wonderful stylistic variety and works well with light even finger work. Practising with a metronome will encourage the much-needed constant tempo. Large leaps are best choreographed by ghosting the keys (touching but not playing). One of the more accessible ‘A’ pieces, attractive and very much liked by pupils who play it.

Allegro from Sonatina in C Op. 20 No. 1

The perfect piece of music for developing the skills to play more advanced Sonatas in the future, this is an invaluable play. Superb for developing even finger work in scalic passages, mastering Alberti bass accompaniments, the lightness of touch needed when playing the classical genre and with each hand staring at different points it’s not overly challenging. Outlining the structure of the music is useful for greater understanding when interpreting the music but also for structuring practice. Special note should be given to dynamics and articulation and a great care given to ensure the tempo is kept consistent, always choose a tempo that is manageable for your student regardless of if it is marked Allegro.

All’ungherese by Ligeti

A stunning, beautiful, exciting piece of music packed with technical and musical content. When trying out this piece of music most students really struggled with many aspects of it.  Students without the developed technique are at risk of developing injury in the octave passages if not played appropriately. Very slow, detailed practice (including all the dynamics and articulation) is a good starting point. In addition, ghosting the notes (touching but not sounding) to choreograph the coordination challenges. However, the whole panel agrees that this fits better in a Grade 7 rather than Grade 5 list. Treat it with extreme caution even though it’s wonderful music.

List B

“P”: Poissarde by Eckhardt-Gramatté

An unusual piece of repertoire by another female composer writing in the 20th Century. Some large leaps here, and the need for a good technical foundation for legato thirds and appropriate pedal use (both including the una corda). With lots of repetition this isn’t quite as difficult as it might first appear but it’s also not an easy option. The combination of articulation, dynamics and use of rests makes this a piece rich in pedagogical content. Lots of work on the LH only to get the pedalling right will be needed.

Prelude in E minor by Scriabin

This is a stunning Prelude by Scriabin which requires an extremely high level of musical sophistication. Pedal use, rubato, and the ability to voice the parts effectively is required here. And it’s not easy to do it. This music is used frequently in conservatoires by first study pianists and is not best attempted by even a talented Grade 5 pianist. This is for the exceptional player who has the skills to voice beautifully and successfully. Perhaps a wonderful piece to save for when your student is moving from Grade 7 to 8 level?

Waltz in B minor by Schubert

A lovely example of one of Schubert’s waltzes. Great care needs to be given to the articulation and dynamics. Do listen to a variety of performances to hear how performers vary these to give the music greater colour in repeated passages; and to also communicate the structure of the music, in terms of cadence and climax points. This piece is far more demanding than the initial notation suggests, it is highly musically sophisticated and perhaps only for the very few at this grade.

Chaar-Mezrab by Shahi

An extremely interesting sound world and texture created by this minimalistic piece composed by an Iranian Canadian composer living in Toronto. Including triplets between the hands, extensive octave use and the need for exceptionally even finger work. This is a gigantic challenge for the average Grade 5 pianist and again. The panel are concerned with the potential injury the octave playing could induce at this level. Attempt with great caution and perhaps again one to save for a few years time.

Time Traveler by Kevin Olson

What a brilliant piece! Packed with repeated patterns but with changing time signatures which drives the music forward. Articulation gives the music great colour as do the dynamics and clever use of motifs and sequences. The legato 6ths need careful work, and the pedal markings create some lovely sound worlds. The Anthology provides some easier choices, but this is well worth the play! And it’s new to most listeners.

Sutherland’s Law Theme by MacCunn

This piece is the only arrangement in the album and is from Hamish MacCunn’s The Land of the Mountain and the Flood. Do listen to the orchestral version of this piece with students found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugYn10upjU8 so they can hear this magical piece in its original form. An attractive piece well-arranged here – although I wouldn’t give it an Allegro speed – there’s lots of opportunity to develop voicing skills and balancing melody and accompaniment. A truly lovely inclusion here.

Alternatives in the syllabus, one’s to take a look at:

A – La Joyeause, tough but stunning and Benda’s Sonatina No. 6 in D minor

B – What to Do When It Rains by Balch (much loved when on the Trinity Grade 5 syllabus) it’s a beautiful ballad and Modéré by Milhaud

C – The Arrival by Perin and Flood Time by Thiman, a wonderful piece previous in ABRSM Grade 5, it’s very virtuosic.

Anthology – for list B and C only

LCME Piano Anthology Grades 5 and 6

B – Pensive Rag by Cornick, very manageable, fun and upbeat, Am Abend by Hoffman, absolutely gorgeous romantic piece, brilliant for developing part playing and pedalling, Drifting by Housome, again for part playing, an educational composer whose writing here beautifully fits around the hands. Very easy for the grade! A Sailor Tune by Howells, not an easy choice but huge fun with a catchy Sea Shanty like theme. Dance by Kabalevsky, lots of staccato thirds here but catchy and exciting, not easy but easily within Grade 5, Wiegenliedchen by Schumann, gorgeous triplet triad patterns with the melody interweaved.

C – Blues from Lazy Days by Chappell, nearer Grade 4 perhaps than 5 but played with a real sense of the jazzy style. It’s a wonderful Grade 5 piece to really motivate and show off a student’s musicality. Cheesecake Walk by Draper, another incredibly accessible piece for the Grade and many students love it! If your student is time poor take a look at this, fun syncopation and need for good balance of melody and accompaniment. Downstream by Guilfoyle, a film composer, this is extremely popular with teenagers, with ostinatos, sequences and some challenging but imaginative rhythms this is one to check out! La Poupee de Marcella by Linn, an educational composer, this piece from a collection of impressionist music perfect for preparing to play early Debussy. Young At Heart by Norton a beautiful Ballade in A flat major.

By Katrina Fox, Amy Wakefield, Karen Marshall, and Murray McLachlan


If you’d like to view another post in the LCME Piano Syllabus blog series, click here!

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