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Graded Music Exams Are a Waste Of Time!

Music Grades Gifted Talented Grade System Skipping Grades Music Exam

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#1 tabya876

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 15:56

Progressing through a system of graded music exams can be a waste of time, is what I was told recently. The suggestion was that the systems of graded music exams are aimed at average teachers of average students and can actually hinder the potential progress of students with very high levels of natural aptitude and ambition.

 

I was intrigued by this suggestion and began researching on various fora and other sources. I have arrived at more questions than answers.

 

Why do some teachers insist on all of their students sequentially progressing through the grades?

Why do some teachers have set timelines for each stage of this progression?

Why do these teachers have few, if any, exceptional students that they work with?

Why if you gave one child to two different teachers at an early age, might one develop into a musical genius and the other not so?

 

I ask these questions because I've seen postings where teachers have declared they would not enter, for example, a 10 year old for a Grade 5 music theory exam because they are too young - why is that?

 

I'd appreciate your thoughts.


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#2 Banjogirl

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 16:19

That's a lot of questions.

I've never met a teacher who had a set timeline for doing exams.

How do you know that a child might progress in wildly different ways with a different teacher?

There aren't all that many exceptional children so no teacher is likely to have more than the odd one.

There are a lot of assumptions in your post. Like most things, exams can be useful or less useful depending on how they are used.
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#3 tabya876

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 16:46

Between my 2 children they have 13 different music teachers.

 

Two of them believe that a child beginning the given instrument, should not take an exam for the first 18 months and thereafter, if they are exceptional they might be be able to take 1 grade per year. I have seen a few posts on here suggesting similar timelines.

 

There is no standard definition of what exceptional is in this context. I think exceptional means capable of performing at a level significantly above the average expected for a child of that age, for example. Being exceptional will be underpinned in most cases by, at the least, very supportive parents, teachers with appropriately ambitious belief and expectations, a child's willingness to practice, etc. In my daughter's school, pretty much most of the girls are at Grade 5 level at the age of 10 and many are at Grade 7 or 8 level in their chosen instruments. To stand any chance of a music scholarship a girl will have to be Grade 7 or higher. Is that exceptional? Why do the teachers, who teach many of these girls, work with so many higher than average achievers and others do not?

 

The assumption that 1 child given to two different teachers at an early age might perform significantly differently according to the teacher, is predicated on the principles of standard deviation from the norm - they might be called outliers . There are always those that will perform averagely, below average and above average. Could a teacher's view about what is possible be a key determinant of what that child achieves and when? Would a child hit the same milestones and goals irrespective of the teacher profile? 


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#4 elemimele

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 17:08

Teachers are a very diverse bunch of humans, and so are their pupils. It's quite possible to hunt around and find particular combinations of teacher and pupil where the teacher isn't right for the pupil - where their methods and attitudes won't get the best out of the pupil - but I'm not sure this is a particularly useful thing to do. It's perhaps better to accept that most teachers make a personal choice on whether to use exams, and how to use them. Every teacher I've ever met makes the decision with the pupil (and their parents if the pupil is a child), based on what all parties think will work best for that individual pupil.

There are undoubtedly teachers who have written that they wouldn't enter a pupil for an exam because they consider them too young. I suspect they're often thinking of specific cases. Many teachers take the attitude that learning music is not a race. It is a journey. The message behind "I will not enter them because they are too young" is actually "I think they would benefit from time to reflect, explore aspects of music theory and practice that are off the syllabus, enlarge as humans and musicians, and they really don't need this exam at this precise moment, so let's concentrate on making them a better, more rounded musician". That's not such a bad message, surely?

Serious thought: I do rather worry about an emphasis on exceptional pupils. Very, very little good comes out of elitism in any branch of human endeavor. When you employ a plumber, you don't care if he's the best plumber in the country, able to fit a tap faster than any other. You want someone who will fit a tap to a professional standard, that's all. It's better to have lots of competent plumbers than one plumbing genius. Even in sport, with its competitive focus, the elite ones are pretty to look at, but the health benefits, both physical and mental, only happen for people who pursue the sport, and the benefits are there even if you're rubbish at it. Everyone who plays tennis gets the work-out of a good tennis game, and the mental satisfaction that comes with their sport, not just Federer. Elite sport is where the money is, but accessible sport-for-all is where the benefits happen. The value of the elite is when the rest of us get excited and try to emulate them, but even that is a double-edged sword because it's all too easy to give up because you find you're "not very good". In music, only a small number of people can win competitions and festivals. The world doesn't need many professional concert pianists. But every human who plays or sings is enriched by it, and enriches the world around them. The teacher who brings music to the lives of average pupils is, I believe, far, far more useful to the world than the teacher who miraculously fosters genius. In fact, if you get enough people doing something reasonably well, a few geniuses will pop out of the pool automatically.

So that's where exams are not a waste of time. Some people hate them (I do). But for others they are very motivating. Some people want a measuring-stick to measure their progress. The majority of those who aim to win a major competition, will, by definition, fail, no matter how talented they are, because there's only one winner. It's even worse if you want to be a world-leader; you've chosen a measuring stick that elongates in response to how good everyone else is getting, in order to doom the majority to failure. If your aim is to pass grade 8, then ABRSM really don't care how many people pass, provided they show they've reached the level. The more musicians reach that level and pass that exam, the happier the board will be! And the better the world will be, too. Although equally, it doesn't matter to the world how many people learn to play and reach that standard without taking the exam.

At their best, exams are a way in which a wide range of people can measure their achievements and feel motivated that they're getting somewhere.


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#5 Gran'piano

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 17:16

 

I'd appreciate your thoughts.

My thoughts are that Elemimele's answer makes a lot more sense than the replies I was thinking of posting. 

(Though I do wish Elemimele had a name that I could get right at first attempt!)

 

And 'graded music exams can be a waste of time' is really not the same thing at all as 'graded music exams are a waste of time'.


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#6 Bagpuss

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 18:04

elimimele - ever thought about becoming the Secretary for Education?!  As always, VERY wise words indeed.  (For the record, my plumber is absolutely wonderful ;) )

I know about 30 fellow peripatetic teachers.  Not one of them (us):

 

'insist on all of their students sequentially progressing through the grades'

'set timelines for each stage of this progression'

 

Sure, there may be MANY reasons NOT to pursue all grades, or indeed ANY and for the life of me I cannot see why so many get their backsides in a cramp about the importance of a Music Scholarship at Year 7.  Even if a school ASKS for G7 all you actually need is a nice letter from the instrumental teacher saying said child is playing at around that standard.  Trust me - I have just worked on auditions for a top independent girls' school's Music Scholarship.  What was interesting was the candidates that DID have the bits of paper were not the preferred prospective Scholars.  The panel were blown away by a couple of delightful, 'lower ranked' individuals who not only showed BAGS of potential but were also jolly nice young people with gently supportive parents.   I know it varies from school to school as to the financial benefits of getting a Music Scholarship but not all allow an Academic Award on top. 

Plenty more I could say but I must dash to catch up with Love Island which is filling the gap nicely during my 'dry January'..... ;) ;) haw haw haw...

Bag x

 

 


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#7 vron

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 19:00

"Between my 2 children they have 13 different music teachers."

 

that's a lot of teachers!


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#8 Latin pianist

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 19:27

Yes, that could be one child with 6 and one child with 7 instruments!
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#9 Tenor Viol

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 20:47

13 teachers? That seems rather a lot...

 

There are a lot of questions in the OP's post. I think @elemimele and @Bagpuss have covered it off pretty well (and I second proposing Elemimele for Secretary of State for Education....)


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#10 Banjogirl

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 21:07

Mine had lots of teachers but they only had one per instrument at any one time. Maybe that's where the high number comes from.
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#11 zwhe

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Posted 14 January 2020 - 22:31

Why do some teachers insist on all of their students sequentially progressing through the grades?

I've never met one who does.

 

Why do some teachers have set timelines for each stage of this progression?

Again, I've never met one who does.

 

Why do these teachers have few, if any, exceptional students that they work with?

If your average teacher has 20-30 pupils, it is hardly surprising. Exceptional implies much more exceptional than 1 in 30.

 

Why if you gave one child to two different teachers at an early age, might one develop into a musical genius and the other not so?

I doubt this very much. A musical genius will always be a musical genius, even with no teacher at all at an early age. The most talented pupil I have ever had began lessons at the age of 11. 2 years later he is working at grade 8 standard. I don't feel like I have had that much to do with this, as it is him that has a deep love of music, and practises in all his spare time. His mum says he even wanders off during meals and has to be fetched back to the table!

 

I went to a school much like the one you describe, and I don't think many (if any) were in reality exceptional at all. What was actually happening was we were being pushed through exams before we were ready in order to make our teachers and parents look like good. There was an element of better than average, but that will always happen in an environment where parents have the money to pay for all the lessons, and academic achievement is valued more than mental health. Young children should be playing and developing social skills, not spending hours a day making sure they are 'better' than everyone else. One of the kids at my school was forced to get up at 5 o'clock in the morning to practise for 3 hours before school. It worked - she was grade 8 at 8, but I hate to think what happened to her as an adult when she realised that she was not exceptionally talented (she is not a professional musician) and she has missed out on her childhood.


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#12 tabya876

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 06:46

Sorry, I'm in a rush. Some great thoughts and answers - thank you. I will revert a little later. Unfortunately, the wind has blown my 2 green bins and food bin over, so I have a lot of clearing up to do before leaving for a meeting.

 

Happy Wednesday to all!


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#13 Banjogirl

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 08:54


Why do some teachers insist on all of their students sequentially progressing through the grades?

I've never met one who does.


Why do some teachers have set timelines for each stage of this progression?

Again, I've never met one who does.


Why do these teachers have few, if any, exceptional students that they work with?

If your average teacher has 20-30 pupils, it is hardly surprising. Exceptional implies much more exceptional than 1 in 30.


Why if you gave one child to two different teachers at an early age, might one develop into a musical genius and the other not so?

I doubt this very much. A musical genius will always be a musical genius, even with no teacher at all at an early age. The most talented pupil I have ever had began lessons at the age of 11. 2 years later he is working at grade 8 standard. I don't feel like I have had that much to do with this, as it is him that has a deep love of music, and practises in all his spare time. His mum says he even wanders off during meals and has to be fetched back to the table!


I went to a school much like the one you describe, and I don't think many (if any) were in reality exceptional at all. What was actually happening was we were being pushed through exams before we were ready in order to make our teachers and parents look like good. There was an element of better than average, but that will always happen in an environment where parents have the money to pay for all the lessons, and academic achievement is valued more than mental health. Young children should be playing and developing social skills, not spending hours a day making sure they are 'better' than everyone else. One of the kids at my school was forced to get up at 5 o'clock in the morning to practise for 3 hours before school. It worked - she was grade 8 at 8, but I hate to think what happened to her as an adult when she realised that she was not exceptionally talented (she is not a professional musician) and she has missed out on her childhood.


This.
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#14 thara96

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 09:19

My mom does not force her pupils to take exams. That is their decision to make, she says. She will support them if they do but not insist on it.

 

And exams can be useful. My mom uses the feedback from the examiner to help the pupil improve their areas of weaknesses. She sees exams as a way to improve yourself nothing else. They also have concerts in between exam sessions to give her and them a break and something else to work for as well. 

 

With regards to your second question may I add that some pupils have a bad teacher initially so have to change. 


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#15 Bagpuss

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 10:08

zwhe - spot on.

Mmm, and let's not forget the families who think their children will "progress more quickly through the Grades" (argh, argh and ARGH) if they have several teachers for the same instrument....

Bx


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