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Instrumental exams - higher grade vs better mark?

(21 Posts)
OverAndAbove Thu 12-Jan-17 22:30:53

We are getting some mixed messages about DD2 and could do with some insights from people who know about these things?

She's a "good" musician, plays two instruments and is working through theory grades. She does well and probably makes it look easy; she's not a prodigy though. She only started playing y2 and y3 respectively; she practises religiously and has a good ear, but she's not the sort of child who will give everything to it because she is into everything else as well - sport, dance, art etc

We are being pressured to jump grades and thinking ahead to eg secondary school entry, I wondered if there is a disadvantage to passing higher grades but with lower marks, or if these things make any difference at all? If she skips grades, she can learn more technique, but is bound to get lower marks. I think the school prefer the higher grades as it sounds good for them; I don't want her to get stretched and stressed though

Any thoughts/advice gratefully received!

raspberryrippleicecream Thu 12-Jan-17 23:25:16

You're asking two things really. Skipping grades doesn't necessarily mean lower marks, just that they haven't taken an exam at that stage. Lots of good reasons for skipping.

But rushing up the grades isn't a good reason, I think it's better to extend repertoire at each stage.

OverAndAbove Thu 12-Jan-17 23:39:30

Yes, I see what you mean. It's rushing up the grades that I'm uncomfortable about.

My older DD has plodded through the grades, taken the exams when she's been comfortable with the syllabus and done well - and at each one we've known each she's been at her best, so if any marks have slipped she's been able to learn what her gaps are and move on without any regret. So overall slower progress, but generally a strong set of marks and a positive experience.

So I guess the question is really "higher grade sooner but with lower marks" vs "lower grade/slower progress but potentially better marks" IYSWIM? I think it would be better to slow down and get the technique at each stage. It doesn't help that in olden times when I was doing exams it took about two years of practice of the same pieces, before you were allowed to do an exam grin

Fleurdelise Fri 13-Jan-17 10:25:31

I prefer playing a lot of wider repertoire and taking an exam when ready be it once a year or every other year, every 18 months etc.

DD skipped grade 2 and now is skipping grade 4 being pencilled in to do grade 5 in the summer. So she's done an exam a year but skipping, the reason the teacher decided this is because she was progressing quite fast and didn't want to spend 3 months on preparing 3 grade 2/4 pieces. So while she played grade 2/4 level pieces and learnt the supporting tests (scales/sight reading) she isn't taking the exam and spending more time on technique and exploring a variety of repertoire.

This didn't come with lower marks, distinction and merit in the two exams (plus distinction in her second instrument).

I think the exams should not be an aim but just a check from time to time. So DDs teacher works on the basis of "these is the repertoire we'll explore now after your grade 3 exam, when done you should be ready for preparing the pieces for grade 5".

She's also asked DD to participate in a festival as a variation to exams.

Mistigri Fri 13-Jan-17 10:35:06

There is no reason to do every exam, and it's not automatically bad for technique to jump ahead sometimes. Some kids learn better when playing harder and more interesting repertoire: can't imagine my DD working religiously through graded material...

Really depends on why you're taking exams and what the schools you're applying to want. Anywhere serious about music will presumably recruit via audution rather than grade certificates.

aginghippy Fri 13-Jan-17 10:49:35

My dd skipped a couple of the grades and for her it was motivating to do more challenging stuff. In between working on exam pieces, she does some non-syllabus material, the wider repertoire as Fleur says. Her teacher doesn't like students to spend too long working on exam pieces, so they don't get 'stale'.

aginghippy Fri 13-Jan-17 10:58:35

In terms of secondary entry, for the music places at dd's school pupils are selected for musical aptitude. They have to do a written exam and then an audition. I know of one girl who got a music place having done no graded exams at all.

You could try looking at the web sites of some potential schools and see what they say about it.

OverAndAbove Fri 13-Jan-17 10:59:21

Thanks for this - food for thought!

I should really have said that she is good, but she's not THAT good - so it won't be applications to specialist music schools, or anything like that. We are looking at criteria for music scholarships at schools we like generally though, and while yes, they do have an audition and specific interview, they also ask current grades and last exam marks etc too.

I suppose the worst case scenario is she has a gap and her "last taken exam" in each instrument doesn't reflect the level she can play either in grade or marks? I don't know if there's a "first filter" for these, and they weed out the lowest ones without hearing them, in which case it could be a problem.

But no, it's not going to deprive the world of a virtuoso, or anything like that so I'm probably worrying unnecessarily grin

raspberryrippleicecream Fri 13-Jan-17 12:19:58

I don't know about schools, DS2 recently applied for NYO inspire which is Grade6 and above, but he hadn't done an exam since Grade 3. We just filled in his current standard.

Greenleave Fri 13-Jan-17 12:41:52

We skipped for violin and had a distinction, we did study grade 2 piano for a ....very long time and still only had a merit. It all depends on practice, the child him/herself and what happened on the exam day.

NotAMusician Fri 13-Jan-17 13:24:36

When I asked DS's teacher to prepare his first violin exam two year's ago, his teacher gave two options, G7 or G8. He was sure that DS would pass G8 without any problem. DS finally took G7 and got very high distinction. Still not enter G8 yet.

ealingwestmum Fri 13-Jan-17 15:39:59

OP, what year is she in now and what grade levels is she at?

May be easier to work backwards if the goal is to meet the criteria for music scholarships - I don't know anything about the aptitude ones but we did undertake a number of auditions for the West London indies 3 years ago.

My DD sounds like a similar profile to yours. Good at music but not virtuoso level, but driven, good ear, and active in sports, dance etc.

We discussed around Y4 (G3/G4 levels on instruments) what the requirements were for scholarship applications. Instruments started in Y3, some grades missed due to ability, but, scales and technique for grade missed always covered. G5 theory was missing though (I had no clue this was a requirement for post G5 ABRSM, the school's preferred board), so she took to self learning and got it covered off quickly. The biggest hurdle to meet the application deadlines was doing G6 violin in one term for Summer Y5. She achieved a 127, low and hugely disappointing for her - a bloody marvel in my eyes, given the speed of achievement.

All of this was hugely tactical, calculated and yes, pressurised. BUT, she was up to it, knew an application added value and understood the quid pro quos' of a scholarship. Yes, she was at a school that liked to only enter children once distinctions were in sight (like your post), but once we had battled through the theory (against their wishes, I sat her independently at the time) they knew she was seriously committed to trying. They then supported her because she's proved them wrong.

DD's not sat a violin exam for 3 years now, would probably be around G8 for last 2 years, but more importantly, doesn't know (nor care), as the focus has been improving technically, and playing repertoire that doesn't require a 'what grade is this' comment. There's a modest kudos that comes with a scholarship, engages well with all school ensembles but doesn't have aspirations to make a career out of it. Is surrounded by quality musicians, some like her, some with JD backgrounds so a real mix. It's a good compromise for a kid who has interests that take time (like sports) but enables them to play an active music life too.

Long answer, sorry. In summary, yes, applications say G5/6 or equivalent (in London at least). Reality is some schools do filter like CVs, and if the prospect cohort is strong, the odds are challenging for anything below G5/6 on 1st instrument, unless unusual one (and converse). Some HoM do not look at teacher references, fact (good ones do and will take the reference as equivalent level, asking for repertoire covered). It's all so tick in the box, but if the goal is to secure an audition post passing the exam mark, then it becomes fair game from thereon. And great achievement and experience for your child.

The pass mark can be such a red herring, necessary for paper purposes but has no reflection on a child's musicality, if the exam is sat at the wrong time for that child's musical standard. Not sure if I have made sense in that statement but I know in my head what I wanted to say!

hertsandessex Fri 13-Jan-17 16:50:46

Better to have grade 4 distinction than grade 5 pass in my view especially a weak pass. I think it looks better and is seen as being better by teachers I have known. Also it indicates progress is based on very solid foundations. Seen people rush through grades with passes and then hit a wall at higher grades or start with a new teacher and have to go backwards because basic technique is not there. For the child as well feels a lot better to do really well rather than scrape though. Also I have seen various schools mention getting distinctions in entry requirements and as do some of the JDs, junior competitions etc. (although I know not your concern).

ealingwestmum Fri 13-Jan-17 18:00:17

With applications, I absolutely agree herts. The scholarship criteria for some schools can drive the wrong learning behaviours. Aside from the child prodigies/exceptional musicians from very early age, the usual starting time is circa Y3. To have achieved G6 by audition time (usually now, Y6), after 1st year of mastering basics, they have to get a rapid shift on. The unpicking of bad habits has been our world last 18 months but she's getting there.

A decent admissions processor can see through the fast track/low grade application. It's less transparent for those talented children that have not sat formal exams - they can be at risk and fall through the application net, and where specialist schools/JDs etc are not so black and white as the indie requirements. Hence the dilemma of belt and braces by sitting exams!

she can learn more technique, but is bound to get lower marks

Probably not being helpful at all OP, but not all children who move fast/skip grades do get lower marks, but you most certainly don't want to apply undue stress if the timelines don't work out, dependent on where she's at now.

glorious Fri 13-Jan-17 18:15:16

I can't comment on school applications but I just wanted to say that skipping grades doesn't necessarily mean lower marks. I started learning later and did grades 1- 3 within a couple of years then skipped to grade 7 and got a distinction. I now have a performance diploma and a Cambridge music degree so it did me no harm at all!. If she's learning fast she's learning fast.

onlymusic Fri 13-Jan-17 19:57:10

Very interesting comments ealingwestmum

OverAndAbove Fri 13-Jan-17 21:10:43

Thank you so much for all your perspectives - it's really helpful.

I agree about counting back from where she would need to be for the scholarship applications - in which case having grade 4 under her belt for both by the end off summer term - and she is on track for that. But if she skips one and works to grade 5, then her exam record (grade 3) doesn't quite fit her ability.

It's also partly because she is about the same level in both instruments than having gone ahead in one instrument (she als has another she plays for fun) In some ways I wish we had been more tactical, but on the other hand she's really enjoying what she's doing and also fitting in all the other things too!

Anyway I think I've concluded that there's no point stressing over it, and she's fitting in what she's currently doing, and staying sane. Adding in entrance exams is going to be stressful enough...

littlepinkmouseofsugar Sat 14-Jan-17 16:43:42

Can you put extra info on the form perhaps - i.e. write in the margin or somewhere or attach further info to explain that she has sat every other exam so explain that her last exam was grade 3 but that she's currently working at grade 5 and has been for x amount of time.

Trumpetboysmum Sat 14-Jan-17 18:46:21

I agree I would put more info on the form and discuss with the teacher which is the next best exam to take. I hated music exams as a child ds doesn't mind them but I would rather he enjoyed playing a wide range of pieces and took the exams that make most sense at the time. So far he's taken grades 3 and 5 and will take 7 and 8 at some point but he's currently playing a real range of pieces and finding out what he enjoys playing. Having said all that we didn't have to do down the independent school route and I can imagine it's very competetive so good luck smile

Flopsypopsy Sat 14-Jan-17 18:48:15

My son worked his way up every single grade and got a good mark each time. I think that's better but that's just my opinion.

drummersmum Sun 15-Jan-17 16:32:57

Schools usually ask for a teacher's letter anyway. The teacher can state the progress and grade standard of the child. The schools only want to know the standard at the time of audition and how long has the student been learning. If any exams have been taken it's better a lower grade with distinction in the past than higher with a pass recently, like herts said. Like ealing we went through similar indies auditions and I know of kids with higher grades and more advanced repertoire than DS at the time of the audition who surprisingly did not get the scholarship, so high grades obviously not a must or a sole indicator for a good, sensible Head of Music.

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