Review: 2014 AMEB Percussion Syllabus / by Charles Martin

In late 2013, the Australian Music Examinations Board released a new syllabus for percussion from Preliminary level to the Licentiate Diploma. The much anticipated new syllabus completely revises the set pieces and technical work for all levels and works in concert with new publications including grade books from Preliminary to Grade 4, two books of technical work, and a sight-reading book.

While the new syllabus and publications makes repertoire and examinations more accessible, it sets a challenging standard of “total percussion” education for teachers and students. Works for untuned percussion, two-mallet keyboard and timpani are included from the preliminary level with four-mallet works appearing in Grade 2. The percussion syllabus sadly doesn’t include drumset which is covered by a separate syllabus in AMEB’s “Contemporary Popular Music” courses.

Repertoire

The most careful repertoire choices have gone into the Level 1 lists (Preliminary to Grade 4) which are completely contained in the published grade books. Teachers will see familiar standards in these books such as works from Živković’s excellent “Funny Mallets” series as well as commissions from Australian musicians like David Pye, Rebecca Lloyd-Jones, Ian Cleworth and Steve Falk. These early grades emphasise a range of styles and percussive traditions with arrangements of Charlie Parker sitting next to world-music works and rudimental-style snare etudes.

The syllabus for Level 2 (covering grades 5-8 and the Certificate of Performance) and Level 3 (the Associate and Licentiate Diplomas) are not accompanied by collected editions of works. The editors of the syllabus have wisely focused Level 2 on common collections of études that many teachers already use such as Ford’s “Marimba: Technique Through Music”, Delécluse’s “Méthode de Caisse-Claire” and Fink’s “Solobook for Timpani”. Often the complete contents of a particular book is divided between a number of grades such as “Xylophone Rags of George Hamilton Green” appearing in Grade 7, 8, and the Certificate of Performance. This way, students can buy a book once and expect to be able to use it for multiple levels. At Level 3, a fifth list is added for multi-percussion, including works such as Leak’s “And now for the news” and Xenakis’ “Rebonds”.

Technical Work

Technical work is contained in two new volumes. At each grade students must memorise a number of scales and learn an untuned and a tuned percussion study roughly comparable in length to the other pieces at each grade level. These requirements are going to be seriously challenging to students preparing for AMEB exams, particularly weaker mallet players.

Overall

The AMEB’s new percussion syllabus caters for students from five years old to the highest diploma levels bringing together repertoire from contemporary Australian composers, the wide world of percussion and some of the highest artistic achievements on our instruments. Importantly, the new syllabus helps teachers prepare percussion students for auditions and other performances that are standardised by AMEB grade. A great deal of work has gone into this update and the syllabus reflects modern standards for teaching percussion at all levels as well as providing exciting new ways to engage younger students!

For more information see the AMEB's website.

(This article was published in Percusscene in April 2014)