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Advice to Licentiate Performance Exam Candidates

David Lockett

Emeritus Professor David Lockett AM, Chief Examiner (Practical) Provides Helpful Licentiate Performance Exam Advice to Candidates.

The Licentiate performance diploma is a challenging examination that requires advanced technical ability together with mature musical understanding. Those who undertake it demonstrate a special level of commitment and have already made significant progress along their musical journey. The comments presented here are intended to assist candidates and teachers to better understand the nature of the challenges of this award and so to provide guidance for effective preparation. They incorporate feedback from members of AMEB’s panel of federal practical examiners, based upon performances presented in the 2021 cycle of examinations.

General expectations

The Licentiate examination is assessed as a concert performance and the format is more like a recital than a traditional examination. In addition to a high level of technical fluency and facility, the candidate is expected to show a strong personal engagement with the expressive element, together with the ability to develop and maintain a convincing musical narrative. This needs to be underpinned by an accurate and faithful rendition of the musical score and the ability to project the distinctive style and character of each work.

The objectives that form the basis of assessment at this level can be found in the 2022 Manual of Syllabuses and are set out for each specialisation as part of the Level 3 syllabus requirements. A key expectation is that candidates will demonstrate an advanced and consistent level of technical accomplishment, a mature musical understanding and the ability to feel and project the changing mood and character of the works that are performed. Put another way, the emphasis is upon the ability to communicate musical and expressive content without technical impediments. Faithfulness to the score is an essential ingredient of a convincing performance, as the musical text provides important clues about the composer’s expressive intentions.

What is meant by a “mature musical understanding”?

  • It has nothing to do with age.
  • It has everything to do with demonstrating a personal connection to the expressive elements of music and the ability to engage with mood and emotion: in other words, to take personal ownership of the music.
  • It requires a level of technical accomplishment that results in a confident and fluent performance, and which maintains consistency and continuity.
  • It obliges the player to show respect for the detail contained in the printed score (such as dynamics, articulation and tempo/mood indicators) and to treat these as clues that point towards the expressive content of the music.
  • It is about lifting one’s sights above the purely mechanical aspects of performance to engage with higher expressive aims.
  • It involves making interpretive choices that stem from a personal view of the music, based upon the composer’s own intentions as revealed in the score itself.
  • It involves the development of both physical stamina and mental concentration.
  • It requires the playing to be informed by a broader musical awareness – a knowledge of other repertoire, of historical and stylistic context, of other approaches to interpretation etc.

The syllabus objectives should be studied carefully, and all other syllabus requirements should be fully understood. This includes those relating to program structure, program duration and performance from memory. These are all set out in detail in the 2022 Manual of Syllabuses.

Program construction

The syllabus sets out specific expectations for the construction of programs and these should be strictly adhered to. In particular, candidates should ensure that their programs:

  • Conform to the requirements of the repertoire lists
  • Cover the required range of styles and/or historical periods
  • Meet the specified timing requirements (allowing for appropriate breaks between items and movements but avoiding unduly long gaps)
  • Take account of the memory requirement.

The matter of maximum and minimum timings is of special importance. If a program falls short of the minimum, one or more additional works must be performed to bring it up to the required length. It is equally important not to allow the program to exceed the maximum duration, otherwise examiners will be obliged to curtail the performance so that the total examination time is not exceeded. Precise timings made at an early stage of preparation will ensure that such problems do not occur.

Within the broad requirements of program construction, the candidate has the opportunity to select repertoire that suits their own technical and interpretive capacity. Programs should be chosen wisely in terms of duration and level of difficulty. Filling every possible minute with material is neither necessary nor desirable. Candidates are also discouraged from choosing programs that are too ambitious. As long as all program requirements are met, assessment is based solely upon the quality of what is presented. The syllabus objectives require the candidate to demonstrate “musicality, maturity, confidence and conviction” and that is not possible if the chosen repertoire does not fall within the player’s current level of technical ability and musical understanding.

The performance

The examination is treated as a performance, and standard performance conventions should be observed. There will not normally be any conversation between works. Apart from small breaks, the candidate should preserve their demeanour throughout the program.

At the Licentiate level, it is assumed that the candidate will demonstrate a level of accuracy, fluency, tonal control and overall musical continuity that will allow the expressive content of the program to be communicated with confidence. Technical ability alone, however, is insufficient to ensure a successful outcome. Listening widely to other works and to a range of different expert performances will assist in building a strong, authentic and well-founded personal conviction concerning style and interpretive possibilities.

One point of noticeable difference between successful and unsuccessful candidates is often in the area of physical and mental endurance. Candidates have the option of setting a program order that enables them to pace their energy and to move easily (technically and mentally) from one work to the next. Pianists may benefit from hiring the venue in advance of the examination to check out the instrument and the acoustics.

Examiners Notes from 2021

Examiners made the following specific comments about 2021 examinations:

  • Performances will be considerably enhanced by listening to repertoire beyond that which is being presented for examination. Streaming services such as Medici provide some very valuable resources.
  • It is advisable to start preparing the General Knowledge requirements from the outset, alongside other aspects of the program. Wide reading and listening will lead to a greater depth of understanding, more convincing interpretations and a higher level of overall assurance.
  • Those candidates who are unsuccessful are often deficient in performance impact and conviction. At Licentiate level, an examiner is looking for a performer who plays with musical commitment and involvement and who is able to communicate their own ideas. There is a clear difference between expressing a "learnt" emotion and one that comes from within.
  • The General Knowledge section often reveals deficiencies in the understanding of keys, structure and form. There is also often a lack of awareness of broader repertoire, both for the specialisation being examined and more broadly.
  • The key to success at this level is thorough preparation over the long term, adequate rehearsal with the associate artist (where applicable), and sufficient technical command to enable full involvement in the communication of the musical essence of each work.
  • Maximum and minimum time limits need to be conscientiously observed.
  • In the case of multi-movement works, it should be noted that the memory requirement applies to the complete work and not just individual movements.
  • Candidates are reminded to offer clean copies of the original music for use by the examiners. This assists the examiners in constructing reports that are relevant and helpful. The complete score, and not just a single instrumental line, should be provided.
  • In preparing the General Knowledge component, candidates should listen to other works of the composer and period rather than just memorising titles. Memorising lists does nothing to help build the stylistic awareness essential to achieving authentic, musically informed performances.
  • It is important that pianists are able to project a “singing” cantabile tone. This is an essential ingredient of much of the piano repertoire of all periods.

General knowledge

General Knowledge is an integral part of the diploma assessment with its own set of objectives which are clearly set out in the manual. The Licentiate examination is assessed holistically, with both the performance and the General Knowledge taken into account when determining the overall result. The way a candidate responds to General Knowledge questions is one indicator of their level of musical insight and maturity. Well prepared general knowledge will also enhance the quality of the performance itself.

The overall requirement of the General Knowledge section is for the candidate to demonstrate a mature understanding of the repertoire from the viewpoint of:

  • structure
  • style
  • historical background

Examiners assess this by asking questions from the full score concerning:

  • Terminology, including the significance of titles and the meaning of all markings contained in the score
  • Composers: relevant biographical information, sources of influence, impact upon later generations of composers and repertoire output (both in the discipline being examined and more broadly)
  • Historical and stylistic context: how each work relates to the period from which it arises, considering both its compositional style and the performance conventions of the time
  • Structure: formal layout, keys, melodic/harmonic language and the identification of climax points
  • For instrumentalists, the construction and development of the instrument, with special consideration given to any implications this may have upon the repertoire that is performed.

All general knowledge questions relating to the performed repertoire will be asked from the complete score, not from the instrumental part. It is therefore important that the candidate is familiar with the piano part and can navigate the score with ease.


Emeritus Professor David Lockett AM

Chief Examiner (Practical)

Advice to Licentiate Performance Exam Candidates

Advice to Licentiate Performance Exam Candidates from Emeritus Professor David Lockett AM, Chief Examiner (Practical)

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