Single Hand Piano Syllabus Development with ABRSM

In November 2023, Olwen had an exciting virtual meeting with ABRSM to discuss the development of a brand new exam syllabus for single hand piano. She met with James Risdon - ABRSM Access coordinator and Lizzie Lung - ABRSM Assessment Development manager.

The background to this was to do with Olwen’s own experience of teaching piano to her adult pupil Dawn, who has the use of her Left Hand only after having Cerebral Palsy as a child.  It’s worth mentioning, before embarking on her journey to learn piano, Dawn was inspired by professional one handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy who, in 2012, was the first one handed pianist to graduate from RCM in 130 years! 

When Dawn started lessons with Olwen - five years ago -  she wanted to go down the typical route of doing piano exams, so for each grade Olwen approached the exam boards( ABRSM and Trinity) with her own adaptations of the syllabus pieces to ask if this could be checked by the syllabus team as appropriate to use for the grade. The exam boards were extremely helpful but it would be easier if the syllabus for one handed piano already existed!  Through this correspondence over the years,  a friendship with James at ABRSM and Rachel Wolfsohnn at the One Handed Instrument Trust (OHIT) began to grow and this led very gradually to the recent meeting about developing the syllabus.

So what happened at the meeting? Lizzie and James asked Olwen about her first hand experiences of teaching a pupil one hand piano, some of the technical challenges faced, such as the physical geography of the keyboard and how to create music with a full sound using the wide range of tones. It created a good discussion about how the skills could be introduced in stages as you go up the grades. Lizzie talked about how Nicholas McCarthy is being consulted and a list of existing piano pieces for one hand are being sorted out into grades.

‘It was a real insight into how a syllabus gets formed at ABRSM. I hadn’t realised what a thorough and complicated process it is, it has made me appreciate all the work that goes into forming a new syllabus! Lizzie told me they have also enlisted the help of participants of their composer mentoring scheme, and these selected composers have been asked to create some graded pieces for the one hand piano syllabus which is great’

The new ABRSM list of graded one handed piano pieces will be launched soon. A fantastic result!