In the last blog I discussed how music exams should not be used and how they work best. In this blog I want to share some of the benefits I have seen come out of music exams. I’ve seen this in my own experience and also in that of my pupils. I think I would have liked to have understood how useful to me exams were going to be down the track when I was in the thick of them myself as a young person.
A well prepared music exam…
- takes learning to a recognisably new level. The pupil really senses that this has happened in a way that going to the next tutor book on the list just doesn’t. They know that they have progressed to a particular level of playing.
- inspires the pupil in his/her learning. Getting to the next level is a pretty powerful way for pupils to realise that the work they put in has helped them achieve something for themselves. I often see new levels of enthusiasm after pupils gets their exam results.
- develops a sense of direction. The anticipation of working towards the next grade up is a good thing. When a pupil sees other pupils developing their skills from one year to the next in exam concerts, they often look forward to playing pieces at a higher level.
- helps learn different music styles. Because the pupil has to prepare a range of musical styles, they get exposed to range of music that can often help the tutor see the sort of music they like. I quite often will look for other pieces like those that the pupil enjoyed in their exam.
- shows skill in the moment and offers potential life lessons. In an exam, you have to perform at a given moment and show what you know. I had a pupil tell me that doing music exams helped her pass her driving test. This was a student who always played beautifully but got quite nervous in her exams. It was something we had to work at, but I would not have guessed this would have become a side benefit to her.
- helps develop a performance mentality. Being a musician means that there are very likely going to be times you need to play in front of others in some capacity. It may be solo or in a group setting. I got terribly nervous in some of my exams, sometimes shaking uncontrollably throughout. But with each one I discovered how I best prepare for performances. In particular, I realised that I could actually enjoy the experience, even shine, when my pieces were well learned. It gave me confidence to play in music groups as well.
- provides an international qualification. For many, a music exam is the first internationally accepted qualification they will have. I must have been around 7 when I sat my first exam. I still remember the lady examiner with an elaborate hat who was very kind. It all took place on our family piano which was the music room where my mother taught many pupils. The examiner would come out from England and travel to various smaller centres in New Zealand where the exams took place. It was only ‘initial piano’, but it was an internationally recognised qualification.
- checks out if your teacher is teaching you well! I love nothing better than for my pupils to get an exam report affirming a perspective on issues I have already been addressing, such as dynamics and phrasing. I also think of a pupil’s exam comments as a way of seeing how I can improve as a teacher too.
- improves sight reading. Quite often it is the preparation for the exam sight reading exercise that helps the pupil understand how to sight read better. (That said, I actually work towards this skill with every lesson, though my pupils don’t usually realise it, because I don’t play the new piece of music before they have sight read it themselves first.)
Maybe I have missed a benefit you have had from doing a music exam. Let me know in the comments so we can all learn it too!