New Classical Piano Syllabus

Conservatory Canada’s new Classical Piano Syllabus is now in effect, and available for viewing.  We thank you for your patience as we spent the past weeks gathering feedback and proof-reading the documents, which are available on our Classical Piano Syllabus page here, where you will find the following documents:

  • Syllabus files, by Grade, from Grades 1 – 10 (our Diploma syllabus remains the same at this time).
  • Rules and Regulations, which includes an Introduction / Overview.
  • A reprise of our Recital Assessments information, which is unchanged and still in use.

Because we have not tried to reinvent the whole examination process or make any wholesale changes with these revisions, we feel that you should be able to integrate these changes in your studio rather easily, for those students preparing for examinations.  The format and structure of the exam is based on our previous syllabus from 1999 (which is no longer in effect), providing a familiar footing. Here is a summary of some of the changes we have made, along with rationale and suggestions for some of the anticipated questions.

Timeline for implementation

In the past, we have found it quite difficult to administer a cross-over period between syllabi, as it requires Examiners to use and function with two entirely different sets of requirements while examining.  Because of the familiarity in structure with this new syllabus, we anticipate that even for students who have already begun to prepare for an upcoming examination, they should be able to adhere entirely to the new requirements.  

All students taking exams as part of our February 2019 session will be expected to use the new requirements.  The only exceptions will be for students who have already taken a first partial, will be taking a second partial, and choose to stick with the old requirements.  We strongly recommend that students still to sit a second partial use the old requirements for sections that they still have yet to complete. In many cases, changing syllabi between partials will cause confusion and marks will be difficult to determine.  

Students taking an eExam prior to February 2019 will be examined using the old requirements.

Repertoire Publications

Our repertoire lists between the previous 1999 syllabus and the new 2018 syllabus are remaining largely the same, with some additions, all of which are listed at the end of each Grade level.  At this time, the costs associated with producing new repertoire books are prohibitive and we have decided to keep publishing our New Millennium Series. Any changes to these publications, along with the fact that it takes up to two years (and more) to deplete stock of these books in the hands of retailers, have led to the decision not to alter the former books in any way.  This means two important things:

  • The syllabus information in the back of each piano repertoire book is no longer valid and needs to be ignored.  All new syllabus information is only available online.
  • Pieces are still grouped in the former “Lists” with “Studies”, whereas our new syllabus only features broader “Groups” with no grouping for the former “Studies”.

The new Grouping system will allow for more flexibility of repertoire choice, especially in the earlier grade levels, with definitions for each Group outlined clearly in the syllabus for each Grade.  The number of pieces necessary to perform from each Group are clearly scripted, with some choice given in the early levels (choose a piece from Group 1 or Group 2). For those finding themselves longing for the old system of A,B,C, Studies, you can still use the new requirements in that fashion if you so choose.  Students can still learn music from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic or Modern styles along with a traditional Study for their exam within the framework of the new Group 1 / Group 2 model. The new lists have simply taken the old Study lists, and placed those pieces in the appropriate Group for each level.

Teachers should consult the ever expanding “Contemporary Repertoire List” (updated annually) for many more repertoire choices for Modern selections.  Any piece from our Contemporary Repertoire List (available here), can be used as a Modern Group piece on the Classical exam.

Our free irregular list approval option has become quite popular, and is extended to the new syllabus.  If you have any music of interest that is not on our current lists (including the Contemporary repertoire list), simply provide a copy by email to our registrar ( along with the grade level and Group you are requesting to use the piece for, and we will have the piece appraised quickly, at no charge.  You can request approval for multiple pieces on the exam.

Students now have the ability to include one of their repertoire pieces that may be from a higher grade level, whether on the list of a higher grade level, or approved at a higher level as an irregular list.  The piece can be at a level that is more than one grade level higher, but students will be assessed on their ability to perform the music at the level that it is appraised for. Students are encouraged to only include repertoire on their exam that is appropriate for their skill level.

We now award one bonus mark to a student for using at least one repertoire piece by a Canadian composer.  Conservatory Canada is a proud advocate for the performance of music written by Canadian composers, and we felt that this was the best way to encourage the playing of Canadian music.  Music by Canadian composers are denoted with the familiar asterisk in all of our repertoire lists.

We have limited the playing of repeats to Baroque music only, for Grades 1 – 6 only.  This gives those students that like to play with ornamentation on repeats in Baroque music the opportunity to illustrate their knowledge.


The technical requirements, including the sequence of keys, are now more carefully paced with smoother transitions between grades, especially from level 6 – 10.  Keys used simply add one sharp and one flat at each successive level, with a more broad review beginning at Grade 7. A small sampling of blues, pentatonic, and whole tone scales has been included at the lower grade levels.  We have sought to balance training needs against the realities of time limitations in the lesson and varying student commitment. We want to stress that workmanship through accuracy and good tone take precedence over developing velocity in the assessment by Examiners.  Even though we have removed some familiar exercises, student and teachers are still encouraged to explore exercises like staccato and contrary motion scales and double thirds, among others.

Sight Reading and Aural Tests

These tests remain largely the same, with a few updated examples added in the syllabus for clarification and to illustrate the level expected.  Due to feedback received, we have decided to remove the former cadence identification skill from Aurals. Updated examples will also be uploaded to our e sharp club, later in the fall.

Keyboard Harmony

Keyboard skills consists of Chord Progressions and Harmonizing, as we have removed the former Transposition requirement.  In 2014, as the former Keyboard Harmony and Transposition workbook by Steven Fielder became less available, we began endorsing the “Keyboard Harmony” series developed and published by Debra Wanless, with Caroline Bering also authoring.  We have revised our requirements slightly to reflect the content of this three level series. Students are encouraged to work with this new series as follows:

  • Grades 4 and 5:  Introductory Level 1
  • Grade 6:  Intermediate Level 2
  • Grades 7 and 8:  Advancing Level 3

We will be developing separate materials for Grades 9, and 10 to be posted on our website.  Students should also be able to use examples from the Steven Fielder workbook, if they have access to it.  New copies can still be obtained through Long & McQuade stores.

Scripted chord progressions remain a part of the exam assessment and we have added the use of chord symbols above the staff to aid students in choosing chords to harmonize melodies.  Illustrative examples can be found in each grade of the syllabus. Grades 4 and 5 employ the use of adding chords in the left hand (under a right hand single note melody, much like lead sheet reading), while starting at Grade 6, we employ “keyboard” style, with three note chords in the right hand, with single note bass tones in the left hand.  We hope that you will find the Wanless workbooks to be a valuable resource in teaching the material as well as supporting with numerous examples.

Also be on the lookout for forthcoming video tutorials on teaching the new CC Keyboard Harmony requirements.  These tutorials will be posted on the Classical Piano Syllabus page, later in the fall.

Background Information (formerly Viva Voce)

Students are required to orally answer questions about pieces, titles, terms, and composers as they are found in their repertoire pieces.  Although it is recommended study, we will no longer be asking questions related to the identification of formal structures or harmonic analysis with identification of modulations and key relationships.  Students are required to provide relevant biographical background information on any composer starting at Grade 4, provided that the information is readily available through an online source. Students are not expected to provide composer information for composers that have no biographical information readily available online.

To support this syllabus, new examples for Sight Reading, Ear Training and Keyboard Harmony, as well as other resources will be available through the e sharp club on our website later in 2018.  The e sharp club is an annual $20 membership which also grants access to practice theory papers as well as support material for our other core syllabi, including Contemporary Idioms Piano.

As always, our mini-lessons are a great way to get additional feedback directly from Examiners, right after the exam.  Mini-lessons must be registered for in advance, and include a 15 minute private session with the examiner, teacher and parents present.

Please consider taking in one of the upcoming live webinars, which will be advertised on the Conservatory Canada Teacher’s Facebook page, as well as by email, in the coming weeks.

We hope that you will find this new syllabus easier to use with your students, and that it continues to serve as a valuable tool in providing a framework for students to study from, enabling them to develop a life-long relationship with music making.

Derek Oger

Executive Director

Conservatory Canada