Is it normal to make a child continue on the same curriculum after a graded exam?

(21 Posts)
Soveryupset Sun 06-Apr-14 20:20:39

I need some perspective so I don't mind harsh responses.

My DD1 started at a specialist music school age 8 this year. She has loved it, and has amazing teachers but the string teacher I feel is all over the place.

DD1 started in September ready to take grade 3 and to cut a long story short has only just taken the exam. I have been very unhappy with this teacher but what she told my DD1 today just defeats logic.

She told DD1 that despite having taken her grade 3 exam she wants dd1 to continue on with grade 3 for the unforeseeable future. She has sent dd1 home with a list of grade 3 books to buy. DD1 looked puzzled and upset and so she went on a rant and rave about how students think they should progress onto the next grade after an exam but this isn't how it is supposed to be.

I am about to blow my top having a daughter who should be feeling proud and happy after achieving grade 3 but in effect having a dd1 who is extremely deflated and bewildered. I just wanted to know if this is common practice. Thanks.

foolonthehill Sun 06-Apr-14 21:13:35

Not common practice in my experience. After an exam I might expect to consolidate with some stretching similar grade pieces if the student appeared wobbly and not quite ready fro the step up, but not for long and I certainly would expect them to be presented as "fun pieces" for the holidays, or the next term as a reward for working hard for the exam.

demotivating a student is a crime for a teacher in my eyes...even if she wanted to keep DD at that grade for a good reason (??) there are ways of doing it constructively.

I would have a word and ask to have another member of staff or the head there at the same time so you know that you can;t be misrepresented as a pushy parent.

Noteventhebestdrummer Sun 06-Apr-14 21:19:20

Has she gone as a chorister? Or is violin her second instrument?

I suspect there are big technical issues that need fixing but yes, it could have been communicated more sensitively.

MiddleAgeMiddleEngland Sun 06-Apr-14 21:19:32

Try to find out a bit more information. Are the books actual exam pieces or are they repertoire to broaden her skills and experience before moving on to another grade?

If it's exam pieces then I would say that was really bad and demotivating. If it's repertoire because the teacher thinks she needs to consolidate her skills a bit before moving on then that would make more sense. The teacher shouldn't have ranted though, that's really unprofessional as well as being upsetting for your daughter.

What I do with pupils in this position is to give them new music which doesn't have any indication of grade, most likely in a different style, jazz or folk perhaps if that's what they enjoy. They will improve their technique with this without any thought of exams or grades and will then be ready to move on confidently.

I don't like them doing lots of exams though. Three or four between beginner and Grade 8 is plenty. Music shouldn't be an exam conveyor belt.

If you're still not happy I would suggest changing teacher if at all possible.

CURIOUSMIND Sun 06-Apr-14 21:58:05

I don't think its a problem. Depends on how solid you are on your grade 3.Have you done wide variety of repertoires before the exam to the standard you want?
For our piano experience, we always do lots of pieces, performance before the exam, so by the exam, they are actually well beyond that grade ability. But, for their second instrument, the teacher is doing it in different way, they play their exam pieces and some others, but not a lot. Then we always got a time period play other pieces on certain books teacher lend us, same grade, to solid up.

Wafflenose Sun 06-Apr-14 22:01:42

I agree with the fact that students shouldn't be ready to jump to the next grade (it's such a gradual process!), but think her methodology here has been insensitive.

I do give my pupils other pieces at the same level, as they can enjoy these and manage them right away. Then I slowly and gradually sort out the next lot of technical issues, scales, etc, while building the difficulty of the pieces. Obviously, pieces of music didn't originally come labelled as 'Grade 3', 'Grade 4' etc, so I do not usually make any sort of big jump, but grade things carefully. I would expect and hope that this is what the teacher is doing (and it's very normal), but if that's the case, she could have worded it differently!

JulieMichelleRobinson Sun 06-Apr-14 22:38:27

Was it a case of "go and get these grade 3 pieces" or "All these pieces are around grade 3, you should be able to learn them with no problems" or "I don't think we should start working on grade 4 just yet, but here are some really nice pieces we could do while we take a break from exams"???

Soveryupset Mon 07-Apr-14 12:42:03

Hi, violin is her first instrument. She joined having already gone through many studies and ready for grade 3. An agreement was then reached that as dd1 had some technique issues, the exam material would be abandoned for 6 months and gone back to grade 3 when ready. So now we are back to introduction to third position studies dd1 thinks she is just rubbish at the violin.

I took dd1 who is only 9 to a violin teacher friend who watched her play and said she cannot see anything wrong with her technique and her pieces and scales were distinction level. So even more confused now! A change of teacher is on the cards I think...

JulieMichelleRobinson Mon 07-Apr-14 13:30:52


If she's at a specialist school, it's possible that the standards are higher - i.e. you enter the exam for a distinction mark, not just to pass...

Every violin teacher will have different expectations of technique...

Does she need all the fingerings written in on second/third position sections? Is her actual technique doing the shifts good? Is her intonation precise rather than okay? Does she have good bow control even when playing more complicated sections?

Is it possible that she plays those three pieces to distinction level because she's worked so hard at them, but that for her to learn another piece of similar standard takes a long time? Did she learn much other repertoire at that level before undertaking the exam syllabus? It's not always good to rush from one grade to the next. Maybe her teacher wants her to have a break before working towards grade 4 (I would!) or maybe she has another performance in mind, rather than an exam, for which a not-too-hard piece played well would be a much better idea than one at the next level.

Soveryupset: Could you name me some of the specific books your dd was asked to get? It might give me some idea of the reasoning.

Soveryupset Mon 07-Apr-14 15:00:52

I don't think dd1 has ever needed any fingering written down as she seems to pick it up incredibly easily. She is also at a couple of orchestras where she picks up sight reading pieced very easily. I can't comment on technique though but instinctively I think there is something really wrong wirh the teaching. She has done no grades with the piano but I can see she has made massive progress whilst with the vuolin I can't. She says the teacher spends a whole hour on a single line lookong for technical perfection and I think dd just switches off completely after 10 minutes or so...

FastLoris Mon 07-Apr-14 15:22:37

Tricky this. It's one of the (many) problems with the grade system.

It's not unusual for teachers at specialist music schools to have no interest in grades at all, and even to see them as an inconvenience. There is some justification for this. Getting the pieces, scales and everything else defined by the grade syllabus to the right level and keeping it there until exam day is not necessary the best use of a student's time or the best way to progress. It can be frustrating, particular when teaching able kids to a high level. Much of the stuff the exam requires them to do may not be appropriate or useful at that point in their development, in the opinion of the teacher.

It's also not unusual for teacher's in such institutions to strip a child's playing right back, take them back to what seems like too easy material and work on getting things perfects that have so far been gotten away with. It's true however that this can be demoralising if not handled well. The teacher may have been insensitive about it as others have said - or it's possible they tried hard to explain but the child still misunderstood, particularly if they were very stuck in the exam mentality.

Nothing you have written raises alarm bells to me; it's all what I would see as within the bounds of "normal" in such a situation. I would say that if you're DD is going to go through a specialist music school education from 8 for the next 10 years, you're going to have to get used to an approach where grades aren't the focus of everything and things might seem a little less easy to measure.

It's important she has a teacher that you trust though. Could you find out who the teacher's other students are? Find out whether their parents are happy, and whether the more advanced students now play to the standard of excellence you would expect? I'd try to do that before making any decisions.

Soveryupset Mon 07-Apr-14 15:41:23

Good advice, thank you. I know I sound pushy for grades but I am really more worried about her lack of progress and enthusiasm. Maybe she just has not gelled with this teacher. She didn't have any problems being stripped back to basics with the piano and has made huge progress. Maybe this teacher just isn't getting through to her. I think is a communication issue probably but I have a very demotivated daughter, which is a huge shame. I still think spending each lesson just on a couple of lines is never going to work with my dd1. This teacher is fairly new and the only other parent I know whose child has lessons with her does nor rate her at all but I didn't want that to cloud my judgement! I am going away to have a really long think...

Soveryupset Mon 07-Apr-14 15:46:45

Good advice, thank you. I know I sound pushy for grades but I am really more worried about her lack of progress and enthusiasm. Maybe she just has not gelled with this teacher. She didn't have any problems being stripped back to basics with the piano and has made huge progress. Maybe this teacher just isn't getting through to her. I think is a communication issue probably but I have a very demotivated daughter, which is a huge shame. I still think spending each lesson just on a couple of lines is never going to work with my dd1. This teacher is fairly new and the only other parent I know whose child has lessons with her does nor rate her at all but I didn't want that to cloud my judgement! I am going away to have a really long think...

FastLoris Mon 07-Apr-14 16:28:05

Well, you need to do what's right. If you're talking about a specialist music school along the lines of the Menuhin or Purcell School, then one would think you should be able to have confidence in the teachers. But you never know. If she's a new teacher she could be very inexperienced, and shit happens.

There's nothing wrong in a situation like that with asking to change teachers. It can seem difficult and confrontational but it doesn't have to be. People do it all the time. Sometimes even a perfectly good teacher will not be right for a particular individual student. Probably best to do as much research as you can first though and have a good idea who she would like to change to.

JulieMichelleRobinson Mon 07-Apr-14 21:22:51

It sounds like she just doesn't 'match' the teacher. It's also possible that she is making huge technical progress but that her playing actually sounds worse (correcting left-hand position will cause problems with intonation, for example). Because it sounds worse, or the same, she'll think she's going backwards when in fact she isn't.

Picturesinthefirelight Mon 07-Apr-14 21:31:34

DD is at a specialist ballet school. The entire year so far has been picking apart technique, undoing bad habits, things DD could do before she stopped being able to do due to changes in thecway she has to do them. Other children who could lift their legs higher were prevented until they had strength to do it in a certain way. Girls who were en Pointe were taken off Pointe until they passed a series of thecschools own tests.

And yes its been hard & there have been times where she thinks she's rubbish.

I have no doubt that many ballet teachersxwould look at DD and her classmates & think there was nothing wrong with their technique & they could get distinctions in exams but that's why they go to specialist school.

Grades are not important at all.

JaneinReading Mon 07-Apr-14 22:04:20

Our children are/were not at specialist music schools although one of their friends is. However I certainly find the grades motivate them (3 of the children won music scholarships so they are reasonably good although not keen enough for somewhere like the Purcell or YM etc).

It may just be you can have a word with the school quietly about this and get a different teacher allocated. It's a difficult issue as in general it is better if parents don't interfere with schools. I would have thought as personality clashes could cause such problems in such an environment you could use that to ask if she could have a teacher change. Ours were motivated by grades with 1 or 2 grades 7 or 8 by age 12/13 each but that is certainly any kind of aim with music schools - the children are very very good and taught very well and might well do a few grades but the grades may well not matter too much to the school in the way they might to individual children (although remember you get university UCAS points for trades 6 7 and 8 so worth doing on 2 or more instruments those higher grades if you can - my 20 something lawyer daughter had me getting out her singing, piano and cello certificates the other week as some law job application needed all her UCAS points collected in addition to what you get from A levels)

morethanpotatoprints Mon 07-Apr-14 22:50:51

I have heard of this quite a lot and it seems common practice. They are at specialist music school and they do things differently and their own way.
I'm sure most of them say that they don't allow students to take any exams at all in the first term.
I think the teacher maybe feels that your dd needs to consolidate and enjoy playing at this level.
I think it must be a hard environment for a little one.

Soveryupset Tue 08-Apr-14 08:00:05

This has been very useful thank you. I have gone for being bewildered and confused to understanding better what is gping on. I now think the problem is communication and personalities rather than ultimate goal. I don't think dd1 has a problem with the general environment there, she has loved all the lessons and musically has come on hugely.

I did suggest pulling her out and she begged me not to! So the problem is not the environment, more the relationship with one teacher. I think I will ask for a change of teacher as there is really no other way forward. Fingers crossed it works out!

JaneinReading Tue 08-Apr-14 22:30:33

I am sure they will be used to such requests if it can be presented as a real problem rather than a parent interfering. It must be like the relationship between supreme sports person and coach at a music school; the relationship has to work. it's very close and very important (not like with my lot who do their music for fun and as little practice as they can get away with).

ReallyTired Sun 13-Apr-14 17:28:01

I find music grades depressing. Music is about feeling and being alive or entertainment. Its not a competition to get load of silly certificates. Greats like Bach, Mozart or Beethoven never sat a music exam in their life.

Sometimes its good for a child to broaden their repetoire of music. It is desperately dull when a child spends a term practicing nothing but three pieces. My son who is at a bog standard comprehensive spent two terms learning lots of grade 2 standard pieces after passing his exam. He came on leaps and bounds with his sight reading and shock! horrror! actually enjoyed playing the pieces. His ablity to perform as opposed to play the correct notes improved.

I suggest you trust the strings teacher. There may be sound logic in his decision.

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