piano teacher insists my son to choose another three news exam songs after he failed Grade 6, I want DS to stick to the 3 old songs, what to do?

(41 Posts)
jessie2004 Fri 27-Jun-14 10:49:31

My 10 DS failed the Grade 6 exam in June with a score of 92. We are fine with it and think of resitting Grade 6 exam in Nov/Dec 2014, however, his piano teacher suggested him to choose another 3 new grade 6 exam pieces and take the exam in June 2015. She said it is the best practice to go for three new songs based on her more than 30 years teaching experiences. She said there are two reasons: 1. my son will get bored with the three old songs if he does them in Nov/Dec again. 2. he will lose confidence if he does the three old songs.

I respect her professional opinion, however personally I could not agree with her. Both the piano teacher and I know DS is not well prepared for grade 6 as we moved overseas last summer and had 3 different piano teachers in the past 12 months . DS started Grade 6 preparation with his school piano teacher last October (DS did Grade 5 theory this February as well). DS feels that the school teacher does not give enough critical and constructive suggestions as she always says he is good etc. Therefore in APRIL, he started to go to a private institution for piano class. Sadly, his new teacher said he was badly taught by his school piano teacher and suggested DS to postpone the exam to Nov/Dec. I had a discussion with DS and decide to continue with the exam in JUNE (anyway his school teacher has enrolled him for the JUNE exam already.). Also DS is a tough and confident boy and he thinks it will not hurt him even if he fails it in June (which his new teacher is strongly against as she thinks it is not good to fail a grade exam as children will lose confidence).

DS had one lesson with another teacher in the same music institute the week before the exam as his teacher is on sick leave. That teacher said he is fine and could pass (she has been an examiner for long time). Anyway DS got only 92 (he always got merit or distinction before) with very low score in sight reading and oral (less than 1/3 of the full mark), even though he always tells me he is best at sight reading (but immediately after the exam, he told me he did very bad in sight reading as that specific piece is really hard with huge jump) and oral.

DS wants to do more songs outside of the exam pieces. He loves to play new songs by himself. I am thinking of letting him take a break from the exam pieces and practice other new songs. Then he could retry the three old pieces later this year and go for the exam in Dec. From now to Dec, he could do other songs and pays more attention to sight reading, oral etc. I just do not want him to always do exam songs; if we follow the teacher's suggestion, three new exams songs are still exam songs...I am thinking of letting him do the Grade exam in Dec with 3 old songs rather than 3 new songs in June next year. However, I do not want to offense or piss off the teacher? I have had quite a few disagreements with the teacher since April. She is against digital piano and was suggesting to buy an upright piano. However, I bought a new Yamama digital piano last Oct and have an upright piano back home in London, so not in the mood to buy another upright piano as we are not even sure how long we will stay overseas. She suggested to delay the exam to Dec, I insisted my son to go for the exam in June and he failed... Now, 3 old songs in Dec or 3 new songs next June? Do you agree with what the teacher suggests? I have to admit that I know little about piano and could be totally wrong, but I know my son and I want him to rise where he falls...

Sorry for the long post, any suggestions are highly appreciated.

RaspberryLemonPavlova Fri 27-Jun-14 11:05:12

I have no experience of this but for sanity I would say new pieces.

I would listen to the teacher and trust her, it sound like he needs time to settle with this teacher. I presume he will do different pieces as well, not just the three new exam pieces.

Its not quite the same, but DD went through a bit of a block between G5 and G6 sax, and didn't progress for ages, which delayed her G6. Because school only does it once a year, she played some other stuff, then went back to her G6 pieces but changed one of them.

It sounds like he didn't have enough preparation in aural/sight-reading, its a big jump from 5 to 6.

re piano I cn see its difficult. We have a good digital piano that has been fine until Grade 5, now post Grade 5 we have invested in a lovely upright and I do think it makes a difference.

sleeplessbunny Fri 27-Jun-14 11:12:50

I think the piano teacher is right to choose new pieces and postpone the exam. I say this based on having taken many many music exams as a child! It sounds like he needs a fresh approach to the exam.

What does he want to do? Does he like to choose his own pieces? Does he want to take the exam? As PP has said there is a big jump between G5 and 6. Is there really a big rush to get him to take it so soon?

mummytime Fri 27-Jun-14 11:13:57

Surely if your son is grade 6 then he will be playing a lot, and not just practising his exam pieces over and over again?
So I would go along with him trying three new pieces for the exam, and also playing other stuff. If he really doesn't get on with them then you and she could suggest looking at the old ones to see if they would be better for the exam. You are just going into the summer break so he should have lots of time to play around as well as prepare for his exam.

Most people learning music (certainly by grade 6) do play a lot of music that isn't just exam practise. Singers tend to also belong to choirs, and most other instruments are played with Orchestras or various Bands.

At Grade 6 I would have thought a real piano was better, but I can understand your reluctance to buy yet another one. Is there not a piano at school or somewhere he could use for some of his practise? Ideally he would get a reasonable amount of time to get used to the piano he will actually use for the exam.

It does sound as if: you don't trust this teacher (you pressed for him to sit the exam before she thought he was ready, and you don't want him learning new pieces).
I also think that it must be very hard for him to keep up his music if you keep moving around. Sorry, but it must be, especially with an instrument like Piano that you can't even take with you easily.

AliceDoesntLiveHereAnymore Fri 27-Jun-14 11:32:24

To some extent, there's no point in having an instructor if you do not follow their advice.

Ideally, yes, a real piano is better. Hence her suggestion. If you do not want to or cannot purchase one right now, perhaps source somewhere that he can use one at least a couple times a week.

If she wanted to delay the testing until December and you pushed it for June, are you really surprised he struggled?

And yes, new pieces is probably a good idea.

If he is 10yo, I would suggest letting his teacher discuss it with HIM, let her get his input, then follow her advice on how to progress. That is, after all, her job.

Wafflenose Fri 27-Jun-14 11:34:34

I would also do new pieces! They will be fresh, exciting and interesting, but I think the old ones might be past their best by the new exam date, and associated with failure.

It sounds like the real problem was aural and sight reading. Your son can do so much to help himself with these. It needs to be a daily thing. Sight reading practice doesn't have to be from the ABRSM sample book - anything counts. He should do some every day, ignore mistakes and keep the pulse going.

The exam boards also produce aural example books, and CDs as well I think. There are also aural trainers online.

stealthsquiggle Fri 27-Jun-14 11:41:00

Could you rent a piano?

And is there some pressing reason why your DS needs to have passed grade 6 ASAP? If not, then I see no good reason not to go with her advice - let him play other stuff from now until the end of the year (at least), and pick up with new exam pieces to retake the exam in June. It sounds as though she is trying to teach him in general (and address some issues with previous teaching?) without the pressure of an exam deadline looming over them both. That, IMHO, can only be a good thing.

titchy Fri 27-Jun-14 11:42:41

Agree do what the teacher suggests. If he's keen learning three new fresh pieces will be fine.

And please call them pieces - they're not songs!

RunAwayHome Fri 27-Jun-14 12:36:40

I'd also do new pieces. Perhaps there is something about the old pieces that wasn't particularly suited to him, for example. There is a great variety in the pieces on the syllabus.

There should be plenty of time to play new material that is nothing to do with the exam over the summer, and to still learn new exam pieces - lots of people try quite a few of the pieces from each list, and only make the final choice later. If he's needing to spend all the time between one exam and the next just learning three pieces, then he probably isn't really ready for that grade anyway. It might be why his sightreading is not that good yet either, if he's only been doing a fairly small selection at each grade level. We used to do almost everything on the list up til about Grade 5, and even after that, a reasonable selection. You'd be bored stiff if you did nothing but 3 exam pieces all the time, not to mention musically limited.

Also, if for some reason he can't take the exam in December, do you know that the old pieces will actually be acceptable any longer than that? The piano syllabus changes quite often, and there's only a limited overlap period. I don't know when the new one comes out.

It sounds like the teacher knows what she's doing and he needs time to work on technique and sightreading and so on in the meantime; it would be much better to wait and get a good score when he is actually ready. There seems little point in taking an exam just for the sake of it, to see if you happen to pass or not. It won't mean that he's ready for Grade 7 any sooner.

RaspberryLemonPavlova Fri 27-Jun-14 12:55:08

ABRSM and Trinity both have a new syllabus coming out imminently, we are waiting to decide which board for DS2s Grade 6 until we see them.

I think there might be a 1 year overlap but definitely worth checking. And there might be a lovely new pieces which appeal to your DS.

I think that new pieces is the best move too. As a singer myself (I went to grade 8, and singing was my instrument for the music half of my degree), I know that if I had to sing the same three songs for another 6 months, I would hate them with a passion long before I got to the exam!!

I do think it is a good idea for him to be learning other pieces too - maybe get him a book of simple arrangements of pop songs or other genres he enjoys, and let him muck around with those. Plus this would help his sightreading.

I also think you need to settle with one piano teacher - I understand that the circumstances that have led to him having three different teachers were unavoidable, but he does now need to settle down and get used to one teacher - and let her get used to him, and his strengths and weaknesses.

RaspberryLemonPavlova pipped me to it - I was going to say that the new syllabus comes out at the beginning of July (ABRSM).

I would follow the tutor's advice and go with fresh pieces next year. It gives him plenty of time to improve his aural and sightreading and plenty of time to play a range of pieces rather than just playing to the exam. We did once have an exam snowed off and to keep the pieces to standard and fresh for the extra month was very difficult. I can't think how we'd manage to keep them on the boil for five months.

As a non-musical parent I am paying for someone else's experience, if I could do their job as well as they can then I wouldn't need to be paying for music lessons at all. My role in exams has been to pay the fee, arrange the accompanist and get him to the centre prepared and on time. Which exam and which sitting is a professional judgement and that's part of what I'm paying the music teacher for.

There is no room in our house for an upright piano so we're a digital household. It doesn't really matter whether a real piano would be "better" or not because there isn't room for one in the dining room. DH has just bought some variety of Privia in preparation for his G8, his previous one has (I hope) seen him through G7.

flowery Fri 27-Jun-14 13:46:59

Definitely new pieces. DS1 is taking his Grade 1 violin in a couple of weeks. Obviously I hope he won't fail but if he did and we had to carrying on with current pieces wretched Daisy Bell for another 6 months I think we'd all be slitting our wrists. I'd definitely be expecting to change to new pieces.

Hedgehogsrule Fri 27-Jun-14 13:48:28

You sound quite pushy. Let him have a year doing loads of playing, so that he gets beyond grade 6 level, then he can do 3 new grade 6 pieces, find them well within his capabilities, have plenty of time to improve the sight reading and aural, and get a distinction.

JulieMichelleRobinson Fri 27-Jun-14 13:56:22

ABRSM overlaps until Easter session in the UK, meaning you can use the whatever-2014 syllabus until April-2015. I think internationally the overlap is longer.

Jessie, as a piano teacher, give your son a break, don't make him go straight for the exam; let him learn new pieces, perhaps even technically easier ones, to improve his sightreading. Work with the teacher to improve aural. Trust the piano teacher - if the technique is bad, it needs sorting out. You have no idea how many transfer students I get who can get through the pieces at lower grades but play pretty horrifically in terms of technique.

Seriously, I'd give him a term off at least. No exam pressure, let him enjoy the instrument for a bit. My policy is that we don't even think about exams for at least a term after one was taken. Then we learn the scales, because I am actually quite evil. No exam pieces until you know all the scales. Mwahahaha! I also do lots of aural in lessons on a regular basis.

JulieMichelleRobinson Fri 27-Jun-14 13:57:37

Frankly, it sounds like you don't trust the teacher to do his/her job. If you don't, why are you paying him/her?

jessie2004 Fri 27-Jun-14 14:15:38

Thanks so much for the thoughts and suggestions. I would like DS to practice more pieces, with a wide variety but not limited to the exam pieces. That is why I hope the teacher could find some other songs suitable for DS, but not necessary the exam pieces. DS actually does not like to do the exam pieces, and would rather find random pieces on the internet and plays them by himself, which he enjoys a lot. He got great scores in sight reading in the previous grade exams, though he suffered this time. He also did violin and drum before we moved overseas. He is not really into grade exams as he does not like to play the same pieces over and over again. BTW, how long does it usually take a child to learn and practice an exam piece well? I am thinking maybe he could choose one new piece and keep two old pieces. DS could do those pieces for exam; this will leave him plenty time to play other pieces not from the exam book, and focus on sight reading, oral or other aspects which he has no time to work on before.

Put it another way, think about the following scenario: If I followed the teacher's suggestion and changed mind in May and postponed his piano exam from early June to December, then he will still do the same three pieces, right? So what is the rationale behind this: If he attempts Grade 6 first time in Dec, then he plays the original 3 old pieces; if he fails, then he needs to do 3 news pieces next summer? Why he has to change pieces, just because he failed the exam? I admit the teacher may use different approaches to teach given whether DS takes exam in early June or Dec, but not too much differences, as anyway DS is a new student and did not start with her until this term. Why could we not just assume DS did not take exam in June? I think there are still quite a lot she could teach DS about the 3 old pieces.

claraschu Fri 27-Jun-14 14:20:33

If he doesn't particularly love doing exams and he does love finding pieces for himself and playing the piano in general, there is no way that I would have him do exams.

I think exams often put children off; they are not what learning music is all about. There is absolutely no reason to do them, unless they are fun and helpful for your son.

Hedgehogsrule Fri 27-Jun-14 14:23:06

Why are you so desperate to get him through lots of grade exams when he doesn't like them and is so young?
He is probably sick of his 3 pieces, and failing this time round will have put him off them. Unless you need to get him through gr 6 as quickly as possible for some reason, eg scholarship, why not let him take it when he is above gr 6 level, next year, and the whole process is a lot more pleasant for him? Everyone has advised that you do this, including his teacher.

jessie2004 Fri 27-Jun-14 14:24:44

To be honest, DS had a great piano teacher back in London and we have not built the bond with the new teacher yet. DS was not happy sometimes that she is very strict with fingering and he thinks his hands are not big enough yet and prefers to use his own fingering.

Really appreciate all your suggestions. I will discuss it with DS and see what he wants to do, then discuss with the teacher. The exam pieces are valid until Dec 2015 outside UK.

jessie2004 Fri 27-Jun-14 14:26:50

Julie, thanks for your opinion as a piano teacher. i think you are right. I never though about the approach as I always leave it to his teacher's hand.

jessie2004 Fri 27-Jun-14 14:28:19

thanks, really insightful thoughts. I think I should leave it to his teacher this time as well. it is a good idea to take Grade 6 when he is above grade 6 level.

DeWee Fri 27-Jun-14 14:35:24

* She suggested to delay the exam to Dec, I insisted my son to go for the exam in June and he failed*

I think you need to learn to listen to the teacher.

jessie2004 Fri 27-Jun-14 14:38:30

charaschu, thanks for your inputs. But I think exams bring discipline, pressure and motivation, right? They should be helpful, at least for my son, who is very tough and not hard working enough yet. But I agree I should not push him. Actually it is DS who wants to do the exam in summer rather than postpone it to Dec.

Julie, when usually should children start to practice pieces before the exam? In the past, DS always took two months off after the exam.

RunAwayHome Fri 27-Jun-14 14:40:12

Grade exams don't have to mean doing the same three pieces over and over again, though. Don't equate the two - that's what puts people off from doing exams (which aren't at all necessary, but there can be some good reasons for doing them - don't spoil the benefits by having a child play nothing but 3 grade pieces for a couple of terms!!)

You can do lots of pieces to get you up to a suitable standard and level of technique, and then just choose the pieces nearer the end.

If you'd decided last May not to do the exam in June but put it off til December, he'd likely have wanted new pieces then too, surely? Unless he wasn't planning to touch them all summer or something. You'd not want the same pieces for months on end, whatever you're doing, just as you don't want to be only doing three pieces and nothing else at any one time.

And you'd change pieces anyway just to be learning new techniques and aspects of music that will come up in the different pieces that are all at one grade level. Just being able to play a couple of grade 6 pieces for an exam doesn't really mean he's generally grade 6 level.

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