Robert Estrin - piano expert

Are Music Skill Levels Important?

Learn more about music grade levels

In this video, Robert talks about skill levels and how they are organized in music.

Released on March 2, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi! Welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin with a question from a Gary who asks, "Please, explain numerical skill levels." You've seen them before, a grade one player, a grade three player. As a matter of fact, sometimes I have students, potential students who contact me and their parents will say, "Oh, he's on a grade four level."

What does this mean? Well, not a heck of a lot, actually. In certain context it can mean a great deal. Let me explain. To a some extent it can be rather arbitrary. For example, the Music Teachers Association of California, they do grade their levels. NYSSMA, the New York State School Music Association also has different graded levels. And in Europe, in France they have different graded levels. But is the grade level on one synonymous to the grade level of another? Absolutely not. The purpose of these, often times, is for competitions, so that you can know what level you're entering in and you can try to enter at a higher level each year. It also can help teachers to identify a repertoire quickly.

After all, if you are a member of a Music Teachers Association and you want a certain level for a student, you can find a whole slew of repertoire without having to weed through countless scores trying to find things on the same level. So yes, it has some value having these classifications, but they are certainly not absolutes. More than that, musical repertoire comes in all flavors, and there are so many different challenges. For example, have you ever heard somebody play a Mozart slow movement well? It's very unusual that somebody who can play with the poetry in simple music that's deceptively difficult to play with artistry. So to say that a Mozart slow movement is on a low grade level and maybe a piece of Liszt is on a high grade level, in some ways, sure.

But there are certain students who might excel at the fast flashy stuff and have not a clue how to play with poetry in a simple piece of Debussy or a Chopin Nocturne. And they might do really well with something very flashy of Kabalevsky or some other composer. Different students excel in different skill sets. So these categorizations are only guidelines to help teachers and to help students to have some idea of where they are and how they're progressing, but shouldn't be used as absolute measure of a student's progress.

Thanks so much for the great questions. Again, Robert Estrin here at and
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