An Introduction to the Royal Conservatory of Music

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As you are enrolling yourself or your child in piano lessons, you may have heard of the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM). However, not everyone is familiar with the Conservatory’s program, curriculum, and its role in our studio. In this blog post, we will break down and explain what exactly the Conservatory’s curriculum is, how it works, and how it plays a role in our studio.


What is the Royal Conservatory of Music?

Founded in 1886 and based in Toronto, the Royal Conservatory of Music is the oldest music institution in Canada. Its mission – to develop human potential – is based on the conviction that the arts are humanity’s greatest means to achieve personal growth and social cohesion. The RCM is dedicated to training and inspiring students to love music. To aid teachers in delivering a solid music education, the RCM created The Royal Conservatory Certificate Program – a curriculum that consists of 13 levels. This curriculum is widely used across Canada, but also provides a national standard of music in the United States.


The RCM Curriculum

Although not all musicians follow the RCM curriculum, many students and teachers enjoy using this curriculum. The thirteen levels consist of two preparatory levels (Preparatory A and Preparatory B), ten numbered levels (Level 1 to Level 10), and culminate with the Associate Diploma of the Royal Conservatory of Music (ARCT). The ARCT is awarded in Piano Performance and Piano Pedagogy and is an internationally recognized prestigious academic achievement in music.

Associated with each level is an essential theory component; these help students develop an understanding of music vocabulary, analytical thinking, aural awareness, and a strong foundation of musical knowledge. Levels 9, 10 and ARCT also have comprehensive music history courses.

Students may take a practical examination for each level, offered year-round. These examinations require that students play various pieces of repertoire from different styles and periods (usually selected from their respective RCM level books) to ensure that each student gains a wide breadth of experience. Examinations also assess the musician’s aural skills, technique, and musicianship. The renowned RCM program is recognized as a “gold standard” in many countries because of its development to a high level of musical ability.

All exam-takers can be assured of a professionally conducted exam. All examiners conducting the exams are highly trained and experienced pedagogues from across North America. Additionally, each examiner must complete an Adjudicator Certification Program prior admission to the College of Examiners, thus ensuring consistent and professional evaluation of all exams.

Although not every student has the time or goal to achieve the ARCT, achieving Level 8 is a huge accomplishment on its own. The completion of Level 8 demonstrates that the musician has a solid understanding and competency in piano and musical knowledge. Anyone who reaches Level 8 will be able to enjoy playing a multitude of piano pieces for the rest of their life, even if they choose not to study music for their post-secondary education. More ambitious students will often choose to work towards their Level 9, 10, and ARCT. Pieces at these levels are required for post-secondary music programs. Not all students who achieve these levels continue on to study music in university, but this advanced level of piano proficiency provides the opportunity for further personal development and expression. Achievement in RCM levels plays not only an important role in applications to post-secondary music programs, but is also recognized as a strong extracurricular achievement in any resume or application.

The repertoire and etudes books at each level provide a staged approach to learning the piano, gradually increasing in complexity. Based on the European tradition of classical music training, students are introduced to music through the early compositions of famous composers in the last few hundred years.

However, it is a common misconception that the curriculum consists only of classical repertoire. The curriculum has been developed to not only include, but require, a diverse collection of music. Each level has a broad selection of pieces representing a variety of styles and historical periods. This means that teachers and students can add favourite pieces through the Teacher’s Choice option in the early levels. There is also a Popular Selections List for each level which encompasses contemporary, jazz, pop, and musical theatre selections, thus ensuring quality, relevance, and effectiveness of the curriculum.


The RCM Curriculum and Upbeat Piano Studio

At Upbeat Piano Studio, all of our teachers are experienced in teaching the RCM curriculum and trained to prepare students of all ages for practical and theory examinations. We encourage many of our students to follow the curriculum and take the exams. In our experience, examinations provide students with a goal to work toward and a sense of achievement after completion. In the process of preparing for an exam (whether it is a practical or theory examination), students are challenged to practice and perform at their highest capabilities, develop a sense of discipline and strong work ethic and build self-confidence and presentation skills.

In addition to these benefits, a successfully completed Level 7 practical and Level 7 theory exam is equivalent to a high school Grade 11 university/college course credit; a successfully completed Level 8 practical and Level 8 theory exam is equivalent to a high school Grade 12 university/college course credit. Alexandra, a previous Upbeat student, has used her Level 7 practical and Level 7 theory exam toward her high school credits. Currently

a second-year student in the Biomedical Science program at the University of Guelph, she reflects back positively on her RCM piano journey with Upbeat Piano Studio and her teacher, Melanie Dickson-Smith.

“It helped me improve my organization skills because I had to be disciplined and scheduled with my practicing,” she recounts, “I had a scheduled practice time every day. But because I used my piano exams toward a high school credit, I also got to free up some room in my class schedule and take other cool courses – like Latin!” You can read more about Alexandra’s experience as an Upbeat Piano Studio student using the RCM curriculum in our next blog post.

At Upbeat Piano Studio, we are happy to discuss and set goals with you or your child. Whether you want to work toward a completing a level, attaining high school credits, learning a variety of pieces or tackling new musical challenges, our teachers will guide and help you achieve your goal. We welcome students of all ages and levels to join us!

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