Why take a performance diploma?

By Frances Wilson  -  25 September 2015

Grade 8 does not represent the pinnacle of learning, and for the talented student, it can, and should, act as a springboard further study at conservatoire and music college, or to a Performance Diploma. Diplomas provide a framework for the honing and maturing of performing and teaching skills, and are important in a teacher's ongoing professional development. Anyone who thinks a diploma is a simple step up from Grade 8, think again. While it is a logical next step for a competent musician who has achieved Grade 8, a diploma, even at the lowest, Associate level, is significantly more involved, requiring a high degree of attainment, combined with a professional attitude to preparation, communication, musicality, presentation and stagecraft.

The diploma itself is a professional qualification, recognised by other musicians and music professionals around the world. Diplomas can be taken outside of the formal framework of music college or a university course and as such offer opportunities for serious independent learning and personal development. Diplomas also offer the chance to study without restrictions on length of study or the requirement that one is taught within an institution. 

Trinity College London defines the Associate and Licentiate Diplomas as follows: 

Associate (ATCL, AMusTCL) The standard of performance is equivalent to the performance component of the first year in a full-time undergraduate course at a conservatoire or other higher education establishment. 

Licentiate (LTCL, LMusTCL) The standard of performance is equivalent to the performance component on completion of a full-time undergraduate course at a conservatoire or other higher education establishment. 

[Source: Trinity College London website] 

The criteria and standards one is expected to meet are far higher than for Grade 8: a quick glance through the regulations for the Trinity College of Music Diplomas clearly demonstrates this: 

At ATCL and at LTCL you should be able to demonstrate knowledge of the composers’ intentions, with contextual understanding of the musical material: the ability to communicate all technical and artistic aspects of the music at an appropriate professional standard, employing professional etiquette in presenting the programme awareness of your own musical voice in interpreting the performance objectives, drawing upon a variety of experiences in an individual performance 

[Source: Diplomas in Music: Performance and Teaching from 2009, TCL] 

There are many other requirements to be considered and met when taking a Performance Diploma, and the rigour of the exam is reflected in the expected learning outcomes and assessment objectives. For example, unlike in the grade exams, at Diploma level you select your own repertoire (either from the broad syllabus published by the exam board, a combination of pieces from the syllabus and own-choice repertoire, or by submitting a programme entirely comprising own-choice repertoire). This encourages you to think carefully about how to structure a programme, as if for a public recital.

People have asked me why I didn't opt to take a teaching diploma. The answer is quite simple: I just wanted to play. Also, I didn't have the time to do the written submissions required, and I felt that I would gain a great deal which would be useful in my teaching by studying music in depth with limited intervention from a teacher. This was absolutely born out in my experience: to have immersed myself in complex repertoire for a sustained period of time gave me some remarkable insights into aspects such as: 

Structure, musical "architecture", harmony 

The composer's creative vision and how to interpret it 

My own interpretative insights into the music 

Historical contexts 

Technical challenges such as Baroque ornaments, cadenzas, rapid passagework Devising an appropriate programme displaying a mixture of styles, tempi, expression etc 

Learning how to be a performer: to project and communicate the composer's intentions to a high level, and to perform with original creative flair 

Drawing on one's own personal experiences (not necessarily musical ones) in individual performances 

Developing a mature musical and artistic personality 

The satisfaction of achieving a personal goal. 

Frances holds Licentiate and Associate Performance Diplomas (both with Distinction) from Trinity College London, and offers a specialist mentoring service to people considering or preparing for a Performance Diploma with Trinity College London and the ABRSM 

About Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson is a pianist, piano teacher, music PR, and writer on music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. In addition to her blog, Frances is a regular writer for Hong Kong-based classical music website Interlude HK, and has also written for Pianist magazine, reviewed for Bachtrack.com, and contributed a series of articles on Schubert's penultimate piano sonata to The Schubertian, the journal of the Schubert Institute of the UK. She has also appeared on BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters to discuss the role of music criticism today and the effect of the internet on music journalism and writing. Frances lives in west Dorset with her husband, cat and 'Bechy', a 1913 C Bechstein grand piano.

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