DrumGrades and Exams

Grades are a great way to learn a range of skills that drummers need (including the less popular sight reading!), helping you become a well-rounded musician. That said, I will usually take a student through grades along side other subjects, such as technique, improvisation and concepts to deepen understanding which aren't necessarily covered in the exams.
A major benefit of grades is the structure and easy to track progress, plus you can earn recognised qualifications as you go. Rockschool for example are on the QCF and grades 6, 7 and 8 are worth UCAS points.
As Europe's No.1 rock music exam board, Rockscool are a popular choice. They also cover many other genres with their pieces, especially as you progress, so you can certainly diversify stylistically if you prefer. Rockschool grades are especially applicable to the contemporary approach, and as of 2018 also include commercial tracks along side their own generic play alongs.
All my students have achieved a 100% pass rate, but it is also completely up to you if you wish to take the exam or not; it's helpful material either way.
Click here to visit their website.
ABRSM, drumming grades, music grades, music exams, snare grades, snare drum, lessons,
Trinity,  grades, learn drums, learn music, music exams,trinity college,
Trinity offer drum kit and percussion grades which give drummers a range of authentic styles to master, including jazz, funk, show tunes, film, TV, Latin, reggae and swing, as well as Rock and Pop grades that are similar to Rockschool's. You may prefer their approach to technical studies or their song choices.
Both Trinity and ABRSM snare drum exams are also available for those who wish to focus on hand technique and rudimental pieces.

Grade 1-8 Breakdown

Grade 1
Key Features
- Moving between cymbals, open hi hats, syncopated accents
- Single and double strokes, paradiddles
- Playback skills
Pieces
- Pieces last up to 1 minute 15 seconds. Grooves have some more movement and control and cymbal work includes ride, crash and hi hat
- There is an option of 2 free choice pieces
- 2 pages
Technical Work
- Single and Double strokes
- Single and Double strokes
- Single Paradiddles
- Fill
Sight Reading or Improvisation
Sight Reading:
- 4 bars at 80bpm played on the snare drum
- ¼ and 1/8 notes in 4/4
- 90 seconds preparation and practice
Improvisation:
- 4 bars at 80bpm
- 1 bar groove shown using bass drum, hi hat and snare
- 30 seconds preparation time
- 1 practice play through with backing
Ear Tests
Fill playback & Recognition:
- You will hear a one bar fill played on the snare drum. It is played twice with a metronome
- You will be required to play it back with a metronome
- You will be required to identify it from two written examples
Groove Recall:
- You will hear a repeated two bar groove that is played on hi hat, snare and bass. It is played twice
- You will then have a short period of practice
- You will be asked to play the groove
General Musicianship Questions
- Four questions on the piece and include, drum voices on the stave, note values, time signature and rests
- One question on the parts of the drum kit and the name of two makes of drums
 
Grade 2
Key Features
- 8th note triplets, 4 way coordination, syncopation
- Single and double strokes, paradiddles, flams, triplets
- Playback skills
Pieces
- Pieces last up to 1 minute 30 seconds. Rests are introduced into the groove and there is an element of syncopation. The degree of coordination increases
- There is an option of 2 free choice pieces
- 2 pages
Technical Work
- Single and Double strokes
- Paradiddles
- Flams
- Triplets
- Fill
Sight Reading or Improvisation
Sight Reading:
- 4 bars at 70bpm played on the snare drum
- ¼, 1/8th and 1/16th notes in 4/4. ¼ and 1/8 note rests
- 90 seconds preparation and practice
Improvisation:
- 4 bars at 80bpm
- 1 bar groove shown using bass drum, hi hat, open hi hat and snare
- 30 seconds preparation time
- 1 practice play through with backing
Ear Tests
Fill Playback and Recognition:
- You will hear a one bar fill played on the snare drum. It is played twice with a metronome
- You will be required to play it back with a metronome
- You will be required to identify it from two written examples
Groove Recall:
- You will hear a repeated two bar groove that is played on hi hat, snare and bass. It is played twice
- You will then have a short period of practice
- You will be asked to play the groove
General Musicianship Questions
- Four questions on the piece and include, drum voices on the stave, note values, time signature, repeats and 2nd time bars and rests
- One question on the parts of the drum kit, the parts of the sticks and the name of two makes of drums
 
Grade 3
Key Features
- Introduction of solo and Improvisation passages, Reggae One Drop Feel, Syncopated pushes
- Single and double strokes, paradiddles, Flams and Drags, triplets
- Playback skills
Pieces
- Pieces last up to 2 minutes. Soloing and Improvisation is introduced as well as developing stylistic sense of groove
- There is an option of 2 free choice pieces
- 2 pages
Technical Work
- Single strokes
- Double Strokes
- Paradiddles
- Flams and Drags
- Triplets
- Fill
Sight Reading or Improvisation
Sight Reading:
- 4 bars at 70-80bpm played
- On the snare drum
- ¼, 1/8th and 1/16th notes in 4/4. ¼ and 1/8 note rests
- 90 seconds preparation and practice
Improvisation:
- 4 bars at 80-100bpm
- 1 bar groove shown using bass drum, hi hat, open hi hat, crash and snare
- 30 seconds preparation time
- 1 practice play through with backing
Ear Tests
Fill Playback and Recognition:
- You will hear a one bar fill played on the snare drum. It is played twice with a metronome
- You will be required to play it back with a metronome
- You will be required to identify it from two written examples
Groove Recall:
- You will hear a repeated two bar groove that is played on crash, hi hat, snare and bass. It is played twice
- You will then have a short period of practice
- You will then be asked to play the groove
General Musicianship Questions
- four questions on the piece and include, drum voices on the stave, note values, time signature, repeats and 2nd time bars and rests
- one question on the parts of the drum kit, the parts of the sticks and two makes of drums and cymbals
 
 Grade 4
Key Features
- Solo and Improvisation passages, Ghost snare, rim shot, riding on the toms
- Single and double strokes, paradiddles, Flams and ruffs, hands and feet patterns
- Playback skills
Pieces
- Pieces last up to 2 minutes 15 seconds. Soloing and Improvisation further explored as well as a developing stylistic sense of groove
- There is an option of 2 free choice pieces
- 2 pages
Technical Work
- Single and Double Strokes
- Paradiddles
- Flams and Ruffs
- Hands and Feet Patterns
- Fill
Sight Reading or Improvisation
These are in three styles; Rock, Blues or Funk.
Sight Reading:
- 8 bars at 80-120bpm
- 2 bars of improvisation/development within the piece
- On the full kit
- 90 seconds preparation and practice
Improvisation:
- 8 bars at 80-120bpm
- 2 bar groove notated. Groove developed and a 2 bar solo
- 30 seconds preparation time
- 1 practice play through with backing
Ear Tests
Fill Playback and Recognition:
- You will hear a one bar fill played on the snare drum. It is played twice with a metronome
- You will be required to play it back with a metronome
- You will be required to identify it from three written examples
Groove Recall:
- You will hear a repeated two bar groove. It is played twice
- You will then have a short period of practice
- You will then be asked to play the groove
- You will then be required to identify the style of a list of three styles given by the examiner
General Musicianship Questions
- 4 questions on the piece and include, drum voices on the stave, note values, time signature, repeats and 2nd time bars, stylistic choices for the piece and rests
- 1 question on the parts of the drum kit, the parts of the sticks, two makes of drums and cymbals and stylistic techniques for pieces
 
Grade 5
Key Features
- Snare Drum techniques: cross stick, rim shot, Texas Shuffle, 4 way coordination
- Single and double strokes, paradiddles, Flams and ruffs, rolls, hands and feet patterns
- Playback skills
Pieces
- Pieces last up to 2 minutes 30 seconds. Soloing and Improvisation develop more stylistic groove patterns. Coordination more complex
- There is an option of 2 free choice piece
- 4 pages
Technical Work
- Single and Double Strokes
- Paradiddles
- Flams and Ruffs
- Rolls
- Hands and Feet Patterns
- Fill
Sight Reading or Improvisation
These are in three styles; Rock, Blues or Funk.
Sight Reading:
- 8 bars at 80 - 120bpm
- 2 bars of improvisation/development within the piece
- On the full kit
- 90 seconds preparation and practice
Improvisation:
- 8 bars at 80-120bpm
- 2 bar groove notated. Groove developed and a 2 bar solo
- 30 seconds preparation time
- 1 practice play through with backing
Ear Tests
Fill Playback and Recognition:
- You will hear a one bar fill played on the snare drum. It is played twice with a metronome and can include triplet 8th notes
- You will be required to play it back with a metronome
- You will be required to identify it from three written examples
Groove Recall:
- You will hear a repeated two bar groove. It is played twice and can include swing rhythm
- You will then have a short period of practice
- You will then be asked to play the groove
- You will then be required to identify the style of a list of three styles given by the examiner
General Musicianship Questions
- 4 questions on the piece and include, drum voices on the stave, note values, time signature, repeats and 2nd time bars, stylistic choices for the piece and rests. One rudiment used stylistically in the piece
- 1 question on the parts of the drum kit, the parts of the sticks, two makes of drums and cymbals, cymbal techniques (bell/choke) and stylistic techniques used in pieces
 
 Grade 6
Key Features
- Time signature changes, Bass Drum doubles, Polyrhythms, 6/8 Trip Hop Groove
- Single and double strokes, paradiddles, ratamacues, rolls, Stylistic Studies
- Playback skills
Pieces
- Pieces last up to 2 minutes 45 seconds. Soloing and Improvisation develop more stylistic groove patterns. Coordination more complex
- There is an option of 2 free choice pieces
- 4 pages
Technical Work
- Single and Double Strokes
- Paradiddles
- Ratamacues
- Rolls
- Stylistic Study (chosen from, Rock/Metal, Funk, Jazz/Latin/Blues
Quick Study Piece
- Combination of Sight Reading and Improvisation
- Full version heard once (with drums playing notated parts
- 3 minutes preparation/practice time
- One practice run through with backing
Ear Tests
Fill Playback and Recognition:
- You will hear a one bar fill played on the snare drum. It is played twice with a metronome and can include 16th note sextuplets
- You will be required to play it back with a metronome
- You will be required to identify it from three written examples
Groove Recall:
- You will hear a repeated two bar groove. It is played twice and can include swing rhythm
- You will then have a short period of practice
- You will then be asked to play the groove
- You will then be required to identify the style of a list of four styles given by the examiner
General Musicianship Questions
- 4 questions on the piece and include, drum voices on the stave, note values, time signature, repeats and 2nd time bars, stylistic choices for the piece and rests. One rudiment used stylistically in the piece
- 1 question on all aspects of drum maintenance, tuning for the style of the piece chosen, techniques used on all parts of the drums for the piece
 
Greade 7
Key Features
- Broken 16th note rolls, 32nd note rolls, "Amen Break"
- Single strokes developed, paradiddle-diddles, Pataflafla, single and double ratamacues, 7 and 9 stroke rolls, Stylistic Studies
- Playback skills
Pieces
- Pieces last up to 3 minutes 10 seconds. Complex Solo and Improvisation work with mature stylistic groove patterns. Coordination more complex
- There is an option of 2 free choice piece
- 4 pages
Technical Work
- Single Strokes
- Paradiddles
- Flams
- Ratamacues
- Rolls
- Stylistic Study (chosen from, Rock/Metal, Funk, Jazz/Latin/Blues
Quick Study Piece
- Combination of Sight Reading and Improvisation
- Full version heard once (with drums playing notated parts)
- 3 minutes preparation/practice time
- One practice run through with backing
Ear Tests
Fill Playback and Recognition:
- You will hear a one bar fill played on the snare drum. It is played twice with a metronome and can include 16th note sextuplets
- You will be required to play it back with a metronome
- You will be required to identify it from three written examples
Groove Recall:
- You will hear a repeated two bar groove. It is played twice
- You will then have a short period of practice
- You will then be asked to play the groove
- You will then be required to identify the style of a list of four styles given by the examiner
General Musicianship Questions
- 4 questions on the piece and include, drum voices on the stave, note values, time signature, repeats and 2nd time bars, stylistic choices for the piece and rests. One rudiment used stylistically in the piece
- 1 question on all aspects of drum maintenance, tuning for the style of the piece chosen, techniques used on all parts of the drums for the piece
Grade 8
Key Features
- Double bass drum, Advanced stylistic grooves, complex time signature changes and syncopation
- Single strokes developed, alternative paradiddle-diddles, Swiss Army triplet, Pataflafla, single and double triple ratamacue, rolls, Stylistic Studies
- Playback skills
Pieces
- Pieces last up to 3 minutes 45 seconds. Advanced Solo and Improvisation work with mature sense of stylistic groove patterns. Coordination more complex
- There is an option of 2 free choice pieces
- 4 pages
Technical Work
- Single Strokes
- Paradiddles
- Flams
- Ratamacues
- Rolls
- Stylistic Study (chosen from, Rock/Metal, Funk, Jazz/Latin/Blues)
Quick Study Piece
- Combination of Sight Reading and Improvisation
- Full version heard once (with drums playing notated parts)
- 3 minutes preparation/practice time
- One practice run through with backing
Ear Tests
Fill Playback and Recognition:
- You will hear a one bar fill played on the snare drum. It is played twice with a metronome and can include 16th note sextuplets
- You will be required to play it back with a metronome
- You will be required to identify it from three written examples
Groove Recall:
- You will hear a repeated two bar groove. It is played twice
- You will then have a short period of practice
- You will then be asked to play the groove
- You will then be required to identify the style of a list of four styles given by the examiner
General Musicianship Questions
- 4 questions on the piece and include, drum voices on the stave, note values, time signature, repeats and 2nd time bars, stylistic choices for the piece and rests. One rudiment used stylistically in the piece
- One question on all aspects of drum maintenance, tuning for the style of the piece chosen, techniques used on all parts of the drums for the piece
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