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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.

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 13:24:08

One plus point of exams is that they are an 'enforced performance' and if you are a musician, although obviously there is much merit in playing for its own sake, performance is the thing if you want to go beyond the 'playing for fun' stage. It's also an opportunity in a safe environment to do something more formal than playing at home; if you mess up in an exam it's only you and the examiner, mess up in a concert and you mess up in front of everybody listening. Even if you fail, you haven't had that moment of not being able to face everyone as you slink off the stage...even in the most informal of concerts this is a possibility.

And it is also an opportunity to get some comments from a pro musician, which will sometimes back up what your teacher has said, sometimes give the teacher something to think about (eg if a teacher gets all the sheets back and they all say 'pulse was variable' then they get the message that there is something they need to focus on more), and provide a solid marker and framework for technique.

Yes, it is only how it went 'on the day', but that is the nature of performing arts. In the same way that a sportsman may do well or badly on a given day, and that is part of learning, to learn that!

Lancelottie Thu 27-Jun-13 13:30:48

DS will warm up on scales... but would never voluntarily have learnt G sharp minor, which is his current nemesis.

Lancelottie Thu 27-Jun-13 13:31:39

Oddly, DS just lurves playing for an audience and would far rather do that than play in an exam.

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 13:33:33

Lots of people are like that, I'm the same, but if you are a bit nervous, I think an exam is actually less intimidating, especially if you are likely to go a bit wonky in the middle!

VinegarDrinker Thu 27-Jun-13 13:37:36

I disagree Lily - 20 people sitting round tables, in a familiar place, eating cake and cheering you on every step of the way (even if you stop and start again), with your teacher standing right next to you if you want them vs. a one-off chance to play in an unfamiliar environment, on an unfamiliar instrument if you are a pianist, to a scary person in a suit? Oh and knowing that you get marked for it and you can fail. No contest which I'd rather do.

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 13:45:43

Fine, that's you! Different people are different! My dd would far rather play to 1 person who is trained in being friendly and helpful, with no comments until at least a week after the exam, by which time she's mentally moved on. There's no rule that says everyone is the same!

In fact the thing dd hates most of all is if she plays in a concert, and loads of people come up after and say 'that was amazing!' Because she is so shy she would rather just vanish which of course is what happens in an exam essentially!

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 13:46:34

And what makes you think an examiner is
I) scary
II) in a suit?

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 13:47:05

And what makes you think an examiner is
I) scary
II) in a suit?

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 13:47:23

Sorry double post!

MadeOfStarDust Thu 27-Jun-13 14:04:54

mine have had 4 examiners - all had suits on 2 were scary.....

imnotmymum Thu 27-Jun-13 14:08:47

Definitely depends on child. DD2 had guitar lessons and was practising for grades and hated every minute. We said to her did not have to stopped lessons self taught herself and plays Taylor Swift etc.
DD1 plays clarinet and would do an exam a day if he could !
DD3 self taught piano and DD2 teaching DD1 guitar.

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 14:09:06

if you have a female examiner, they will probably not wear a suit....

and none should be scary!

VinegarDrinker Thu 27-Jun-13 14:17:20

Well I've probably done upwards of 30 music exams in my life over 20 odd years and about 5 or 6 different instruments, so it's just a generalisation based on my experiences.

morethanpotatoprints Thu 27-Jun-13 14:18:33

We haven't come across any scary ones and only one in a suit. She did say that one looked very strict and even though he seemed to mark harshly at first, reading again it was the best feedback she has ever got.

What i am hearing a lot is that it greatly depends on the child and their personality rather than just the ability to pass the exam.

For those whose dc would like to audition for really good orchestras, ensembles, choirs, schools, JDs etc is it not essential for them to take the exams.
It would worry me that a dc might miss the opportunity they wish for because they hadn't got the relevant exam results.

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 14:20:21

You shouldn't base assumptions on examiners on experiences from 20years ago though, things are VERY different now. eg my dh had one comment on a violin report "He looks a little stiff". That just wouldn't happen now. Grade 1 piano for me the very stern examiner gave me a good ticking off for doing the repeat. Likewise that would be grounds for appeal these days.

Examiners are trained to be kind, friendly, approachable and definitely not scary!

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 14:23:28

morethanpotatoprints - definitely! I have had some pupils who it would have been exactly the wrong thing to do exams, and we did a more relaxed 'learn to play from guitar chords etc' thing (I took her on from someone else, and she at that point wanted to give up) and she then started really flourishing, and even got a holiday job playing in an old people's home. SO proud of her!

But then I have had others who would have made no progress at all without the structure of the grades, and others who would never have dared play in public, but just about managed to play in the exams, because they knew it was just the one face looking at them!

All kids are different, and you can't say what is right for one is right for another.

VinegarDrinker Thu 27-Jun-13 14:33:35

My most recent was 7 years ago, he was head of music at a local school and a good laugh and very supportive of the whole set up, which was a sponsored Uni Grade 1-a-thon. Felt a bit sorry for him listening to so many Grade 1s in a row though!

As a kid though I definitely found the examiners intimidating, if not overtly scary.

morethan the only exam my DH took on his first instrument (alto sax) was Grade 8. Didn't stop him playing for NYJO and later going to the RAM.

Anyway long version of my initial post which was agreeing with everyone else that it totally depends on the child.

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 14:38:05

haha, yes, must have got quite wearing...!

I think the examiners are entirely different now from 20 years ago tbh, I see a lot of them and there is definitely more emphasis now on making the candidate (whether child or adult) feel as comfortable as possible, and there are strict rules about not putting them off - even if they play a wrong piece, or the wrong number of pieces, they are not allowed to make any comment in the exam in case it puts them off, and it's all sorted out after.

morethanpotatoprints Thu 27-Jun-13 15:50:22


I hear you loud and clear and I agree, I just find it hard practising what i preach. My dh is a pro musician and only took gr6 to get into college, he won the memorial prize and has had a fantastic career to this date.
Our dd is intent on joining JD and dh says she will get in if good enough irrespective of exams. I would prefer to see the piece of paper and I have no idea why. It is normally against my belief to test dc on everything they do. I dislike the school system for this reason, but don't know why I can't be like this with music. it could be because I know its important to her whereas school work can rot as far as she is concerned grin

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 15:58:47

morethan, although you may not 'need' the exam, if you can do it in a low stress way, it doesn't have to be a big deal. Dd gets very VERY stressed about playing in concerts, even though she is seriously talented and plays beautifully.

Exams come along, she practises what she's told to practise, doesn't get stressed, it's no big deal at all, she is interested in the mark, but it doesn't feature on the scale of 'stress' in her life. Her last exam, dh didn't even know she was doing an exam until the result came through, because there was honestly no stress, or pushing or anything. He got home from work, she said 'look Dad, I got a distinction in my cello exam', he said 'I didn't even know you were taking an exam' - partly because she always practises scales etc, and is diligent all the time, but partly because we do keep them quite low key!

So it doesn't need to be a big deal, it can just be 'going along to play to someone', which tbh they would need to do if they auditioned for anything, so could be seen as good practice!

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 16:05:49

Fwiw, when ds1 did his grade 1 violin, he didn't even know that there were categories of pass - he regarded it as a 'level', and his mark was his 'score' - so he finished the level, with a score of whatever he got, which I think was a far healthier attitude than worrying about getting a distinction etc!

morethanpotatoprints Thu 27-Jun-13 16:09:12

One of my dhs pupils, a middle aged woman is convinced she wants to do exams and everytime is a bag on nerves. I wonder why she puts herself through it, dh certainly doesn't encourage her to do them as he sees how ill she becomes. She always passes and last time got a merit but showed us one comment which made us laugh.

"Although there were several restarts during this piece, your tenacity allowed you to continue to the bitter end". This was last winter session. grin

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 16:44:37

LOL ime adults get way more nervous than kids!

morethanpotatoprints Thu 27-Jun-13 20:40:57


What a brilliant idea for young dc who can't hear any different. They can't worry about what the marks represent.
it always annoys dh when a parent will say ah, 127 that's only 3 off a distinction. Or if you had just 2 more it would be a merit.
yes, but it isn't a merit, or distinction grin

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 23:53:32

Interestingly, 2 off a merit is not a case of addition, the examiner will have weighed it up in their mind and decided on a pass, as 119 is not allowed to be given, along with 98, 99 and 129, so an examiner really has to commit to the 'category' of mark.

I really the level/score approach ds1 had, as that is how young kids think. When they play computer games, their prime objective is to complete the level, the score is secondary, and so you feel achievement by completing the 'level', not disappointment that it wasn't a 'new high score' iyswim!

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