A Guide to Drum Grades and Exams

Thinking of taking Grade Exams? Here is a drummer’s guide to the syllabus options for the Drum Grades.

Introduction to this guide

Here at Elephant Drums the majority of our one-to-one drum students are adult learners. Everyone has their own reasons for learning drums and their own set of goals and ambitions. Some people think that the grade exams are just for teenagers and children. However, a growing number of adult learners are also taking to studying for the grade exams. The grade exams can be for anyone, whatever their age or level of experience.

As drum tutors we never force the grade exams on anybody, and it is always the student’s decision if they would like to work towards doing an exam.

Some of the reasons people may like to do drum exams include:


Accredited certification

A certificate of your achievement – good for the CV or personal statement.

External assessment

Appraisal by professionals other than your private drum tutor.

Monitoring progress

Know what level you’ve achieved compared to the grade criteria.

Working to a deadline

Completing the study material and being ready for the exam date.

UCAS points

Grades 6-8 award additional UCAS points for applying to university.

Internationally recognised

The qualifications go wherever you go in future – anywhere in the world.

Exam Boards

The exam boards offering drum grades are compared below in more detail. Here is an introduction to the differences between them.

Drum Clinic

Rockschool (RSL)

Primarily aimed at the Rock and Pop drummer, you can plot your stylistic specialism, meaning you’ll develop an in-­depth understanding of the style of drumming you love. Rockschool offers the choice of graded exam or performance certificate. Read More

Drum Masterclass

Trinity College London

Not to be confused with the Trinity Rock & Pop syllabus (this is a different set of books and exams). Trinity’s grade exams are guided by a core philosophy of flexibility, placing the needs of individual candidates at the heart of the exam. Read More

Drum Workshop

Rock & Pop (Trinity)

Rock & Pop is also accredited by Trinity and as the name suggests it is aimed at the Rock & Pop drummer. Performance is at the heart of these exams — helping drummers develop valuable playing skills and achieve their musical ambitions. Rock & Pop allows the candidate to choose the songs for their exam. Read More

Drum Masterclass


The ABRSM exam board is more suited to people studying tuned percussion (orchestral/classical music) because the candidate would need to play one tuned percussion instrument, plus timpani or snare drum. In other words, this exam board is not suitable for drum kit drummers but it is included here in the list for reference.

Which drum grade exam board is best for me?

In the UK (we are based in London, so we are only discussing UK-based exam boards in this article) most drum exam candidates choose either the Rockschool syllabus, Trinity Rock & Pop, or the Trinity College grades.

The exam boards are internationally-recognised and the exams are available in other countries outside of the UK. If you are based in another country there might be other drum grade exam bodies where you live.


With Rockschool there is a choice of doing the Grade Exam or the Performance Certificate. Rockschool pieces are sound-a-like songs in a variety of styles, and there are multiple sections to the exam. Candidates have some flexibility in song choices.


  • 3 performance pieces – 2 of which can be free choice pieces
  • Technical work
  • Sight Reading or Improvisation – Choose which one you would prefer to perform. This will be an unseen test and you will have a small amount of time to prepare during the exam.
  • Ear tests – Groove recall and fill recognition.
  • General Musicianship Questions


  • 5 performance pieces – 3 of which can be free choice pPieces

“Free choice pieces” means pieces of music which fit certain criteria for your grade level, which are chosen by the candidate (with help from the drum teacher).

Trinity College London

The Trinity Grades are a more “traditional” approach to the exams, and come under Trinity’s Percussion syllabus. The Percussion syllabus offers choice and flexibility to allow candidates to play to their strengths, enabling them to gain recognition for their own unique skills as performers.


  • 3 performance pieces – 2 pieces from group A (with backing track) and 1 piece from group B (solo).
  • Technical work
  • Supporting tests – Any 2 of the following:
  • sight reading
    musical knowledge

Optionally, the candidate can perform their own composition instead of the piece from Group B in the grade book (an unaccompanied piece).

Rock & Pop (Trinity)

The Rock & Pop grades use actual commercial songs in their exams – meaning you are examined on some of the greatest drumming songs to learn and play. The song lists feature a huge range of songs spanning all contemporary styles, including “No One Knows” by Queens of the Stone Age, “Smells Like teen Spirit” by Nirvana, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars, “Under The Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers and “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder, and many more famous tracks. You can even play your own compositions provided they are in keeping with the guidelines. With a group of people playing the other instruments in the band, it is even possible to be examined as a band too!


  • Song choice 1 – A song chosen from the official songbook played with the backing track.
  • Song choice 2 – Either:
    A different song from the official Trinity Rock & Pop songbook.
    A song from the additional repertoire songbook.
    An own choice song.
    A song composed by the candidate.
  • Session Skills – Candidates choose either playback or improvisation. Playback is a combination of an ear test and a sight reading test. Improvisation is a specified style over a backing track. Both tests are unseen and you will have a small amount of time to prepare during the exam.
  • Technical Focus – A song chosen from the official Trinity Rock & Pop songbook played with the backing track. There are specific technical elements to include which gain extra marks. These elements are included in the Rock & Pop syllabus.

Want to study drums in London?

Elephant Drums provides face-to-face drum tuition in professional teaching studios or at the student’s own home. Learners follow their own path with a personalised course of drum lessons to suit their needs, with or without the optional drum grade exams.


If you have any questions about the drum grades or drum lessons in general please don’t hesitate to contact us via https://www.elephantdrums.co.uk/contact-us/.

Grade exams are regulated qualifications and are assigned a total qualification time. The total qualification time is the average time a candidate spends with a teacher (guided learning hours) added to the average time spent learning independently. It is recognised that the amount of time needed to commit to a qualification will be dependent on each individual’s level of experience. The guided learning hours for each grade is in the range of 8 to 54 hours, with the independent learning in the range of 32 to 266 hours.

To fully get the most out of doing drum grade exams the candidate will need to be prepared to put in the required amount of time of both guided learning hours with their tutor, plus the independent learning hours on their own.

For more personalised help and guidance if you are already having drum lessons, speak to your drum tutor. We will be able to advise on which exam board syllabus would be best suited to your needs and how much time is likely to be required to achieve the next grade level.

And finally… Just a little boast to finish! We have a 100% pass rate for all students that have taken grade exams, and most of these achieved Distinction or a high Merit mark.

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