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Singing in ABRSM Instrument Exams

(16 Posts)
OutwiththeOutCrowd Sat 05-Apr-14 14:31:13

I wonder if there is anyone in the know about musical matters who could advise me ... ?

My DS who is 11 has recently been entered for a ABRSM grade 2 guitar exam. DS is solid on his pieces, scales, sight reading and identifying changes in rhythm and melody. However, subsequent to entering DS for the test, the guitar teacher has discovered DS cannot sing back a melody. I could have told him that DS is not a confident singer but had no idea it was relevant. DS has only done ABRSM Music Medal tests so far which do not involve this element.

The teacher is now suggesting a few extra lessons from him to address this deficit before the test in a few weeks time. However, DS tells me that the teacher seems to have no understanding of people who find singing in tune difficult and his 'help' involves blaring at DS 'Get your voice in tune!' So I am a little sceptical as to whether his 'help' in this area will be very helpful.

I should add perhaps that DS plays the guitar with real feeling - at least he sounds good to his fond mother's untutored ear! He enjoys playing and his teacher says his playing is excellent and he has lots of potential.

Nobody in our household can sing in tune so we can't help DS. So what would you do? Agree to the extra lessons (and expense)? Ask the guitar teacher if he can arrange a couple of sessions with a vocal coach plus piano? ( The teacher is affiliated with DS's school's music department.) Kiss the singing marks bye bye and hope the actual guitar stuff is good enough for a pass? Cancel the exam? Forget about ABRSM exams altogether?

How realistic is it to hope that a bad singer might improve in a matter of weeks?

The last option - giving up on ABRSM exams - might preclude DS from taking a fuller part in the musical community at his school. For example, a certain grade level is required for taking part in ensembles. DS's teacher had been planning to put him in one of the school's guitar ensembles next year.

DS likes the teacher and his guitar playing has certainly blossomed with him but I think the man probably popped out the womb singing tunefully and cannot imagine not being able to hold a tune.

Any thoughts or advice gratefully received!

Picturesinthefirelight Sat 05-Apr-14 16:09:53

Can he whistle in tune? You are allowed to whistle the tests.

I guess the right course if action depends on whether he genuinely can't hear & remember the melody, chord notes etc or whether it is a confidence/breath/vocal pitching problem.

Can he hear for example when his guitar strings are out of tune?

Dh has in the past helped students who can't pitch by getting them to slide up to the correct notes etc. but it takes time.

morethanpotatoprints Sat 05-Apr-14 16:17:51

Hello OP

A lot of the problems stem from confidence and memory.
At grade 2 iirc there are only 2 bars to sing.
Ok, this is what I suggest, it worked wonders with my dd in her early grades.
Get him to sing back just 2 notes, then 3, 4, etc and build it up from here.
Tell him to listen to the whole thing and then see if he can recognise any patterns like beginning note, then up 2, down 1, down 2, up 3 etc like this. He will get used to it with practice.
If he doesn't manage it this bit is only worth 6 marks and if he tries and gets to the end without stopping he will gain some marks.

MirandaWest Sat 05-Apr-14 16:22:37

The singing back a tune part is a small part of the overall mark. I'd need to look at what the current syllabus is but it will be a part of the aural section which is 18 marks in total out of 150 with a pass mark of 100. Each piece is up to 30 marks, with scales up to 21 and sight reading up to 21. There are other parts of the aural test which don't need singing so I wouldn't panic too much.

ShellingPeas Sat 05-Apr-14 16:30:25

If his teacher wants to change exam boards then Trinity exams have no singing in the aural tests. The exams are equally rigorous but, imo, the Trinity exams have a far more sensible approach to aural. But as PP have said, the actual singing part in early grades for ABRSM is fairly minimal. But when they get to grade 5 then you have to be able sight sing short passages.

Pitching to an instrument is hard. The best thing to do is have someone sing a pitch (any will do) and see if he can match it. Slide up and down (in a sort of siren way) until he can hear his voice hit the same pitch. From establishing the ability to pitch to voices and then sing a few short notes as an echo, you can then move on to pitching to instrumental tones like the piano or a guitar pitch. Very few people are unable to learn to sing in tune - they just need guidance. Perhaps a vocal coach for a couple of lessons would be more beneficial than extra lessons from his current teacher who, quite frankly, sounds rubbish - what value is there is shouting at some poor kid who can't pitch properly and has never been shown how.

Wafflenose Sat 05-Apr-14 16:55:51

The singing part is worth 4 marks, out of 150. It shouldn't be too much of a problem if he does it completely wrong. You get SOME marks for making ANY attempt at all. But he can hum, whistle, or play the tune back on his instrument if he doesn't want to sing. You can practise this skill at home - turn on the radio or CD for a few seconds, try to sing back what you hear, try again...

No need for singing or aural lessons IMO. If his guitar playing is lovely and he has been prepared properly, he will fly through without these 4 marks.

OutwiththeOutCrowd Sat 05-Apr-14 17:42:06

Thanks everyone for your informative responses! Putting together what you are all saying, it seems DS could get away with zero marks for singing and still pass. However, he will have to learn to sing in tune eventually if he wants to take the guitar further in a formal exam-based way.

I wish I could help him myself but I am so unmusical - it has been both a surprise and a delight that a DC of mine would be in the music-making business at all!

Does anyone know if there are online resources which allow you to hear a note - or series of notes - repeat these back via a microphone and get feedback back on how close a match you have managed?

RaspberryLemonPavlova Sat 05-Apr-14 17:51:27

To repeat an earlier poster, Trinity exams don't have singing in the aural. So he can do those up to Grade 8.

Clobbered Sat 05-Apr-14 17:53:43

The singing part is only worth a very few marks and really not worth getting in a lather about. If all the other elements of the exam are fine, he will pass with no problems. The mark scheme only allows zero for "no work offered" and the next band is 7 marks or more, so just by opening your mouth and having a go, or answering ANY of the questions you score a minimum of 7 out of 21!
You could try SingSmash which is a really good ipad/iphone app that gets kids singing and matching notes - it starts with a single note at the easiest levels. Try getting him to make siren noises first - swooping up and down with his voice - it's a good way of getting used to moving the pitch of your voice up and down.
Teachers who have forgotten what it's like not to be able to do something shouldn't try to teach that particular skill!

Wafflenose Sat 05-Apr-14 19:31:19

It won't even be worth getting upset over by Grade 8, OP - still just 4 marks, or 2.6% of the exam. And he will probably get 1 of those marks by opening his mouth and singing ANYTHING.

I've had pupils fail whole sections of the exam, such as the aural or the scales, and not just pass, but gain distinctions overall! And your DS will PASS the aural section if the singing bit is all her gets wrong.

Incidentally, this could be developmental. I know I didn't have this kind of vocal control at age 7-8, and it can certainly still be developing at 11. Probably, it will be a combination of developing control, and the ability to listen critically to the sound/ pitch he is producing and adjust. With practice, everyone gets better in the end. I've taught a couple of 'growlers' who sang everything on a low monotone, regardless of the actual starting pitch. Some attempt at producing the correct shape probably gave them half marks in this particular test.

JulieMichelleRobinson Sat 05-Apr-14 19:47:49

As others have pointed out, it's a totally insignificant bit of the exam and forms part of the 'general impression' aural mark. It's probably possible to get 14 or 15 marks for aural and totally stuff this tiny bit up - if the A, C and D bits were really good.

"For any test that requires a sung response it is pitch rather than vocal quality that is being assessed. Responses may be sung to any vowel... or hummed or whistled... Students who are less comfortable singing often find that humming is their best option in the exam..."

I see aural skills as integral to lessons and do it regularly with my students - those nowhere near prep test level are already doing grade 1 aural tests on a regular basis ;-)

Put it this way, though - you could technically score 0 for the entire aural section and still get a distinction.

1805 Sat 05-Apr-14 22:52:38

I wouldn't worry too much re the up coming exam. As others have said, it's only worth a few marks. And you can hum or whistle.

Long term though, he could probably be taught to sing accurately. I also use the 'sliding up/down' tactic. Many kids are more comfy humming at first, and this changes to singing when they start to feel more confident (and possibly to drown out my awful singing!!!!) And I use my hand to visually help them which way they need to change their voice. Some children don't know how to control their voices, so following my hand up and down starts to help with this. Then I link my hand movements to notes on the piano, then gradually reduce my hand actions. This all takes time, but can be done.

Talk to the teacher, and ask how he teaches children to improve their singing/aural ability. You could say "ds is really worried about the aural, could you go over it with him please?"

Good luck!

OutwiththeOutCrowd Sun 06-Apr-14 08:15:14

Thank you so, so much lovely Mumsnetters for all your helpful contributions - I am feeling enlightened. Fingers crossed that DS will be singing a happy tune after the exam - even if off-key!

monopoly123 Sun 06-Apr-14 08:40:54

I was going to post the same as everyone else - it makes up such a small portion of the marks it doesn't matter, I think you get 2 marks if the rhythm is right.

DeWe Sun 06-Apr-14 12:28:51

You used to be able to play it back on the piano or your instrument. Dh felt his singing wasn't up to it so always did that as he found it easier.

Theas18 Wed 09-Apr-14 21:15:01

Very few marks for singing. Don't worry about it for now.

However it would be worth some sessions with a proper vocal coach long term just to give him control of his voice. It'll give him confidence.

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