Vocal Exams: Everything You Need to Know

Updated: Sep 2



"You can take exams for that?"


That's pretty much the most common reaction to the words 'vocal exam'. While vocal exams are not for everyone (and are completely optional), many people find there's a lot of benefits in them. If you're thinking about taking a vocal exam, you'll probably want some more information.


Just a quick disclaimer before we get started - the exams we'll be talking about are those offered by the Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB), including Rockschool Exams. If you're outside Australia, some of the advice may not be completely relevant (excepting Rockschool, which is offered worldwide.)


What is a vocal exam?


Essentially, a vocal exam is where you prepare a repertoire of pieces and/or technical exercises, which you then perform to an examiner. The examiner takes notes on your performance, then grades you and gives advice on how you can improve. You'll get a certificate when you're done, which is recognised Australia-wide for AMEB exams, or worldwide for Rockschool.


What are the different types of exam?


The AMEB offer four different types of exam; singing, singing for leisure, musical theatre and Rockschool. Generally, I recommend Rockschool exams because they are recognised worldwide, not just in Australia, and because it has the most variety in terms of songs. Rockschool exams feature pop, rock, jazz and theatre songs, and also features the most modern catalogue of any of the exams. However, there are some people who benefit from the other exam formats. I've outlined the formats below, so that you can compare them for yourself.


Singing

  • Designed for classical singers

  • Features classical and folk music

  • Includes songs in other languages

  • Students must sing both acapella and with a piano accompaniment

Singing for Leisure

  • Designed for pop/contemporary singers

  • Features pop and musical theatre music

  • Hasn't been updated for a long time, so there's not a lot of modern music

  • Students sing with backing music

Musical Theatre

  • Designed for musical theatre singers

  • Features musical theatre music only

  • Singers must also learn the stories behind each song and perform in character

  • Students sing with backing music

Rockschool

  • Designed for pop/contemporary singers

  • Features pop, rock, jazz and musical theatre music

  • The most modern song list of any of the exams

  • Starts at grade 1, so it can take longer to get started on Rockschool exams than the others

  • Students sing with backing music


What do you mean by 'technical work'?


Scales, arpeggios, intervals, music theory... This is actually stuff we tend to work on when we warm up, but you'll need to know it by name for your exam. Or you can choose to avoid technical work in your exam by singing some extra songs instead. In my experience, students who take this path find it harder to prepare for their exams, but get better results overall.


How do Grades Work?


Exams start at preliminary grade (with the exception of Rockschool, which starts at grade 1), and go from there to grade 1, grade 2, grade 3 - all the way up to grade 8. If you still want more after that, you can take a certificate of performance or diploma exam, but most people decide to finish exams after grade 8.


Did you say something about SACE points?


I most certainly did! For those who don't know, SACE is the South Australian Certificate of Education. You get one by gathering enough SACE points in year 11 and 12 (though let's face it, most of us start in year 10.)


If you're in South Australia, every exam from grade 5 onwards is worth 10 SACE points. That means that you could potentially get yourself 40 SACE points without even going to school. The catch? Most people have to work their way up from grade 1, so you'll want to get started early if you plan to get hold of those extra points.


Should I do an exam?


That's entirely up to you! It is worth keeping in mind that taking exams means you'll be learning songs from a set list, not necessarily your favourites. Plus, exams can be expensive (you'll need to purchase a book for each grade, as well as paying the exam fee.) But if you're looking for a new goal for your singing, or you want those extra SACE points, exams are a great option!


If you have any more questions about exams, feel free to get in contact, I'd love to help!


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