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Doing ABRSM graded piano exams is killing the joy out of DD's learning of the piano...

(60 Posts)
CluelessCrapParent Tue 17-Jun-14 10:56:26

She has her Grade 2 next week. She's not one of those who conscientiously practices everyday and complains that she gets fed up of repeating the same pieces (even though they are far from perfect). She gets distracted easily. It was OK at Grade 1, she got through it, but now the Grade 2 pieces are a lot harder for her and more difficult to get "perfect" (which is what the examiners will be looking for). Now she's saying she doesn't want to do it, not feeling ready etc..

After we get through next week's exam. I don't know whether to just drop the whole idea of graded exams altoegther, but am a bit concerned that she would just drift without focus in her lessons. Or, whether to change syballus to Trinity, maybe they are less formal and strict? Or just carry on with the ABRSM and hope that she will grow in maturity with her music practicing and handle the graded exams better.

I'm thinking the level of perfectionism expected in some of these graded exams maybe just doesn't suit that normal?

Talk to me please. Any advise welcome, we are not a musical family so don't know much about these things. I'm aware that I might just get flamed for this seemingly first world problem though....

CreepyLittleBat Tue 17-Jun-14 11:05:19

Sounds like it would be a good idea to take a break after this one - grade three is a big jump from grade 2. Can you break up the practise sessions into say two lots of ten minutes a day? Or structure it so she plays a selection of scales/broken chords plus each piece a few times a day so she's not sitting there for ages? Maybe the promise of a break from exams would motivate her to do well in this one?

CreepyLittleBat Tue 17-Jun-14 11:05:54

Another thought - you can do Jazz piano grades. That might be more fun?

Freckletoes Tue 17-Jun-14 11:06:03

I think it is the same with the majority of kids when starting to learn an instrument-it's fun at first but once it requires a bit of effort it's easier just not too bother! We have a battle with all 3, literally dragging them through exams! But now oldest, who has done his grade 5, wants to get grade 6 whizzed through before the end of the year and is motivating himself! We have considered and tried (for a short period) not working on exam pieces, but it doesn't give any focus or any kind of targets which most kids need to keep them motivated. The other issue is until they get to a certain level they can't play fun stuff or things they might know (chart music etc) so whatever you do will just be "boring".

I often wonder about kids learning when parents aren't musical-it must be really hard. I had a bit of musical knowledge and then have been learning piano alongside the kids so I can understand what they need to do and help them. Can you talk to the piano teacher and ask for advice? Or find a musical teenager to come in and give a bit of coaching for a few quid?
Good luck!

LiegeAndLief Tue 17-Jun-14 11:10:53

I never did any exams (really didn't want to despite my piano teacher's horror) and had lessons from 10 to 18, got up to about grade 7 ish level. I still play now at 35. I don't feel at all like I missed out by not doing them and never needed the motivation of an exam to practise a piece, the pleasure from being about to play it well was enough for me.

On that basis I would suggest that if she is not enjoying the exams to not do them, and find some pieces that she really enjoys to practise instead (although this definitely gets easier as you get better!).

PsychologicalSaline Tue 17-Jun-14 11:21:11

I have one son doing the classical ABRSM piano grades and one son doing the Jazz piano ABRSM grades. Jazz piano definitely appears to be much more fun and encourages a bit of improvisation and creativity. May be the Jazz scheme will be less restrictive?

catkind Tue 17-Jun-14 11:23:05

How old is she? But no, totally agree there's no point in all this relentless grinding through exams. Enjoy learning some repertoire for a bit, keep scales and stuff ticking over, if she progresses well skip the next exam, if not do it in a year or three. Unless you think she's going to be a professional pianist then it should be about having fun! There's so much fun music about these days, even from beginner level. How about getting her to play in a local music festival or having a mini concert or something for a target. The best thing about music is sharing it I think. Playing for an examiner is a rather artificial and pointless exercise when you come to think about it.

CluelessCrapParent Tue 17-Jun-14 11:26:43

Thanks all for the responses. She is 9 catkind.

Hedgehogsrule Tue 17-Jun-14 11:26:49

Once she's through this exam, she should do a lot of different pieces to get her up to grade 3 level, so that when she finally learns the grade 3 pieces they won't seem very hard. Also do some scales every day, so there's not a lot of work to do on those in the weeks before the next exam. She should be playing a lot of music, not just the exam pieces.

CluelessCrapParent Tue 17-Jun-14 11:27:33

sorry for sounding blunt...just in the middle of cooking/burning...

mumteedum Tue 17-Jun-14 11:36:42

I think maybe a chat with her teacher might be helpful? I did abrsm exams to grade 8 at 16. They were hard and stressful but a big sense of achievement. I'd say the willingness to progress and learn needs to come from her but all kids will get distracted and want easy out sometimes. No point if she doesn't want to, just make sure you're not enabling her to quit too easily iykwim.

I teach at uni level now. Ime kids give up v easily when it's hard these days. They get huge kick out of achieving when something is really hard though.

Plus yes perfection would get you distinction but there's big margin from pass to merit and distinction.

I would recommend honest chat with teacher and your dd (poss separately).

mumteedum Tue 17-Jun-14 11:37:35

I think maybe a chat with her teacher might be helpful? I did abrsm exams to grade 8 at 16. They were hard and stressful but a big sense of achievement. I'd say the willingness to progress and learn needs to come from her but all kids will get distracted and want easy out sometimes. No point if she doesn't want to, just make sure you're not enabling her to quit too easily iykwim.

I teach at uni level now. Ime kids give up v easily when it's hard these days. They get huge kick out of achieving when something is really hard though.

Plus yes perfection would get you distinction but there's big margin from pass to merit and distinction.

I would recommend honest chat with teacher and your dd (poss separately).

mumteedum Tue 17-Jun-14 11:40:35

Oh bum...sorry. Double post

squatcher Tue 17-Jun-14 11:52:43

It's a tough one and depends on how much she wants to learn the piano. It has to come from her. Do you think without the focus of the exams she might drift and stop altogether? They are a useful target to work to.

I played three instruments from the age of 3 up to 16 and worked up to grade 8 in all of them. It's a great achievement, gave me focus - and studying music has far-reaching benefits beyond the obvious one - but you probably know all that.

The flip-side is that it brings pressure (but that's not a bad thing to learn to deal with) and practice can be monotonous (but that's a good lesson about needing to work to achieve something rather than the instant gratification so many kids seem to expect). For me, by the time I hit my teens (and all the normal pressure that brings) it started to get a bit much. After my grade 8 I didn't take any more exams, decided not to pursue it as a career, and stopped performing as the nerves just got too much to deal with. All the joy went for me and I barely played for years.

Having said all that, once you get to a certain level you can always pick it up again. Which I did, and music is the most wonderful release for me now. I'm so grateful I stuck with it.

Not sure what to suggest other than a break before the next exam. Are there any local music festivals she could prepare a piece for instead? Or maybe her teacher could help her pick a few pieces she likes to perform for family? Learning any new pieces will mean playing them over and over but maybe a different focus would help? Perhaps try a different genre of music - I've always found pop, jazz, blues a good break from classical (obv v simplified for grade 2/3 but still a change?).

MooncupGoddess Tue 17-Jun-14 12:01:30

My piano teacher was very exam focused and I took all the exams up to Grade 8, but have barely touched the piano since. I don't regret learning piano, it's useful in terms of teaching harmony etc, but I got much more fun from learning the violin to a lower standard but playing in lots of orchestras and small groups.

What does your DD enjoy about learning the piano? Could you focus on that for a while? Does she have any friends she could play with - just simple duets, or she could accompany them playing tunes on the recorder/violin/whatever?

MrsLundyBancroft Tue 17-Jun-14 12:21:14

I am a piano teacher. It is perfectly possible to have a structured syllabus without exams and this suits many pupils. Some pupils like to keep an eye on their progress and might want to do 1, 3 and 5 etc. Some might only ever do 5 onwards. Some might do none at all. Some might want to do every exam (I was one of those. My sister was the opposite)

You need to have a frank conversation with the teacher. I am very open with my pupils and with their parents as I am not in the business of sucking the joy out of anything - I want pupils who want to learn. Music is such a source of joy and IMO when it becomes a chore then I've failed. Sometimes it's too late and there's no way of getting that back, but with some, like your DD, OP, there's another way to learn.

MrsLundyBancroft Tue 17-Jun-14 12:23:13

Sometimes (and I mean sometimes) the exam factory is the easiest way to teach. If you're following a syllabus and going from exam to exam it is easier than sourcing your own stuff and compiling your own syllabus. So, occasionally an exam factory can be a sign of a lazy or complacent teacher.

pianodoodle Tue 17-Jun-14 12:53:57

I teach piano - here's my view if it helps...

Changing the exam board you use will not have the slightest effect on the problem your daughter is having.

Some of my students take exams and others don't. I use the ABRSM because it has worldwide recognition.

It isn't the board, it's how the exam system is being used.

Grades help in lots of ways if used well. The student has a goal, they get feedback and a nice certificate. They also recognise a certain standard of playing.... or they should!

Unfortunately you find (and this was the case with my first teacher) the exam syllabus being used as a teaching syllabus which is where you get problems.

I teach to a certain standard, then if we want to take an exam we look at that syllabus after the student has attained a decent enough level of sight reading and other skills to be able to enjoy learning the pieces at a reasonable speed rather than slogging through the same 3 pieces for a year or more.

Scales/aural ability etc... I teach as a natural progression according to key. some of the ABRSM scale requirements for certain grades seem a bit random. This is OK if students are already familiar with them all. If not, they end up trying to learn a load of seemingly unconnected scales and often aren't sure how they relate to the music etc...

Anyway, after a while of being presented with new grade books straight after the previous exam, it gets harder to learn the pieces as sight reading standard and other skills haven't reached that level.

The student is frustrated and feels they aren't making progress and it all becomes a big chore sad

I prefer to use grades as a formality - once they are at the standard then they look at the exam, that way they are over prepared.

It should be about enjoyment, although annoyingly, the better you get the more enjoyment you get out of it, so without progress it's difficult.

Aim for small goals and short practice sessions but ask the teacher what your daughter can best do to make the practice sessions more effective.

Ploughing through a piece from start to finish repeating the same mistakes isn't effective.

Going to a lesson should be about learning how to practise as that is where the bulk of learning will be done. Half an hour a week isn't enough in itself.

plecofjustice Tue 17-Jun-14 13:13:27

I used to play the flute, and had to reach Grade 6 to get exemptions from part of my GCSE music exam. It was hell, I hated the exam, I hated the pieces, I hated practicing. After I'd done the exam (and passed) my mum, my teacher and I had a serious conversation about what now - I refused outright to do any more exams, though I could have gone on to do G8.

In the end, the compromise was that I would carry on going to lessons, my teacher and I would choose challenging, enjoyable music and I'd invest time in learning it. Then I became ill during my GCSE's, and having the ability to escape for an hour a week into music, with no pressure, with no expectations, just me, my teacher and this amazing music - a world away from the pieces they choose for gradings, was the thing that really helped me keep it together.

So, my advice, if your daughter loves the piano but hates grades, take the pressure off. The grades will still be there if she wants to do them...

OneWaySystemBlues Tue 17-Jun-14 13:48:41

Don't do them then - keep the piano for fun. You don't have to do them in order, so if she decides at a later date she wants to do an exam, she can just jump in at the level she's reached. My daughter is roughly grade 5 standard and has never done an exam. I felt it was more important that she enjoy her music and as she didn't want to do exams I didn't push it.

SS3J Tue 17-Jun-14 13:52:35

Different instrument, but I did grades 1, 2 and 3 associated board then a gap of several years then did grade 8 with Trinity (because I was awful at music theory) It was lovely not doing grades, and a good teacher should ensure the lessons maintain direction.

Maryz Tue 17-Jun-14 13:55:57

ds2 loved guitar when he was about that age - he taught himself, then had a few casual lessons and got quite good.

I then sent him to "proper" guitar lessons - within 6 months he wanted to give up, so I switched and he did a year with a guy who just taught him out to play the type of music he wanted to play.

Since giving up lessons he has continued to play for fun, he writes and sings his own stuff, he practices most days and it has become a really good way of relaxing for him.

Had I insisted on the serious lessons and exams I'm sure he would no longer play - most of his friends have hardly picked up their various instruments since leaving primary school, which I think is very sad.

OptimisticOlive Tue 17-Jun-14 14:05:00

Another one here who learned piano from a young age. Did grade one at about 7 years old, almost broke me. My teacher agreed no more exams. I carried on with lessons til I was 15, got to a really good level and never regretted not doing the exams. Went on to learn clarinet, cello and self taught guitar. Ime once you can play the piano and read music you can understand most instruments, exams are only necessary if you need "proof" of your learning for university/jobs etc (although I did not go on to do music as a job so may well be wrong on that!). Hope your dd continues to enjoy her music.

fluffyraggies Tue 17-Jun-14 14:11:48

My experience is not piano related - but dance related. Ballet. I started aged 5 and went up through all the grades easily until i was 14. By then i was doing 3, 2 hour classes a week and was shinning - but I'd gone as far as i could be bothered to go. Everyone was angry. But you cant force these things.

The same thing has happened with DD3. Bloody brilliant dancer but it's not for her. Twice she's dropped out of lessons and broken the teachers heart! Teacher appealed to me to 'do something'. Nothing i can do - it's up to DD.

Perhaps your DD should take a break and return to it in a year or 2 if she misses it.

ChablisChic Tue 17-Jun-14 14:18:16

My DD used to have a piano teacher who just taught from one exam to the next - as soon as one Grade was done we had to go and buy the books for the next one. DD got really fed up with it and we agreed she could give up lessons after Grade 4. As soon as she'd done the exam she sat down and started playing for fun - after a few months she decided she wanted to take lessons again and we found another teacher with a different approach - like pianodoodle above. She really started to enjoy playing then, and did eventually get to Grade 8, but in her own time, with plenty of non-exam stuff in between.

My advice would be to find a different teacher, as it's a lot of money to spend on something your daughter isn't enjoying and is stressing her out.

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