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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.

morethanpotatoprints Sat 13-Jul-13 17:15:36


Wow, that is good. Obviously exams are good for your ds. Maybe it was the length of time spent in preparation that was the problem. Some teachers just get them to practice exam pieces for a year and nothing else.

quip Fri 12-Jul-13 17:10:59

Last time I posted I was hating the exam. Ds had gpt thoroughly fed up of all his scales and pieces. Then he did the exam and came skipping out telling me he wanted to do all his other grades. He got his result and he's even more keen than ever even though I told him he could have a couple of weeks off practice. So perhaps for ds the exams are a good thing.

morethanpotatoprints Wed 10-Jul-13 18:32:45

Hello, just thought i'd give you an update.
dd is doing grade 3 violin soon as we had already paid for it, she has worked hard and wants to do it.
She is then concentrating on good effective and fun practice for a year, then next summer taking a grade 5 violin, then winter gr6 sax and gr5 singing. Not sure about piano as not playing that long, but will do grade 5 rather than early grades.
Your comments have been very helpful, and whilst I'm not against exams found that with all the music she does, there was always an exam on the go. Many thanks again for all your valuable input thanks

LilyBolero Mon 01-Jul-13 08:29:18

Again, although I totally agree that some kids will get bored, my dd totally doesn't ; she really likes polishing and perfecting, and it is hard to stop her working on pieces even after an exam has passed. Kids are different!

Just to add though, although kids may get a little bored, the last stage of learning a piece (perfecting, polishing etc) is the stage that an exam tends to enforce, which kids may miss otherwise, but it is a reality of music!

MadeOfStarDust Sun 30-Jun-13 20:28:28

a term is a bit long for all of them together...

my DD takes a year over a grade and learns around 8 of the pieces (along with any easy piano pop stuff she wants) - the ones she wants to have a go at - then with a month to go she decides which of them she wants to perform at the exam and concentrates on those for speed/dynamic perfecting.... just doing 3 pieces is a sure route to boredom for everybody, it becomes just learning for the exam, not for fun.

quip Sun 30-Jun-13 20:00:29

My ds has been playing his grade1 pieces all term. We're both fed up with them. Roll on next week. I won't be encouraging him to do more grades in a hurry.

MadeOfStarDust Sun 30-Jun-13 08:13:16

my dd always pick her own pieces - usually the off book ones so it costs us a fortune in buying extra music books... would not suggest an easier piece option as it really does show if a child likes a piece or not..

richmal Sun 30-Jun-13 08:07:16

Surely the most important thing is to listen to what the child wants to do? DD likes doing exams as she feels it means it shows her she can play.
I also like her to pick the pieces. I would rather her get a lower grade on something she has stuggled to master but found fun than an easy option from the sylabus.
For some reason she also likes doing scales and I tend to get her to leave this to the end of her practice as a treat.

Theas18 Sat 29-Jun-13 16:14:32

Fastloris I love you ! You have summed it up perfectly. It takes a very confident teacher to do this though doesn't it .

FastLoris Fri 28-Jun-13 22:45:02

I'm a piano teacher and have gradually, but now pretty much completely, abandoned exams. Some of the factors that led me this way:

1. While exams can be a good performance opportunity, in the sense of working a piece up and being under pressure to do it well, they're not the best type of such opportunity for young people, particularly beginners. They need far more informal opportunity, where they can try things out and fail and start again and it doesn't matter. Really, people play music to and with each other all over the world in all kinds of ways, and the western classical academic paradigm of the formal concert that is VERY SERIOUS (upon which exams are based) is only one.

2. Exams too easily end up dominating lesson and practice content. Pieces need to be continued past their relevance, scales and technical work need to be chosen according to exam requirements rather than what is best for the student. Important other skills like improvising and playing by ear get relegated to occasional between-exam diversions.

3. One thing few people realise, but I perhaps do by virtue of having worked for a number of exam boards, is how arbitrary and of debatable relevance is the content itself of many (most?) exam syllabuses. I just don't buy that the particularly requirements of pieces, scales, sight reading etc as laid down by the ABRSM etc. are an accurate summary of what most people should learn as they progress on an instrument. Scales for example should be integrated with key and chord knowledge, analysis and improvisation; they should be taught as part of an integrated package of understanding how music works and how you can manipulate it. Instead, the exam syllabuses promote meaningless rote learning and superficial reproduction.

These problems don't matter too much when a student is very able and practices a lot, because they can do an exam now and then without it having to dominate everything. But for most, with a short lesson each week and limited practice and support from home, there are better ways to be spending the time.

Theas18 Fri 28-Jun-13 00:01:44

worth making sure thou get grade 5 theory though!

Theas18 Fri 28-Jun-13 00:00:21

I've said it before, asp hope I'm not boring you!

there seems to be pressure at primary age to do at least an exam per year per instrument. why? mainly I think, in retrospect the teachers like it so they" prove their worth" . some kids like it and maybe need the push. certainly performance opportunities are good.

however, the best teacher we have had changed my view, and i wish we didn't do so many back then. now we do them when the time it's right out there is a reason.

however, having the certificates can be important when applying for ensemblesb scholarships etc . we are fortunate I guess that the teacher in question ifs very well regarded so if he says you are good enough to audition for something they won't say " but your last exam was only grade 5" ( yes but that was 3 yrs ago lol)

LilyBolero Thu 27-Jun-13 23:54:12

Duh, on iPhone, that should say I really LIKE...etc

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!

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 16:44:37

LOL ime adults get way more nervous than kids!

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 16:05:49

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!

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!

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 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.

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 14:23:28

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.

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!

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.

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