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Music grades- realistically how quickly can a dedicated child progress?

(23 Posts)
Slapntickleothewenches Mon 03-Feb-14 08:55:26

Just as the title really!
DS is 9 and plays two instruments (guitar and oboe)
He has ayes the oboe for 16 months, guitar for 4 months. Prior to this he played the recorder so is well into the habit of music practise. He also goes to 30 minutes of music theory club after school.
Currently he has taken no grades but his oboe teacher is beginning to prepare him for grade 1 in the summer.
How quickly could we expect him to progress (I realise this is dependent on the child, the instrument, outside forces etc but in general...)
To put it in context, DS practises both daily, oboe about 15 minutes, guitar anything upto about 40 minutes as he is in love with it and will often disappear upstairs for 15 minutes to play. Also plays in school orchestra and woodwind group. His dedication is not in question and he is reasonably able, ie he doesn't seem to struggle in any way, despite my woeful lack of musical ability.
I think exam preparation will suit him as he enjoys a challenge and something concrete to work towards but don't want to become one of those ludicrously pushy parents smile

Wafflenose Mon 03-Feb-14 09:11:42

It's impossible to say without hearing him, but with this level of practice, I'd say a grade a year, possibly a bit faster until Grade 3-4. There is then a massive jump from 5-6 (think GCSEs vs A Levels) and most of my pupils take 2 years to do Grade 6. Some of mine don't do every single grade, but they still have to put in the work! With woodwind, I often miss out Grade 1 if they are going very fast.

BirdintheWings Mon 03-Feb-14 12:36:51

One of mine started at grade 3, which I think used to be pretty standard for anything except piano (but I agree that the jump from 5 to 6 is a biggy, usefully filled by that awkwardly compulsory music theory grade 5).

neolara Mon 03-Feb-14 12:41:12

I did grade 5 piano from scratch in 10 months when I was 15. I did grade 6 within another 8 months. I don't think I'm particularly musical. I did enjoy it, however, and practised quite a lot.

flowery Mon 03-Feb-14 12:45:35

DS is 6 and started violin April last year. He's started his Grade one prep and will probably do it in the summer. He's progressing quickly so I can't see any reason he won't do at least a grade a year, maybe quicker the earlier grades.

I missed out grades 1 and 2 when I started (viola), and then did 3 then 5, but I was a late starter and already played piano to a reasonable standard. I started viola age 11/12ish and did my Grade 8 at I think 17, with the rest spread out in between.

MiddleAgeMiddleEngland Mon 03-Feb-14 18:40:26

Possibly a grade a year, but it's not really about the exam pieces or the scales, it's about the broader experiences. I know teachers who only teach the exam pieces, no other repertoire, no ensemble work (eg duets), no exploring other types of music.

Makes me fume.

RaspberryLemonPavlova Mon 03-Feb-14 18:43:39

Much depends on the DC and the instrument. DD took up sax at the beginning of Y5, having already started violin and having had group recorder lessons at school. She did Grade 2 the following June, Grade 4 at the end of Year 6, Grade 5 the Feb of Year 7, so roughly 6 months a Grade. Then stuck for a while, not helped by the secondary school only doing exams once a year. she wasn't ready last year, so is doing Grade 6 this year as again, not quite ready for Grade 7.

DS2 started piano at 6.5 and got to Grade 5 in four and a half years. His trombone however, he began in October of Year 4 and passed Grade 3 with distinction a year later, and is planning to do Grade 5 in June at the end of Year 6, which will again be averaging just over 6 months per Grade. I expect him to slow down after that too.

RaspberryLemonPavlova Mon 03-Feb-14 18:52:56

Should add that both DS2 and DD play in school orchestras and groups, and music service groups and that their teachers give them a wide variety of material to play.

Piano teacher very keen on duets too.

JulieMichelleRobinson Mon 03-Feb-14 22:24:43

As a child/teen:

I started violin at 7yo.
Nothing to grade 1 (d) in a year, but most who started with me took two years.
Following year: grade 4 (m) - totally skipped 2 and 3.
Following year, maybe a bit longer, grade 5.
About 18 months each for the higher grades, I think, but was playing second study (piano) by then.
Grade 8 (m) at 14, so averaged a bit under a year per grade.

However most of the people who started with me (I'm a school music service kid) only made it to grade 5 by that point.

Piano, started at 11, grade 8 (d) at 17, so six years. I took them all except grade 2.

Flute - taught myself to about grade 6 in a year when I was in the sixth form.
Viola - guess that's cheating - played for coursework in sixth form so assume I could play it back then.

Did loads of orchestral playing, string quartets, Baroque ensemble, multiple choirs (I got a choral scholarship at uni), keys for big band, sneaky jazz playing and fiddle stuff. That was more important than the exams!


A lot of my students are young when they start and so we make slower progress. I currently have a year 2 and a year 3 in their second term of violin working for copper medals and then probably prep test, a year 4 taking grade 1 violin in her fourth term and aiming for a good mark, and a teenaged beginner taking grade 1 piano in her second term - she works her socks off. However, the children who start at 4yo will take a good three years to reach grade 1, I think. We're still learning our CDEs. There is also a need to allow for psychological readiness - e.g. my year 2 probably won't be ready to play in a formal exam situation for a while, so we'll likely do copper and bronze medals, maybe silver. She has a good tone and plays wonderfully in tune, but she's six years old.

Theas18 Tue 04-Feb-14 09:48:17

Remember you don't have to take every grade either! don't get sucked into an "exam treadmill" when you just go from one to the next. Some teachers seem to think this is the "best way" and some kids ( esp boys) do like "prizes" to motivate them but breadth of study and musicianship is actually really important too.

Our best ( by miles) teacher put DS in for grade 5 at age 10-11, grade 6 at about 13 and 8 at 16. He could do a diploma but he's not that bothered- the A level performance is prepped and ready. Exciting lessons, extended techniques, amazing playing.

Other instrumental teacher with a school background have put them in for every blooming grade from 1-8 . I'm so bored of it!

mistlethrush Tue 04-Feb-14 09:52:03

I started the piano at 6 and got my grade 8 at 17
Violin at 10 - Grade 4 in 18 months, grade 8 at 16
Viola at 14 - Grade 5 at 14, grade 8 at 15 (got the same mark for both)

DeWe Tue 04-Feb-14 09:52:26

Depends on the instument and the person.

I did grade 2 violin after 5 terms and grade 3 a year after that. I was big on practice, 20 minutes a day, 7 days a week. (started age nearly 9yo)

Dd1 does piano, 15 minutes practice a day, did first exam after 5 terms, and up to grade 4, did 1 a year, grade 5 took 4 terms though. (started age 6)
Singing, doesn't generally do any special practice except just before the exams, did grade 2 within a year, and did up to grade 5 exams every 2 terms. (started age 8/9)

Dd2 did grade 1 trumpet after 2.5 terms, and is doing grade 2 a year later. (started age 8)
She also does singing, started at grade 1 after 2 terms and did grade 2 a year later. Not a keen practicer for either, usually does 5-15 minutes 5-6 days a week. (started age 8)

MiddleAgeMiddleEngland Tue 04-Feb-14 10:27:42

Totally agree with the 'don't do every grade' philosophy. Far better to put the money towards more sheet music or activities. Grades 1, 3, 5 and 8 is a fairly sensible amount, perhaps only 5 and 8 for some pupils.

JulieMichelleRobinson Tue 04-Feb-14 12:34:39

I think it depends on the child. I took practically all the grades, but I have always had excellent sightreading skills so it's not like we only ever played the exam pieces. The musicality developed by studying other genres or ensemble pieces when you're younger - which may mean taking longer to do the early grades - pays dividends when you're taking higher grades.

Now, when will someone offer jazz fiddle exams? I have a whole syllabus prepped and ready to teach, once my little beginners are past grade 1. Yes! Let's do improv! (It's dead easy if you know your scales and arpeggios, provided you let your hair down!).

Picturesinthefirelight Tue 04-Feb-14 19:28:07

It depends whether they are dedicated or obsessed. Dh began piano at 14 & was grade 8 by age 18. However he failed his gcses.

kitkat1967 Wed 05-Feb-14 15:35:48

DD started oboe in yr 5 (so just 9) having played the recorder for a couple of yrs and took grade 3 at the end of year 6. She's now in year 9 and about to do grade 6 - so agree with others who have said at grade 5-6 progression slows down.
She's reasonably musical and is about to do her 3rd grade 5 plus plays the piano but only practices 1 instrument per night.

Slapntickleothewenches Thu 06-Feb-14 18:31:14

Thanks everyone, it seems that it's quite feasible to expect a grade a year then smile
He initially struggled with the oboe as his hands were only just big enough (he initially had a taster session to see whether he could physically manage it and was on the borderline) but has come on in leaps and bounds recently.
As for the guitar, he is really good <biased> and is moving really quickly through his book. He also really "gets" his guitar teacher and is keen to please him as well as us which is a huge help!
As I gave up the recorder at "Three blind mice" I am complete in the dark as to where this talent has come from grin

NannyPeach Sat 08-Mar-14 07:39:35

Dd1 took grade 2 violin when she was in y1 at school. She then did grade 4 in y3 and grade 5 in y4. She will be taking grade 7 next autumn when she will be in y6. Dd also started cello in September 2013 and is taking grade 4 this April!! She learns by suzuki method, so can already play pieces above the grade standard she is on, which will make the progression easier I should think.

whatsthatcomingoverthehill Mon 10-Mar-14 10:36:29

A grade a year is pretty normal I'd have thought, but some can be much quicker.

By the way, there is a big difference between playing and practising. Sometimes it might seem they are doing a lot, but if they are just playing pieces (i.e. doing the 'fun' stuff) it doesn't necessarily help develop their technique.

JulieMichelleRobinson Mon 10-Mar-14 12:47:07


A grade a year is average, assuming some practice, at least between grade 1 and grade 5. Sometimes it might take four terms. Sometimes it might be better to skip a grade but take four terms to do grade 3 instead of grade 2 (rather than a grade every 2 terms!) which means you can do repertoire instead of the "exam treadmill".

Also, sometimes it's not a good idea to do the exams for reasons like having to take grade 8 violin and grade 6 piano on the same day (hence merits instead of distinctions for those two, many years ago). I should have waited another term for one of those, just because of the pressure.

ReallyTired Mon 17-Mar-14 22:36:05

Ds took guitar up at nine years old. He did his first grade exam (grade 2) 18 months (over a year ago). However he has not yet done grade 3 guitar yet because he needed time to build up the strength in his fingers. Ds also had the pressure of SATs, changing school and guitar teacher.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 17-Mar-14 22:43:02

It really does depend on the child and the teacher.
There is a certain amount of innate talent involved, but good practice is the main thing.
My dd is preparing for grade 5 saxophone in summer, she has been playing since Jan 20012.
She struggled to reach grade one piano after a year.

morethanpotatoprints Mon 17-Mar-14 22:45:14

Actually it was 20013, so just over a year.
I'm having a wine and I don't usually grin

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