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Grade 5 piano nightmare!

(52 Posts)
Suki2 Tue 27-Nov-12 06:04:04

DS is aged 10, in year 6 at school, and is currently working towards grade 5 piano. His history is that he did grade 1 and got a distinction in May year 4. His teacher advised that he skip grade 2, so he went on to grade 3 the following year, ie May of year 5 and got a distinction.

We then moved areas, so got a new teacher, and, as he's such a fast learner, I said he'd be looking at skipping grade 4. So, he started the new pieces in grade 5, and the nightmare started! I had no idea the jump was so big between grades. He's coping well with the pieces , but so many scales to learn! I'm trying to teach him bit by bit; his teacher is good at teaching the pieces but does not seem to teach him the scales.

His teacher intends him to do grade 5 in May, but I'm wondering if November would be better. Problem then of course is that's such a long time to spend on this pieces. I'm sure he'd pass grade 5 in May, but he's used to getting a good mark! How long do people normally spend on grade 5? Is a year between grade 3 and grade 5 long enough or not? It's difficult to judge how he'll be in May.

Please help; I don't have the experience to know if I'm giving him too much to deal with. He practises for about 40 minutes a night.

NaturallyGullible Tue 27-Nov-12 06:42:35

What's the rush? Is he trying to get a music scholarship at an independent school?

AgentProvocateur Tue 27-Nov-12 07:18:50

From your OP, and the timescales, it seems all he does are the exam pieces. DS is grade 8, and has skipped some grades, but played music for pleasure at the grades he skipped IYSWIM. For instance, is your DS learning Christmas music now, or any modern classics?

It seems a very pressured way to learn, with all the emphasis on passing exams and getting distinctions.

3b1g Tue 27-Nov-12 07:21:12

I failed Grade 5 piano the first time I took it, so I'm probably not the best person to give advice on this, but I would say to go for the time that clashes with the fewest GCSE exams/assessments.

3b1g Tue 27-Nov-12 07:23:02

Sorry, just read the post properly and noticed that he's aged 10, not Y10. In that case, go for whatever is easiest for him and keeps him enjoying the piano.

incogneetow Tue 27-Nov-12 07:23:20

Break down the scales and do a few at a time. Does he play the scales well?

It does seem like a lot of haste to me, though. Has he done theory? If not, why not drop the pieces for now, work on the grade 5 scales and aural and get the theory out of the way. Then prep for the exam - with new pieces if necessary - when he's more ready.)

(ds2 did grade 2 in Summer (2011) then grade 4 in Easter 2012 - distinctions for both. But we - together with the teacher - decided for him to have a term off AB completely and just do some fun jazz/improv work and master the scales. As it happens he is actually ready for his exam now, but can't do it as we got the new syllabus! So, we're looking for a centre that will do a very early entry in the new year.

What I'm saying is, yes gr3 -> gr5 in a year is a big jump.)

Limelight Tue 27-Nov-12 07:24:58

That sounds very pressured. He doesn't need to do it in May OR November if he's not ready for it. I agree with whoever above said he should be playing for fun too (Christmas songs on repeat. Poss not so fun actually... grin)

Has he done his grade 5 theory?

mummysmellsofsick Tue 27-Nov-12 08:00:33

I'm a mus teacher. The exams are constructed so that an student of average ability who works fairly consistently can get from one grade to the next in approx 1 year. So a very gifted student who does say 1 hour + per day might well get on faster. However there are 'sticking points' here and there, for example on some instruments one needs a stretch or strength in the hands that just comes as they get older and shouldn't be hurried. It's MUCH better in the long term not to rush through the grades and to learn as many extra pieces from outside the syllabus as possible, to perform in concerts, to work on musicianship skills and sight reading, play with other musicians etc.

mummysmellsofsick Tue 27-Nov-12 08:26:17

As for 'playing for fun' I try to aim for a balance of fun, seasonal, technical, exam, non exam, pieces of different genres. If they do it 'just for fun' they often don't progress, and being stuck is ultimately not fun, and if they learn jut for exams they often end up bored

MrsMellowDrummer Tue 27-Nov-12 08:37:57

My son has done similar with the horn. He tends to do a grade every 2 terms, or has at times skipped one altogether. He's now 10, and ready for grade 6.
There's no point playing the same pieces for terms and terms, once you're ready. Could your son aim for May, but maybe start a different selection of pieces for it? That way he'd still be learning new things, and keeping it fresh.

Also with scales - we make a scales pot. Write all the scales/arpeggios/excercises (whatever it is he has to do) on slips of paper. Put in one pot. Pull out one at random - if he can do it with no probs it goes into a second pot. If not, back into the first. The challenge is to empty the first pot as quickly as you can. You can also put some random "nice" things in, like eat a biscuit, or tell a joke, just to mix it up!

Colleger Tue 27-Nov-12 08:39:42

It does sound like he's only done exam pieces. It's really not for you to decide when he sits the exam or if he should skip them. May is plenty time to sort out scales. You need to take a back seat and let the teacher do her job.

Suki2 Tue 27-Nov-12 08:54:06

Thanks for the replies. No, he's not going for a scholarship; I've always followed his teacher's advice; the reason he's skipped grade before is because he is a fast learner (in everything), so his old teacher looked at his playing ability and recommended grade 3 last year. He has never practiced for more than the recommended amount; ie 30 mins for grade 1 etc; we usually miss a day out at the weekend.

Agentprovacateur, I've found the exams a useful aim but don't want them to be the main aim of his playing, and that's my concern now in fact, that there's a huge focus on only exams. In the past, he has played Christmas songs etc but he's not doing that now.

Mummy smells of sick, I hear what you're saying about sticking points, and I have to say that the size of his hands now is an issue for the first time, as he's complaining that they ache after practise, because of continually having to stretch octaves.Not sure how much they'll grow over the next year, though, so it may still be an issue! I totally agree with extending his repertoire beyond the grade 5 syllabus, if only because if he's stretched by grade 5, grade 6 will not be pleasant.

I don't know how i've found us in this situation, and am not pleased with his new teacher, who should know better.

He does do theory, and is about grade 3, his teacher aims for him to do grade 5 next November, which seems reasonable, as it's a year away. He is a very able learner.

I should add that we are based abroad, so one issue for us is that the examiner only comes out twice a year; May and November, so if he doesn't take it in May, he has another 6 months to go; I've had experience of him being over ready as for grade 3 he was ready in January but the exam was in May; that is not a good thing to happen either; he only played the pieces through on an occasional basis, but was still fed up of them by the time the exam came!

Incongneetow, your teacher sounds great, I like the idea of a term broadening skills. Are you saying though that your son knows the scales but hasn't started the grade 5 pieces yet? If so, how long will it take him to learn them? My DS does play scales well, but his teacher is not teaching them to him; she just sets them for the next week and I'm struggling at home to teach him them (I'm not a music teacher but can just about do this). I'm feeling quite overwhelmed at this, but having said that he has taken on board the ones we've done so far, so in fact this probably won't be an issue. How long did your son take to learn the scales?

I need to have made a decision by Christmas, so the entry forms will need to be in. His teacher is strongly advising to enter, but I'm thinking of just saying no.

pianomama Tue 27-Nov-12 09:23:30

May is a long way away to sort out scales. However it is worrying that he only learns exam pieces.My DS did some of his exam pieces a year ago, played them in festivals etc. Then went on completely different pieces (I guess his teacher picks them to deepen/develop technique ). He picked them up again in September and the difference was huge - he "matured" into them.The problem with playing the same pieces for an extended time is that they get bored, stop paying attention to sound,expression etc and can easily murder the piece. I suspect your teacher worries about that and thats why she wants to do it in May.
Is there any way you can introduce separate practice time - say 30 mins just for scales? Our rule is - once he gets the scale right (hands separately first), he has to play it 3 times without any mistakes.They do take time..

ZZZenAgain Tue 27-Nov-12 10:34:19

If the pieces are going ok, can you have a word with the teacher about the scales and any other concerns you have? It seems to me the teacher has simply followed your lead when you suggested skipping grade 4 but is probably amenable to making some changes.

gelo Tue 27-Nov-12 11:34:34

I'd say, if the teacher is going to want him to sit the exam at some point anyway and is going to stick with the same pieces until he does, then you would be better sitting it anyway and taking a lower result on the chin, but otherwise I'd defer and choose new pieces from the list to prepare or miss out grade 5, play lots of grade 5/6 level stuff and then take grade 6 at some stage in the more distant future. I think playing the same pieces even until May is rather a long time to be honest.

I'm trying to remember what ds did... He sat grade 5 piano two terms after grade 3 and I think got a merit on 5 rather than distinction. He was a little older though - did his grade 3 in June of year 6 and then grade 5 with his new teacher at senior school a couple of terms later (April). He spent most of the first term of yr7 playing other things and then started preparing for the grade 5 in about November on the recommendation of his teacher (but he had taken things more slowly before grade 3, so may well have been beyond that standard when he took it). Like your ds he struggled with the scales (never liked those, and was always under prepared for them at all the grades he did). After that, he slowed down again, moving to grade 7 about two years later and grade 8 in year 11.

CURIOUSMIND Tue 27-Nov-12 11:37:33

OP,When you said your Ds skiped grade 2 ,then grade 4, do you mean he completely skiped grade 2, 4 scales, sightreading ,pieces?
I hope it's not like this.
Like everybody suggested , you need to play many pieces, like 10 plus exam pieces at this stage, in different style, ideally ,your exam pieces are the last 3 you are working on at this level.This is the way to speed you up eventually, not slow you down.
You don't have to take the exam, but need to go through the equal quality work to solid you up.
The gap between each grade is getiing dramaticly bigger than you thought.The distinction of grade 3 is so different from grade 5 distinction, then grade 6+ is another big difference again.

You still got 6 months to sort this out. Not too late if you start the amending work now.
Scales, take your time, sep hands, correct fingering , to achieve 3 in a row without mistake, play musically, not notes one after another. Then you can put hands together ,aim to achieve 3 in a row again.So, on and on.
Practice time, 30 mins for grade 1 is such huge a lot of time, who suggested 30 mins for grade 1?? 10 mins for grade 1 is what I thought for fast learners.
For Grade 5, 40 mins is enough for fast learners.

3b1g Tue 27-Nov-12 13:51:55

30 minutes a day for Grade 1 ??!! I've been going by the formula 10 minutes for Grade 1, 20 minutes for Grade 2 etc. Maybe this is why no one in our family gets distinctions in our music exams! grin

ATailOfTwoKitties Tue 27-Nov-12 13:56:19

In this house it's more like 'Have you brushedyourteethfoundyourPEkitand done some musicpractice?', yelled up the stairs at 8:25...

ByTheWay1 Tue 27-Nov-12 16:59:43

If he is in Y6 remember SATs are in May - how much pressure do you want in one or 2 months...??

FastLoris Tue 27-Nov-12 17:47:52

Assuming it's ABRSM grades you're doing, you may have been caught out by their particular approach to scale knowledge. Each of grades 1-4 introduces a few scales and arpeggios (in no particular rationsl order, I personally think), and the students does not need to keep up the previous ones for the next exam. The problem then is that at grade 5, they have to do ALL of what was done in grade 1-4, plas a few few more, to make the entire "set" of major and minor in all keys.

Partly because of this, and partly because the progression of scales in the syllabus doesn't make any musical sense to me, I always have students keeping up scales from previous years and learning many more scales than they need for each grade, according to a more logical musical system (eg, playing them all in ascending or descending order of how many sharps/flat in the key signature, up to whatever number of sharps/flats they're up to). Then grade 5 is not such a big deal.

OTOH if your kid is such a fast learner, and IF you can find someone who can take him methodically through the musical logic behind the scale system, rather than just trying to learn each one separately by rote, you may find he can do it and actually likes the logic of it. Grade 5 is where they all really slot into place.

Another thing to bear in mind is that the set pieces for ABRSM change next year. The old (2011-12) pieces can be entered for the first round of exams in February/March, but not after that. Not sure from the timescale of your description, but if he started the pieces some time ago he may be using the 2011-12 book, and would need to learn new ones for May OR November.

Other than that I agree with everything mummy said, and other comments about taking it easy. Skipping grades is a lot easier in some other instruments than in piano, because of the relative complexity of the music (having harmony and being in several lines). Even if a kid is very able, I'd probably tend to do one grade a year and bulk it out with other useful skills, and fun pieces.

Suki2 Tue 27-Nov-12 17:49:19

Curiousmind, no, he didn't completely skip grades 2 and 4; he did the work for them ie he covered the pieces, scales and sightreading. He has also done one non exam grade 5 piece.I've found the idea that you should do 10 plus exam pieces a useful one, and one that I agree with. I think I'll have to broach the subject with his teacher, as I suspect she does not encourage a broad repertoire. For grade 3 DS had learnt most of the pieces in the book with his old teacher, but that was partly because he's a fast learner and she didn't want him to get bored.

Gelo, it's interesting that your DS sat grade 3 then grade 5 two terms later. That's the exact schedule that my son has now, which we're struggling with. Did your DS find it a struggle? I think one concern I have is that DS"s sight reading will be only just good enough, and I'd rather he was above, not working to the standard.

pianomama, I like the idea of stopping pieces then restarting them again with a greater maturity. Although it's very early days I'm finding that DS"s pieces lack maturity at the moment, because of the jump to grade 5. We do sometimes do separate scales practices, but at the moment still feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of them ; I had no idea there were so many. DS"s teacher does not spend much time on them in the lessons, although to be fair, maybe the hard slog has to be done at home.

By the way1, good point about the SATS.

3b1g, ATailOfTWoKitties, Curiousmind; yikes, I thought it was 30 mins for grade 1, plus five extra mins for each additional grade!!! You're right, it is ten mins, no wonder we do so well in the music exams!

cubscout Tue 27-Nov-12 17:51:03

Just adding my two penny worth. Ds currently Grade 5 age 11 and also in Year 6. He had taken all grades and achieved distinctions in 1,2 and 3 then a good merit in Grade 4. What tripped him up at G4 was how much harder the sight reading was- and believe me he had actually practiced sight reading very hard! He also played quite a lot of repertoire in between exams.

As well as the technical issues there is a whole new level of musicality that examiners are looking for, more subtlety, understanding of structure, conventions etc. I think this can really only come with experience of exploring the repertoire and playing around . So more than technical competence. Might it not be worth delaying a bit , giving him a bit of time to mature? Ds is waiting 18 months between G4 and 5 to allow him to develop a bit. He's running through grades on his second instrument but its not such an issue as he has explored the piano repertoire .

I would also add that as a child I was pushed through exams without a thorough knowledge of the repertoire. I achieved a G 8 by 17 but then gave up. I started lessons again some years ago and I was shocked at how much I had missed. Happily I am rectifying that now, and playing is more pleasurable than its ever been.

cubscout Tue 27-Nov-12 17:52:21

Cross post!

Suki2 Tue 27-Nov-12 18:12:17

FastLoris I see what you mean about the scales; I didn't realise that he should be still practicing the ones from other grades. I've looked at the book and like the idea of playing them according to the number of sharps and flats. I'll get him to take a fresh look at it.

Thank you for mentioning the change in pieces. He's got the new 2012/13 book, and in fact his teacher only started teaching the pieces a few weeks ago; I thought this was a little late as his previous teacher for grade 3 started the pieces in September for the May exam, but she did lots of other things with him, like Christmas music, duets with a friend, and in fact he ended up learning most of the pieces in the grade 3 book.

Having read all the comments here, I think DS should be solidifying his skills, not rushing into grade 5. I've certainly never intended it to be such hard work.

gelo Tue 27-Nov-12 19:40:27

Suki, he wasn't stressed by it at all as I remember, he was really enjoying his lessons with the new teacher (who was a lot better than his old one) at the time. He didn't bother much with the scales though, as he had a philosophy that if he attempted all of them in the exam however badly he would get minimum marks for that section at least (you get a third of the marks just for trying apparently) and would try and make up the marks lost elsewhere. He took that strategy for several years on both his instruments and still managed distinctions mostly. His teacher never bothered with scales much in lessons either - I think music teachers tend to either be sticklers for insisting scales are done properly or just leave it to the students to do them themselves (or not), there don't seem to be many in the middle. Obviously, scales are an important part of musicianship, so this isn't a recommended approach, but might explain why the scales requirement didn't stress him at that time.

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