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Viola Initial Grade Viola

Viola Initial Grade exams consist of three pieces, scales, sight-reading, and aural tests.

Total marks in all individual Practical exams are 150. You need 100 marks to achieve Pass, 120 marks to pass with Merit and 130 marks to pass with Distinction.

Viola Initial Grade (2020–2023)

Viola requirements and information

Our Viola requirements and information summarise the most important points that teachers and candidates need to know when taking ABRSM graded Viola exams. They are explained in the exam sections below (Pieces, Scales, Sight-reading and Aural tests) and are also available to download as a PDF.

Further administrative information about our exams are given in our Exam Regulations which you should read before booking an exam.

Entering for an exam

Eligibility: There are nine grades of exam for Viola. Candidates may be entered for any grade at any age and do not need to have taken other grade(s) in Viola. Candidates for a Grade 6, 7 or 8 exam must have already passed ABRSM Grade 5 (or above) in Music Theory, Practical Musicianship or a solo Jazz instrument. For full details, including a list of accepted alternatives, see Prerequisite for Grades 6–8.

Access: ABRSM is committed to providing all candidates with fair access to its assessments by putting in place access arrangements and reasonable adjustments. There is a range of alternative tests and formats as well as guidelines for candidates with specific needs. For full details, see Specific Needs. Where a candidate’s needs are not covered by the guidelines, each case is considered individually. Further information is available from the Access Co-ordinator.

Exam booking: For full details of exam dates, location, fees and how to book an exam, see Exam Booking.

Instruments

Candidates are required to perform on acoustic instruments (electric instruments are not allowed). Any size of instrument may be used and Viola candidates may play on a violin strung as a viola. Examiners apply the marking criteria (which include the assessment of pitch, tone and musical shaping) to assess musical outcomes without reference to the specific attributes of the instrument.

In the exam

Examiners: Generally, there will be one examiner in the exam room; however a second examiner may be present for training and quality assurance purposes. Examiners may ask to look at the candidate’s or accompanist’s copy of the music before or after the performance of a piece; a separate copy is not required. Examiners may stop the performance of a piece when they have heard enough to make a judgment. They will not issue or discuss a candidate’s result. Instead, the mark form (and certificate for successful candidates) will be issued by ABRSM after the exam.

Order of the exam: The individual sections of the exam may be taken in any order, at the candidate’s choice, although it is preferable for accompanied pieces to be performed consecutively at the beginning of the exam.

Tuning: At Grades Initial–5, the teacher or accompanist may tune the candidate’s instrument (or advise on tuning) before the exam begins. At Grades 6–8, candidates must tune their instruments themselves. Examiners are unable to help with tuning.

Music stands: All ABRSM public venues provide a music stand, but candidates are welcome to bring their own if they prefer. The examiner will be happy to help adjust the height or position of the stand.

Assessment

Exams are marked out of 150. 100 marks are required for a Pass, 120 for a Merit and 130 for a Distinction. Candidates do not need to pass each section to pass overall. For full details, including the marking criteria used by examiners, see Graded music exam marking criteria.

Sourcing exam music

Exam music is available from music retailers and online, including at the ABRSM music shop. Every effort has been made to make sure that the publications listed will be available for the duration of the syllabus. Candidates are advised to get their music well before the exam in case items are not kept in stock by retailers. Non-exam related questions about the music (e.g. editorial, availability) should be addressed to the relevant publisher. For a complete list of publisher contact details, see Obtaining exam music.

Pieces

Musicians learn to play an instrument to explore and perform repertoire, which is why pieces are at the core of the exam – candidates are asked to present three at each grade. The syllabus repertoire is organised into three lists which explore different traditions and styles, dating from the Renaissance period to the present day.

Choosing one piece from each list gives candidates the opportunity to play a balanced selection and demonstrate a range of skills. In this syllabus, the pieces are broadly grouped into lists by the characteristics of the music:

  • List A pieces are generally faster moving and require technical agility
  • List B pieces are more lyrical and invite expressive playing
  • List C pieces reflect a wide variety of musical traditions, styles and characters.

Most of the pieces require an accompaniment, as interacting with other musicians is an important musical skill, but there are also opportunities to choose solo pieces and develop confidence with unaccompanied playing.

We hope that by offering this variety in the syllabus, candidates will find music that inspires them and that they enjoy learning and performing.

Initial Grade Pieces

Candidates choose three pieces, one from each list (A, B and C) – 30 marks each. The full requirements and information for the pieces are explained after the lists.

List A

No. Composer Piece information Publication(s)
1 Sheila Nelson Fish Cakes and Apple Pie
Viola Exam Pack 2020–2023, Initial Grade
ABRSM

More details
2 Trad. American
arr. Huws Jones
Old-Timer
(with repeat)
Viola Exam Pack 2020–2023, Initial Grade
ABRSM

More details
3 Wohlfart
arr. Nelson
Polka
Viola Exam Pack 2020–2023, Initial Grade
ABRSM

More details
4 Kathy Blackwell and David Blackwell Beach Holiday
No. 70 from Viola Time Starters, arr. K. and D. Blackwell
OUP

More details
Starters Teacher's Handbook, Accompaniments, arr. K. and D. Blackwell
OUP

More details
5 Kathy Blackwell and David Blackwell More Mini Mozart
(with repeat using bowing variation 2)
No. 68 from Viola Time Starters, arr. K. and D. Blackwell
OUP

More details
Starters Teacher's Handbook, Accompaniments, arr. K. and D. Blackwell
OUP

More details
6 Katherine Colledge and Hugh Colledge Knickerbocker Glory
No. 10 from Waggon Wheels
No. 10 from Katherine Colledge and Hugh Colledge: Waggon Wheels for Viola
Boosey & Hawkes (BH 13552)

More details
7 Cutter
arr. C. and K. Sassmannshaus
Little March (PF/VA)
(ending at b. 20)
Viola Recital Album, Vol. 1
Bärenreiter (BA8990)

More details
8 Trad. German
arr. C. and K. Sassmannshaus
Lightly Row (PF/VA)
(ending at b. 16)
Viola Recital Album, Vol. 1
Bärenreiter (BA8990)

More details
9 Trad.
arr. Suzuki, Stuen-Walker and trans. Preucil
Go Tell Aunt Rhody (PF/VA)
No. 5 from Suzuki Viola School, Vol. 1, trans. Preucil
Alfred (0241S)

More details
Suzuki Viola School, Vol. A, Piano accompaniment, trans. Preucil
Alfred (0245S)

More details
Suzuki Ensembles for Viola, Vol. 1, arr. Stuen-Walker
Alfred (0411S)

More details
10 Trad.
arr. Davey, Hussey and Sebba
Secret Agents (PF/VA)
(upper part; with repeat)
No. 28 from Abracadabra Viola (Third Edition), arr. Davey
Collins Music

More details
No. 28 from Abracadabra Strings, Book 1, Piano accompaniments, arr. Hussey and Sebba
Collins Music

More details

List B

No. Composer Piece information Publication(s)
1 Edward Huws Jones Rock-a-Bye Rhino
No. 6 from The Really Easy Viola Book
Viola Exam Pack 2020–2023, Initial Grade
ABRSM

More details
2 Thomas Gregory Silent Friends
Viola Exam Pack 2020–2023, Initial Grade
ABRSM

More details
3 Trad. Spiritual
arr. Iles
All night, all day
Viola Exam Pack 2020–2023, Initial Grade
ABRSM

More details
4 Kathy Blackwell and David Blackwell Rowing Boat (PF/VA)
No. 16 from Viola Time Joggers, arr. K. and D. Blackwell
OUP

More details
No. 16 from Viola Time Joggers, Piano accompaniment, arr. K. and D. Blackwell
OUP

More details
No. 16 from Viola Time Joggers, Viola accompaniment, arr. K. and D. Blackwell
OUP

More details
5 Katherine Colledge and Hugh Colledge Waterfall
No. 9 from Waggon Wheels
No. 9 from Katherine Colledge and Hugh Colledge: Waggon Wheels for Viola
Boosey & Hawkes (BH 13552)

More details
6 Thomas Gregory Footprints in the Snow
No. 20 from Vamoosh Viola, Book 1, arr. Gregory
Vamoosh (VAM11)

More details
No. 20 from Vamoosh String Book 1, Piano accompaniment, arr. Gregory
Vamoosh (VAM51)

More details
7 Edward Huws Jones Gone for Good
No. 12 from Ten O'Clock Rock
No. 12 from Edward Huws Jones: Ten O'Clock Rock for Viola
Boosey & Hawkes (BH 1100101)

More details
No. 12 from Edward Huws Jones: Ten O'Clock Rock, Piano accompaniment
Boosey & Hawkes (BH 1000653)

More details
8 Sheila Nelson I am a River
The Essential String Method, Viola Book 2
Boosey & Hawkes (BH 1100141)

More details
The Essential String Method, Violin/Viola Books 1 & 2, Piano accompaniment
Boosey & Hawkes (BH 102377)

More details
9 Sheila Nelson Swingalong (PF/VA)
('E' version)
P. 16 from Tetratunes for Viola, arr. Nelson
Boosey & Hawkes (BH 1100050)

More details
Tetratunes: teacher's book with accompaniments, arr. Nelson
Boosey & Hawkes (BH 1000230)

More details
10 Trad. French
arr. Suzuki and trans. Preucil
French Folk Song
No. 2 from Suzuki Viola School, Vol. 1, trans. Preucil
Alfred (0241S)

More details
Suzuki Viola School, Vol. A, Piano accompaniment, trans. Preucil
Alfred (0245S)

More details

List C

No. Composer Piece information Publication(s)
1 Peter Wilson Bow Rock
No. 4 from Stringpops 1
Viola Exam Pack 2020–2023, Initial Grade
ABRSM

More details
2 Trad. Jamaican
arr. Bullard
Hill and gully rider
Viola Exam Pack 2020–2023, Initial Grade
ABRSM

More details
3 Trad. American
arr. Blackwell
When the Saints Go Marching In
Viola Exam Pack 2020–2023, Initial Grade
ABRSM

More details
4 Kathy Blackwell and David Blackwell Rhythm Fever (PF/VA)
No. 13 from Viola Time Joggers, arr. K. and D. Blackwell
OUP

More details
No. 13 from Viola Time Joggers, Piano accompaniment, arr. K. and D. Blackwell
OUP

More details
No. 13 from Viola Time Joggers, Viola accompaniment, arr. K. and D. Blackwell
OUP

More details
5 Thomas Gregory Walk on Mars!
(slides optional; with DC, as in accomp.)
No. 22 from Vamoosh Viola, Book 1, arr. Gregory
Vamoosh (VAM11)

More details
No. 22 from Vamoosh String Book 1, Piano accompaniment, arr. Gregory
Vamoosh (VAM51)

More details
6 Anita Hewitt-Jones and Caroline Lumsden Have a Cup of Tea
from Bread and Butter Pudding
Caroline Lumsden and Anita Hewitt-Jones: Bread and Butter Pudding
Musicland

More details
7 Edward Huws Jones Ink-Spot
No. 11 from Ten O'Clock Rock
No. 11 from Edward Huws Jones: Ten O'Clock Rock for Viola
Boosey & Hawkes (BH 1100101)

More details
No. 11 from Edward Huws Jones: Ten O'Clock Rock, Piano accompaniment
Boosey & Hawkes (BH 1000653)

More details
8 Edward Huws Jones Ten O'Clock Rock
No. 9 from Ten O'Clock Rock
No. 9 from Edward Huws Jones: Ten O'Clock Rock for Viola
Boosey & Hawkes (BH 1100101)

More details
No. 9 from Edward Huws Jones: Ten O'Clock Rock, Piano accompaniment
Boosey & Hawkes (BH 1000653)

More details
9 Caroline Lumsden and Pam Wedgwood Jungle Footprints
from Jackaroo
(scream optional)
Caroline Lumsden and Pam Wedgwood: Jackaroo for Viola
Faber

More details
10 Trad. German
arr. C. and K. Sassmannshaus
Pit a Pat Rain (PF/VA)
Viola Recital Album, Vol. 1
Bärenreiter (BA8990)

More details

Viola requirements and information: Pieces

Programme planning: Candidates must choose one piece from each of the three lists (A, B and C). In the exam, candidates should tell the examiner which pieces they are performing, and they are welcome to use the Exam programme & running order form for this.

Every effort has been made to feature a broad range of repertoire to suit and appeal to candidates of different ages, backgrounds and interests. Certain pieces may not be suitable for every candidate for technical reasons or because of wider context (historical, cultural, subject matter of the larger work from which it is drawn, lyrics if an arrangement of a song etc.). Pieces should be carefully considered for their appropriateness to each individual, which may need consultation between teachers and parents/guardians. Teachers and parents/guardians should also exercise caution when allowing younger candidates to research pieces online (see www.nspcc.org.uk/onlinesafety).

Accompaniment: A live piano or string (where the option is listed) accompaniment is required for all pieces, except those which are published as studies or unaccompanied works (these are marked SOLO in the lists above).

At Grades Initial–3, candidates may perform some or all of their pieces with a string accompaniment. Pieces that are published as duets (or with string accompaniment only) are marked DUET in the lists above. Pieces that are published with piano and string accompaniment options are marked PF/VA in the lists above, and may be performed with either accompaniment in the exam.

Candidates must provide their own accompanist(s), who can only be in the exam room while accompanying. The candidate’s teacher may accompany (examiners will not). If necessary, an accompanist may simplify any part of the accompaniment, as long as the result is musical. Recorded accompaniments are not allowed.

Exam music & editions: Wherever the syllabus includes an arrangement or transcription (appearing as ‘arr.’ or ‘trans.’ in the syllabus list), the edition listed in the syllabus must be used in the exam. For all other pieces, editions are listed for guidance only and candidates may use any edition of their choice (in- or out-of-print or downloadable). For full details on sourcing exam music, see Obtaining exam music.

Interpreting the score: Printed editorial suggestions such as fingering, bowing, metronome marks, realisation of ornaments etc. do not need to be strictly observed. Whether the piece contains musical indications or not, candidates are encouraged to interpret the score in a musical and stylistic way. Examiners’ marking will be determined by how control of pitch, time, tone, shape and performance contributes to the overall musical outcome.

Vibrato: The use and control of vibrato, and its effect on tone and shape, will be taken into account by examiners, who will be assessing the overall musical outcome. Pieces that are heavily reliant on vibrato for their full musical effect tend not to appear in the syllabus before around Grade 5.

Repeats: Unless the syllabus specifies differently, all da capo and dal segno indications should be followed but other repeats (including first-time bars) should not be played unless they are very short (i.e. a few bars).

Cadenzas & tuttis: Cadenzas should not be played unless the syllabus specifies differently. Accompanists should cut lengthy orchestral tutti sections.

Performing from memory: Candidates may perform any of their pieces from memory; if doing so, they must make sure that a copy of the music is available for the examiner to refer to. No extra marks are awarded for playing from memory.

Page-turns: Examiners will be understanding if a page-turn causes a lack of continuity during a piece, and this will not affect the marking. Candidates (and accompanists) may use an extra copy of the music or a photocopy of a section of the piece (but see ‘Photocopies’ below) to help with page-turns. Candidates and accompanists at Grades 6–8 may bring a page-turner to the exam if there is no solution to a particularly awkward page-turn (prior permission is not required; the turner may be the candidate’s teacher). Examiners are unable to help with page-turning.

Photocopies: Performing from unauthorised photocopies (or other kinds of copies) of copyright editions is not allowed. ABRSM may withhold the exam result where it has evidence of an illegal copy (or copies) being used. In the UK, copies may be used in certain limited circumstances – for full details, see the MPA’s Code of Fair Practice at www.mpaonline.org.uk. In all other cases, application should be made to the copyright holder before any copy is made, and evidence of permission should be brought to the exam.

Scales

Playing scales and arpeggios is important for building strong technical skills such as reliable finger movement, hand position, co-ordination and fingerboard fluency. It also helps to develop tone, pitch and interval awareness, and familiarity with keys and their related patterns. This leads to greater confidence and security when sight-reading, learning new pieces and performing – from a score or from memory, as a solo musician or with others.

Initial Grade Scales – 21 marks

The full requirements and information for scales are explained after the table.

range

bowing requirements

rhythm pattern

Scales    

G, D majors †

1 octave

separate bows

even notes or long tonic, at candidate’s choice

A minor ‡

a 5th

separate bows

even notes

† Starting on open strings

‡ Starting on bottom A

Scale speeds

The scale speeds below are given as a general guide.

Scales

 


Viola requirements and information: Scales

Memory: All requirements should be played from memory.

Range: All requirements should be played from the lowest possible tonic/starting note unless the syllabus specifies differently. They should ascend and descend according to the specified range (and pattern).

Rhythm: For most major and minor scales (and double-stop scales in parallel sixths/octaves) candidates may choose between two rhythm patterns: even notes or long tonic. The scale to a fifth (Initial Grade) should be played in even notes.

Patterns: Arpeggios and dominant sevenths are required in root position only. All dominant sevenths should finish by resolving on the tonic. Examples of scale/arpeggio etc. patterns found in this syllabus are available to download as a PDF. Fully notated versions of the requirements are available in Viola Exam Pack 2020–2023, Initial Grade.

Fingering: Candidates may use any fingering that produces a successful musical outcome.

Speed: Bowing will generally dictate the tempi of slurred scales and arpeggios. Separately-bowed requirements should be played briskly, using no more than half the bow length. The speeds in the table above are given as a general guide.

In the exam

Initial Grade candidates should play all three requirements when asked for their scales. The examiner will prompt the keys/ranges where necessary.

At Grades 1–8, examiners will usually ask for at least one of each scale/arpeggio (etc.) type. They will ask for majors followed by minors within each type, and also ask to hear a balance of the separately-bowed and slurred requirements. When asking for requirements, examiners will specify:

  • the key* (including minor form – harmonic or melodic – in the Grade 6–8 scales) or the starting note
  • separate bows or slurred (except for where the requirements are to be prepared with separate bows only – e.g. Grade 1 arpeggios).

* Where keys at Grades 6–8 are listed enharmonically – Db/C# and Ab/G# – the examiner will use the flat spelling when asking for major keys and the sharp spelling for minor keys.

Sight-reading

Sight-reading is a valuable skill with many benefits. Learning to sight-read helps to develop quick recognition of keys, tonality and common rhythm patterns. Strong sight-reading skills make learning new pieces quicker and easier, and also help when making music with others, so that playing in an ensemble becomes more rewarding and enjoyable.

Viola requirements and information: Sight-reading – 21 marks

Candidates will be asked to play a short unaccompanied piece of music which they have not seen before. They will be given half a minute to look through and, if they wish, try out all or any part of the test before they are asked to play it for assessment. The table below shows the elements that are introduced at each grade.

Grade

Length
(bars)

Time

Other features that may be included

Initial Grade

4

4/4

  • 1st position
  • crotchet and two quavers beamed together
  • crotchet rests
  • notes separately bowed
  • mf dynamic mark

6

2/4

(as above)

For practice purposes, sample sight-reading tests are available in Viola Exam Pack 2020–2023, Initial Grade.

Aural tests

Listening lies at the heart of music-making and the ability to hear how music works helps with all aspects of musical development. Aural skills help with gauging the sound and balance of playing, keeping in time and playing with a sense of rhythm and pulse. These skills also help to develop a sense of pitch, musical memory and the ability to spot mistakes.

Initial Grade Aural tests – 18 marks

a. To clap the pulse of a piece played by the examiner. The examiner will start playing the passage, and the candidate should join in as soon as possible, clapping in time.

b. To clap as ‘echoes’ the rhythm of two phrases played by the examiner. The phrases will be two bars long, in three or four time, and consist of a melody line only. The examiner will count in two bars. After the examiner has played each phrase, the candidate should clap back the rhythm as an ‘echo’ without a pause, keeping in time.

c. To sing as ‘echoes’ two phrases played by the examiner. The phrases will be one bar long in 4/4 time. They will be in a major key, and within the range of tonic–mediant. First the examiner will play the key-chord and the starting note (the tonic) and then count in two bars. After the examiner has played each phrase, the candidate should sing back the echo without a pause, keeping in time.

d. To answer a question about one feature of a piece played by the examiner. Before playing, the examiner will tell the candidate which feature the question will be about. It will be about dynamics (loud/quiet) or articulation (smooth/detached).


Viola requirements and information: Aural tests

Listening lies at the heart of all good music-making. Developing aural awareness is fundamental to musical training because having a ‘musical ear’ impacts on all aspects of musicianship. Singing, both silently in the head and out loud, is one of the best ways to develop the ‘musical ear’. It connects the internal imagining of sound, the ‘inner ear’, with the external creation of it, without the necessity of mechanically having to ‘find the note’ on an instrument (important though that connection is). By integrating aural activities in imaginative ways in the lesson, preparation for the aural tests within an exam will be a natural extension of what is already an essential part of the learning experience.

In the exam

Aural tests are an integral part of all Graded Exams in Music Performance.

The tests are administered by the examiner from the piano. For any test that requires a sung response, pitch rather than vocal quality is being assessed. The examiner will be happy to adapt to the vocal range of the candidate, whose responses may be sung to any vowel (or consonant followed by a vowel), hummed or whistled (and at a different octave, if appropriate).

Assessment

Some tests allow for a second attempt or for an additional playing by the examiner, if necessary. The examiner will also be ready to prompt, where helpful, although this may affect the assessment.

Marks are not awarded for each individual test or deducted for mistakes; instead they reflect the candidate’s overall response in this section. For full details, including the marking criteria used by examiners, see Graded music exam marking criteria.

Sample tests

Examples of the tests for Grades Initial–8 are given in Specimen Aural Tests. More examples for Grades 1–8 are given in Aural Training in Practice.

Deaf or hearing-impaired candidates

Deaf or hearing-impaired candidates may choose alternative tests in place of the standard tests, if requested at the time of entry. For full details, including the syllabus for the alternative tests, see Specific Needs.

Publications & audio

 

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