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29/03/2018

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Exam Done - What Next?

Do I take a break from exams for a while, or launch straight into the next grade?

Many of you will probably just have done a music exam and before we get into this week’s post, I’d like to congratulate those of you who passed recently. And I want to give a special shout out to some of you who have told me about your recent successes, for example Millie Maskell who got 123 marks - a merit in her Grade 5 Violin and Emily Kate who gained 135 - a distinction on her Grade 6 Piano!

I’d also like to congratulate the 5 students of mine who entered exams this term who all got either distinctions or merits and if interested you can see their results
here 

So, as I was saying, many of you will probably just have done a music exam as we come up to the Easter break and if so, there comes the question, "what do I do next?" Do I take a break from exams for a while, or launch straight into the next grade? I want to talk about the pros and cons of both sides of the argument, but also please leave a comment below, what you usually do and why.

Taking a break can be a good time to explore more repertoire. You have probably been playing the same three pieces for many months now and this can sometimes take the joy out of music, even forgetting why we started learning an instrument in the first place. This will do wonders for your sight reading and can even help with some of the aural skills such as questions about style and period as you encounter a bigger variety of music. There is a danger that our music education can become just an exam factory, we prepare only a narrow range of music and skills needed to pass a specific set of requirements on one particular day.

Then again, there is the argument that exams provide goals by which you can measure your progress, and that goal in itself is a stimulation to work harder. Be honest with me here now - how many of you practice harder, the nearer you get to an exam? I have had students in the past who have decided after just one or two exams, that they didn't want to do any more and just play fun pieces instead. I have to say that these students, very soon stopped making any real progress and invariably soon after gave up completely.

So what is the best solution? I believe there is a middle ground, a third option. Instead of forgetting about exams completely, it might be good, as you prepare for a new exam, to have some other "fun pieces" on the go at the same time. Maybe not study them in such depth and keep changing the repertoire regularly. An even better solution is to play in various groups with other students or a local orchestra. Obviously this is more difficult for pianists, but maybe you could find some orchestral instrumentalists who are looking for accompanists. If you are a pianist, this is a skill that could be very useful for you in the future. 

Another situation that will keep you on your toes is to play in concerts. Push yourself forward and offer to play in a school assembly or a local church for example. I have had some beginner students in the past, pre-grade 1 even, whom I taught in a school and after suggesting that they played their simple little pieces in a school assembly, really started to blossom. They inspired their peers who were filled with admiration, they practiced a lot harder knowing that they would be playing in front of others and began to enjoy their playing much more. The simple act of sharing our music with others is why we learn an instrument, isn't it? Are you learning an instrument to spend the rest of your musical life sitting in your bedroom playing to yourself?

As I said at the beginning, please do add your thoughts to the comments below, how you break up the tedium of exams without losing that stimulus to keep improving.

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