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Finishing Grade 8 Piano by 12 years of age


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#1 SChen

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 13:02

I recently discovered a music academy that produces G8 students by the time they are 12 years old. This was told by an ex-colleague of mine who is currently teaching at this academy. When I first heard of it, I was truly amazed and often wondered how they did that when a majority of my students are struggling each year to get through one grade at a time. My fastest students usually manages two grades per year (without exams). Made me feel a bit lacking or lagging. sad.gif

In this music academy, every teacher must have all their students perform in a concert by the end of the year. The teacher must also perform a piece as well. The academy regularly sends potential students for piano competitions. Sounds good and impressive doesn't it. The music academy that I am currently teaching at do have concerts but the kids (and teachers) are encouraged (or cajoled) to perform, not forced.

Just a few months ago I had two sisters transferred to me under my private tutelage (recommended by one of my past students). They were from that said academy. The older sister (age 17) came in January doing G8 and is currently preparing for next year's exam. The younger sister (age 9) came under me in March out of desperation. She was to sit for the April exam (It's April in my country). She was enrolled for the exam by her very pregnant teacher who took maternity leave in February and was transferred to another teacher (my ex colleague) in the academy. Not wanting to clash in different styles of interpretation of G5 pieces and confusing the child, I helped the poor girl in her supplementary tests ( sight-reading, aural and scales) which she had not even started!

Initially, we had an hour class on one day, and another day with the other teacher. Then one day the mother wanted me to check on her pieces. I could barely keep my composure when I heard her play. I discovered that this child is musically gifted but playing atrociously with wrong rhythms, having difficulties in some technical issues (but rectified after changing the fingering) and had just completed learning notes for the third piece. To cut the story short, she stopped classes from the academy, had 1-2 hour lessons, 4 times a week, with me until the exam date. Her results? She scored 136 biggrin.gif

After all this, I began to question the reason behind why do some teachers need to push kids to complete their music education at such an early age. Is it all for their own glorification, or pressure from over-zealous parents or they know that the child is naturally gifted and the need to push them to excel? Where is the joy of learning and appreciating music going to come from?

A little note: My dear student can't even do her G6 practical as she hasn't even started on her G5 theory. In the midst of revising the G4 theory, struggling with grouping of rests.
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#2 lorraineliyanage

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 13:16

QUOTE(SChen @ Jun 3 2013, 02:02 PM) View Post

In this music academy, every teacher must have all their students perform in a concert by the end of the year. The teacher must also perform a piece as well.


This bit sounds perfectly reasonable to me. It always seems a bit odd when I meet music teachers that do not perform infront of their students. Parents and students love to hear the teachers play. They often don't care about the music being hard, just something fun / recognisable does the job.
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#3 Norway

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 13:33

Grade 8 music is designed for adults to play - I prefer my pupils to take it when they are about 16-18 - they are better able to cope with the technical and musical demands. Very talented pupils may take it earlier of course, but some of these may have been better off waiting. Grades are not something to be "finished off" - I doubt whether hot-housed pupils get the most out of the grade system, as there is little time for broadening their experience.

As a teacher, I would not want to produce a pupil with a grade 8 certificate who had never been carol singing/ tried a different instrument/ participated in a charity concert/ played for the elderly/ composed their own pieces/ tried teaching others/ played in an ensemble.
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#4 Guest: Very Sane Tom_*

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 14:11

QUOTE(SChen @ Jun 3 2013, 03:02 PM) View Post

After all this, I began to question the reason behind why do some teachers need to push kids to complete their music education at such an early age. Is it all for their own glorification, or pressure from over-zealous parents or they know that the child is naturally gifted and the need to push them to excel? Where is the joy of learning and appreciating music going to come from?

I am not really sure of the point of the entire post. It seems unfair to jusdge the academy on teh basis of the abilities of just two of its student. And the excerpt above strikes me as rather a jaundiced view. Why do you assume the worst of motives, and why do you think that so-called "giftedness" has anything to do with it? And another thing. No-one ever "completes their musical education". And achieving Grade 8 in particular in no way means that anyone's musical education is complete. In fact it has barely begun.

It is a bit like the common mis-conception that achieving a black belt means that you are some kind of martial arts expert. As anyone that has studied a martial art knows, it merely shows that you are no longer a beginner, and your education in the art can now begin in earnest.


Grade 8 may seem like an advanced standard when you are a beginner, but it does not seem so very advanced when you have gone some way past it and can still see a very long road ahead. It is all relative.

And achieving it in 4 or 5 years is nothing fantastic either. I am convinced that most children could get to Grade 8 stabdard in 5 years or less IF they were sufficiently motivated AND shown how to go about it in the right way. Most are just not interested enough, determined enough, persistent enough to do the work, or they have the misconception that if they were "talented" they would simply become good without having to work very much.

I know many musicians, some mediocre, some quite good, but none of them superstars, that "went through the grades" in 5 years or less. As for me, I am no great genius, nor do I have any great inborn talent, other than a certain tendency to fanatical dedication to whatever interests me (though perhaps that also is learned behaviour). I was quite badly taught between Grade 0 and Grade 6, practiced inefficiently, and rarely practiced for more than 2 hours a day (usually less), but still went from Grade 0 to Grade 8 in a little over 4 years.

One good reason for starting to learn music early is that it takes a very long time to master a musical instrument, even if you are obsessed by it, practice correctly, and do lots of practice. And that applies whether such a thing as "giftedness" exists or not (and .. if it does ... irrespective of whether the child is "gifted" or not).

We hear a lot about the "10 year rule"and "10,000 hours of practice" ... mostly from people that have only a superficial grasp of what it is all about and who often wilfully misunderstand it becaues it contradicts their intuitions, or the ideas they were brought up with.

But it really seems to take more like 20 years for a beginning classical musician to reach a standard where (if they also have the necessary luck) they can have a long-lasting performing career ... one that does not rely on the public's desire for the senationalism of people performing so well, so young. Yes the best children and teenagers, some with a mere 4 or 5 years work behind them, are light years beyond the average music student or hobbyist , but they are a long way from the level of their older professional colleagues. Those kids that you see in the BBC Young Musician competition are wonderful musicians, far better than the likes of me are ever likely to be, but they will typically have been studying intensely for anything from 8 to 14 years, and will still not reach the standards set by their established older colleagues until they have invested several more years of hard work.

If you have any dreams of becoming a professional (classical) musician then your best chance of achieving them is to have been started on the road by ambitious parents years before you were capable of making such decisions for yourself.
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#5 Seer_Green

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 14:14

Sadly, the situation you describe, although in this case related to a music academy, is not uncommon. Unfortunately, there are many, many teachers around who teach to exams, with pupils lurching unenthusiastically from grade to grade. The supporting tests have often been ignored and the children often lack very basic musical skills.

Sometimes it's a cultural problem, sometimes it's a teacher problem, and sometimes it's a parent problem. Unfortunately, we live in a achievement-driven society. Parents are often desperate to have their child's achievements measured so they can be compared to other children. Teachers are often driven by prestige, under the possibly false-apprehension that pupils' exam results will somehow make them look better, equally the same with competitions etc. Sadly, the enjoyment of the music itself is often a very long way down the list - after all, how can you measure enjoyment?!

Every pupil is different, so there is never a one-size-fits-all approach - there will always be variations between pupils, parents, teachers and cultures.
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#6 BitterSweet

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 14:16

QUOTE(Norway @ Jun 3 2013, 02:33 PM) View Post

Grade 8 music is designed for adults to play - I prefer my pupils to take it when they are about 16-18 - they are better able to cope with the technical and musical demands. Very talented pupils may take it earlier of course, but some of these may have been better off waiting. Grades are not something to be "finished off" - I doubt whether hot-housed pupils get the most out of the grade system, as there is little time for broadening their experience.

As a teacher, I would not want to produce a pupil with a grade 8 certificate who had never been carol singing/ tried a different instrument/ participated in a charity concert/ played for the elderly/ composed their own pieces/ tried teaching others/ played in an ensemble.


agree.gif

Beautifully put, Norway.

It's even more important for singing. I am struggling with a 10-year-old who has reached Grade 4 LCM MT, and Grade 3 AB as I don't really want her to reach even Grade 5 for a few years. She's too young physically and emotionally for even that, let alone Grade 8.
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#7 linda.ff

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 18:01

QUOTE(Very Sane Tom @ Jun 3 2013, 03:11 PM) View Post

If you have any dreams of becoming a professional (classical) musician then your best chance of achieving them is to have been started on the road by ambitious parents years before you were capable of making such decisions for yourself.

Sorry, I think that's very sad. This suggests that the decision that a person is going to become a professional musician has already been taken - for them, not by them, at an unfeasibly early age. And there's only so big a market for concert pianists, which means that all that hot-housing will have been unnecessary.
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#8 ansatz496

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 18:03

QUOTE(linda.ff @ Jun 3 2013, 02:01 PM) View Post

QUOTE(Very Sane Tom @ Jun 3 2013, 03:11 PM) View Post

If you have any dreams of becoming a professional (classical) musician then your best chance of achieving them is to have been started on the road by ambitious parents years before you were capable of making such decisions for yourself.

Sorry, I think that's very sad. This suggests that the decision that a person is going to become a professional musician has already been taken - for them, not by them, at an unfeasibly early age. And there's only so big a market for concert pianists, which means that all that hot-housing will have been unnecessary.


Is the hothousing really a negative thing if you end up loving music enough to aim for a career anyway, even if you don't actually achieve it?
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#9 linda.ff

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 18:22

QUOTE(ansatz496 @ Jun 3 2013, 07:03 PM) View Post

QUOTE(linda.ff @ Jun 3 2013, 02:01 PM) View Post

QUOTE(Very Sane Tom @ Jun 3 2013, 03:11 PM) View Post

If you have any dreams of becoming a professional (classical) musician then your best chance of achieving them is to have been started on the road by ambitious parents years before you were capable of making such decisions for yourself.

Sorry, I think that's very sad. This suggests that the decision that a person is going to become a professional musician has already been taken - for them, not by them, at an unfeasibly early age. And there's only so big a market for concert pianists, which means that all that hot-housing will have been unnecessary.


Is the hothousing really a negative thing if you end up loving music enough to aim for a career anyway, even if you don't actually achieve it?

Your parents in that situation have already decided what you will love. You've been given no choice. You've been worked harder than a child whose parents simply wanted them to enjoy music with no vicarious future in mind.

In such circumstances the parent is a child and the child is a doll or a puppet. It's not an "upbringing" at all
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#10 Guest: Very Sane Tom_*

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 18:25

QUOTE(linda.ff @ Jun 3 2013, 08:01 PM) View Post

QUOTE(Very Sane Tom @ Jun 3 2013, 03:11 PM) View Post

If you have any dreams of becoming a professional (classical) musician then your best chance of achieving them is to have been started on the road by ambitious parents years before you were capable of making such decisions for yourself.

Sorry, I think that's very sad. This suggests that the decision that a person is going to become a professional musician has already been taken - for them, not by them, at an unfeasibly early age. And there's only so big a market for concert pianists, which means that all that hot-housing will have been unnecessary.

The decision has not really been taken for them. Whether to continue with the training is ultimately the individuals choice. But by giving them an early start the parents at least give them a better chance of making the grade if they decide that is what they want to do. And it is not only pianists, of which there seems to be a huge oversupply but also all the other traditional instruments.
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#11 ansatz496

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 18:28

QUOTE(Very Sane Tom @ Jun 3 2013, 02:25 PM) View Post

QUOTE(linda.ff @ Jun 3 2013, 08:01 PM) View Post

QUOTE(Very Sane Tom @ Jun 3 2013, 03:11 PM) View Post

If you have any dreams of becoming a professional (classical) musician then your best chance of achieving them is to have been started on the road by ambitious parents years before you were capable of making such decisions for yourself.

Sorry, I think that's very sad. This suggests that the decision that a person is going to become a professional musician has already been taken - for them, not by them, at an unfeasibly early age. And there's only so big a market for concert pianists, which means that all that hot-housing will have been unnecessary.

The decision has not really been taken for them. Whether to continue with the training is ultimately the individuals choice. But by giving them an early start the parents at least give them a better chance of making the grade if they decide that is what they want to do. And it is not only pianists, of which there seems to be a huge oversupply but also all the other traditional instruments.


I was going to reply, but VST has summed it up well. Of course some parents take it too far, but it doesn't have to be such a negative experience.
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#12 Guest: Very Sane Tom_*

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 18:29

QUOTE(linda.ff @ Jun 3 2013, 08:22 PM) View Post

QUOTE(ansatz496 @ Jun 3 2013, 07:03 PM) View Post

QUOTE(linda.ff @ Jun 3 2013, 02:01 PM) View Post

QUOTE(Very Sane Tom @ Jun 3 2013, 03:11 PM) View Post

If you have any dreams of becoming a professional (classical) musician then your best chance of achieving them is to have been started on the road by ambitious parents years before you were capable of making such decisions for yourself.

Sorry, I think that's very sad. This suggests that the decision that a person is going to become a professional musician has already been taken - for them, not by them, at an unfeasibly early age. And there's only so big a market for concert pianists, which means that all that hot-housing will have been unnecessary.


Is the hothousing really a negative thing if you end up loving music enough to aim for a career anyway, even if you don't actually achieve it?

Your parents in that situation have already decided what you will love. You've been given no choice. You've been worked harder than a child whose parents simply wanted them to enjoy music with no vicarious future in mind.

In such circumstances the parent is a child and the child is a doll or a puppet. It's not an "upbringing" at all

That may be true in some cases but it is hugely overstating the case to say that it is always so. A child that enjoys learning to play might, when they are older, be glad of being intensively trained at an early age.
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#13 sbhoa

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 19:28

If you choose by ability you can have all or most of your students reaching higher levels more quickly.
For those with the ability and interest to get to grade 8 (plus) level by 12 years of age you'd probably not be trying to cram in all the grades on the way. Instead the time would be spent in developing the student as a pianist and musician.
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#14 jpiano

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 21:17

If I am understanding the OP's description correctly, this sounds all too common in terms of a narrow, tick-box target and examination driven culture where what is needed to be done to gain the certificates is driven to the detriment of longer-term musicianship. The lack of aural and theory confirms this. It would of course be unfair to condemn a music school on the basis of such a small student sample, but the situation does ring bells with me, to a less extreme (grade 4 or so by age 12 perhaps more typical in the UK , not grade 8!) extent in students who've been pushed rapidly through grades in succession, with little true musical understanding or technical foundation.

I think it's true that there is a mentality of wanting the 'final' grade ticked off, along with the now-obligatory D of E, as another marker of something that is got out of the way, and completed- as opposed to seeing it as stages in a journey.

I'd like to think that it's not possible to pass a grade 8 exam, as opposed to a lower grade, with a poor foundation in learning. I think it would be more difficult- but not impossible. This is not in any way to denigrate the achievement of a grade 8 pass, by the way, but just to really support the OPs point, that I managed to achieve a respectable merit for my grade 5 viola (second study) without ever really mastering my bowing or intonation. Time pressures meant that I didn't go any further with my viola grades but I had started working on the grade 8 pieces and I expect I would have passed-it certainly would not have made me into a viola player by any stretch of the imagination!
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#15 Scooby Doo

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 21:28

Why did these two students leave the academy? Were they fed up with the intense regime and apparent lack of breadth in their training, or were they the ones who were falling behind?
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