There are two linked levels of music examinations, one going through eight grades and catering for all age groups, the other providing tertiary qualifications. Most or all examining boards operating in Australia do both, and similarities probably outweigh the differences though website descriptions naturally emphasise what they conceive as competitive strengths, such as quality of teaching standards, syllabuses, geographical coverage and emphasis on particular musical genres.

Tertiary qualifications are of course also provided through universities and colleges (to be covered in the previous section on tertiary music education). Lists of music teachers such show that many have both types of qualifications.1

Six organisations or boards provide full courses of graded music examinations in Australia. Each organisation is described briefly with an agreed description, except one described from its website (ABRSM). The reader is referred to their respective websites for detail:

  • Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB)
  • Australian and New Zealand Cultural Arts (ANZCA)
  • Trinity Guildhall Examinations
  • Australian Guild of Music Education
  • St Cecilia’s School of Music (SCSM)
  • Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM)

Two other organisations seem to have a more modest presence in Australia (if incorrect, please advise the editor). They are the International Music Examinations Board (IMEB) and the London College of Music Examinations, now part of Thames Valley University.

Australian Music Examinations Board

AMEB examines in excess of 100,000 candidates each year and was the first Australian-based music examination body to offer its services in Australia. It started in 1887 at the Universities of Adelaide and Melbourne, became a national body in 1918, and became an incorporated body in 2002. Like most other boards, it subsequently added speech and drama examinations to its repertoire.

AMEB is a federated structure. The federal office (in Melbourne) operates in the following areas:

  • development of syllabuses in instrumental performance and music theory
  • development and production of publications supporting the syllabuses
  • the setting of examinations for all written papers, and
  • examining of practical Diplomas, of which by far the most numerous in the music area are Associate of Music Australia (AMusA) and Licentiate of Music Australia (LMusA). The highest examination level is Fellowship in Music Australia (FMusA).

The State Offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart administer all aspects of the examinations. Each mainland State office has its own website.2

Today AMEB is the most widely-used Australian assessment system in music, speech and drama. It is also the only examination body with formal links to major Australian universities and Ministers for Education: through its corporate structure, ownership of the AMEB is vested in each of the Universities of Adelaide, Melbourne and Western Australia; and the Ministers of Education (who also in some cases hold related portfolios) in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania. Each of these bodies provides a representative to the Board of Directors of the AMEB.

The AMEB national and State websites provide great detail about syllabuses, examinations, the quality and number of examiners, and the large number of course-related publications published. In summary, AMEB provides the only formal links to major Australian universities and education departments, is the most widely used music assessment system in Australia, and offers an assessment system from primary to diploma level using highly trained examiners who are specialists in their instrument.

Like other music examination boards, AMEB keeps extending its coverage of musical genres. For example:

  • Its Contemporary Popular Music program (CPM) encourages students to study jazz through keyboard, bass, drum kit, guitar and vocal music syllabuses;
  • Its newly released (2006) syllabus in Music Craft maps to world’s best practice in contemporary music theory, and provides a full suite of support materials to support students learning and teachers delivery of the subject matter.

Australian and New Zealand Cultural Arts

Formed in 1983 in response to a growing need amongst private music teachers for an examination system catering for a greater diversity of musical styles, Australian and New Zealand Cultural Arts Limited (ANZCA) is a non-profit examining body of the performing arts. Examinations are conducted throughout Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong. Modern and classical syllabuses are currently available for pianoforte, organ, guitar, singing, trumpet and flute, as well as contemporary syllabuses for digital keyboard-piano, bass, drum set, trombone, euphonium, baritone, clarinet, saxophone, accordion, recorder, strings and theory of music. The classical syllabuses have been compiled around interesting musical compositions, especially at the junior levels, but a free choice list from Grade two allows students of most instruments to perform a modern piece if they choose. Similarly, in the modern syllabuses students from Grade Two can elect to play a classical piece from the free choice section.

Levels range from Introductory through to Associate, Licentiate and Fellowship Diplomas.

Its website states: “ANZCA has been at the forefront in developing modern stream exami-nations in all instruments, and will continue to work on improving and extending both the classical and modern syllabi.” In the modern syllabuses, students are encouraged to improvise and arrange pieces.

Trinity Guildhall Examinations

Trinity Guildhall’s range of qualifications in Music is extensive with syllabuses covering a range of styles from contemporary, jazz, popular and commercial musics as well as classical. As an organisation which is working in around 50 countries, we welcome and embrace cultures from all over the world.3

Trinity Guildhall is part of the broader structure of Trinity College London. It focuses on the performing arts in music and drama. It has a long-standing presence in Australia, dating back to the early 1880s “when music examiners would set off from England on long voy-ages to the Australian centres of Sydney and Melbourne. We were the first board to examine candidates in music in Australia and now we examine thousands of candidates every year in music and drama.”

Similar to other music examination boards such as AMEB, the tiered program of graded examinations ranges up to Associate, Licentiate and Fellowship Diplomas. Fellowship is commensurate with a Masters Degree.

The Australian operation works through State managers, responsible for running their own centres, for working closely with their representative State teams to promote Trinity Guildhall examinations, and to provide support to all teachers and candidates, schools and colleges. “We are also keen to promote the work of Australian composers, writers and drama-tists by including them in its syllabuses.”

Australian Guild of Music Education Inc

By Rodney Cox

The Australian Guild of Music and Speech was founded in 1969 as a continuation of the London Guild of Music and Speech (Australia). In 2002 all its operations were assumed by the Australian Guild of Music Education, Public Examination Division. It remains a non-profit public educational institution, constituted to provide private Music and Speech Teachers and students of Music and Speech (including Drama) with a comprehensive set of syllabi and Australia-wide examinations in both Music and Speech.

The Guild is essentially an association of private music and speech teachers set up to foster interest in these arts and provide the teachers with a standard structure for teaching and examining students. Teachers throughout Australia register with the Guild and once registered receive updates and discounts. In addition, the Guild has branches in Singapore and Malaysia and examinations are starting to be conducted in Indonesia and China. The Guild is run by Music and Speech Teachers for Music and Speech Teachers.

Classical, modern and jazz syllabi are all available for most popular instruments, with three step examinations available as a lead-in to Grade 1, and culminating in the Fellowship Diploma, awarded for outstanding contributions in the fields of Music or Speech.

The syllabi cover:

  • Music Performance – concentrates on the presentation aspects of actual performance
  • Practical Music – all styles and instruments plus Music Theory
  • Speech – Speech and Drama, Oral communication, Spoken Language Development, Language and Choric Speaking
  • Musical Theatre – combines Music, Drama and Movement

In addition, courses are run to train experienced, specialist teachers in the above disciplines as examiners.

The Tertiary Course Division is authorised to award Certificate 4, Diploma, Advanced Diploma and the Bachelor Degree. All these courses are accredited and the degree program is supported by the Federal Government’s Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) Fee Help scheme.4 The courses are by attendance or distance education, so they are suitable for students who wish to continue after doing the public examinations anywhere in Australia, especially as the Guild is recognised for Fee Help.

All technical aspects of the Public Examination Division, are overseen by the members of the Tertiary music faculty, ensuring the highest of standards.

The Guild website provides information and application forms for all aspects of its Public Examination Division and resource material for students enrolled in the Tertiary Course Division.

The highlight of each year is the combined Public and Tertiary, Graduation Ceremony and Concert where Guild students from all over Australia are given recognition for their excellence.

St Cecilia School of Music

Based in Launceston, Tasmania, St. Cecilia has been operating successfully in Australia since 1974. Thousands of musicians have received their training and qualifications through the St Cecilia teaching and examination systems. Many of these musicians have continued professionally as teachers and performers all over the world.

The Australian-based St Cecilia Examinations (SCSM) system was developed 35 years ago by its current director Matthews Tyson and has since grown to become a major music assessment organisation throughout Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore and India, and most recently Malaysia and Indonesia.

The syllabus covers all instruments and voice from three elementary levels through eight grades and numerous professional teaching and performing diplomas. Diplomas are signified by the letters A.Dip.SCSM Dip.SCSM and F.Dip.SCSM. Diplomas may be awarded with Honours.

47 highly qualified and experienced examiners currently examine for St Cecilia. Training is conducted on an annual basis.

SCSM examinations have been accredited by the Tasmanian, South Australian, Northern Territory and Western Australian government agencies for the purpose of students’ education certificates. In 2007, the Queensland State Studies Authority agreed to accept St Cecilia examinations for the recognition and listing on the Queensland Certificate of Education.

St Cecilia Teaching Diplomas are accredited by the New South Wales, South Australian and Western Australian Music Teachers’ Associations for the purpose of membership.

St. Cecilia offers up to seven examination periods throughout the year in most centres. Teachers and schools who enter large numbers of students may opt for examination sessions outside of the normal exam periods.

St Cecilia examination fees remain competitive with other boards and because of low overheads, St Cecilia claims that it is able to operate in a more flexible and user-friendly manner. St Cecilia is growing rapidly and new centres in Canada, Pacific Islands, Thailand and the UK will be opening progressively throughout 2008 and 2009.

Full current details for each syllabus are available here.5 SCSM examinations are suitable for both private studio as well as school teaching programs.

Launceston’s St. Cecilia Chamber Orchestra has a reputation as one of Tasmania’s finest orchestral groups. Established in 1978 by its present conductor, Matthews Tyson, the orchestra has performed to many thousands of people throughout Tasmania. In recent times the orchestra has taken to the road and performed in Auckland, Darwin, Melbourne, Alice Springs and Perth.

The standards set for entry to the orchestra are high. Each of the orchestra’s 40 string players has attained the high grade and diploma qualifications.

The orchestra’s repertoire is diverse and varies from classical to light classical music. It has performed all the major baroque and classical works and also has many contemporary works in its current repertoire.

The orchestra regularly features in concerts at the Princess Theatre and the Albert Hall in Launceston, and undertakes community and commercial performances throughout the year.

The St. Cecilia School of Music also manages the Sonore String Orchestra, Da Capo String Orchestra, St. Cecilia Junior Strings and beginner and adult ensembles. St. Cecilia works in conjunction with various choral groups in Launceston including the international SingElon Choir.

The Associated Board

Great Britain has traditionally been influential in developing the musical skills of Australians, going back to the 19th century. The Associated Board of the Royal Music Schools (ABRMS) is an example of British institutions still playing a role in Australia today. The Associated Board claims to be the world’s leading music examination board, with over 600,000 persons taking its music examinations each year in 90 different countries. The examinations cover more than 35 instruments, singing, jazz, music theory and practical musicianship.

The conservatoires represented by the Associated Board are the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Music, the Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. More information about each can be obtained here.6

The main program of ABRMS is similar to AMEB’s and other boards in that “practical exams provide a progressive system of assessments beginning with the Prep Test and moving up through 8 grades to diplomas. They are designed to motivate pupils and students at all levels by providing clear attainable goals. The ‘grades’ are recognised as international benchmarks and are valued by teachers and institutions all over the world.” Like other boards, it recognises jazz as one of the most important genres of the 20th century and has introduced jazz examination in eight countries including Australia, starting with jazz piano in 1999 and adding clarinet, alto and tenor sax, trumpet, trombone, and horn between 1999 and 2003.

ABRSM has a network of teachers and examination centres in Australia, as explained through the Australian extension of the central website.7

The ABRSM website provides an insight into the number of students taking examinations at each of the eight practical and theory levels, and the number taking diplomas. The statistics are summarised in Table 4.3.2 in the statistics section of the knowledge base, covering the UK only. In 2004, there were almost 285,000 practical examinations in the eight grades, falling away heavily between Grades 1 (26.9% of the total number) and 8 (3.4%).

This compared with 45,000 examinations in theory, heavily concentrated on Grade 5, because ABRMS

Encourages the development of theory and musicianship skills from the earliest stages of instrumental learning. As instrumental skills progress, development in music theory and musicianship becomes increasingly important in helping students to perform with sensitivity, understanding and confidence. Candidates are required to pass Grade 5 Theory or Grade 5 Practical Musicianship or Grade 5 Jazz in order to progress to practical exams at Grades 6, 7 and 8.

The number of diploma examinations (945 in 2004) is tiny compared with the graded examinations, totalling some 330,000 in the same year. Table 4.3.1 shows that AMEB passed 544 AmusA and LMusA examinations in the same year, suggesting that if similar relationships exist as in the UK, AMEB’s statement that it examines more than 100,000 persons per annum is realistic and perhaps conservative.


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg, 2008. Supplementary notes: Rodney Cox


  3. Quoted from website.↩︎

Hans founded his own consulting firm, Economic Strategies Pty Ltd, in 1984, following 25 years with larger organisations. He specialised from the outset in applied cultural economics — one of his first major projects was The Australian Music Industry for the Music Board of the Australia Council (published in 1987), which also marks his first connection with Richard Letts who was the Director of the Music Board in the mid-1980s. Hans first assisted the Music Council of Australia in 2000 and between 2006 and 2008 proposed and developed the Knowledge Base, returning in an active capacity as its editor in 2011. In November 2013 the Knowledge Base was transferred to The Music Trust, with MCA's full cooperation.

Between 2000 and 2010 Hans also authored or co-authored several major domestic and international climate change projects, using scenario planning techniques to develop alternative long-term futures. He has for several years been exploring the similarities between the economics of cultural and ecological change, and their continued lack of political clout which is to a large extent due to conventional GDP data being unable to measure the true value of our cultural and environmental capital. This was announced as a major scenario-planning project for The Music Trust in March 2014 (articles of particular relevance to the project are marked *, below).

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