Several teacher friends and colleagues have recently asked me to suggest ways in which pupils can improve their chances of achieving good marks in their forthcoming piano exams. I examined for the ABRSM (The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) for 5 years both in the UK and abroad, and therefore, I have compiled the following list of important points to remember when preparing for exams.
1. Preparation is the key to success. You have a very short time to make an impression on the examiner; good preparation allows you to feel more confident about playing. Confidence can equal a distinction! Examiners can often recognize a distinction candidate before they play a note; they exude confidence.
2. It is a good idea to start your exam with scales; you can choose to start with scales, sight-reading or pieces. Beginning with scales allows you to get used to the piano and warm up. It also gets them over and done with.
3. Before starting each piece, pause for 10 seconds to think about your intended tempo and interpretation. Try to focus your mind solely on the music. The examiner is looking for totally committed playing not just right notes.
4. Musicianship is very important particularly beyond Grade 5; it will make the difference between a pass or a merit. Musical playing is important at all levels, but from Grade 5 upwards, examiners are looking for structural understanding as well as a convincing interpretation.
5. Before the sight reading tests, it’s a good idea to ask yourself a few key questions; In what key is the extract? How fast should it be played? What fingering will I use? Perhaps try out some passages too, and aim to tap the pulse on your knee.
6. Aural tests need plenty of practice before the exam so don’t leave it until the week before. Some candidates are shy about aspects of aural, particularly singing, so it may be a good idea to have aural lessons in a group. You could even join a choir to practice your singing and pitching skills.
7. One particularly useful habit all candidates should harbor is the practice of playing for friends, relatives, or teachers regularly. This cannot be stressed enough. I insist on students playing their entire exam programme through at least 2 or 3 times. It really doesn’t matter who listens or how you play, you will gain confidence from the experience which will help when you are faced with a stressful situation like a piano exam. It is so important to learn how to deal with nerves and having practice ‘runs’ will help you do this.
8. Do bear in mind that an exam is only a snapshot of your playing on a particular day, and therefore, try not to be too upset or disappointed if it doesn’t go as well as you planned.
9. Always remember that examiners are nice, friendly people who really want their candidates to achieve good marks.
Follow these rules and you will be well on the way to achieving an excellent result. Good Luck.
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
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