What is the Royal Conservatory of Music?  

The Royal Conservatory of Music is a not-for-profit music institution based in Toronto Canada.  It has two primary areas of operation: its extensive offering of music education courses at it’s physical facility on Bloor St, which offers a wide range of lessons and programs students of every level and age; and secondly, its examination and publishing business, which offers a graded repertoire and technical syllabus system to students and teachers wishing to use them as part of their learning.  The publications are available throughout Canada and parts of the United States

Typically, when people refer to “taking RCM” or “studying Conservatory”, it is a reference to the use of their repertoire and graded examination systems, while studying with a private teacher or small community music school.  Actual enrolment at the Bloor St facility, as a percentage, is quite small compared with those using the materials across Canada.

The Merriam School of Music offers students the option of preparing for Royal Conservatory of Music exams as a part of their study here.

Royal Conservatory of Music Exams

Royal Conservatory of Music exams

The RCM (as it is often referred) is a graded repertoire and technical examination system which students can use to help bench-mark their progress.  The practical (playing) exams are designed to test students’ technical proficiency in two areas primarily, with smaller focus on ear training or melodic and harmonic recall.  Repertoire performance and rudiments (arpeggios, scales etc) are the two focus areas.  Contrary to popular perception, the RCM does not mandate a teaching method nor does it require certification of it’s teachers. It is up to each individual teacher or school to decide how the material will be taught or the exams prepared for.

The practical exams are divided up into fourteen levels.

  • Preparatory A
  • Preparatory B
  • Grade 1
  • Grade 2
  • Grade 3
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 6
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 9
  • Grade 10
  • ARCT
  • LRCT

The written exams cover the topics of rudimentary harmony, advanced harmony, counterpoint, history, and analysis (applied harmonic study). These are designed to give background into the mechanics of the music, and are tested for without the use of an instrument or a playing environment.

The exams are offered at several points throughout the year, and are available at designated examination centres across Canada.

Royal Conservatory of Music Books

Royal Conservatory of Music syllabus

The RCM Syllabus is available online or through most bookstores, including Merriam Books.  It is a detailed collection of all of the requirements for each practical (playing) exam that the RCM administers.  This includes repertoire selections, technical requirements, dates, and application procedures.

It is not a book of curriculum, as it is sometimes confused with, as it does not propose or detail any particular teaching methodology – simply the end goals that the exams seek to measure.

Link:  https://examinations.rcmusic.ca/sites/default/files/files/RCM-Piano-Syllabus-2015.pdf

Royal Conservatory of Music exam dates

The RCM lists all of its exam dates online at the start of each school year – they occur at approximately the same time each year, although the exact dates shift each year.

Winter Session (2016-17)

Winter Session (2016-17) 
Registration OpensSeptember 13, 2016
Registration DeadlineNovember 1, 2016
Theory ExaminationsDecember 9 & 10, 2016
Practical ExaminationsJanuary 16-28, 2017

April Session 2017

April Session 2017* 
Registration OpensNovember 15, 2016
Registration DeadlineJanuary 4, 2017
Practical Piano ExaminationsApril 3-8, 2017

*Practical examinations for piano only. Theory examinations not available.

Spring Session 2017

Spring Session 2017 
Registration OpensJanuary 17, 2017
Registration DeadlineMarch 7, 2017
Theory ExaminationsMay 12 & 13, 2017
Practical ExaminationsJune 5-24, 2017

Summer Session 2017

Summer Session 2017 
Registration OpensApril 4, 2017
Registration DeadlineJune 6, 2017
Theory ExaminationsAugust 11 & 12, 2017
Practical ExaminationsAugust 14-26, 2017

Royal Conservatory of Music piano

The RCM administers exams and publishes exam materials and repertoire across many instruments, however piano has the highest number of participants by a large margin.  RCM Exams have become almost synonymous in Ontario with piano lessons, since their use is so widespread.

There are pro’s and con’s to the high level of use of the RCM exam system within the amateur teaching community.  Proponents of the RCM system rightly point out that it is an excellent curation of piano music, and that few systems in the world have done a better job of collecting, preparing, and staggering the repertoire into discernable levels of difficulty.  Also, the consistency with which the exams are conducted is also rarely found anywhere in the world.  The high level of rigour and diligence with which their publishing materials are issued is also to be commended.

However, in practice, most people learning “the RCM” are experiencing the music in a manner far more narrow than the Conservatory ever intended.  Many teachers are simply focused on high exam and festival scores, to help support their own studios.  And as a result, many students wind up memorizing and repeating their exam material for 6-12 months in a row, until they can play it back perfectly – albeit with little musical comprehension.  Schools such as the Merriam School of Music have been able to use the RCM exam system but combine it with highly structured curriculums to deliver a full experience.

Royal Conservatory of Music Books

The RCM publishes materials through their own publishing company, the Frederick Harris Music Co. These include examination preparation materials, repertoire, and theory companion materials.  They are available at fine book stores throughout Canada, as well as Merriam Books.


The following books are available for sale through Merriam Books – both online and in person.

Celebration Series®, 2015 Edition (All levels)
Four Star® Sight Reading and Ear Tests (All levels)
Chord Play (6 Levels)
Christopher Norton Connections
Composer Editions
Composer Library Series
Comprehensive Ear Training
Pattern Play (7 Levels)
Technical Requirements for Piano (All Levels

Featured Enriched Program Teachers

All merriam school of music programs

MERRIAM School of Music Locations

MERRIAM School of Music

(905) 829-2020
 Monday 10:00 am–6:00 pm
 Tuesday 10:00 am–9:00 pm
 Wednesday 10:00 am–9:00 pm
 Thursday 10:00 am–9:00 pm
 Friday 10:00 am–6:00 pm
 Saturday 9:00 am–6:00 pm
 Sunday 11:00 am–5:00 pm

MERRIAM School of Music

(905) 660-9503
 Sunday 11:00 am–5:00 pm
 Monday 12:00 pm–9:00 pm
 Tuesday 12:00 pm–9:00 pm
 Wednesday 12:00 pm–9:00 pm
 Thursday 12:00 pm–9:00 pm
 Friday 12:00 pm–9:00 pm
 Saturday 9:00 am–6:00 pm