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How long should it take for a kid to learn an exam piece?


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#1 Iulia

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Posted 05 December 2019 - 11:45

I know this is perhaps a 'how long is a piece of string' question :D

 

But thinking about G 1-3, assuming the pupil doesn't have any major learning difficulties or other issues, who long do you usually expect they will need to learn each of the pieces for an exam?

 

I've got a couple of siblings - am their third teacher but no fault of theirs the previous one had health issues and they moved. The parents wanted them to do G 1 and 2 in March. I know in my heart of hearts they aren't ready.

 

I don't agree with the 'start the new exam book the minute you've sat the previous grade' mentality, and I feel kids should be able to learn the pieces of these grades relatively quickly if they are ready to sit the exam. But its got me thinking ...

 

I was just wondering what your various experiences would tell you. Do you think 'if it takes more than X weeks to learn at least the notes roughly' the kid isn't ready, or do you think it just takes as long as it takes for that particular kid? How much in advance of the exam do you allow for prep?

 

Thanks


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#2 wendym

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Posted 05 December 2019 - 14:24

I’ve had a number of transfer students who were keen to race into grade X when clearly not ready - after scraping a pass of 100 on the previous grade - my advice would just be to put your foot down and say no. The amount of work needed and the stress for yourself in getting them ready, the inevitable possibility of clear failure, or at best, a scrape of a pass with a comment sheet littered with lightly veiled negative points (I always say give the examiner a valid reason to write wonderful things!) are all just so disheartening for yourself, and thInk about what the process would do the their “love and enjoyment” of music, and their musical confidence. Just not worth it, purely to please a pushy parent. Also, think about what said parent’s perception of your teaching will be when they don’t get through - it’ll never be as a realisation that their child just isn’t at that level I can assure you - but face it that as wonderful as our teaching may be, we cannot, and should not be expected to, work miracles.
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#3 wendym

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Posted 05 December 2019 - 14:31

Oh and to add to that, any time I get a question from child (or parent) as to “when can I do grade X?” - my standard response is “I will enter you for the exam when you can prove to me that you are ready. This generally tends to spur on most of my students with very positive results, and for those that are dead set on preparing for a grade, I use it as a dangling carrot, for instance “Well S, if you can’t show me how you plan to fix the repeated errors in your current piece, how will you ever do so for an exam piece?”
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#4 Iulia

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Posted 05 December 2019 - 15:19

The parents were insisting that the kids were doing 15 minutes a day, but the pieces never got any better, so I asked her to record some bits of a practice session and it was a complete train wreck.

 

I know I need to tell the parents the kids aren't ready whether they are happy or not ...

 

I was just beginning to doubt myself and wonder if I'd left it too late to start the prep.


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#5 zwhe

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Posted 05 December 2019 - 15:26

'How long' varies greatly, but as a rough guide for an average student, they should be able to learn the notes for an A4 page in 1-2 weeks, and then a few more weeks to perfect it. Some can start learning the notes for the next piece while they are 'perfecting', but some can't. It can vary greatly though. I gave one pupil the grade 5 book after Easter this year, and he got a distinction in the summer. I have another who will start learning the grade 5 pieces after Christmas and will most likely do the exam next November, possibly March as she won't move on to the next section until the first bit is perfect.

One suggestion would be to find a piece at the right level, maybe from an old syllabus and ask them to learn it over the next couple of weeks. If it sounds good in January, then go ahead with the exam work. If not, get them to play it to the parents and explain what they need to do before they are ready. You could show them the marking criteria if they don't believe that you need things like dynamics - a problem I've had in the past!

If you don't think they are ready, then they aren't. If it turns out they make miraculous progress in the next few weeks, they can always skip a grade.


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#6 Iulia

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Posted 05 December 2019 - 17:57

'How long' varies greatly, but as a rough guide for an average student, they should be able to learn the notes for an A4 page in 1-2 weeks, and then a few more weeks to perfect it. Some can start learning the notes for the next piece while they are 'perfecting', but some can't. It can vary greatly though.

 

Yes I've always felt that certainly in G 1 and 2 if it takes more than a few weeks to as you say at least roughly learn the notes, the piece is beyond their ability. They are funny kids, some weeks they come in and play beautifully, others you'd think they'd never met a piano.

I guess I feel a little bad as I should have been firmer with the parents earlier ...


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#7 thara96

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 08:32

Say "No I do not think you are ready yet". 

 

They may surprise you however. 


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#8 agricola

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 09:15

I usually get into the next Grade level gradually by giving whichever piece I think is easiest from the syllabus and at the same time introducing a scale practice chart and sight reading at that level.  If they get to grips with that I let them choose the next exam piece and so on.  At the same time they will be learning other pieces, usually including some song arrangements that they have chosen themselves.  So by the time that I ask them if they want to do Grade X I will be able to tell them that they have already done half of the work.  

 

The way I deal with pupils who are not ready is to give them a mock exam, record it and get them to mark it using the official assessment guide.  They are often much harsher critics of their own performance than I am and they usually accept that they will have to buckle down to some serious practice.  However, if someone insists on taking an exam against my advice I will enter them and let them take the risk.  Annoyingly, they often end up passing as some people need an outside motivator to make them work!


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#9 Aquarelle

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 09:30

My timing is very differetn from what I would do in the UK or anywhere else where I would have the choice of three sessions per year, Our exams take place in June only and the entries have to go in in March. Added to that, I have to have at least 10 candidates. So it requires an entirely different approach. I have usually decided by the beginning of the new school year which of my pupils will be taking an exam that particular year. I spread the actual exam content over the year, interspersed with non- exam work. The idea is that they spend the year working at their grade level but using as much and as varied material as is possible. This will include tthe three examl pieces but quite often more than three. Towards the end of the year we decide exactly what will be presented in the exam. I do have one "rule" which is that all scales and arpeggios have to be learnt by Christmas so that we can keep them ticking over and use valuable lesson time for other things. So far this approach has worked well.


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#10 DMC

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 13:21

Ideal world: Pupil constantly doing regular scales and sight reading in the background. Repertoire from several different books being learnt, and through these pieces, expression, phrasing, etc. Pupil learning and hopefully enjoying these.

The constant marrying of scales to sight reading helps to develop the key sense, and get used to different keys. The perpetual sight reading enables them to spot patterns in music, so that they learn their repertoire pieces more quickly.

The pupil gets to perform these pieces in a festival or a concert. 

The Teacher then says, 'hey, your reading is looking good. You play those pieces really well, and your scales are settled and fluent. let's go for a Grade. You then get the pieces for the Grade, spend perhaps 3-6 months learning them, take the exam, and reap the benefits from the learning, by getting good exam results.  

And the cycle continues.

 

Too many peoples' real world: , we allow pushy parents to intervene, all that wonderful learning is squeezed out, all to chase a piece of paper. Poorer sight reading because they've seen fewer pieces, narrower repertoire, and paradoxically lower passes ensue. 

We've got to try and stay true to the art and teach for the joy of playing, because doing so will yield better exam results anyway, and put exams in their proper context. 

Not easy, but that's got to be the goal. 

 

I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that it's the parents we have to teach as much as the pupil.


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#11 Iulia

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 15:13

I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that it's the parents we have to teach as much as the pupil.

 

I helped out a friend in their cattery when they were short staffed a couple of summers ago, and she always said it was rarely the cats that were a problem, but almost always the owners :rofl:

My problem I guess is two fold (and probably shared by many). Its a very middle class area full of ambitious parents and high demand for school places. I can't actually complain about this as I benefit, but it can be difficult to buck the trend, esp due to the second difficulty which is I've only recently re-started teaching in a different area after a gap of a few years, and I'm not well enough established to not try to keep as many pupils as I can.

Its maybe a backwards way of looking at it, but a teacher I used to work with said she always insisted the 'notes' of both pieces and scales were learned by the application deadline. Not perfectly, but if aiming for the March exams the student had to be able at least get through everything by January.

We started Arabesque in October, thinking this would be an adequate timeline, but he's not only not got onto the other others he is bogged down at the beginning of section 2 of that one.

They are very hands on parents, very keen but not that musically educated, and they can't tell when the kids are just practising mistakes.


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#12 HelenVJ

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 16:12

Any chance a parent could sit in for at least part of the lesson  -  or is this already happening?


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#13 Boogaloo

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 16:16

Play the exam pieces to the parents! Make sure that you use the highest recommended speed(!) and make sure you play it in a "distinction" level manner, not a "let's scrape a pass" manner. Play the scales/exercises too, and then get go through the aural tests with examples, and demonstrate the sight reading explaining about how they need to notice the key signature in order to get marks for tonality, notice the dynamics, keep it fluent and stylish. That way the parents can then see what is actually required - when I've done this it becomes a no-brainer for the parents! (I also then demonstrate how I would want the pieces played the week before the deadline for entries.)

 

But to answer your question - I've got a 9 year old doing her grade 1 this term and she started the pieces in September - I am thinking she will get a high merit/distinction next week. On the other hand I've got a 10 year old who's taken almost a year to learn her grade 2 pieces and technical - she will be taking the exam in March and the pieces are just starting to take on some movement after going for so long with a very limited tempo on all of them. Scales are suddenly moving along a little with hands together too. There isn't a one size fits all really.


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#14 Iulia

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 16:25

Any chance a parent could sit in for at least part of the lesson  -  or is this already happening?

 

Hopefully happening this evening


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#15 Iulia

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Posted 06 December 2019 - 16:31

On the other hand I've got a 10 year old who's taken almost a year to learn her grade 2 pieces and technical - she will be taking the exam in March and the pieces are just starting to take on some movement after going for so long with a very limited tempo on all of them.

 

Did you expect them to take so long? How do you hold the child's interest during that time? Do you do loads of other simpler pieces? There is a teacher at a local school who apparently starts the exam pieces each September, they sit the exam in June, order the next book over the summer, rinse and repeat. Most seem to give up about G3 - can't think why?  :blink: 


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