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I completed my ALCM Jazz Piano Performance Diploma!

Last week I got my Associate Diploma Certificate (ALCM) in Jazz piano performance from the London College of Music Examinations (LCME). I want to share my experience with you.

What is the exam about? Why did I decide to prepare for it?

The diploma is a testament to your musical abilities and can help you stand out in the competitive music industry.

2017: Once I had completed my Grade 8 exam in Piano, I switched to learning jazz.

2022: I wanted a better certification, preferably in jazz. Aniruddha, (a very good guitar teacher, check out his website) had done this exam a few years back, and he suggested I check it out.

How did the exam help my learning?

  1. Learning jazz is unlike the more organized structure of classical music. Initially, to me, it felt a bit like diving into the sea without a clear destination. When I decided to aim for the ALCM piano exam, things started making more sense. Having a goal gave me some direction.

  2. Communication: Besides just playing the music, I had to figure out how to share my musical ideas with the audience and the examiner.

  3. Memorization and Understanding Harmony: Because I played everything from memory, a whole 20-minute set, I had to grasp the harmonic structure to remember it well and do solos on top of it.

What's the exam like?

  1. Transcription, where you recreate a solo played by another musician.

  2. Then, there's the Performance – a 15- to 20-minute set of 5 jazz pieces- a good mix of blues, jazz standards(swing and bossa nova), and modern compositions. It includes playing the head of the tune and soloing over it.

  3. Session Skills part, which is like sight reading but with a twist. You have to create an arrangement in less than 5 minutes based on the song's structure, solo over it, and wrap it up.

  4. Lastly, the Discussion. The examiner asks you about your set to see how well you understand music, and what is your approach to music.

Here's my program for the exam.

How did I start preparing?

  1. Nobody I knew had taken the ALCM 'piano' exam. So I had to do a lot of research online. I went to the website, got the syllabus, discussed it with my new piano teacher Aman (a fantastic musician and teacher), and carved out a plan.

  2. I reached out to people who had done it before. I found one video on YouTube- a musician doing a mock run-through of his ALCM set. I commented on his video and got in touch with him via email. He was very helpful- he shared his program notes and experiences with me.

  3. In addition to learning the pieces myself, I was actively jamming with musicians and preparing the tunes to get a good understanding of soloing and comping.

  4. I had to email some publishers/composers to get their permission to use their copy of the transcription in my exam. I received a positive response.

Jam sessions really helped me get a good grasp of the tunes I was preparing. for soloing and accompaniment

How long did it take to prepare for the exam?

  1. I thought of appearing for the exam in May 2021, and it was September 2023 when I finally appeared for the exam. But ideally, it should not take that long.

  2. Also in early 2023, LCME was not accepting exam entries due to some administrative changes.

The Exam

As soon as LCME started accepting entries again, I quickly signed up for the exam in August 2023. I got everything ready – my final set, program, and transcriptions. To make sure I was on point, I even did some mock performances for my friends and family.

The day before the big exam, I took a break, practiced, and made sure everything was set up perfectly. Soundcheck, done. On the actual exam day, I stuck to my plan.

I was using my upright piano at Studio Meraki. Sonam, my first piano teacher and the founder of Studio Meraki, also rescheduled some lessons so I could do the exam without interruptions.

My examiner was friendly – as they usually are. I played through my set. We had a chat after I played, discussing my music and how I could get even better.

A few days later, I got an email saying I passed. And just last week, my certificate arrived in the mail.

What next?

I'm very happy to have passed the exam in 2023 as I had hoped.

In 2024, I plan to perform more, create music, and work with other musicians.

I'm even thinking about teaching jazz piano!

The journey continues, and I'm excited to see where it takes me.

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1 Comment

Way to go Ajey, thank you for sharing the process and your experience

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