With the ABRSM Practical Exams just around the corner, I am busy preparing my students for the upcoming exams in July.
To Take the Piano Exams or Not to Take?
This is one of the topics that come up frequently from parents who start that children on the musical journey.
Many ask if they should send their children on the exam treadmill or just let their children learn at leisure.
There are always two sides to a coin. Of course taking the Piano Exams is one way to motivate the students of all ages and provide method to access their achievements.
However, on the flip side, a music education that focuses solely on the passing of formal examinations does not necessarily provide the balance all round musicianship skills where they develop a true understanding and enjoyment of music.
For the right group of pupils who are more of an achiever and exam oriented, there is a lot to be gained from taking exams. However, it is too common for music education to be narrowly focused on exams ( based on 3 pieces, scales, aural and sight-reading) and often students are entered too early. I usually do not advocate a student going for their piano exams every year. It is not necessary to do that. Many students go on this exam treadmill and end up giving up lessons during the first few grades. During the period which the student is not taking the exam, they can be taught a lot of musical skills and perception like ear-training, sight-reading, music appriciation and playing pieces that they enjoy.
Students should be taught to play a piece and be able to harmonise the melody that they hear, to understand more about how music works beyond the three pieces and structure constraints of following an exam curriculum. They should widen their piano repertoire and experience the array of musical styles spanning a few genres.
I want each and every one of my students to continue to play the piano throughout their lives, to continue to develop a real love for music and appreciate the endless possibilities that playing the piano can bring.
Whilst many of them do take exams as part of this, I will never sacrifice their all-round musical enjoyment in favour of the mundane 3 pieces that they only have learn for the exam. So, as much as the exams are important, it also depends on the individual students, the most important is that the students grow to learn the instrument and appreciate it and allow them the same joy and passion to continue playing throughout their lives.