In July we will be publishing a revised guitar syllabus featuring new set pieces and revised scale and sight-reading requirements. Here Nigel Scaife, Syllabus Director, reports on the significant changes and provides a preview of some of the exciting support materials being published.
Revising any syllabus requires much consultation with teachers and very careful deliberation. In the case of guitar, this process will have taken us about three years, from the first working party meeting to the publication of the syllabus and support materials later this year. During this time we have been in touch with guitar teachers via a major pilot study and the detailed feedback generated by this project has been invaluable – many thanks to all those who took the time to share their views with us.
We have refreshed the repertoire lists, reflecting the diverse range of good-quality publications that have come into existence in recent years. We have included some excellent core pieces that have not been on the syllabus before, many suggested by teachers. For continuity, about 10% of the repertoire from the current syllabus is being kept. Also, in the lower grades we are retaining a selection of accompanied pieces using a single-line approach for the candidate.
Overall, in choosing the pieces we have worked to achieve a clear sense of the technical progression through the grades and to ensure that there is parity with the demands of other instruments. The wealth of new and exciting repertoire should entice and challenge pupils at all levels and make for really enjoyable music making.
To complement the new repertoire lists we will be publishing a range of resources for teachers and pupils. ABRSM Publishing is extending its popular Time Pieces series to embrace guitar. The two volumes of Time Pieces for Guitar will include items from each list at Grades 1 and 2 in the first volume and Grades 3 to 5 in the second. There are over 30 pieces in each, covering the whole gamut of styles and periods from Sumer is icumen in of 1250 to newly commissioned pieces by Colin Tommis, Andy Crowdy, Colin Downs and Stephen Goss. These volumes will provide a helpful selection of potential exam pieces and a rich source of repertoire for developing guitarists.
We are also publishing new editions of music by Weiss and Scarlatti, bringing together syllabus pieces selected for use at Grades 6, 7 and 8 in single volumes, and producing a set of CDs containing recordings of the guitar syllabus pieces at all eight grades.
With the new sight-reading tests we are trying to encourage and enable a more musical approach to sight-reading. The new tests have been written in attractive styles and will not present greater technical challenges than the current materials. At the lower grades they are shorter than the current ones, allowing greater focus on musical detail, and from Grade 6 all tests have titles so that they appear as real pieces, helping candidates to get a feel for the musical mood and style.
In putting together the new requirements we considered many issues such as the unnecessary duplication of scales using identical left-hand fingerings, the role of the thumb, the progression of scales in intervals, and the use of rhythm patterns.
Some of the main changes are outlined here.
Right-hand finger scales are now complemented by lower-octave scales played by the thumb alone at Grades 1 and 2, and by those in which the thumb plays the lower octave and the fingers the upper at Grades 3 to 5. These patterns promote independence of thumb movement and a stable right-hand position when changing between thumb and fingers.
From Grade 3 we have introduced scales in intervals which relate directly to patterns found so frequently in guitar music.
We now make a distinction between over-ringing broken chords and non-over-ringing arpeggios. We hope that this new feature will help students to understand the function of different musical elements – whether an arpeggiated passage is part of a melodic line or the accompanying harmonic texture.
Candidates will no longer have to play scales with specified right-hand fingerings. However, we will be providing some guideline fingering in the scale books.
The new requirements represent a more logical progression up the grades, with tasks more closely interrelated for easier absorption. Candidates will have covered all keys by the time they reach Grade 8, and even with the additions outlined above, there is a considerable reduction in the number of items required at each grade.
The new guitar syllabus, valid from January 2009, will be published in July together with the scale and sight-reading books. Time Pieces for Guitar, the CDs of Guitar Exam Pieces and the Weiss and Scarlatti books will be available later in the year.