Playing for RAD exams
Advice for musicians performing for RAD exams.
Live and recorded music in exams
Pianists can play for RAD exams, class awards, demonstration or presentation classes at every level from pre-school (level 1) to Solo Seal. In some exams, it is compulsory to have live music throughout. In others,
- it is compulsory for all of the exam except for solos, which are danced to recordings.
- it is optional: teachers can choose between recorded music, live music, or a mixture of both.
For a full list of the options and requirements, download the Overview of examination music requirements. For further information, see Music requirements for RAD exams in the Examinations area of this website.
Exams vary in length, from 15 minutes for one Primary candidate up to 1 hour 40 minutes for Advanced 2. A full day of exams will include a morning coffee break, a lunch break and an afternoon tea break. See Timings and Sets.
Professional etiquette and standards
Before the exam
- Check with the teacher whether they are going to provide the music books, or whether they are expecting you to bring your own.
- Where there are two choices of music for an exercise, or two dances to chose from, make sure you know which music the teacher wants in advance, and prepare your scores accordingly.
- Get to know the syllabus thoroughly – exams run like a performance with minimal direction from the examiner. Teachers should give you at least one rehearsal with students.
- The fewer opportunities you have for rehearsal, the more you should acquaint yourself with the tempo and settings for the exam by listening to the official recordings and watching the syllabus DVDs.
- Be seated at the piano and ready to play at least two minutes before the start-time of the exam – “10 a.m” on a timetable is when you start playing, not when you turn up. Before the first exam in a session, arrive at least 10 minutes early so you can meet the examiner and check that the piano is in a suitable position with adequate seating.
- Don’t make adjustments to instruments that don’t belong to you.
- Turn mobile phones off, or put them in flight mode for the duration of the exam.
- Don’t take food and drink into the studio
- Check any hifi equipment and recordings that you are going to use in the exam, and make sure you know where the 'skip track', play/pause and volume controls are.
During the exam
- Don’t address the candidates
- Don’t play or practise between exercises
- Don’t embellish the music with trills, arpeggios or changes to the harmony. You can adapt it to suit your technique but embellishing may distract the dancers: if in doubt, don’t do it. For more about this, see the 'About this music' section in the preface to the music books.
- Don’t use metronomes (see explanatory notes below)
- If you are using a digital instrument that has a variety of onboard sampled sounds, use the piano sounds only (except in Pre-Primary and Primary in Dance examinations, where other sounds can be used)
- Don’t use your mobile phone (it should be turned off or put in flight mode)
After the exam
- When you go for a break, check with the doorkeeper what time you are expected back: if exams are running early or late, the examiner may make small changes to the schedule to compensate.
- Leave the examiner to get on with their work in the breaks. Most of them want to use this time for writing up notes and reports. Unless they clearly want to stop and chat, leave the room as soon as the break starts.
- Refuse to get drawn into conversations with parents and teachers about what went on, and don’t try to draw the examiner into discussion about individual candidates. Examinations are confidential, and respecting that confidentiality is part of your professional responsibility.
Settings and groups
There will be between one and four candidates in an exam. When there is more than one candidate, the examiner will ask to see some exercises in the centre in different formations. There are three kinds of formation:
a) In two groups, stopping between each group
b) In two groups, without stopping between each group
c) One by one, with no pause in between
A ‘group’ in (a) and (b) above can consist of one person if there are only two or three candidates. In the syllabus music book, exercises that can be taken in groups have text under the first stave indicating how much music is required for one group or candidate (this is called a ‘setting’). Where exercises can be taken one by one without a pause, rehearsal letters (A,B,C and D) are used to make it easier to find cuts and repeats for 1,2,3, or 4 settings. The examiner will always make it clear to you before the exercise how they want the exercise to be taken.
Some vocational graded examinations include 'free enchaînements', short sequences of steps put together by the examiner during the exam itself. For this section, you will be asked to provide an accompaniment of the correct length, metre, tempo and rhythm as explained by the examiner. You can either improvise something, or play something from a book of printed music. You will have time to think about what to play during the setting of the exercise.
In the music books for Intermediate Foundation and Intermediate you will find an appendix containing pieces of music that are suitable for enchaînements at those levels. You can use these actual pieces in the exam, or use them as models for finding repertoire of your own. For more help on finding music for free enchaînements and ballet classes generally, see our Dance rhythms for ballet pianists page.
Music for classwork or free enchaînements is also included in the music books for Advanced Foundation Male and Female, and Advanced 1 and 2 Female. It will also be included the music for the new Advanced 1 and Male syllabi. However, free enchaînements will no longer be examined at Advanced 1 and 2 levels from January 2015 (female) and January 2016 (Male).
Metronomes and metronome marks
Metronome marks in our scores were added retrospectively, by listening to the recordings of the syllabus music and using this online metronome to calculate an average tempo for each track. Tempos for the recording were decided during the creation and piloting of the syllabus, working with several dancers in different schools. The speeds are thus a result of the process, they weren’t imposed on the dancers from outside.
With that in mind, our metronome markings shouldn’t be viewed as the only ‘correct’ tempo for an exercise, but as a rough guide when you first learn the music, or when you have not had enough rehearsal with a group of dancers to work out a good tempo between yourselves.
- Music in exams from the RAD Examinations department
- Pianos, digital pianos and keyboards – a guide to what kind of keyboards can be used in exams.
- Focus on Exams – a publication mainly for teachers, but there is sometimes valuable information about changes to regulations that can be useful for musicians
- Dance rhythms for ballet pianists – containing information on playing for free enchaînements