I am not a natural performer. And I can’t say that I was excited about music exams growing up. In fact I was terribly nervous. The pressure leading up to them was disconcerting and I often, regrettably, left everything to the last minute. But I never really minded the exam day itself. By that stage there was nothing more to do than the exam. And everyone seems to be nice to you on exam days too.
Reflecting back, I’m grateful for everything I learned through doing them. And it wasn’t always just about the music – I gained valuable life skills too.
Over my years of teaching children to play various musical instruments and guiding them through exams, I have come to see exams as a very positive part of their learning. Knowing that they can be a challenging experience in different ways for different people, I do my best to make sure the process is as positive as possible. I’ve come to realise that it’s not so much about learning the music for an exam (although that’s important!) but the overall approach that matters.
I’d like to share with you my 10 top tips for music exams, from preparation to performance. But, as that will be a lot in one hit, you’ll have to wait until next week for the last 5. Here are the first 5 of those tips to make the best of an exam experience:
- Know ahead of time what it will involve
Have a good chat with the tutor to know what is involved, so there are no surprises along the way.
- Start learning the music with plenty of time
Get started well in advance of the exam. I usually find that the time of putting the entry in (2-3 months before the exam) about right. This may vary from 9-12 weeks depending on school holidays and the age of the child. Allowance is needed for trips away in school holidays and possibilities of family events or sickness disrupting preparation time.
- Have good support from tutor and family
Have good support in place from all the relevant family members so that someone is making sure the practice is covered each week. Parents and tutors need to communicate well to make sure things are steadily progressing as planned.
- Prepare music accurately
This may seem like a given, but mistakes learned early require a lot more work to correct than if the music has been learned carefully and accurately from the outset. In an exam, those mistake points are the places you are mostly likely to stumble over in a performance, even when you may have corrected them well.
- Learn to play at the correct speed
In their eagerness to learn the piece, there can be a danger of a pupil playing a piece faster than the speed required. Then it can be difficult to play at the correct speed for the exam. Too fast is as bad as too slow and will be marked accordingly.
That is all for this week. Next week I’ll continue with another 5 tips for preparation right through to the day of the exam.