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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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#31 Saxwarbler

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 20:32

...

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.

Most (all?) the discussion here seems to be centred around children. I don't know - maybe the posts you've seen do concern child students, in which case I don't really feel qualified to comment on how valuable grade exams are to them or their teachers.

However, remember that a great many learners - at all standards - are adults, me included. Some of us would agree with the 'waste of time' theory. Too much pressure, whether from oneself or a teacher can actually impede learning. I fall into the other camp - having grade exams to work towards is a measure of my progress, gives me a target to aim for and boosts my confidence. Unlike children taking exams for school and university places, the time taken and the marks are of little consequence to me, although I like to get a high score.Some call me a masochist. "Why would you want to put yourself through it when you don't have to?" they ask. The critical word here is 'want'. I don't have to and I can work to my own timeline. Nobody but me is worried about my grades or my progress. I think if either of my teachers tried to pressure me into taking a grade exam then they wouldn't be my teacher for long. On the other hand, I would expect them to give me the honest truth if I wanted to sit for a grade I wasn't ready for.
 


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#32 elemimele

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Posted 15 January 2020 - 21:02

... actually I think adults get different things out of exams, and lessons, than kids do. There is no right or wrong about this, no better or worse, but adults will often have a much broader background knowledge and experience-base, which means they might know where things fit in. Going off-topic for the sake of a good example, a kid learning French might never have been to France and may have no idea who Moliere is; they may enjoy it and have an aptitude for it, but they're basically doing it because someone said they have to. An adult taking French evening classes may well have seen an "Le Malade imaginaire" and is probably taking the classes because s/he loves holidays in a particular corner of France, or they have close French friends or some such link.

Musically, I feel very differently about the circle of fifths now than I did as a child; my view has been tempered by too much pootling around in the world of early music. It doesn't mean I know anything much more now than someone doing music theory at age 10 (quite probably less), but we probably have different viewpoints on what it's for, and what we're going to do with it.


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#33 tabya876

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Posted 16 January 2020 - 08:33


I fall into the other camp - having grade exams to work towards is a measure of my progress, gives me a target to aim for and boosts my confidence. Unlike children taking exams for school and university places, the time taken and the marks are of little consequence to me, although I like to get a high score.Some call me a masochist. "Why would you want to put yourself through it when you don't have to?" they ask. The critical word here is 'want'. I don't have to and I can work to my own timeline. Nobody but me is worried about my grades or my progress. I think if either of my teachers tried to pressure me into taking a grade exam then they wouldn't be my teacher for long. On the other hand, I would expect them to give me the honest truth if I wanted to sit for a grade I wasn't ready for.
 

 

That makes perfect sense to me! Whether child or adult the student should take exams if and when they are able and want to.


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#34 Rach123

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Posted 16 January 2020 - 14:45

when I was a student (2010-2015), I got to that stage where I felt exactly like this. Since being out of education and playing in a concert band, I've been mulling over whether to retake my grade 8 clarinet (and maybe start taking grade exams on saxophone) as I failed it twice.

 

I'm just not a big solo practiser and I have self-diagnosed anxiety (which doesn't help one bit)

 

In answer to the question, I agree with some of the above posters. It should be down to the individual whether they want to take grade exams or not


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#35 Aquarelle

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Posted 16 January 2020 - 14:55

Graded music exams, like any other exams, are a waste of time if they are not used intelligently and as appropriate for each pupil. They can do more harm than good.

 

Graded music exams used intelligently and appropriately for each pupil are a source of motivation and a guide to the progress being made.


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#36 vron

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Posted 16 January 2020 - 15:51

As so many others have said it is down to individual pupils how they feel about exams and how useful they are to them.

 

Just today i have ( rather rashly) taken the plunge and entered for spring grade 4 exam. I took grade 3 18 months ago and had a  terribly anxious time and thought not again and that i would just do the preparation work for a grade ie make sure i know the appropriate scales and arpeggios  and try to finish off the pieces better but not take the exam. This is what I have been doing but now had a change of heart and entered for it. Why I ask myself? I think I it is because having done the work it would be nice to have it recognised and also because I think that long term actually playing in front of someone - something I do rarely  - will be beneficial in eventually helping me to face that anxiety and fear.  I think also because it is my decision and not tutors  ( he doesn't really like exams that much) I feel more in control. 

 

It is a very variable thing and different for everyone. I didn't take grade 1 or 2.

I am also learning the  flute and intend taking the grade 5 when ready but have not taken any other grade at all in that.


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#37 tabya876

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Posted 17 January 2020 - 11:48

when I was a student (2010-2015), I got to that stage where I felt exactly like this. Since being out of education and playing in a concert band, I've been mulling over whether to retake my grade 8 clarinet (and maybe start taking grade exams on saxophone) as I failed it twice.

 

I'm just not a big solo practiser and I have self-diagnosed anxiety (which doesn't help one bit)

 

In answer to the question, I agree with some of the above posters. It should be down to the individual whether they want to take grade exams or not

 

Definitely

Graded music exams, like any other exams, are a waste of time if they are not used intelligently and as appropriate for each pupil. They can do more harm than good.

 

Graded music exams used intelligently and appropriately for each pupil are a source of motivation and a guide to the progress being made.

totally agree

 

As so many others have said it is down to individual pupils how they feel about exams and how useful they are to them.

 

Just today i have ( rather rashly) taken the plunge and entered for spring grade 4 exam. I took grade 3 18 months ago and had a  terribly anxious time and thought not again and that i would just do the preparation work for a grade ie make sure i know the appropriate scales and arpeggios  and try to finish off the pieces better but not take the exam. This is what I have been doing but now had a change of heart and entered for it. Why I ask myself? I think I it is because having done the work it would be nice to have it recognised and also because I think that long term actually playing in front of someone - something I do rarely  - will be beneficial in eventually helping me to face that anxiety and fear.  I think also because it is my decision and not tutors  ( he doesn't really like exams that much) I feel more in control. 

 

It is a very variable thing and different for everyone. I didn't take grade 1 or 2.

I am also learning the  flute and intend taking the grade 5 when ready but have not taken any other grade at all in that.

Good luck


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#38 thara96

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 15:40

I think that it depends. 

 

The pupil and their teacher should make that decision together. 


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#39 sharpstudent

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 16:55

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. 

The pupils are lucky to have your mum as tutor. I am also grateful that my violin tutor doesn't force me or any of her other pupils to take exams, it is their decision, just like your mum said. 


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#40 sharpstudent

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Posted 22 January 2020 - 16:56

Graded music exams, like any other exams, are a waste of time if they are not used intelligently and as appropriate for each pupil. They can do more harm than good.

 

Graded music exams used intelligently and appropriately for each pupil are a source of motivation and a guide to the progress being made.

 

That's spot on. 


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#41 adultpianist

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 01:20

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

 

my thoughts on this is that grade exams do not make you a musician.   I took grades 1 to 4 piano and stopped because it was too time consuming.   It was only then that I understood that I do not need to take a grade exam.   I still do all the scales etc for the grades but no longer take the exams.   I play pieces and that is how I learn.   I think Grade exams only give you a fraction of what is required at that grade.  I took grade 4 piano.  That does not make me a grade 4 pianist.   You take the exam and then study for the next grade.   All you do is study three pieces and some scales etc.  How on earth does that make you a grade 4 pianist?    It takes a ###### of a lot more than three exam pieces to call yourself a grade 4 pianist.   


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#42 vron

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 10:00

not all people who take Grade exams simply study 3 pieces, take the exam and move onto the next. Some will study far more than the necessary three pieces before taking the exam and after taking the exam do far more similar grade pieces before thinking of moving to the next one. Many of the teachers on here will tell you how they play many pieces of the right level before even introducing the exam pieces to their students.

 

I agree that you don't need to take grades to become a good pianist but they can be useful in certain circumstance and to certain people. Contrarily not taking the grades and playing lots of pieces also doesn't NECESSARILY make you a great pianist either. 


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#43 HelenVJ

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 10:59

No-one needs to label themselves as a 'grade  anything' pianist. As a description, it's quite meaningless. In local music festivals, I've heard beautifully shaped and musical performances from kids playing at Grade 1 level, and some frankly appalling and over-ambitious ones, typically from 12-year-olds attempting Fantasie-Impromptu, in the advanced level classes. Being a good pianist ( violinist etc) has nothing to do with grades. Just - good and not-so-good playing.


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#44 Arundodonuts

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 11:49

This argument has raged on and off over the years. If you learn 3 pieces and the accompanying technical requirements adequately and pass, say, grade 4, you ARE a grade 4 musician. That is the definition. The question ought to be, what IS a grade 4 musician in terms of "what else can they do?"

 

Of course grades don't suit everyone. Having initially decided not to do exams I took grades 3-8! I thought the syllabus laid down a sensible approach to learning the instrument. I studied many of the pieces at each grade before deciding which to play for the exam. I played pieces and studies not on the syllabus, largely to assist with certain technical issues and I played in several ensembles where I had a large volume of new material thrust in front of me on a regular basis.

 

I could have done all that but not taken the exams. However I found it valuable to prepare for a performance knowing it had to be ready on a particular day (that's what performance is all about), I liked the feedback and the "affirmation" that I was making progress.

 

It's not the exams which are time consuming, it's the practice, which presumably you would be doing anyway.


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#45 JanW

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Posted 26 January 2020 - 16:41

There cannot be a right or wrong on this one.  I took up piano two years ago as a very mature adult.  Bought a cheap keyboard and a 'learn how to' book.  Soon established this wasn't going to work out.

 

Trip down to London, purchased a Clavinova (have no room for a Grand P unfortunately).  Then sourced a tutor who has been superb.  He didn't even mention grades for several months but I found I was 'flitting' from piece to piece and not progressing as I would like, so we started to work towards grades and exams (a very daunting prospect for someone who has not done exams for c40 years).

 

Took my Grade1 practical last summer and got Distinction and Grade 2 Theory with Distinction. Am now working towards Grade 2 practical for this summer.  But, and I think this is so important.  There is no hurry. If I don't feel ready I won't take it.  To compliment the work I am doing for my 3 pieces I am studying some simple Blues (Arens), My Father's Favourite (Doyle), In The Mood (Garland((Glenn Miller))), Ashokan Farewell (Ungar).  Plus doing all the requisite scales etc but putting a twist on them ie different tempos/starting positions etc so they are not learnt by rote.  

 

I have also joined up with another 'mature' student about the same level so we can work on simple duets.  The results are hilarious - but we learn such a lot and have great fun. That's what it's all about for me.  Learn hard, play for fun, do exams as a benchmark (which also helps with performance anxiety).


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