There are 3 levels of diplomas for both ABRSM and Trinity and two streams of specialisation for piano: performance and teaching.
In all three levels of piano diploma, great focus, stamina and commitment is needed to complete each level and even more from one level to the next. The 3 levels of diplomas offered by ABRSM and Trinity are at associate, licentiate and fellowship levels:
*The UK National Qualifications Framework (NQF) comparison shown reflects the demands of the diplomas only.
Both ABRSM and Trinity diplomas are highly regarded. Unless you are at least 18 years old (in which case you could choose to do a teaching diploma), you would be looking at the performance/recital diplomas.
The main difference between the ABRSM Performance and Trinity Recital diplomas is that ABRSM diplomas have a Viva Voce and Quick Study section while Trinity diplomas do not. The ABRSM requires a pass in all sections in order to pass the exam. There is also a grade 8 prerequisite for DipABRSM but no prerequisite for ATCL.
The ABRSM diploma format is set to change following an announcement by ABRSM in July 2023. It will examine only practical performance skills and supporting evidence of the candidate's knowledge and understanding of the programme/performance, details of which will only be released in November 2023. There will no longer a requirement to pass every component to pass the exams.
Written before the July 2023 ABRSM Update:
As a piano teacher, I like ABRSM for being more well-rounded. However, I appreciate Trinity very much as it gives students the chance to play really well without having to focus on weaker areas.
ABRSM diplomas go beyond playing the pieces to knowledge of the pieces and composers. For the Viva Voce, you need to know the composer's style, the structure of the piece, its modulations and harmony. Also, knowledge of the instrument the piece was composed for and how it affects performance. These are very interesting and make learning the music more meaningful.
However, I would recommend taking Trinity to those who are not strong in sight reading, answering questions or hard-pressed for time and would like to just focus on the playing (which is challenging enough) on the exam day. Trinity is well-recognised and it would be easier to focus without worrying about the Quick Study and Viva Voce.
While many are able to pass the Viva Voce in ABRSM diplomas, Quick Study is quite a challenge for a some students. As such, it is not uncommon for diploma candidates to retake this section to complete their music diploma exams.
For greater detail on piano performance diploma exams, see:
Teaching diplomas are very useful for those thinking of teaching piano. Knowing how to play the piano does not always translate to being able to teach it well. Each student is different and also different from you (the teacher) so learning to work with each student appropriately is essential.
Teaching diplomas test musical knowledge, teaching approach and effective teaching skills in addition to performance competence. Candidates need to be at least 18 years of age and meet the prerequisites.
Click here for more on ABRSM Teaching Diplomas.