Graded Steel Pan Examinations 
(Steel Drum Exams)

Graded examinations in solo steel pan (steel drum) performance were developed in Trinidad and Tobago in 1994 by the Department of Creative and Festival Arts, University of the West Indies. They are held every year in the United States of America and in several Caribbean islands.

Currently the examinations are for frontline pans only, across nine levels, from Preliminary to Grade 8.

Preliminary (pre Grade1) examinations consist of three components

Technical Exercises

Pieces from different genres

General Musicianship Tests (Aural Skills)

The examinations for Grades 1-8 consist of five components

  • Scales & Arpeggios
  • Three Pieces from different genres
  • Reading at Sight (sight-reading)
  • General Musicianship (Aural Skills)
  • A Viva Voce, where the examiner asks questions relating to the pieces played.

There are several pan-specific and Caribbean features of these examinations. For example


These new and unique scales are a creation of Trinidadian musician Orville Wright.

Unlike traditional scales they are syncopated and have connecting passages which allows the student to modulate from key to key. They help the student gain facility in moving around the pan and also lay the foundation for improvisation.

Caribbean Music

Arrangements of Caribbean folk songs and calypsos are a feature of the examinations. These compositions add variety to the student’s repertoire and raise their awareness of music from other cultures.

Benefits of Graded Examinations

While graded examinations can be nerve-racking, the student benefits in many ways

  • The progress and accomplishments of the student is assessed in a non-competitive environment. 
  • Exams motivate students to set and achieve attainable goals. 
  • They provide students with a sense of progress and achievement.
  • Exams test the performance and technical skills of pannists of all levels.
  • They expose students to varied and musically challenging repertoire
  • They extend the student’s technique. 
  • Participation builds self confidence as a solo pannist 

For further information, contact

Dr. Anne Osborne,
Department of Creative and Festival Arts,
University of the West Indies,
St Augustine,
Trinidad and Tobago
West Indies

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