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Music Exams For? Against?

(63 Posts)
morethanpotatoprints Mon 24-Jun-13 22:34:30

Just that really.

I would like to know why some people choose the exam route and why some don't.

What are the advantages and disadvantages.

What is the point?

My dd has done exams, and is doing one soon, so I am not really against them. However, have recently found I'm not for them either.

Smithlings Tue 25-Jun-13 10:29:11

My DD1's clarinet teacher seems to think that if she doesn't rush from one exam to the next she will lose interest - she did Grade 1 in Apr and is meant to be doing Grade 2 in July. Not sure that's true. I could do with a little less pressure tbh!

I think it does give them a sense of achievement to do an exam, but I don;t really see why they have to do them so quickly - it's nice to have a bit of time off between working for exams and play fun stuff - and consolidate skills.

For some things, like joining orchestras for example, you often need to have a certain grade, so then having done the exam helps.

musicalfamily Tue 25-Jun-13 10:42:23

I think it is a balance between exams and performance opportunities, a bit like with other disciplines (ballet, for example).

It's good to have exams as a baseline of achievement but it is fundamental to try and keep it fun and also work on performance opportunities, as after all that's what music is all about...

So to answer your question I'd say a bit of both..

GooseyLoosey Tue 25-Jun-13 10:45:02

My dd has at the moment chosen not to do exams. The routine of playing the same pieces over and over again for months nearly killed her love of the piano so we agreed with her that for the moment she should just have fun with it. Have noticed that lots of people ask what grade she is on so she does learn the exam pieces for fun so she can tell them.

jessjessjess Tue 25-Jun-13 10:50:41

I play two instruments and gave up doing exams as a teenager as I used to get nervous and didn't enjoy the theory side. As an adult, I regret not getting grade 8 on my main instrument as it would have opened some doors that are now shut.

I think the key thing is not to do all the exams but skip to the level that suits you best - I went straight to grade 5 on my second instrument and that was pitched about right for me.

MusicMake Tue 25-Jun-13 10:55:40

Agree with jessjessjess. Best not to take all the exams but perhaps every other grade. It is good to get grade5 and grade8. That way it is not a constant cycle of exam preparation and there is time to play just for fun.

VinegarDrinker Tue 25-Jun-13 10:55:44

Totally depends on the child and what motivates them.

I agree with whoever said performance opportunities are very important too. My DH holds termly pupils' concerts which are informal and sociable and give them all from beginners to very experienced performers a chance to start to learn to play in public - and they inspire each other too.

I would say overall though finding a way to play with other people seems to be the best way of getting kids into really loving playing.

morethanpotatoprints Tue 25-Jun-13 10:57:02


I have to admire your belief, it is so easy to get bogged down with exams and follow the fold.
It is true that so many people judge ability by the last/ present exam your dc are doing.
I am increasingly finding this so sad. Why not just listen to the child play and then make up your mind if it is good or not.
After this grade our dd is considering which instruments to continue and what if any exams to do next.
It just seems to be constant exam prep for one instrument or another.
I also think many teachers push dc through exams for their benefit, meeting targets etc, rather than the benefit of the child.
It is interesting hearing other peoples views.

musicalfamily Tue 25-Jun-13 11:58:43

Also just to add to my previous point, we have a teacher who will not let them do the exam pieces for more than a month or so. His view is that if they can't do a piece well for an exam within a month or so then they are not ready. It also means they are not as polished perhaps and may get lower grades, which might not suit some parents. But I am happier with the fact that my children will have enjoyed all sorts of other music before each exam. If it was 3 pieces for 6 months I would put my foot down and refuse to let them to the exam, I think....

pigsinmud Tue 25-Jun-13 17:22:19

They can be a confidence booster. Ds2 gets extremely nervous beforehand and comes out either in silence saying he's failed. He hasn't yet. It is the same for school exams. I'm just hoping that the experience of doing music exams might help when he does his GCSEs etc.. Hopefully he'll have worked out how to deal with the pre-exam nerves. He actually performs well in exams, it is just the before bit that stresses him out!

He also likes ticking them off, so has done all the grades in order. Only the one theory though!

Plays lots of different pieces not just exam pieces - that would be very tedious!

teacherwith2kids Tue 25-Jun-13 17:26:52

My children's clarinet teacher seems to be suggesting the 'landmark exam' route.

DS has never taken an exam, as he used to be on the in-school 'stages' scheme moderated by the LEA teachers, and since that petered out with the removal of all LEA peris has just continued to play.

His great love is jazz, and he has moved up through e.g. county jazz groups, into the school orchestra, been selected for concerts etc on the basis of his playing rather than any piece of paper.

However, his teacher has suggested that he should do Grade 5, probably at the end of this year. He has, I think, learned all the pieces - in amongst a constant diet of new pieces, learning to improvise properly etc - and returns to them periodically once he refines aspects of his playing on other pieces (so if, e.g. fast runs are proving tricky, he gets some other pieces with lots of fast runs, focuses a lot on those, then returns to an 'exam' piece with improved fast runs IYSWIM).

I don't anticipate him doing any others for a while unless he wants to. Grade 8 would obviously be a final aim, though what may happen instead is that he takes up sax as a parallel intrument and decides which to take forward to higher grades.

DD - currently around Grade 3-4 standard - loves the absence of exams (her main interest is dance and her progress through that is wholly through exam) and may never take a music exam unless she actively chooses to do so.

morethanpotatoprints Tue 25-Jun-13 19:21:30


This is our problem atm, dd plays both classical and jazz although can see as she progresses to be more akin to jazz, like her dad smile
He doesn't really like exams one after the other and thinks she should just do every other one or not at all until grade 8.
I on the other hand see them as milestones, but not necessarily every exam on every instrument.
We don't seem to be able to agree on this one.

puffinnuffin Tue 25-Jun-13 20:02:31

I think they are a useful bench mark and something to work towards. However it's a bit like learning to read where you need to experience a wide range of texts, print etc in order to progress. Children need to be exposed to a variety of music and musical experiences and not just focus on exam pieces only. Balance is crucial.

morethanpotatoprints Tue 25-Jun-13 21:09:43

I think dd enjoys taking exams and seems to get a huge buzz waiting for the results. It is sometimes difficult for them not to want to do the next one when their peers are talking about their next one. I don't mean her friends aren't nice or the competition is unhealthy as they all support each other, which is lovely if you ever come across the other spiteful dc. grin.

whistleahappytune Wed 26-Jun-13 10:04:32

As other posters have suggested, I feel it's totally unnecessary to do every single exam. Far better to get really comfortable and proficient on an instrument first. My DD's first exam on violin was Grade 4. We may well skip Grade 5 and do Grade 6 when she's ready. It does get tedious being on the exam treadmill.

However, I think there are benefits to the occasional exam. It's very very focusing, for the teacher and the pupil. It's a real opportunity to perform and a great lesson on handling pressure. And there's a massive achievement for the child.

MadeOfStarDust Wed 26-Jun-13 10:08:35

I have 2 girls - they are both different - one is doing grade 3 piano exam on Friday, the other took her grade 1, 2 years ago, and decided she wanted to play piano but not do exams.... our piano teacher is happy with both.. go with the flow - but push a little if needed

Earlybirdie Thu 27-Jun-13 05:55:04

I am not abig fun of exams. They only capture snapshots not always one's real level of abilities. Having said that I am supporting my DD to do violin exam next Tues and Piano exam next Fri. This is a joint decision between DD, teachers and myself. Both exams at grade 5 and DD wants to do it before getting busy preparing for 11+ exam. Pros of exam: she is focused, working hard and leant a lot more than comparative period without exam hanging overhead. However ... Recently she started talking about being worried. There are no pressures from her teachers or me since we all recognise that it is not easy for a young girl to do a high level exam. So I feel that I must keep a very close eye on her emotional development.

I have tried to tell her, attending the exams and trying her best, the results are not important. If she gets a distinction or merit it is a bonus. If she gets a pass it is fine. If she fails we should still celebrate because learning to deal with failure is also part of growing up process. She should try to remember what she has learned from preparing this exam. Whatever results she get is not going to be the end of the world.

So what I am trying to say is I think the most important thing is not about whether children should take exam or not. It is about what to prepare our children.

Another thing is I am of the view taking exam or not should be children's own decision. After all they have to do all the work. They need to own their decisions. Sometimes my DD gets a bit lazy. All I need to say is, what do you want to achieve for your exams. That focuses mind every time.

claraschu Thu 27-Jun-13 06:18:34

You never really need to do the exam (except maybe for UCAS points?). A note from a teacher saying you are "Grade 8 standard" does just as well (for auditioning for the NYO or whatever).

I agree that an occasional exam (maybe grade 5) can be useful, or a good project, if you don't take it too seriously, but exams are NOT the point of playing an instrument. Too many people are obsessed with them, and they are even more stupid than other public exams, I think.

anothermadamebutterfly Thu 27-Jun-13 11:05:58

I am not really into the exam route at all, be it for music or dance or whatever else there is, but I guess it depends on the child - mine are not particularly motivated by exams, and I think it is good that way.

With music, I think it is more important that they have opportunities to join music groups or orchestras, and get the chance to make music together with other people, provided of course that there is something that suits the instrument and they enjoy being part of a music group. In my experience, you do not need the exam grades to join ensembles - most of them are done by audition anyway. DD plays in a city-wide ensemble and a music group and has never done an exam - some of her friends do them, but she has never been interested.

Having said that, DS will be doing a music exam this year, his teacher wants him to, and he wants to, so I will be helping him prepare for that.

anothermadamebutterfly Thu 27-Jun-13 11:09:49

ps - good luck to the ones doing exams this week!!

Lancelottie Thu 27-Jun-13 11:18:33


All those saying they don't agree with exams -- do you have children who voluntarily practise scales?

Only a good dollop of exam terror will get DS2 anywhere near scales practice (and even then he often avoids it in favour of tootling around playing anything he comes across), but I think I can hear the difference in his playing when he does do scales and exercises.

MadeOfStarDust Thu 27-Jun-13 11:25:07

Always start with 3 or 4 random scales and sight reading - then the fun stuff... ( but I do supervised practise 3 times a week)

Lancelottie Thu 27-Jun-13 11:28:59

Mmm, I used to supervise practice, but DS (mid-teens) would prefer his parents not to exist, let alone hover around interfering with his music.

I do comment if he's been up there for half an hour unable to help wash up because he Must Do His Practice, but all I can hear is ukelele chords (he plays brass)!

anothermadamebutterfly Thu 27-Jun-13 11:49:55

Lancelottie you have a point - I may be speaking too early! My DCs are still young enough to be supervised during practice, so maybe I will be frantically enrolling them for exams by the time they are teenagers.

I learned the piano and viola and never did exams (this was not in the UK) so it is possible! Maybe I was just terrified of my teacher instead...

morethanpotatoprints Thu 27-Jun-13 12:32:11


My dd plays scales daily on all instruments, whether taking exams or not. It has been part of her daily routine from the offset. Then when she comes to an exam its a case of polishing.
Its important for them to understand why they need to know scales and then they become less reluctant to practice them. It is exactly the same with chords.
I'm not against exams though. grin

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