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#934808 - 10/29/06 02:31 AM Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
grandpiano Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 10/24/06
Posts: 10
Has anyone compared these exams for piano students?

1. The Royal Conservatory of Music in Canada
2. Associated Board of The Royal Schools of Music
3. Certificate of Merit in California

The only comparison I have found is from rcmexaminations.org, where it states that ABRSM Grade 5 theory is only equivalent to RCM Grade 2 theory (Rudiments), and ABRSM Grade 8 to RCM Grade 3 (Harmony).

I am in California, and can't have my kid take the RCM exam. I don't know if ABRSM exam has a higher standard than CM.

Unlike RCM and ABRSM, the CM syllabi are not directly available to parents/students. There are nearly 30 thousand students who participate in CM anually. It seems that it's simply too crowded to have a high quality/standard.

Any comments?

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#934809 - 10/29/06 07:51 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
Codetta Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/26/06
Posts: 134
Loc: Chino Hills, CA
I'm a CA teacher who has students in CM and I am also an evaluator. From my experience I find the quality very high both in the performance and theory areas. Within each level there are many pieces from which a teacher may choose. The exams themselves are structured and very thorough. THE ABRSM has a time limit on the theory exam whereas CM does not - a student can take as long as he/she needs. Not so with the former.

In quickly looking over the website I noticed that there are no memory requirements for pianists. Now I know this can be a sticky subject but CM does have memory requirements. Each level has a minimum memory requirementand how many pieces one wishes to memorize at a certain level results in being able to perform at the Branch level or at the annual state convention.

I do know that the CM exams require a high level of proficiency in all fields. I allow my students and their parents to look at the syllabus if they choose. I don't know of any reason that you couldn't have a copy - just ask the teacher. If I find out differently I'll post it here.

Does this help? Do you need more info? Let me know.
_________________________
"Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
Berthold Auerbach

Private Piano Teacher
Member: Music Teachers' Association of California
Evaluator: Certificate of Merit
Organist/Pianist: Christ Lutheran Church, West Covina

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#934810 - 10/29/06 08:36 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
dumdumdiddle Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/06
Posts: 1263
Loc: California
I also have students who do CM. I don't understand the comment about it being too crowded, and how that somehow affects the quality of the program. Each branch is given a certain number of adjudicators based on the number of enrolled students in CM. It's never been a problem for our branch. Although I have a few 'gripes' about some of the technical requirements for certain levels, overall it's an excellent program. Students must know scales/chords/arpeggios for their level, they perform memorized pieces, they must sightplay, and they take a theory/ear training exam. It's a very comprehensive program; students reaching levels 8+ can often place out of their college music theory class.
_________________________
Music School Owner
Early Childhood Music Teacher/Group Piano Teacher/Private Piano Teacher
Member of MTAC and Guild

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#934811 - 10/30/06 01:39 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
Codetta Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/26/06
Posts: 134
Loc: Chino Hills, CA
The CM syllabus IS directly available to non-members. I don't know why thought it wasn't. Go to MTAC.org and click on to the Certificate of Merit and scroll down to "syllabus". The info is all there - where to call or send in the order for the syllabus.
_________________________
"Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."
Berthold Auerbach

Private Piano Teacher
Member: Music Teachers' Association of California
Evaluator: Certificate of Merit
Organist/Pianist: Christ Lutheran Church, West Covina

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#934812 - 10/30/06 06:28 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
nuteachr Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/07/05
Posts: 166
Loc: Michigan
I can't speak for CM.....but here in Oregon, our syllabus is significantly sub-par to RCM's standards at each level. My experience is that most teachers in Oregon would agree with me.

You can't enter your child in RCM syllabus testing? I do know that there are a few places in USA that do hold RCM examinations. The dates and locations are somewhat restrictive, but it is possible. I did find a link somewhere to this info., but can't find it right now. I'll keep searching.

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#934813 - 10/31/06 02:06 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
SCCDoug Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/04/05
Posts: 663
Loc: Canada
We actually switched our kids out of RCM to Conservatory Canada (CC) a few years ago. Their standards are somewhat tougher than RCM, for example I believe they start keyboard harmony testing about Grade 5, and their syllabus often straddles a couple of RCM grades. The exams are set with adequate time to allow the students to play through all their repetroire without interuption, something that drove me crazy with RCM. You can optionally book a short lesson to follow the exam, where both teacher and student participate. These have frequently been very productive sessions.
_________________________
Doug

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." - Dr. Seuss

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#934814 - 10/31/06 02:29 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
Piano&Flute Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/30/06
Posts: 384
Loc: Alberta, Canada
There are actually two new conservatory programs in Canada now, Conservatory Canada and the Canadian National Conservatory of Music. It has been interesting to look at what each one offers, and I love the extended time allowed in the Conservatory Canada exams. The RCM is still the "standard" in Canada though and usually the only recognizable program, which is why I still tend to send my students through them. The other two are fairly new so I guess I would like to wait and see if they stick around and make more of a name for themselves. That could happen pretty quickly though and I would welcome an alternative with the same reputation as RCM.
_________________________
Registered Private Piano and Flute Teacher

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#934815 - 10/31/06 09:31 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
SCCDoug Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/04/05
Posts: 663
Loc: Canada
Actually Stephanie I don't think there is much of a recognition issue with CC now. Every university programme our eldest applied for (U of Sask., Mount Allison, U of T and Laurier) recognized her CC standing in voice, theory and piano. In Saskatchewan the high school grade level equivalents are accepted similar to RCM.
_________________________
Doug

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." - Dr. Seuss

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#934816 - 10/31/06 10:40 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
Piano&Flute Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/30/06
Posts: 384
Loc: Alberta, Canada
Good to know, Doug. More choices can only be better for music students and teachers. I have actually ordered the syllabus for CC and CNCM so that I can compare and contrast each program. As a teacher anything that can help me personalize instruction for different students even more is a great thing!
_________________________
Registered Private Piano and Flute Teacher

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#934817 - 11/04/06 04:10 AM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
Having contributed weekly newsletter articles to the UK Piano Teachers Group (now defunct) over a period of 5 years ... with most of the members using the ABRSM for examinations ... it was noticeable however ... news from US members ...that the States prefer students to concentrate more on the *playing* of set pieces than on the theory.

It is my contention that the ABRSM are guilty of making too much of meal of key signature education ... systematically grinding through all
24 key signatures (major and minor) by the Grade 5 exam.

Statistics reveal a resultant wasteful drop-out of pupils at Grade 5.

With 30% of exam marks being taken up by this ill-judged theory component, the ABRSM are further hamstrung in finding suitable set pieces which match the richness of key signatures ... with resultant dull set-piece fare which kills off youthful enthusiasm.

With the majority of the piano-trained population only likely to tackle works with a modest (2-3) key signature in a lifetime ... it is suggested that the US policy (exams appear to be taboo) is far better off in concentrating on the “playing” of set pieces falling within a modest key signature range ... let’s hope the Canadian exam systems follow this lead.

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#934818 - 11/04/06 07:04 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
Piano&Flute Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/30/06
Posts: 384
Loc: Alberta, Canada
Other than scales, I don't remember teaching or playing songs with 5 or more sharps or flats until about grade 7 with the RCM. By the time students get that high up in a conservatory program they should be tackling harder key signatures. For me, the fear of learning a song with 6 or 7 sharps is much worse than actually learning it.
_________________________
Registered Private Piano and Flute Teacher

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#934819 - 11/04/06 10:47 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
caperflutist Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/26/06
Posts: 124
Loc: Cape Breton
Exactly Stephanie. Once you know your scales and key sigs well, it doesn't really matter how many flats/sharps there are.
_________________________
Ya lyublyu ruskuyu muzyku

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#934820 - 11/06/06 01:51 AM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
It’s all very well to make throwaway comments about key signature proficiency ... but the truth is that the higher the accidental richness the scarier the challenge and the slower the sight-reading ... with the inevitable drag on tempo.

As George Gershwin managed to write all his hits within a 3 accidental key signature range (good for business) ... and that nobody in their right
mind would ever compose these days in an absurd
7 sharps or flats ... it is suggested that piano teachers promote their best interests by
including an initial pupil set piece selection of easy key signatures.

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#934821 - 11/06/06 03:27 AM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2844
Loc: UK.
 Quote:
Originally posted by btb:
It’s all very well to make throwaway comments about key signature proficiency ... but the truth is that the higher the accidental richness the scarier the challenge and the slower the sight-reading ... with the inevitable drag on tempo.

[/b]
Btb, what evidence of this do you have other than your own reading experience?
_________________________
Pianist and piano teacher.

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#934822 - 11/06/06 04:31 AM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
A 5 year sojourn with weekly newsletters within the the 400 membership of the UK PTG (as earlier mentioned) provided an independent audit.

My own observations tell the story of pupils ... and for that matter the wider world ... judging their capabilities in terms of the key signature of a new piece of keyboard music ... comments like ... " no way!!" usually followed by a back-turn in utter incredulity of the imposibility of the task ... say that "I'm not ready".

But you don't have to be very bright to know that
the C# key signature is more difficult to sight read than that of C.

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#934823 - 11/06/06 06:13 AM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2844
Loc: UK.
D flat major is one of my favorite keys for sight reading. ;\)

You are quite right. C major is easier to read than C# major. But why is that? I would say it is simply because we very rarely read in C# major. If we played in C# major rather than C major all the time there would be no problem.

grandpiano, it seems from your original post that ABRSM is probably the only option for you kid. I have had a lot of experience with ABRSM so I will tell you what I know.

For a start, I don't think it is suitable for everyone. You do get a good choice of pieces (3 to be picked from 18 in the early grades). However, list A pieces are taken from the Baroque and Classical era, list B is romantic and list C something from the 20th Century. This provides a variety of styles but does mean you have to be adaptable and prepared to play piano music from these periods. Many children today are not interested in 'old' music and will struggle to get motivated.

The supporting tests can also be quite limited. In this I would agree with btb. The scale requirements are too broken up for my liking. I don't see why you should wait until grade 5 before playing F# major. It is an easy scale. Within a few weeks it is possible to teach all the scales and key signatures. The ABRSM take a more relaxed approach adding a few keys here and there until grade 5 where all are played.

The sight reading test is rather pointless. The best way to improve this skill is to play more music. If you study for an ABRSM exam it is easy to fall into the trap of playing just 3 pieces for months. If you do this your sight reading skills will not improve. The tests they use for the exams are often contrived and obscure.

Aural tests form a small part of the exam. They are quite basic throughout the first 5 grades which do not provide good preparation for the higher grade tests. I remember having to sing and identify intervals when I took ABRSM years ago. For some reason this useful test has been scrapped.

My main gripe is the marking system. This may be just a problem in the UK but I suspect not. Nobody really fails these exams. I have know people who should not pass and yet come out waving the certificate. What is the point in an exam which is almost impossible to fail? This leads me to believe that it is mostly about making money for the board.

I would rather people learn to play the piano because they want to play music rather than just pass exams. That said, they do seem to be a big motivating factor over here. Many children and their parents are only interested in getting the next grade. It is not that important to me.

Whatever you decide, pay no attention to this ridiculous view of 'key signature education'. Understanding key signatures is something you can't avoid by choosing a different exam board.
_________________________
Pianist and piano teacher.

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#934824 - 11/06/06 07:59 AM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
Hi ChrisH,
Wow! You’ve certainly done a hatchet job on the ABRSM exam system.

“I don't think it is suitable for everyone .
You do get a good choice of pieces ... however, list A pieces are taken from the Baroque and Classical era ... many children today are not interested in 'old' music and will struggle to get motivated.
The supporting tests can also be quite limited. The scale requirements are too broken up for my liking.
I don't see why you should wait until grade 5 before playing F# major.
The sight reading test is rather pointless.
The tests they use for the exams are often contrived and obscure.
My main gripe is the marking system.
I have know people who should not pass and yet come out waving the certificate.
This leads me to believe that it is mostly about making money for the board.”

Agree with every point you made especially the “making money” jibe ... but excepting the “good choice of pieces” ... the 3 out of 18 choice might be good ... but the actual selection ... a rifling of the bones of obscure dead-wood composers ... an insult to the bright Computer generation.




Wow! You’ve certainly exposed the weaknesses in the ABRSM exam system.

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#934825 - 11/06/06 08:11 AM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2844
Loc: UK.
At last we agree on something.
_________________________
Pianist and piano teacher.

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#934826 - 11/06/06 09:49 AM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
Piano&Flute Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/30/06
Posts: 384
Loc: Alberta, Canada
It's all very well to make throwaway comments about key signature proficiency.....but the truth is that the higher the accidental richness the scarier the challenge[/b]

btb: I would hardly call what I said a throw away comment. I am speaking from my own personal experience, not generalizing from comments I have heard only from others.

Especially if one has chosen to progress in music through a conservatory system it would be rather limiting to be stuck to only "easier" key signatures. Gershwin may have stuck to three sharps, but most of the great classical and romantic composers, like Chopin, did not. Also, many of my students love to learn "old" music, as well as other genres.

There are definitely good and bad points to the conservatory system, however if a student wants to go that route and progress to the higher levels or go on to university music, these "scary" challenges should be taken or how do you keep progressing. To avoid the challenge is not only limiting, but kind of wimpy as well. My love for certain songs has made me more than willing to tackle a harder key signature. And lets face it, trying to progress in anything anything (music, sports, mathematics, etc.) means taking on challenges to become better. Not to mention, personally I like keys with 5 or more sharps. Once you get used to them they fit quite nicely under the fingers. As with any part of music, the more you practice playing harder key signatures, the easier it gets.

Everyone wants different things out of a musical education, and quite honestly, if never playing a song with more than 3 sharps is the goal, then a traditional conservatory system might not be the best method. Other options should be available for those people. I should also add, that the new CCM does allow for more popular music choices for students who are not interested in "old" music.

I am taking about higher conservatory levels here in Canada. However, on a side note, I have had the pleasure of teaching young students who have immigrated here from Korea. By the time they have been playing for two or three years, they actually cover almost all the key signatures in their method books and have no problem with it. This was amazing to me. Maybe someone from Korea is out there who can elaborate.
_________________________
Registered Private Piano and Flute Teacher

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#934827 - 11/06/06 02:02 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
The term ‘throwaway' has no connotation of disrespect ... your passing comment could give
the impression that knowing all the key signatures is a prerequisite to a quality musical
education ... which you obviously have ... my plea is simply to keep more young hopefuls in
the game by priming their progress within more manageable key signatures.

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#934828 - 11/06/06 04:30 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
MA Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/27/06
Posts: 302
Loc: San Francisco Bay Area
 Quote:
Originally posted by StephanieF:
Other than scales, I don't remember teaching or playing songs with 5 or more sharps or flats until about grade 7 with the RCM. By the time students get that high up in a conservatory program they should be tackling harder key signatures. For me, the fear of learning a song with 6 or 7 sharps is much worse than actually learning it. [/b]
There is at least one song (Halloween Prank) in the first RCM repertoire book (introductory level). All the notes in that song are black keys. I don't remember which key signature it is. At least my kid had no trouble with it at all.

I think if you start young children with not just C Major 5-finger position and start them early in all kinds of key signatures (including the flat Major keys, some of which have many black keys) they will get used to them just like the white keys.

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#934829 - 11/06/06 04:54 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
Piano&Flute Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/30/06
Posts: 384
Loc: Alberta, Canada
Originally posted by MA:
There is at least one song (Halloween Prank) in the first RCM repertoire book (introductory level). All the notes in that song are black keys. I don't remember which key signature it is. At least my kid had no trouble with it at all.

That song is the exception though rather than the norm. Almost all the songs in the intro and grade 1 books have one, maybe two sharps or flats at most, usually only one. The odd one in the 20th century composer section will have a harder key signature. It is not mandatory that that particular song be learned, as students are not required to learn every song in the RCM repertoire books. However you bring up a good point as that song is level appropriate. The key signature may look scary at first, but the song isn't anymore difficult that the others in the book.
_________________________
Registered Private Piano and Flute Teacher

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#934830 - 11/06/06 05:04 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2844
Loc: UK.
Yes, good point MA. Loads of kids I know can only play one thing on the piano. Chopsticks in F# major.
_________________________
Pianist and piano teacher.

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#934831 - 11/06/06 07:03 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
starsea49 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/17/06
Posts: 77
In the fareast, candidates who cannot make it in the ABRSM exams are forced into taking the other 3 recognized exams such as the LCM, Trinity and Guildhall.

RCM and the rest still fail to make the mark for college recognition, thus no job market value.

Schools and instituitions do not recognise RCM and the rest for course credits.

Having taken all these exams myself all my life + having all my students in all these various exams ... i totally inderstand why ABRSM is still the benchmark.

Pick up the Oxford Dictionary of Music - look under degrees and diplomas of music .... you'll gain a better understanding ...

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#934832 - 11/06/06 07:12 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
starsea49 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/17/06
Posts: 77
Chris H : I totally agree with you with regards to the ABRSM board making money .... my point would be to point out that other boards have even a lower passing standard with the same objective, only in a greedier sense.

When i was younger, my parents would enter the same piece for me in several different boards to compare their standards .... i would barely scrape the bottom in ABRSM, while scoring distinction with others ... interesting .... i still do the same thing with some of my students'parents who can afford the examination fees ... reading the examiners' reports can be a very hilarious experience.

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#934833 - 11/06/06 10:40 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
Piano&Flute Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/30/06
Posts: 384
Loc: Alberta, Canada
I wish the ABRSM held exams in Canada. It would be nice to have a real internationally recognized alternative to the RCM.
_________________________
Registered Private Piano and Flute Teacher

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#934834 - 11/07/06 10:14 AM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
starsea49 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/17/06
Posts: 77
The last i heard (that was 3 years ago) ABRSM does hold exams in Canada .... otherwise, you could be their examinations representative - you only need 40 candidates to sign up.

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#934835 - 11/07/06 04:47 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
grandpiano Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 10/24/06
Posts: 10
Lots of helpful comments here! It seems that RCM has a higher standard, at least in the Theory part, than ABRSM. However, ABRSM is more well-known internationally.

I suppose if you don't want your child to make a career out of playing piano but still want him to play as well as a professional pianist, something like RCM would be a better choice.

Can any teacher compare Certificate of Merit (CM) in California with ABRSM and RCM? Based on what I have seen, CM's Technique part has a very low standard for passing.

Your child's teacher must be a member of Music Teacher Association of California if you want him to be tested by CM exam. I have heard the same thing about ABRSM. There is probably no teacher who is a member of both. So having your child taking both exams is impracticle.

What about RCM? Is it true that your child's teacher must be a member of RCM?

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#934836 - 11/07/06 05:04 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
Piano&Flute Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/30/06
Posts: 384
Loc: Alberta, Canada
You have to apply for a teacher number with the RCM to send your students for exams. To be perfectly honest I am not sure if they have a minimum requirement for a teacher to get an RCM teacher number. I know of teachers who only did their Grade 8 exam and are able to send students for RCM exams. So, as for a teacher being a member of the RCM, it is no guarantee of their education level. If somebody knows more, I would love to hear.

The Registered Music Teachers Associations in Canada are totally separate and have minimum standards for membership (conservatory diploma or B.Mus).

Can't help you with the other organizations though.
_________________________
Registered Private Piano and Flute Teacher

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#934837 - 11/07/06 08:14 PM Re: Piano Exams: RCM vs ABRSM vs CM
caperflutist Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/26/06
Posts: 124
Loc: Cape Breton
I think for RCM you just have to submit students to get a number though I am not 100% sure of that
_________________________
Ya lyublyu ruskuyu muzyku

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