A preliminary idea about singing exams might have people thinking you can do this without lessons in musical repertoire. Not so!

Work on a range of songs, music theory, singing styles, voice training, practical combinations with piano/saxophone/trombone/percussion etc skills are all taken into account depending on the examination process.

AMEB (the Australian musical examinations board) requires theory and performance elements to grade you and let you eventually get into one of Australia's many musical conservatories.

So at first sight, it is easy, but in practice it's quite difficult.

Knowing about these exams and the associate teaching with them will help with your music skills, be they for musical theatre, Rockschool, performance with a band, or just to get graded.

Classical singing, musical theatre singing, sight-reading, whatever your singing needs, Superprof has got you covered.

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What are the singing grades in Australia and how are they graded?

This might depend on your level, technical skills, and style but the short answer is: 10

Piano accompaniment is de rigeur in graded exams
Piano is the most typical accompaniment for a singing exam. | Image by qiipqiipfly from Pixabay

There are three strata, within each there are another three or so levels. This ranges from level 1, all the way through associate and licentiate, with each level also being graded.

AMEB is the musical body who takes care of this, and in order of students and their associate technical skills and practical experience, these are level 1, with preliminary to fourth grade; level 2, with fifth to eighth grade, and level 3 with musical associate certificate through licentiate diploma. Each such level applies mainly to singing and voice, which will focus mainly on speech and diction as well as musical repertoire.

There is however also examination within the voice category in:

  • Singing for leisure
  • Musical theatre
  • CPM vocal
  • Rockschool voice
  • Theory, speech, and teaching

AMEB appeared first in 1887, as a joint venture between Adelaide and Melbourne universities, as a means of promoting teaching and education in music, for practical, technical, and leisure purposes.

This ranged from bass singing, to soprano, to piano, trombone, saxophone, and percussion, with the syllabus eventually expanding to include speech and drama, and big band.

Each level within this is incremental and will provide you with a certificate of competence of each.

However, general student skills and ability can sometimes be pre-assessed and vetted through technical work and performance.

From preliminary grade in level one to level three where you get an associate musical certificate or even a licentiate to practice musical teaching, there will be a comprehensive range of skills covered across the syllabus.

This ranges from voice quality, melody control, technical work, sight-reading, lessons in general speech and diction.

In practical terms, your voice will develop along with the AMEB theory, technical, and practical syllabus with performance, as well as musical understanding, being present the whole time.

Grades and upcoming examination will also affect the content of your lesson, as will whether you're a bass, soprano, or alto.

Musical theatre and classical singing will also differ too as these might be more likely to entail a diploma in a conservatory or university after, compared to singing for leisure exams

As for doing the actual exam itself, this will also have a practical and performance and theoretical component, all of which will be used by AMEB to assess how well you've met the aims of the syllabus.

Now learn more about singing grades in Australia

Are You Able to Skip a Singing Grade?

Dependent on the repertoire of the student and their knowledge of music theory and performance, they will be placed into a certain level.

Given that there are three levels and you may have prior classical singing experience but are keener to practice musical theatre songs though, going from level one grade one all the way through the AMEB syllabus to associate and licentiate might seem like a tall order.

Something to bear in mind too is that each lesson in each level of the syllabus isn't the same as learning and textbook examination; the skills you can associate with the knowledge you already have of the piano for instance won't necessarily mean you will have no musical clue in singing performance, theory, and sight-reading.

Given this, each level is not mutually exclusive nor cumulative thus you might acquire the required skills for level 5 by the end of level 2.

Recording artists train for graded exams too
Popular music singalongs can be a great way to test your vocal range | Image by HUDSON RAONE from Pixabay

As each level is graded however, the 4th grade and 8th grade exams do serve as hurdles for the next level, as these are respectively the end of the one under study.

Between expanding your repertoire and performance skills in your lesson, you teacher might recommend you skip a level or grade or three.

If you're particularly precocious, you might have only sat your second-grade exam a few months ago but have progressed so quickly that your teacher thinks no teaching in grade three is necessary, and you start looking at songs in the grade four syllabus, with a view to sitting the exam soon.

The idea of skipping a singing grade, but you should talk with your teacher about this since their forward sight will help you work out what's best for you in line with your goals.

Ways to Get a High Distinction with AMEB

High Distinction is the highest recognition you're able to earn on a graded exam; it ranks above Honors, which is awarded when a singing student has performed beyond the marks range for credit, or satisfactory.

If you are an aspiring singer with serious intent, namely earning your Bachelor’s or Masters’ from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, or Adelaide Conservatorium, you and your teacher will be wanting to work towards getting a high distinction.

Attending all of those music classes and singing lessons should be the intention and culmination for students spending so long on musical practice and theory in their lessons in general as well.

To get a High Distinction, you need to earn the highest marks possible in five areas of your singing: tone, time, pitch, shape, and performance.

The examination will often consist of a few smaller exams, which examine the level of the student as well as their practical voice range, sight-reading, and technical ability. There will generally be classical and/or unaccompanied songs that the student will have to read by sight too.

Sight-reading and aural capability are all tested but will vary depending on what the examiners present ask for.

We’ve gathered everything you need to know about earning distinction at every level of your singing exams in one article.

Musical theatre also requires a grade 8 achievement
Classical, musical theatre, speech and teaching, singing exams can all take you there | Image by Christopher Sinnott from Pixabay

Practical Tips to Help You Get Ready for Your Singing Exam

Your music teacher, voice coach or singing tutor should tell you this key piece of advice: know what the examiners want.

Perusing the syllabus of your grade currently under examination is the right first step for meeting examiners’ expectations. You will then also need to know what they consider a performance that merits a pass or better.

  • How on key your singing is and how consistently you do so
  • Your knowledge of the lyrics being sung
  • Confidence in your own range and how well you hold the timbre
  • Sticking to the tempo and making sure you match accompanying piano/percussion/saxophone/trombone/band etc.

Getting new songs in your repertoire to vary the range you're comfortable with, all whilst focusing on these elements of theory and practical will help you ace your exam when the time comes.

Make sure that in your practice sessions that you focus on this too, so that you work out what you personally need to cover.

An example might be working out how to detect notes and musical subtlety, which will refine your aural skills and help you keep them sharp during your exams.

Another example might be that sight-reading is proving difficult for you, so being confronted with new pieces could really help you in your understanding of musical theory.

Consider vocal exercises too!

Now an important thing to note here is that leading up to your exam, you should only focus 30 minutes per day on voice training since this can wear your vocal cords out.

There is just as much practice for a performance in being physically and mentally ready as there is practical revision.

Visualise Success in the Exam

If you have success on the brain, walking into the exam, you will have good posture and a smile on your face. This can even extend to the clothes you're wearing and how your hair is done.

Be polite and greet your examiners, and deliver them a copy of the songbook when asked. Place yourself near the piano and look just above the accompanist's head to signal that you're ready.

Give Reality to your Vision

This can be realised with a few simple preparations:

Lay your clothes and out the night before so they are neat and you can get into the examination mood easily the next day.

Plan your look and hair in advance, as well as how you will get to the testing centre.

Stay hydrated and eat well in the days leading up to the exam.

Avoid stress from other factors, and meditate to improve focus,

In sum, just a few tips when getting ready for your singing exam.

We wish you the best of luck!

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