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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.

Emily54321 Sat 05-Dec-15 23:02:30

It's not hard to pass grade 5.My daughter is 10 and we moved to NZ to study.Her teacher didn't know what level she's on so she did Grade 5.Then two piano competitions came up then another school production came up but my daughter still passed her exam with merit 127.It depends how much your son practice.He gets more points if he practice a lot.He gets less points if he only practice scales one day.3 pieces one day.So if he practice a lot good scores are gonna come.

helenawalsh1 Wed 10-Apr-13 19:09:28

hi there, firstly, well done for him! He has worked hard, and is evidently a very talanted young musician! I did my grade 5 piano exam when i was 12, i got a merit, just 2 marks off a distinction. I had got a distinction in all of my other exams, and the reason that i got a merit this time is because i had done my grade 4 in August, and my grade 5 in Decemeber, leaving not a long enough gap. So if i was him, i wouldn't take the exam so soon, because if you want a good level you need to give it time, and if your worried, allow yourself to relax, and give your self a break. Working on grade 5 with about just 2 years of playing is brilliant, and you should be proud of him, but let him relax.

Schmedz Thu 31-Jan-13 23:06:54

Be careful the syllabus he is using will still be valid in May. My daughter did her Grade 4 in December 2012 and her teacher wanted to enter her for grade 5 in march using the 2012 syllabus because she liked the selection of pieces. This is with ABRSM not Trinity or another exam board. Daughter decided to learn the pieces she likes and work on technique rather than notching up exams! She also learns violin so with two instruments to practise I thoroughly approve...
Just because you might be capable of moving rapidly through the exams doesn't mean you need to take them all. At intermediate and advanced level there is so much more to playing than churning out 3 pieces plus scales and interpreting a range of music stylistically and building. Good repertoire is surely more important.

BartimaeusNeedsMoreSleep Fri 30-Nov-12 15:41:09

I wasn't a child genius on the piano hmm

Sorry, I was just giving my experience.

Scales, sight-reading and aural were practised all the time, not just for exam prep.

For example, I did sight-reading with every new piece - why wouldn't you? It's the perfect opportunity.

I also rarely played with just one hand. I just jumped in with both - but this is how I was taught, I can't say if it's right or wrong.

I didn't spend hours per day. I practised every day. 20-30 minutes depending on the grade. And a one hour lesson per week.

I was just trying to make the point that you don't have to play with the sole aim of getting the grades.

Xenia Fri 30-Nov-12 15:38:49

I only said that because I read the rules and they seemed to say ability to the standard but not doing the exam was fine, whereas my lot seem to think if they get 101 that's amazing as they passed, the perfect amount of work for the exam has been done (not my view of course). So they certainly had grades for 13+ it varied but tended to be grade 5 theory and 2 grade 6s or 7s and in one case a grade 8. It also depends on the schools too. One of ours rejected a 50% music scholarship to one school for a much lower value one at a much better school and that was the right choice.

Certainly in our local private schools you will always get in almost every year group some stunning young musicians 1 or 2 in every year who are getting distinction in grade 7 or 8 at 12 in two instruments head and shoulders above the others (and much better than most of mine have been).

It does no harm to have a music scholarship on your CV and you get university UCAS points for associated board music exams (which my daughter, 20s, was having to count up even last year on an on line job application) and some employers are keen on classical music so it can give you common ground in an interview BUT none of that matters at all as much as having fun at it. I sing and play every day even at my age. The fact I got 4 grade 8s is neither here nor there. it is just a nice hobby to have for life and it's terribly useful if you can play the piano although it does mean you can get saddled with playing when you'd rather sing or play something else.

pianomama Fri 30-Nov-12 15:31:44

Not necessary. Usually they refer to "Grade 5 standard" Music schools and JD in conservatoires mention it as approximate standard by the age of 11 BUT it make absolutely no difference to them. Lots of DC don't do any grades at all but are outstanding musicians

hardboiled Fri 30-Nov-12 13:37:16

Xenia, it is nice to hear your DC schools looked for ability rather than exams passed. My experience is that they set minimums for grades, ask for copies of marking papers from the examiners, etc. I was recently told by a music head that very very rarely a scholarship at 11+ would go to a child who is "only" Grade 5. No mention as to whether the child is showing musicality, passion, feeling, etc.

Still, chronically, fuming. angry

Xenia Fri 30-Nov-12 13:17:42

As he's ready and the teacher wants him to take it I would just get on and do it even if he doesn't get as high a mark this time. Then once he has grade 5 he won't be able to do grade 6 anyway until he does passes grade 5 theory so he is going to be held up by that for a bit anyway. Some children respond more to exams than others and some don't work as hard if an exam is not in the offing.

Three of our children got music scholarships but even there the schools look for ability not just what exams passed although ours certainly did quite a few exams.

I think there are bigger jumps between grade 5 and 6 than between 4 and 5. And grade 7 can be pretty hard too.

ByTheWay1 Fri 30-Nov-12 11:02:20

My DD 12 is doing grade 3 and it takes her up to 12 weeks to get a piece ready for exam..
1 week hands separate,
1 week to put hands together and to get onto metronome to "get" the rhythm,
4 to get speed up to exam requirement,
another 2 to get dynamics close to correct
2 weeks to get tempo right without the metronome
and up to 2 weeks for tweaking the sheer joy of the musicality from a piece....

she does 20 min 4 times a week and one longer 40min session at the weekend... with a 30min lesson once a week - (goes up to 1 hour for the 3 weeks before exam.. I have 2 DD - one does her exams in winter, one in Spring so we can vary lesson length depending who is closest to exam date!)

2 weeks total sounds child genius, or someone who has nothing else to do... especially as practise has to include scales, sight reading, aural work, and 2 other pieces...

FastLoris Thu 29-Nov-12 20:52:38

Totally agree with hardboiled.

Bartimaeus - if you learn all your grade 4, 5, 6 pieces in a couple of weeks before the exams and did well, then you are some kind of exceptional genius or you were home educated and practised all day every day. Children generally just don't/can't do that.

pianomama Thu 29-Nov-12 14:26:50

Honestly? To play Star Wars game on his computer grin
Just to set the record straight - the reference to "marvellous" is completely ironic. Its the pre-exam nerves on my part.

seeker Thu 29-Nov-12 14:10:53

What does he want to do?

pianomama Thu 29-Nov-12 14:03:33

Going back to scales, it really is the piano teacher's responsibility. I would approach her and ask what is her plan with regards to scales.

pianomama Thu 29-Nov-12 13:54:33

Theas,Hardboiled - So do I !!! ... DS recently played in a very high caliber competition with some young G8 at 8 types.Quite arrogant with even worse mothers smile. "My son did his G8 at 8(9) with Disctinstion, he got 30 marks for all the pieces" etc etc.(oh yes and they prctice 5 hours a day as well). All of the said DC played really fast complex show off pieces so unmusically, one couldn't help thinking - why? what is the point?
Obviously the adjudicator knew who to pick out of the lot <she said modestly>. Time to remind the marvellous child to do the last practice before the exam...

Theas18 Thu 29-Nov-12 12:39:12

Harboiled I so agree!

MorningPurples Thu 29-Nov-12 11:43:40

You could try looking up some of the activities on Practice Spot as they have different ways of presenting the scales, suggestions for practising, lists of ones to do, etc.

Look under the section on 'free tools and resources'. Every time you refresh the page, a different set of activities is featured (or I think if you click on 'more' in the corner, you can see all of them at once).

Some of it is keyboard based; some of it is more generic - sightreading examples seem to only be single line treble clef, as far as I can see, haven't found a way of changing them into anything else yet, but I only came across it the other night and haven't looked through it all yet. But it does seem to have some useful ideas to make practice a bit different.

chocoluvva Thu 29-Nov-12 10:46:43

All the major scales starting on a black key - except F# - can have the same fingering in the left hand - 321 4321.
Ask your DS to tell you the names of the notes in the newer scales eg C# minor without looking at the keys.
Practice new scales in one direction only for a week, especially descending.
Hope that helps with the scales smile

hardboiled Thu 29-Nov-12 10:34:03

Grade 3 to Grade 5 is a big jump. Like others said, there is no rush. You will probably feel a huge weight off your shoulders if you decide not to put him for the May exam. Besides, what's the big deal about a distinction, a merit, a pass? One can have a bad day or encounter a really unfriendly examiner - DS had one, the poor child was trembling all through the exam and couldn't sing. It has nothing to do with their playing and enjoyment of music. We are turning music into an "exam thing". They are not musicians, they are exam-takers.

The grades narrow the repertoire and sometimes slow down the learning because one is just waiting for the exam to come before going onto new pieces. We are experiencing that with scholarship auditions, which are in two months. DS is just practising the scholarship pieces over and over again and it's like a brick wall. Sometimes he finishes practising and turns to me and asks "Was that scholarship level?". It breaks my heart that his music has become a means to something and can't wait till it's over. My fault for starting the whole thing. DH learnt piano without ever taking an exam and plays g8 standard.

Sorry for the rant. Feel very fired up about the whole system. angry

BartimaeusNeedsMoreSleep Thu 29-Nov-12 09:53:09


To be honest my mum got a little bit fed up of having to buy so much music! Especially as I never spent more than 3 weeks on a particular piece (but he never stopped me playing it until I could play it well IYSWIM).

My teacher was excellent and got me to learn a variety of stuff. Sometimes I'd learn a piece for a couple of weeks then stop it, then he'd come back to it one or two months later.

I never got bored with a piece of music and I would voluntarily go back and play pieces I'd learnt months before just for enjoyment.

Theas18 Wed 28-Nov-12 23:01:21

Sounds terribly rushed unless he actually really lives taking the exams. If he doesn't have a target like a scholarship I'd be tempted to put the brakes on a bit and lit him mature with ome repertoire and extra theory/ aural to make him really comfortable in these areas- the aural gets hard by grade 5 , and he needs grade 5 theory sort of soonish.

I've said it may times but the best teacher my kids have - the one they love and respect, who treats them as mature musicians, allowing them to explore the music properly, work out what they think it means and ow it should be played rather than dictating to thm what the examiner wants, if the one that puts little stress on exams. Ds is soon to do grade 8 - his last grade was 5 years ago!

Mind you, you do ave to have great confidence in the teacher and to be ale to hear improvements to keep lessons going without " proof"...

FastLoris Wed 28-Nov-12 20:47:44

Bartimaeus was that piano or another instrument?

BartimaeusNeedsMoreSleep Wed 28-Nov-12 14:18:24

Personally I think it sounds too focused on exams. I did grade 6 in year 6.

I learnt many many pieces of music and for each exam I started to learn the exam pieces 2 weeks before the exam. My teacher wanted me to sound fresh and not too bored of the pieces.

DeWe Wed 28-Nov-12 13:48:28

I'd ask why he needs the pieces this early.

Dd1 has done her exams in the summer term, one a year, she's did grade 4 last summer.

She gets the first grade piece some point in the beginning of the spring term, along with doing other pieces. Gradually over the spring term she'll get the other pieces, but still doing other stuff. About a month before the exam she'll drop the other pieces and work entirely on the exam except for what she does for her own amusement. She practices 10-20 minutes 5-6 days a week, so not huge practice either.
She's getting good marks so it obviously works.

Suki2 Wed 28-Nov-12 09:03:30

Pianomama, I like the idea of playing the scales in different rhythms and staccato; that will liven up his practice! We already do the pot thing.

Dancergirl, yes, I am stressed about it, but have tried not to convey this to DS. I'm not in a rush to push him through the grades; I think our situation has come about as a result of moving areas, ignorance on my part of the jump between grades, a teacher who is more than willing to put to the next grade and having Christmas as a deadline for entry! Piano has never been a source of stress before, I do want to slow down. I do agree as well about higher marks very much being dependent on performance on the day.

I intend to talk to his teacher about giving him a broader range of music and slowing down the pace!

Dancergirl Tue 27-Nov-12 23:01:33

OP, you seem to make a point of saying he's a 'fast learner'. Even if he is, a musical instrument should be enjoyed first and foremost. I sense (although I may be wrong) that you sound quite stressed about it all. And there seems to be a rush to get through the grades.

I would slow it down a bit. He should increase his repertoire but NOT exam pieces. There's lovely Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin music which will a new challenge to him without the pressure of an exam.

And however long you have between grades, there's no guarantee of another distinction even if that's what he's always got. It depends on so many things.

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