Does anyone's musical dc not do exams?

(33 Posts)
Dancergirl Thu 10-Mar-16 16:00:42

Interested in opinions. Oldest dd, now 14, plays the flute and piano. Flute is her main instrument and she took up a bit of piano to help with GCSE Music. With her flute she had a bit of a slow start due to repeated change of teacher at school, but I then found a fantastic private teacher and she progressed rapidly doing Grades 1 and 2 within a year both with Merit.

She then had a gap and did Grade 3 a year or so later. Even though she was well prepared it went a big wrong on the day and she scraped a pass. Bit disappointing but I told her a pass is a pass and to move on and enjoy her playing. She has now decided she doesn't want to do any more grades for a while and I am fine with that, she is old enough to make sensible choices. She is very much enjoying playing both instruments without the stress of doing exams.

Youngest dd started piano last summer and made very fast progress and is really enjoying it. She is due to take Grade 1 in a couple of weeks and her teacher says she should do very well. But I can't help feeling that a bit of the joy has been taking out of playing, focussing on playing the exam pieces well plus scales, aural etc. Dd is keen to take the exam but is also a bit worried about it. I'm worried it will put her off something she was really enjoying.

I play the piano myself and worked up through the grades as a child. I didn't really give it much thought but I quite liked the challenge of exams.

So my questions are - what are the benefits of doing exams, and can you become a competent musician without doing them?

ErgonomicallyUnsound Thu 10-Mar-16 16:07:56

My DD (9) plays three instruments and is only doing grade exams in one of them, and tbh we may stop those.

Her flute teacher commented on how unusual it was for a parent not to want their child to do grades - I'm not a big fan, as like you, I want her to enjoy it without the stress and competitiveness of an exam, especially when there are a number of tiger parented very bright children in her class who win plaudits for everything and seem to want to compete over scores.

She's happy not doing the grades at the moment but if a time comes when she is keen to, fair enough.

I find the whole world of extra curricular exams and competiveness sad and insane in equal measure.

NewLife4Me Thu 10-Mar-16 16:08:37

The benefit of doing exams.

Gives parents a rough idea of how their child ha progressed, a benchmark and possibly the certificate can lead to scholarships for private schools.

Most definitely you can be a musician without any exams and what's more you don't always need them to progress to specialist conservatoires, although they may give you the edge at Uni level/ post compulsory level.

Some parents and teachers like the treadmill of one grade followed by another and see grade 8 as a means to an end and for this type of learner they are great.

If you actually want to be a respected musician however, they don't really mean anything.

sunnydayinmay Thu 10-Mar-16 16:11:50

My dcs play the piano. Ds1 has taken grades 1 & 2, and is taking grade 3 next week. He thrives on structure, and loves getting pieces to grade level, but hates sight reading, so I am considering this.

Ds2 is three years younger (9 years old) and is playing at grade 2 level but not doing grades. He would gain nothing from them - he loves to learn new pieces and scales, and loves playing, but taking grades would stifle him.

They have the same teacher, and she is absolutely happy to adapt her teaching to this.

I think our hope (subject to their rather strong personal opinions!)_ is that they will be around grade 8 level by the time they leave school, but don't actually most and if they have a certificate to prove it!

raspberryrippleicecream Thu 10-Mar-16 16:14:41

The short answer is yes, you can become a more than competent musician without grade exams. Many countries don't do them.

DSs trombone teacher was really pleased we weren't bothered about exams, he said they would concentrate on playing.

My DC play a variety of instruments and do exams on some and not on others, depending on what they want.

Dancergirl Thu 10-Mar-16 16:16:10

Thank you. Playing is very much a hobby for both of them, they have no desire to win music scholarships or pursue a career as a musician. I want them to enjoy playing, they will still gain all the benefits of learning a musical instrument without doing exams.

I will see how dd gets on with her Grade 1 and then let her decide if she wants to take any more exams.

raspberryrippleicecream Thu 10-Mar-16 16:19:26

Don't forget you don't have to do them all, your DD could skip a few and do a higher grade later on.

NewLife4Me Thu 10-Mar-16 16:22:39

The thing is whether you take exams or not you are at a level that corresponds to an exam.
E.g my dh has a pupil who is consolidating grade 5 now, having gone to pieces in grade 2 a couple of years ago, didn't take another exam.
She plays pieces both from the older syllabus and others that dh works out the level.
If she feels she wants to do an exam he will enter her at the level she is working at when ready.
She is that bad that dh daren't choose pieces from the new syllabus because she'd go to pieces, just knowing they were exam pieces.

I hope all that makes sense.

My dd hasn't taken exams on her main instrument at school, they aren't bothered and that's a specialist music school.
She'll have them all by the time she is 14, but they skip a couple and just take the milestone exams.

CharleyDavidson Thu 10-Mar-16 16:27:25

I learnt to play the piano with a teacher who didn't put you through for grades. I now play as part of my job as a teacher, in church and in assemblies/concerts, so would say that I'm competent.

The only thing I don't have is a) as much musical theory knowledge as I'd have needed to learn if I was doing my grades - although a teacher could still cover that with your DC if they were interested.... and b) a way of saying exactly how proficient a player I am.

I actually only had a couple of years of lessons, up to age 11, then we moved. I taught myself to play more and improve my standard by purely practising. When I qualified as a teacher, I bought the common assembly hymn books and just slogged through them. smile

I'm glad I didn't have to concentrate on only a small number of grade pieces and play them to death before an exam.

MyLifeisaboxofwormgears Thu 10-Mar-16 16:28:10

DD is on grade 6 on her first instrument - she doesn't do exams, her teacher knows I don't have a great desire for DD to do exams, just enjoy playing.
She follows the exam curriculum and plays the syllabus pieces but also does other pieces that she likes.
Teacher enters plenty of pupils for exams, he has suggested DD does do the grade 6 exam as an academic exercise although she hasn't done any other exams so far.

On her other instrument DD is self taught, so no exams.
Music theory - teacher has suggested an exam would be good.
Other instrument - she is grade 4 and may take grade 5 exam.

She performs a lot - and she enjoys that so I am not fussed over exams at all.

Fleurdelise Thu 10-Mar-16 17:38:45

I think exams initially are a way for the parents (and children) to measure their progress and they shouldn't be used the other way around, so an exam should be taken when the child is at that level rather than working towards an exam.

I don't think exams add any value to their playing and if a DC is happier without taking any and the parent is happy with the teacher there is no need to do exams.

DD plays piano and her teacher put her into grade 1 exam last year with the understanding that if she hates it there will be no more exams after that. She came out of the exam happy and asking when can she do the next one. grin She is now a bit "certificate" obsessed in all her activities and wants to do exams but nevertheless her piano teacher is teaching her for her musical achievements which are followed by exam certificates. She never works towards an exam but her teacher understands that once a year she'd like to take one and enters her for whatever grade she thinks she's ready for. She therefore skipped grade 2 and doing grade 3 now with the plan of seeing what level she might be next December to enter her for the respective grade. It could be 4 or 5 but no exam preparation will be mentioned until that moment.

Mistigri Thu 10-Mar-16 18:15:37

Mine has never done a formal exam UK style and probably never will.

She is 14, and plays several instruments, writes music, records and plays live semi-regularly. Main instruments are guitar (couldn't give a grade but she can play anything she wants to) and piano (plays grade 7 pieces without too much trouble).

Maryz Thu 10-Mar-16 18:21:19

ds2 is very musical, sings a lot, composes his own songs, has played in a band, sung in a choir, and won a fair few talent shows.

He started with guitar (and voice) and did a couple of formal exams. He then took up keyboard/piano, and gave it up because of having to play the same piece over and over for an exam. At the same time, he threatened to give up guitar for the same reason.

In the end we stopped all exams, and in fact shortly after that he stopped formal lessons, and we've left him alone to do music his way.

He is now 18 and music is his great joy, the thing he goes back to when he's stressed, or needs a study break. He takes his guitar wherever he goes and does impromptu music with friends or on holidays; music is a massive part of his life.

Had we insisted on exams, though, I think he would have hated it and given it all up, which would have been a real pity.

Mistigri Thu 10-Mar-16 18:46:15

My dd sounds very similar to maryz DS. Doubt her keenness would have survived formal exam preparation and she is adamant that she doesn't want to pursue a career in music for the same reason.

She's done guitar for three years now, group classes with pro jazz musicians that focus on repertoire and group playing. She has had 2 years of piano lessons, these are a bit more formal in the sense that she's learning repertoire, but there is no exam focus at all, the aim of her teacher is simply to get her to a standard where she is a reasonably autonomous pianist before she leaves school.

howabout Thu 10-Mar-16 19:08:08

Mine don't do grades in their main instruments. One has done grade 5 for her violin as I teach her and I wanted to give her a bit of confidence that someone other than her mother had judged her playing. They only did grade 5 piano as it gives a bit of structure and formality to the scales and theory. DD1 quite likes the exam carrot and stick so has gone on to do grade 6.

My violin teacher always said people were only really interested in judging by performance and that is true I think. However the bits of paper can be useful shorthand and door openers for gauging ability. Also mine are not doing music GCSE at school so are using abrsm exams to give a bit of formality.

NewLife4Me Thu 10-Mar-16 20:25:18

Another way grades can be useful is the UCAS points earned for exams of grade 5 and above.
There again I think only useful if going to music college.
i think they may be useful for my dd later on as her school will only really allow 2 A levels so the extra points may help her application. Long time away yet though, she's only 12.

Liara Thu 10-Mar-16 20:33:54

Both my dc play a couple of instruments and don't do exams and won't be doing them.

Dh lived abroad as a child and did one instrument from very young. He never did an exam until he came to the UK and then only ever did grade 8 in his instrument, as that is what his school decided he should do. He never did any of the prior ones.

He hated doing the exam, and feels it was absolutely no reflection of his level at all, and that if he had done the whole thing like that (i.e. focussing on the exams) he probably would have abandoned playing it. He still plays his instrument quite well (not professional, just a hobby) 25 years on.

elastamum Thu 10-Mar-16 20:33:57

My DS has been playing guitar since he was 4. Now at 17 he is really good and plays for pleasure nearly every day. He also plays with his friends in bands. He didn't want to do exams and I felt that was fair enough as it would have sucked all the pleasure out of his music and just made it another chore.

CrotchetQuaverMinim Thu 10-Mar-16 20:40:18

Other benefits are -

-getting used to playing/performing in front of someone. Depending on the instrument/situation, some children may not have the chance to do this in other ways. I avoided almost all possible situations where I had to, including all but a few exams. Then when the time came when I did want to (e.g., audition for ensemble) much later in life, I find that I am terrified and shaky and it all goes wrong. Exams are a gradual introduction to learning to play under pressure. While I still wouldn't have liked it as a child, I can see now that it would have been good for me.

-learning pieces to performance standard. When I wasn't doing exams, I would work at pieces and get them quite good, enough that my teacher would leave them and go on to new ones. But they were never really, really polished, the way you get them after loads of practice for a performance situation. I agree that practising the same pieces - and only those pieces - for months on end is awful and not the way to learn music, but at the same time, there is something that you get from going from 95% ready to 100% ready that you might otherwise miss, bits of extra polish/interpretation

-exposure to music you might not otherwise want to do. I loved Baroque music as a child. It was the only section I really liked out of the exam lists, and I'd have chosen to spend all my time on that. But by working through exam curricula (even without doing the exams), I had to learn pieces from other eras, other genres etc, and it was both good for my musical development (even when I still didn't like it much), and also helped me to learn and enjoy things that I really didn't think I would. I wouldn't ever have done it by choice, but when it's part of the exam, I just did.

-learning technique that can be very valuable for later playing. I didn't do exam work on one of my instruments, and I missed out on some very useful technique, and wish now that I had had to do it. I spent more time on other areas that I enjoyed more. Now that I try to play in ensembles, I can see where having spend a lot more time on arpeggios would have been extremely helpful. But by not doing exams, I could avoid doing as much of it as I should, and in all the combinations and permutations required of the exams, and to exam standard. I did some of it, but without that purpose, not really enough.

-motivation to keep going even through the hard bits. All the things I mentioned are absolutely possible to do without exams, but some children will find it harder to do e.g., all the technique without having a goal, even when they know they should. And it was the same for practising generally. Even though I enjoyed the instrument, enjoyed ensembles, there was still an element of not wanting to practice. So exams that have an immediate deadline, and a tangible sign of progress, and a purpose to work for, can be useful for some children.

I don't like the idea of just following the exam stuff, only doing 3 pieces and nothing else, and exams can be dangerous when it encourages teachers/pupils/parents to do that to the exclusion of everything else. But it's quite possible to do a whole swathe of material at each level, and then later on choose the favourites to work up for an exam, all whilst continuing to try other music and styles. Technique can be taught in lots of ways, studies, exercises and so on, and only learned in the proper exam format closer to the time. You can skip years and exams, or do the work but never do the exam at all. They aren't needed. But there are some good things about them too. Even though I would have dreaded them as a child, and wouldn't have wanted to be forced to do them. But with gentle encouragement and explanation and understanding, I might have been persuaded.

nonicknameseemsavailable Thu 10-Mar-16 21:31:52

I hated piano exams but my teacher insisted I did them even when my parents told her they were happy for me to just play/have lesson for enjoyment so I stopped playing completely, that was 26 years ago and I haven't played since.

I wish I had kept going just not doing exams as it did spoil it for me.

I think everyone is different, some children will like the challenge and the sense of achievement, for others it spoils the enjoyment.

BennyTheBall Thu 10-Mar-16 21:41:12

My ds (13) has done guitar grade 3 but has recently decided to stop doing grades (he finds the pieces very boring) and continue with his lessons.

It has transformed him! He loathed practise and had to be nagged to do it, but now, I hear him strumming along -voluntarily- every evening.

He is playing modern stuff like Hozier and Coldplay, plus some real old school Led Zep and Beatles.

I wish I had done the same - I can remember now how much I hated the exams.

Wafflenose Thu 10-Mar-16 21:54:21

Plenty of my pupils don't do them, or just the occasional grade. Sometimes taking the exam can actually slow them down and stop them progressing, but I suppose one of the advantages of taking them is that they help to focus all round practice, e.g. things like scales and sight reading, as well as polishing the pieces to a good standard.

My DDs have both done several, but I am now the one wanting to get off this ride... older DD did one yesterday, and her very enthusiastic teacher is already talking about the next one! I suppose they need to thrash it out between them, but I'd prefer it if she had a year off!

ReallyTired Thu 10-Mar-16 21:59:28

Dd is doing Suzuki violin and her teacher doesn't do exams before grade 5. Dd's guitar teacher only does odd number grades.

Supposedtobeworking1 Mon 14-Mar-16 12:13:47

My DS is 8 and plays cello, piano and sings. He has lessons in all three but has not taken any exams. This is an active decision on our part as my DS lives for his music but would find the structure of exam prep boring. He is currently grade 4ish level on both instruments and would easily pass grade 3 singing if he wanted to but he doesn't. He takes part in music festivals and regularly wins classes, often at distinction level, at the relevant grade levels and has wonderful teachers who still work through all the relevant technique with him even though he doesn't take the exams. He was recently awarded a music scholarship to a local independent school but for various reasons he won't be taking it up but again, his lack of exams had no impact on this. My son loves music and I want him to always view it as something to enjoy and get satisfaction and mental benefits out of not something that is structured by the pressure of exams. He is in two orchestras, so does do more structured practice, particularly coming up to concerts but one orchestra plays a very modern repertoire and the other more classical so he plays a very broad spectrum of pieces. He rehearses with friends and it's very much a social gathering opportunity for him. His ambition in life is to be a rock cellist and given his very extrovert personality I suspect that would suit him down to the ground!
My brother is a Guildhall trained guitarist and now a music lecturer at a very well respected University. He's never taken a formal music exam (other than the standard music A-level) in his life and it didn't cause him any problems.

sunnydayinmay Mon 14-Mar-16 13:20:09

Well, DS has piano grade 3 in an hours time and is very clear that he is not taking another exam until grade 8!

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