HomeEducationLCME Piano Syllabus: Pre-Preparatory + Steps 1 & 2

LCME Piano Syllabus: Pre-Preparatory + Steps 1 & 2

Welcome to your essential resource for acing the London College of Music Exams (LCME) Piano Syllabus at the Pre-Preparatory level and Steps 1 & 2. This blog offers invaluable insights into technical work, supporting tests, and recommended repertoire 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

Pre-Preparatory

LCME Pre-Preparatory

Headlines for the level:

• Aimed at pupils approximately half-way through a portrait tutor book, some attractive repertoire and technical exercises are presented.
• Some pieces require a higher degree of musical detail than could be reasonably expected from a pupil at this stage. Frequent shifts in hand position may also prove too challenging.
• Since the level of difficulty differs widely between pieces in the same list, teachers should take care in selecting repertoire. For example, in List B, Westminster Chimes seems incomparably simple against The Grand Entrance. Whilst this provides options for differentiating for pupils of different ages and abilities, it raises some concerns over benchmarking.
• The inclusion of performance notes in the main body of the book are addressed to the learner but are inappropriately pitched for children.

Supporting Tests and technical work, some thoughts:

Technical exercises vary in terms of difficulty. Exercises dealing with legato playing, three-note slurs and staccato playing are quite straightforward. Others should be chosen with care. For example, at a glance Knock Knock (Who’s There?) seems straightforward, however young pupils find the coordination required to alternate knocking and playing movements very tricky. Replacing the ledger lines in Pardon Me! with an indication to play the left hand one or two octaves lower would make the patterns more accessible. The use of chromatic notes in Skipping could prove tricky and detract from the technical focus of two-note slurs.

The other supporting test requires note recognition of five notes in each hand either side of middle C, fitting with the majority of mainstream “middle C” tutor books.

Repertoire

Musically Nutritious

A: Stuck Indoors – Andrew Eales

B: The Grand Entrance – Melanie Spanswick

Safe Choice

A: Wintry Wood – Marcel Zidani

B: Westminster Chimes – Trad. Arr. Melanie Spanswick

Recital, festival, or Concert

A: Popcorn – Rosa Conrad

B: The Grand Entrance – Melanie Spanswick

Monkey Goes Bananas by Melanie Spanswick

The reading is straightforward, remaining in a five-finger hand position throughout in this appealing little piece. The combination of two-note slurs and staccato notes, which swaps between the hands, is rather challenging. A solid grasp of the technical exercises for this level will be needed before embarking on this piece. Beginning with a slow tempo and solid pulse will ensure pupils have the best chance of embedding correct articulation from the outset.

Wintry Wood by Marcel Zidani

This expressive piece provides an opportunity to link technical skills to musical communication. Imagery could be useful here – perhaps the legato could be likened to gliding on ice, or the staccato to falling snow.  Discussing the balance between the hands and which line to highlight gives pupils an early opportunity to make their own musical decisions.

Popcorn (duet) by Rosa Conrad

It is great to see a duet where the secondo part is suitable for another pupil to play. The first and final four bars of the piece consist of rhythmic clapping and knocking on the piano which adds an element of fun. Encouraging careful listening to the three-note slurs ending with staccato notes and a graceful wrist lift, will ensure phrases are musically shaped.

1,2,3,4,5, Once I Caught a Fish Alive -Trad. Arr. Melanie Spanswick

This arrangement is sure to be popular with younger pupils. Those with the smallest hands might struggle to play quavers evenly at a brisk tempo, especially with the weaker fingers. Encouraging good alignment will provide support for the weaker fingers. Careful clapping and counting will help to ensure rhythms are played precisely as written and highlight those differences which often arise in arrangements of popular tunes that don’t fully correspond to the version known by ear.

Happy Birthday to You (duet)– Trad. Arr. Melanie Spanswick

A great inclusion in the syllabus, there are a few issues with the way this arrangement is presented. I wish the anacrusis here had been written as the dotted rhythm that we all know and love – teachers might like to mark this in themselves as pupils will undoubtedly play it this way. The inclusion of the secondo part on the same page, combined with the use of 8va indications throughout the primo part make the layout cluttered, as well as different from Popcorn, the other duet in the book. Otherwise, this straightforward “thumbs on middle C” arrangement will surely appeal to all ages!

Westminster Chimes – Trad. Arr. Melanie Spanswick

Pupils of all abilities will enjoy this straightforward arrangement. Careful counting within a steady pulse is key, perhaps likened to the ticking of a clock. For the final chimes, try encouraging pupils to listen for a powerful but not-too-harsh tone, perhaps even employing the damper pedal for added resonance.

Stuck Indoors by Andrew Eales

This expressive little piece is dense with musical detail. Experimenting with different types of touch on “playing” on the piano lid might help with projecting the melody. The left-hand harmonic thirds will be tricky to execute neatly for pupils at this stage, especially those with small hands.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – Trad. Arr. Melanie Spanswick

Sure to be a favourite with young pupils, choosing and maintaining a sensible tempo will be crucial in ensuring the two left hand position shifts can be achieved without hesitating – a tall order for many pupils at this stage! As the melody moves between the hands, careful listening will be crucial to ensure even tone. With much dynamic contrast, teachers should take care not to underestimate the challenges of this arrangement of a familiar piece.

The Grand Entrance by Melanie Spanswick

Marked Allegro, the quaver rhythms in this piece will require nimble finger work to achieve a smart sound worthy of a grand entrance. Whilst the left hand is simple throughout, the hands play together almost entirely throughout and a change of right-hand position in the second line adds complexity. This is a piece for the most able at this level.

On the Magic Carpet by Melanie Spanswick

This simple piece provides a great opportunity to teach pupils about intervals and encourage intervallic reading in different hand positions. Teachers should consider whether the changes in hand position and use of an extended position to play the interval of a sixth fit in with their pupil’s current level, as these concepts will not have been covered through tutor books by many pupils at this stage. The composer’s note suggests emphasising the final note of each bar where the melody lies, which adds further depth to the piece for the most able. Pupils will enjoy using the damper pedal to create a more mysterious atmosphere.

Step 1

LCME Step 1

Headlines for the level:

  • Much attractive repertoire but widely varying in difficulty, including concepts and skills that are beyond the scope of this level.
  • Some issues with presentation make the content less pupil-friendly.
  • Inconsistency in the amount of fingering and complexity of foreign terms.
  • The use of G major key signature in pieces when the full scale is not met until Step 2.

Supporting Tests and technical work, some thoughts:

The one-semibreve-per-bar presentation seems unlikely to promote a musically-shaped performance of the five-finger scale patterns. Given that Step 2 requires four full scales hands together, better progression would have been provided by full scales played hand separately at this level.

Teachers will need to choose carefully from the technical exercises which vary in their accessibility. Making small adjustments to presentation and fingering would avoid the need for reading two ledger lines and changing hand position in Waltzing Fairy making it less tricky. Using 8va instead of up to five ledger lines in Ebony Stroll would have made this exercise readable. Whilst Banana Milkshake is certain to appeal to young pupils, the syncopation and constantly changing hand positions make this one for the most able pupils.

Discussion questions form a useful supporting test, although some requirements need clarification. For example, must a pupil be able to identify the pitch names of chromatically altered notes and those on up to four ledger lines present in some pieces?

Repertoire

Musically Nutritious

A: Exploring Castle Ruins by Barbara Arens

B: The Jolly Farmer by Walter Carroll

Safe Choice

A: Allegro in C by Daniel Gottlob Türk

B: Study in C for Full and Brilliant Tone by Beyer

Recital, festival, or Concert

A: Exploring Castle Ruins by Barbara Arens

B: Ketchup by Wendy Stevens

Allegro in C by Daniel Gottlob Türk

A useful little piece, this should be technically manageable for pupils at this level. The useful challenge of reading above treble C is removed by extensive fingering. When playing by finger number, this piece feels rather easy in comparison to others in the level. The unusual Allegro, più tosto presto indication could have been defined, given that Andante is translated in the piece below on the same page.

Exploring Castle Ruins by Barabara Arens

This charming piece is densely packed with musical detail and challenge. Projection of the right-hand melody above left hand dyads, plus the melody swapping back and forth between the hands, make it a valuable but demanding choice for pupils. The inclusion of dotted rhythms is more demanding than the other main examination boards at this level.

Out Of This World by Melanie Spanswick

This highly chromatic piece will make for very challenging reading for most pupils at this level, with highly changeable patterns of sharps and naturals. If teaching this piece by rote, learning small sections thoroughly will be necessary, otherwise the combination of dissonance and alternation between major and minor modes might mean pupils do not notice their own errors.

Miniature No. 1 by Juan Cabeza

The inclusion of legato pedalling throughout this piece makes it unsuitable for inclusion at this level. Many young pupils are unable to reach the pedals and do not have access to a pedal extender. Changing triads in the left hand throughout, coupled with dotted rhythms in the right hand, make this piece – charming as it is – one to avoid. Any pupil able to accomplish all these musical challenges should surely be attempting an examination at a higher level.

The Elephant from Carnival of the Animals (duet) by Camille Saint-Saëns, arr. Melanie Spanswick

This charming duet arrangement is sure to be a favourite with both teachers and pupils. Changes of hand position and a clef change in the left hand make it challenging in terms of reading and coordination at this level, but with a slow tempo and diligent practice of position shifts it could be a musically satisfying choice for more able pupils.

Polly Put The Kettle On – Trad. Arr. Melanie Spanswick

Playing a nursery rhyme may be deemed babyish by all but the youngest pupils, who would struggle with the changing hand position and reading two ledger lines in this arrangement.

Study in C for Full and Brilliant Tone by Ferdinand Beyer

This piece provides a suitable level of challenge, encouraging a full-bodied tone and strong fingertips. The layout could be improved by putting each four-bar phrase on its own line and the inclusion of finger numbers for every note in the first six bars seems excessive in a five-finger position and makes it less useful for reading purposes. Watch out for an incorrect finger number in the left hand of bar 11.

The Jolly Farmer by Walter Carroll

This delightful piece is presented nicely with one four-bar phrase per line and sufficient but not excessive fingering. The hands play together throughout giving a full sound that really feels like playing “real music”. The patterns used encourage independent reading of the piece and the dynamics leave room for the pupil to make some musical decisions for themselves.

Kittens Up A Tree by Melanie Spanswick

The title and sound of this piece will appeal to many pupils; however, it should be chosen with caution. At an Allegro tempo, the frequent shifts of hand position in both hands will be unachievable for many pupils at this level. The final two octave glissando will also be difficult and could potentially lead to some very sore little fingers.

Ketchup by Wendy Stevens

This superb piece will certainly be a hit with pupils of all ages. It is a useful opportunity for practice in projecting a legato left-hand melody with a contrasting staccato right-hand accompaniment. A really jaunty, rhythmic performance is achievable here, with the colourful harmonies making this a fun and musically satisfying choice.

Hickory Dickory Dock – Trad. Arr. Melanie Spanswick

This attractive arrangement will appeal to many pupils and is useful for developing coordination between the hands and playing in triple metre. The temptation to play as quickly as one might sing must be avoided, otherwise the overlapping fingerings and changes of hand position will be difficult to achieve. 

Let It Go by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

Whilst the motivational benefits of including current popular songs are important, this piece is significantly too demanding for this level. A major concern is that the arrangement as written does not sound like the song children will know. As a result, they are likely to play rhythms by ear which will lead to difficulties coordinating rhythms between the hands. Insisting on pupils playing the piece strictly as notated is a strategy likely to result in frustration and lack of musical satisfaction.

Step 2

LCME Step 2

Headlines for the level:

• Scale requirements exceed those in Grade 1 of other major exam boards.
• Attractive and pedagogically rich repertoire, some of which is too challenging for the level which limits the choices realistically available.
• The use of arrangements of well-known songs is problematic if versions differ from those known by pupils.

Supporting Tests and technical work, some thoughts:

The inclusion of four hands-together scales exceeds the Grade 1 scale requirement of other major exam boards, representing an enormous leap in difficulty from the five-finger scales required in Step 1. The scales required do not correspond to the keys of the technical exercises and pieces.

Technical exercises will require careful selection by the teacher as they vary considerably in difficulty. In Spiral Staircase, fingering is given for every note for patterns that lie under the hand, but a contraction in the right hand of bar 2 is missed altogether. Playground Pranks feels as though it lacks purpose and challenge given that black keys have been included in both pre-preparatory and step 1. An Empty Desert, on the other hand, is very demanding, requiring shifting between different chord inversions. A Warm Sunny Day is a very pleasing exercise to play, but the Alberti bass and right-hand quaver melody make this feel more like a Grade 1 level exercise.

Discussion questions are similar to those at Step 1.

Repertoire

Musically Nutritious

A: Smooth and Crunchy by Elissa Milne

B: M for Moonbeam by June Armstrong

Safe Choice

A: Melody in C by Thomas Dunhill

B: Secret Passage by Melanie Spanswick

Recital, festival, or Concert

A: Smooth and Crunchy by Elissa Milne

B: M for Moonbeam by June Armstrong

Little Story by August Eberhard Müller

This attractive and pedagogically rich piece will be popular with pupils, but the technical and musical demands should not be under-estimated and are nearer to Grade 1 level. Plenty of left-hand only practice will be required to gain full control of the two-note chords, ensuring the notes sound together despite some awkward shapes and do not overpower the right-hand melody.

Melody in C by Thomas Dunhill

This is a perfect piece for this level. The melody lies within a comfortable reading range with rhythms sufficiently simple to allow control to be gained over the more complicated fingering patterns included.

Smooth and Crunchy by Elissa Milne

This fun piece is sure to be a favourite with pupils. Incorporating some theory about triads would make a good starting point in assisting pupils with the right hand position shifts throughout the piece. The mixed articulation is challenging but can be dealt with by playing slowly and focusing on the movements required by each hand. The syncopation can be tricky – to avoid imprecision and ensure the pulse is felt, pupils could be encouraged to tap the beat whilst singing the melody.

Ghostly Goings On by Melanie Spanswick

Heavily patterned and with a very easy left hand, the challenges in this piece involve a combination of piano dynamic with staccato articulation and some awkward fingering patterns which might make life difficult for small hands. The spookiness of this piece will appeal to many pupils.

The Wheels on the Bus – Trad. Arr. Melanie Spanswick

Possibly unappealing for all but the youngest pupils, this arrangement has some tricky elements. Marked Allegro, the repeated quavers on finger 4 with a quick change to the thumb are awkward and happen twice. At the end, a quick change from finger 5 to finger 1 on the quaver of a dotted rhythm is also likely to cause problems. It should be noted that the melody of this arrangement differs from the version many pupils might know.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas

This highly characterful piece would be a very difficult choice for most pupils working at this level. The 3/8 time signature should be fully understood before commencing slow practice with careful counting. Performed too slowly the piece loses its mysterious one-in-a-bar feel; however, Prestissimo misterioso seems an unrealistic tempo for the grade.

Secret Passage by Melanie Spanswick

This cute take on Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King will be a popular choice and suitable for most pupils.Beginning with slow practice of the melody line, listening for the gaps between the notes, will encourage a crisp staccato and even rhythms. When the melody moves to the left hand, careful listening will ensure it is not overpowered by the right hand accompaniment. The amount of fingering provided in the score is unnecessary and undermines the development of reading skills.

M for Moonbeam by June Armstrong

This stunning little piece can be taught by a combination of rote and reading, with pupils following the rhythm and the left hand notes. The (simple) use of both pedals will be exciting for young pupils and should be fully exploited by showing pupils the inside of the piano and explaining the mechanisms where possible. Freedom from complex notation, rhythm and fingering in this piece allows musical communication to take centre stage. This is the perfect piece for pupils who like to experiment.

Honey Bee Boogie by Olly Wedgwood

This characterful piece is rather demanding for this level but might be a suitable choice for an adult student. Plenty of hands separate practice will be needed to master the left hand position shifts. The right hand melody itself is reasonably straightforward, but the coordination between the hands, including mixed articulation, make this one for the most able pupils.

If You’re Happy and You Know It – Trad. Arr. Melanie Spanswick

The absence of swung quavers in this arrangement would lead to a musically unsatisfying rendition of this well-known song. Perhaps this is an oversight, but clarity will be needed if this piece is to be prepared for examination. The insertion of claps between phrases is demanding in terms of coordination and perhaps should have been reserved for the final bar where the fluency is not impeded.  

Under the Sea (duet) from The Little Mermaid by Alan Menken

This is not a choice I could recommend. The notated rhythms are demanding yet do not match that of the original song. Insisting that pupils play precisely as notated will inevitably lead to dissatisfaction and confusion but allowing them to play by ear will make the duet very hard to bring together and presumably negatively impact their examination score.

Theme from Jupiter by Gustav Holst Arr. Melanie Spanswick

This attractive arrangement could be a suitable choice for an adult pupil with the patience to approach it slowly and carefully, however some difficult fingering patterns in the melody, two-note chords in both hands and a very wide-reading range make this too challenging for many pupils at Step 2.

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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