The RCM Curriculum for Winds and Brass – a proper look

I have been selling Royal Conservatory curriculum books for decades. The series for Flute, Clarinet, Trumpet, and Saxophone are relatively newer (about 10 years or so) and the other woodwind and brass instruments still rely on Syllabus lists, may of them outdated, to prepare for either a formal RCM exam/certificate or to achieve a minimum standard for University Entrance.

So, here’s the full disclosure – even despite my involvement with some of the RCM committee back when I managed the on-site store in the 2000’s, overall – I’ve never really thought much of these graded books or the corresponding repertoire choices.

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure (and honour) of being the woodwind and brass adjudicator for the Kiwanis Music Festival Toronto Online. As many of you know, the instrumental syllabus is based predominantly on the RCM graded curriculum. After numerous entries I quickly realized that the vast majority of players (RCM Grade 8 or under) were using the series of books from RCM publishing (formerly the Frederick Harris Music Company).

Well! After all the years – I’m changing my “tune”. The flute, clarinet, saxophone, and trumpet graded books have a lot of good music in them and the best part is the standard tempo’d accompaniment tracks which come with each piece. This was INTEGRAL for a festival like Kiwanis which has been forced to operate in an online/virtual format (by the way Bravo Pam Allen!!).

There is Canadian content representation in many of the volumes. There is standard literature, as well as some lesser known pieces and arrangements from the timeless composers. There’s a little bit of Jazz and alternative styles. And there are some quirky pieces which don’t totally make sense. But ALL of the pieces , in one way or another, are extremely teachable (or in the student’s case, Learnable). There are clear “roadmaps” and a lot of markings. The actual meat-and-potatoes of the music IS drawn out for the students, while still giving them a chance to do some interpreting of their own. I wish there were French Horn , Trombone, and the other instruments book series but I definitely understand why there isn’t. The 2003 Brass Syllabus is ridiculous and needs an update *BUT* it also has some serious literature on it. Often mis-graded, but still. It’s all in the name of students learning more about representative literature for their instruments and developing their musical skills. 

This is all to say, the volumes which ARE available and the pinnacle pieces/collections (IE Concert and Contest, Solos for the _______) are must haves in my (changed and slightly WOKE) opinion. Especially when the instruments are at home, with the students, the way they are now (for some of you). If you don’t have a shelf for solo collections for each instrument, give these a try (and for a complete list outside of the RCM series, visit