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Young ones desperate to sit exams but not ready

piano exams

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#1 hammer action

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Posted 19 August 2016 - 20:46

I have a couple of young students at the moment who are absolutely desperate to start learning the Grade 1 piano pieces due to someone in their class at school having passed the exam.  


Problem is, they're both nowhere near that stage yet.  Before the summer break the two of them enthusiastically asked in almost every lesson when they would be doing Grade 1.  I've had a word with each parent and they understand that there's still a lot to do, but my issue is that i don't want to quash each of these two students' enthusiasm.  I've spoken to them both about what still has to be done etc, but i think it's going in one ear and out the other as they're still absolutely champing at the bit.  


I thought that perhaps showing one of them what the pieces looked like might make them realise that they were a lot more difficult than what they're playing at the moment, but that backfired on me as the child said he thought they looked quite easy.   :D


Any advice on how to keep them motivated for the time being while moving along at a steady and sensible pace towards Grade 1?  Or is there a tactful way of explaining that they're not ready for it yet?  


I feel like the carrot is being dangled in front of the donkey but they just see the carrot and want it right now.


I forgot to mention, they've both done the Prep test.

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#2 Latin pianist

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Posted 19 August 2016 - 21:07

Maybe do tiny sections of the exam pieces while continuing with other work. And you could do scales, sight-reading and aural so they feel they're working towards the exam.
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#3 jpiano



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Posted 19 August 2016 - 21:30

I'd agree with Latin Pianist about the scales- I've currently several students who are either approaching grade 1 piano or round about the Prep Test standard- depending on priorities I'd usually introduce some 1 octave scales for these and then build up to 2. Ditto sight reading which they all do anyway. Trouble with showing them the pieces is that you're right, hammer action in that it could backfire- I've found that if I leave pupils to pick the pieces they think they want to do (for instance if they've had a flick through the book at home before the lesson) they'll pick what they think looks 'easy' because they haven't the experience to judge and tend to go on the number of black keys/quavers and so on.


I go for specifics these days. I find it works best and leaves least room for argument. So they need to be on book x of whichever tutor book series we're using and then we'll introduce some grade 1 level / format pieces from a repertoire book like the first Music Through Time book. Once they can show me that they can fluently play a few pieces from that book then we start the grade 1 pieces. We're focusing on what they need to do to get to grade 1 rather than me telling them that they're not ready. 


I never work 'up' to the grade 1 pieces by starting someone off on the book when they're not truly ready- I've found it just causes continuing problems as they move onwards- if they've struggled to learn the grade 1 pieces then they'll struggle even more with grade 2, and so on. I know peer pressure can be a real pain at times, ditto parental pressure in competitive schools that are feeder schools for local grammars and private schools with scholarships on offer. Yes, parents only want the very best for their children- but trying to achieve the impossible or at the very least the very difficult in piano isn't the way.  The other thing I've learned is the importance of honesty with people. I think in this job, we're in the business of wanting to be 'nice' and liked and keep pupils and parents on board - I'm somebody who hates conflict and wants good relations and I'm sure I've gone through times in the past where I've told people  what they want to hear. I had to be candid with a pupil last term who just wasn't practicing and isn't ready for the next grade they want to start on- the parent was there in the lesson and I spent the week wondering if I'd gone a bit too far- although I'd tried to express everything kindly and patiently but I had made it clear we needed more work done- the following week the parent thanked me and said it was exactly the sort of feedback that they, as parents, really needed. 

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#4 HelenVJ



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Posted 20 August 2016 - 09:00

Have you looked at the Trinity Initial repertoire? I've never had a student actually take the exam, but we work through selections from the books, past and present, before embarking on Grade 1. And Trinity Grade 1 has no compulsory sight-reading, and only 4 scales/arps. so is an easier transition all round. The gulf between Prep Test and AB Grade 1 seems huge.

Of course, there is no such thing as an 'average' student, but I've found that the average length of time taken to reach Grade 1 level, for a child starting at around age 6-7, and with some parental support at home, would be 18 months to 2 years minimum. Some will take longer.  I think it's worth taking some time to lay secure foundations, and it's also important not to become too exam-focused ( easier said than done, I know).

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#5 violin star

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Posted 20 August 2016 - 18:29

I've used Trinity Initial too to bridge the gap to Grade 1 with young pupils who were desperate to do it after 18 months. They found the pieces quite playable but the technical exercises are very tricky and not to be underestimated. Just a warning - unlike the Prep Test it is also possible to fail. 

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#6 agricola



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Posted 21 August 2016 - 07:52

I use 200 hours of practice as a rule of thumb for getting to the start point of Grade 1 -- it works out to around the 18 months to 2 years timescale quoted by HelenVJ.  So I would ask aspiring candidates how much practice they do in a week and get them to work out when they might be ready. I also try students out with one Grade 1 piece when they are approaching the Grade.  This will often be one of the alternative pieces and I don't necessarily tell them that it's a Grade 1 piece until they have tried it.


We seem to be in a very target-driven culture at the moment -- I prefer to put much more emphasis on process.  So I try (not always successfully!) to get students to make "doing X hours of purposeful practice a week" the target rather than "pass Grade 1 by next year".  I frequently hear "I want to get a distinction" from students who are not putting in anything like the effort required but seem to feel that setting a target automatically entitles them to achieve their goal. 

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#7 The Great Sosso

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Posted 24 August 2016 - 11:13

I would be honest about what they need to do to get to grade 1 standard.  Maybe show them the mark scheme, so they can see what they'll be judged on.  I have a couple of ones like the OP who are always (or Mum is in one case) asking when they will be doing grade 1 "like my friend". So I've started both on scales, sight reading and aurals practice (no harm getting these things mastered early anyway) and shown them the areas each needs to work on.  


I have picked out some simple stuff (Dozen a Day mini book for one who has weird mobility) to use alongside something more interesting (Piano Time PIeces book 1 / Encore book 1 - sneakily looking at the grade 1 alternative piece in there).  So hopefully they will feel they are progressing, playing interesting music at the same time as working on improving the basics that they have yet to grasp.


Sometimes, I think people find it hard to hear that they need to improve - that there is anything "wrong" with their playing or approach.  But I think if you can be specific about what needs to be done, and provide material to work on those things, then the message they hear is that they WILL do it (not that they CAN'T do it) and they might learn a huge amount about the learning process, as well as about the instrument itself.

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#8 Aquarelle



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Posted 24 August 2016 - 13:55

My stock phrase to parents and over ambitious pupils is " Grade 1 piano is not a beginner's exam."


And if you really analyse what is expected at Grade 1 I think most teachers of the younger age range would agree.

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#9 Dorcas



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Posted 27 August 2016 - 11:59

Exam boards will also admit that grade exams are not the only way to judge a good musician.  I hate teaching to the exam!  Don't get me wrong, I love it when a student does well. Helping students to stay motivated through the weeks and months of preparation is an art form in itself.

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