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Are music exams necessary?

(23 Posts)
disorganisedmummy Sat 23-May-15 13:54:28

Hi,my son is nearly 9 and has been playing violin since he was 5.He has aspergers and dyspraxia so progress has been a little slow.
HE plays in 2 orchestras outside of school and is passionate about it.One of them feeds into the local youth orchestra which he is desperate to get into but you need to be grade 4 standard.
Ds did grade 1 at Christmas and passed with a high merit but he found the whole process horrendous stressful and isn;t sure if he wants to go through it again.
Both his school music teacher and his violin teacher have said he doesn't have to do grades but I was wondering how to get him to the standard required for Youth Orchestra.
Has anyone's child been through a similar situation?

Ishouldbeweaving Sat 23-May-15 14:08:45

You need to be the required standard but you don't need to have taken an exam. When his teacher feels that he is playing at grade four standard they can write a letter to that effect, that should have the same weight as an exam. He'll have to audition anyway so will get the chance to demonstrate his talents then, he'll need the letter from his teacher to get to the audition.

Ferguson Sat 23-May-15 22:43:58

Sometimes these kinds of Youth Orchestras are prepared to be 'flexible' on the standard they demand, particularly if a child is young, or shows promise.

As he did well at Grade 1, you and his music teachers could get him copies of music for higher Grades, for him to learn and improve on, even if he doesn't want to take the exams (and there is certainly no obligation to). I would also suggest finding out what sorts of music these orchestras play, as it may be broader than just Classical.

It could also help his sight reading if he had violin music of the appropriate standard for things like Film, Theatre and TV music, the Beatles, old ballads, Country or Folk music etc. Also, LISTEN to as wide a range of music as possible, and THINK about the music, trying to guess what might come next, even if it pieces you don't know.

TheEggityOddity Sat 23-May-15 22:51:45

I agree no need for grades and it is brilliant that he has a passion for playing in orchestras, way more important for improvement than any exam imho. As the poster above mentioned, it is the standard of playing that is important, not the piece of paper. I found the exams kept me focused on improvement but that is the kind of person I am and I thrive on exams. If he thrives without that pressure and only the goal to join the orchestra and play well, then that is the much better approach. Best of luck to him!

disorganisedmummy Sat 23-May-15 23:16:17

Thanks everyone for your messages. It's good to know. Both orchestras play a range of music from classical to film scores and he particularly loves film music so we bought him a book of music from popular films and has recently mastered Lord Of the Rings and Harry Potter. He listens to Classic Fm every day bless him. He also has a sight reading book and I'm told he reads music very well but can sometimes struggle to get the rhythm right which may be due to his dyspraxia. Once he's heard the piece he can normally grasp it.
His dream is to be lead violinist in the Royal Philharmonic and play at the Royal Albert Hall!! Love him!!

lavendersun Sun 24-May-15 07:02:52

We don't encourage exams at primary age tbh, DD has done a couple that a) she really wanted the gr1 piano checkmark and b) needed one for an ensemble.

By the time she took both of them she was sick of the pieces that she had perfected in a few weeks.

Each to their own but I think performing and playing with others has far more value in the early (pre gr 4-5) stages so not something for us.

My view probably comes from my own childhood as it was what we did, worked fine.

teacherwith2kids Sun 24-May-15 16:22:23

DS (plays clarinet and sax) is, with the full agreement of his teacher) persuing a 'necessary exams only' strategy.

So he has taken Grade 5 clarinet and Grade 4 sax, as those are useful 'baselines' for his county music 'Senior' groups. As I understand it, their next plan is grade 6 in one instrument, 7 in the other (exam levels needed for audition for the highest of the county jazz groups), and perhaps grade 8 before he leaves school.

Atenco Sun 24-May-15 16:37:36

Slightly changing the subject, but I have heard quite seriously that some music teachers only teach the exam stuff which is very detrimental to their learning.

JulieMichelleRobinson Sun 24-May-15 23:25:59

I teach violin and piano. About half of my students do exams, the other half don't. For ensembles, like the youth orchestra, usually a recommendation from the teacher suffices. So if I said "yes, this student is playing at a grade 3 level" they would take my word for it. For more serious groups like the NCO, there is an audition process.

Just so that you know, if you/he would like to get validation for his performance level, without the stress of "proper" exams, you and the teacher can look into ABRSM Music Medals (accredited) or LCM performance assessments (non-accredited). Both are done by video submission.

Music Medals would be marked by his own teacher. They can be done during lesson time and the highest, platinum, level is roughly between grade 3 and 4. He'd need a duet partner for silver and above. I use these with my younger students and prefer them to exams in some ways, not least because they are less stressful. They have different requirements and you can choose between different musicianship options rather than having to do aural and sightreading. One of these may suit your son rather better.

LCM performance assessments don't have to be filmed in one go and they just involve the performance part of the exam, i.e. the three examination pieces (or three "sets" for traditional fiddle). You can film one piece at a time, then submit the three chunks of video on one DVD (I haven't used these but I'm pretty sure that's how it works).

In other words, there are ways and even nationally recognised certificates to prove that the level has been achieved without going through the formal examination route.

There are big technical leaps between grade 1 and grade 4, though the one that springs to mind is the use of third (and sometimes second) position as well as extensions in first position and more complicated keys that don't sit nicely under the hand. So far the best tutor series I've found is a new one by Robert Trory, entitled "violin playing". It's not "fun", there are no pictures, but boy is that series full of useful exercises as well as some lovely tunes. Book 2 covers grades 1-2 requirements including more complex finger positions, chromatics and simple double stopping; book 3 covers requirements for grades 3-4 including the position work and more complicated bowing styles. But your son's teacher probably has something that he/she uses already - I only mention this particular series because it's new.

BoffinMum Sun 24-May-15 23:44:16

Lots of kids in orchestras haven't done grades - as long as you audition well you should be fine.

I got into music college with no grade 8s at all as exams were getting in the way of my musical life. It was completely fine as there was more emphasis put on the audition, quite rightly.

disorganisedmummy Mon 25-May-15 08:03:41

Thank you so much everyone for your input.
JulieMichelle ds's teacher is both a professional musician and teacher. She teaches or did teach (has had to give up because of touring commitments) at several local schools. She,like you had said that he doesn't need to do exams and if anything she says she always tries to get students to have a break in between grades if they're doing them as she feels it can be a bit souls destroying to be constantly working towards them. This is the key with ds. He adores playing but when he has to play the same 3 pieces over and over again he gets frustrated and loses confidence in himself. He plays in our council run music academy and in the feeder orchestra to the local youth orchestra so I think he's going about it the right way. Also,if I may be permitted a tiny boast wink, he was selected as one of 12 kids from the music academy out of 60 to go on tour to Italy this summer. I am going with him (what a hardship!!). We are so proud of how far he has come given his special needs.

disorganisedmummy Mon 25-May-15 08:05:30

Boffinmum which music college did you go to? This is ds's dream although as he's not quite 9 we have a long way to go!!

JulieMichelleRobinson Mon 25-May-15 15:29:27


Slow and steady often wins the race - I've taught and teach some students with special needs and also a lot of very young beginners (piano) who take about four years to reach grade 1, if not more, simply because they're 3yo when they start. I hate teaching to the test and prefer to go through lots of tunes, albeit at a slightly lower level. I'm kind of the same with me - I used to regularly play grade 5/6 pieces in recitals years after I'd taken my grade 8!

BoffinMum Mon 25-May-15 19:05:45

I would out myself wink

Moominmammacat Mon 25-May-15 19:53:34

Don't let the dyspraxia label get in the way of success. My ds3 did his diploma while still at school and he is super dyspraxic. Everything was done from memory and abrsm were very helpful. He is not unique in this. That said exams are not everything. Good luck.

BoffinMum Tue 26-May-15 12:06:29

I've taught several children with dyslexia to play the piano and got them through Grade 5 and above. It's really not an issue and helps their general physical development.

BoffinMum Tue 26-May-15 12:07:28

Sorry, that should have said dyspraxia. I have taught kids with dyslexia too (it is often co-morbid with dyspraxia) and they have done fine as well. In fact I would go so far as to say that any child with SEN should study an instrument!

disorganisedmummy Tue 26-May-15 13:33:54

Thank you all for being so positive.I've had people telling me that it's impossible for a child with dyspraxia to play an instrument which is of course a massive over generalisation.
Ds does struggle a little with his bow control especially when he has been playing for a long time.He also finds keeping time tricky and often tends to play too fast.However his teacher is amazing and doesn't seem overly worried and I trust her.
I do find it difficult to get him to focus on his pieces and correct the bits that he has got wrong.This is in part why we will have a break after grade 2 ( if he does it at all).He needs to play for fun too.I'm trying to split his practice into 2 or 3 15 min sessions a day.He does one set where he does scales and arpeggios,one set where he does his grade 2 pieces and possible sight reading and one set where he plays what he likes but concentrating on sound,rythym and so on.Does this sound enough?I hasten to add,there have been days recently where if he's stressed he eon't do any at all.

JulieMichelleRobinson Tue 26-May-15 15:33:01

30-45min a day? I'd kill to have my students do that much practise at that level! envy Or even the grade 4 kids. <sigh>

Musicmom1 Tue 26-May-15 15:39:14

Hello disorganisedmummy - 30-45 min per day sounds more than enough to me; dd is 9 and playing g6 level cello and this would be the top end of her practice time, esp during term time. She does however play in various ensembles for 4hrs plus per week and I have decided that should start counting as some of her practice time esp in busy term time weeks. Good for you for getting scales and sight reading built in as a regular art of practice at this stage - I really wish I had! Dd also tends to play too fast and so do many of her peers, esp in exciting pieces, so that may be an age thing too.

Musicmom1 Tue 26-May-15 15:42:36

Oh and not wanting to work on the challenging bits and "practice properly" also seems to be very much the norm at this age so am not surprised your teacher is relaxed.

Theas18 Tue 26-May-15 15:48:25

Our best teacher doesn't bother with grades much. Kids almost have to plead to be entered and always when they have significantly over shot the grade so it's an easy process. They've auditioned for national groups on the basis of a teachers report not exam cert.

disorganisedmummy Tue 26-May-15 16:34:55

*Musicmom Ds also plays for approx about 3 and half hours a week in his orchestra and music academy so I agree that this should count towards their practice.The 45 mins a day is what I'm aiming for though if I'm honest,he rarely does that much. Also that is amazing that your dd is only 9 and already at g6 cello level,what a star!He finds sight reading tricky in finding the rhythm ,he can read the music with no problems.

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