The main benefits derived from music examination are to provide: an unbiased assessment of both the student and teacher’s progress; opportunities for intensive preparation and fine tuning of repertoire; and long term goals for students to work towards.
For less experienced teachers, the graded technical work and repertoire within the examination syllabus, is helpful in providing guidelines for study. However this should not be treated as a complete study curriculum, and teachers should find ways of providing students with a broader musical education and not spend the entire year on examination preparation
Students sitting for lower grade examination should spend no more than one or two terms on exam preparation. Otherwise their repertoire and overall music education may be too restricted, leading to disenchantment and possible termination of music study.
It is sometimes beneficial for students to have a year off examination work in order to concentrate on reinforcing weaker areas or to introduce them to other areas of performance. Some students are unsuitable for examination work and should not be encouraged to follow this path. Apart from examinations, goals and incentives such as recitals, competitions and playing to their peers in small groups is sufficient motivation.
Students sitting for lower grade examination should spend no more than one or two terms on exam preparation
Between periods of examination study teachers should allow students to broaden their repertoire with a wide variety of pieces for sheer enjoyment and relaxation, quick study pieces to improve reading skills or reinforce weaknesses, duet and other ensemble material. Other areas are keyboard harmony and creativity and aural training for developing inner hearing and critical listening skills. Examination aural tests are for testing purposes and are not designed as a course in aural training; therefore teachers need to look at ways of building a solid foundation in aural awareness.
Suggestions for less experienced teachers preparing students for examination
Before the examination, try not to transfer your anxieties to your students and persuade parents to do likewise.
- Explain to students that the examiner is there to provide helpful and constructive criticism.
- Warn students that the examiner may inadvertently ask something outside the student’s grade, for example a wrong scale or general knowledge question. There is no harm in politely pointing this out to the examiner. Examiners are fallible!
- Make sure young children understand terminology that may be used by the examiner. (For example, similar motion, harmonic minor, modulation etc.)
- Demonstrate to students how to adjust the stool heights, otherwise provide students with a firm cushion if the stool is too low.
- If necessary, provide a footstool for younger students and train them how to gauge how far away from the piano to sit so they are not too close.
- In order to avoid false starts, advise students not to rush into playing their technical work or pieces before they are mentally ready, and to wait a few moments between sonata movements. They need to imagine the tempo and mood of each piece before commencing.
- Immediately following a performance, students should not look up at the examiner or take their hands to abruptly off the instrument except in bravura type pieces
- Make sure that clothing worn to the exam is comfortable, neat and suitable for the occasion; shoes with low heels are more suitable for pedalling than high heels, platform soles or joggers.
- Don’t erase pencil marks from pieces at the last moment as this can be disconcerting for the student who is used to seeing them on the page. Only general knowledge and analysis marks need be erased, while fingering, phrasing and expression marks may be left to assist the student.
- Analysis of pieces should be introduced from the outset to facilitate learning and not left until close to the examination.
- Similarly, aural testing and sight-reading cannot be crammed at the last minute. Both skills require careful and frequent reinforcement to be successful.
- If students are having difficulty with aural work or sight-reading for their grade, it is better to go back and work through earlier grade levels. This will achieve better results and rebuild confidence.
- Close to the examination, allow students to play through each piece so they have a sense of continuity. Concentration is difficult when students are continually stopped for correction of errors and this can lead to ‘stuttering’ in performance. If necessary make a mental or written note of any critical feedback at the end of the performance. Advanced students need to play through their entire program a number of times in order to test concentration and endurance.
- If necessary, advanced students should arrange for, and rehearse with, a page turner.
- Arrange for opportunities for students to play their examination pieces in front of each other as well as to an invited audience close to the event. This often takes pressure off the actual examination. To be meaningful this recital should take place at least a week or 10 days before the exam so that corrections or alterations may be made in plenty of time.
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