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
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
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 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.
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 Opens||September 13, 2016|
|Registration Deadline||November 1, 2016|
|Theory Examinations||December 9 & 10, 2016|
|Practical Examinations||January 16-28, 2017|
April Session 2017
|April Session 2017*|
|Registration Opens||November 15, 2016|
|Registration Deadline||January 4, 2017|
|Practical Piano Examinations||April 3-8, 2017|
*Practical examinations for piano only. Theory examinations not available.
Spring Session 2017
|Spring Session 2017|
|Registration Opens||January 17, 2017|
|Registration Deadline||March 7, 2017|
|Theory Examinations||May 12 & 13, 2017|
|Practical Examinations||June 5-24, 2017|
Summer Session 2017
|Summer Session 2017|
|Registration Opens||April 4, 2017|
|Registration Deadline||June 6, 2017|
|Theory Examinations||August 11 & 12, 2017|
|Practical Examinations||August 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 Library Series
Comprehensive Ear Training
Pattern Play (7 Levels)
Technical Requirements for Piano (All Levels