new to the forums but have been reading them in the past, just not had a reason to join in - I am on enough forums as it is without adding another!
I am a keen advocate of online tuition and technology (albeit fully aware of its inadequacy in a lot of contexts and situations) and have
been engaged with the online exams options with enthusiasm, with both LCM (Leisure Play) and ABRSM (Performance Grades).
My background is that I am an FE lecturer in music/sound, an ICMA (Independent Contemporary Music Awards) examiner, and
many things more, including a private tutor since the early 2000s: I have a broad take on music education and examining, and I try
to use the best of technology and of my experience to get people to engage not only with their instrument but with evaluating their
own learning (particularly through apps).
One of my contentions is the lack of understanding or engagement with the online exam technology that seems clear in the examiners'
comments I see from some boards, particularly ABRSM: while they are clearly to be applauded for catching up with other boards, particularly
the long-running LCM Leisure Play format, they seem to have missed a key issue in remote examining, which is the technological aspect
of sound and of recording techniques in the process from the student making his/her recording to the examiner listening to it at the other end.
My experience in recording techniques and in sound measurement tells me a lot about the impact of using the wrong tools in capturing the
full dynamic range of a live performance: the reduction of perceived dynamic range in a recording can be dramatic depending on the
technology used, and on the knowledge the candidate or teacher has of using DAWs to enhance that recording at mixing stage.
I have done a lot of sound pressure level (SPL) measurements of beginners and intermediate students on violin and also on piano,
and the beginner typically has a range of about 10dB, i.e. they play at what one may hear to be a flat level: an advanced student will
be able to have a workable range of about 30dB or more, and if doing a dynamic drill/study then they can extend that range further still.
Now, the tiny microphones in mobile telephones and tablets are great at capturing lots of things, but are built particularly for voice and
are not very good at capturing complex musical sound, having a tendency to:
1) flatten the curve in dynamic terms;
2) compensate/compress in a way that uniforms sound to some degree.
This is an issue if you consider that the majority of people entering the online exams do not have:
1) access to a dedicated music microphone (small- or large-diaphragm condenser, for example);
2) access to a dedicated machine and a Digital Audio Workstation;
3) access to skills to operate microphones and a DAW, or knowledge of mixing a recording.
This means that they will primarily use a mobile device (tablet, 'phone) to make that recording, which will inevitably
further reduce their often quite narrow dynamic range.
Imagine, then, how examiners who have not been trained in sound/recording technology issues of this kind
will approach a recording made with dynamic-poor technology of an often already narrow dynamic range of
a beginner's performance: their take on it will inevitably be overly critical of the candidate, identifying a problem
that is not actually as severe as they perceive it, and making some ham-fisted judgments of the student's perceived
total lack of ability in the dynamic shaping of the performance.
There needs to be an engagement of examiners in this area if they want to review online recordings in a fair
and technology-literate way.
This is not an insignificant topic as it can demoralise and downgrade students through a lack of understanding
of real-life issues in online examining.
I hope this post is helpful to some and I would be happy to provide further clarification.