Dance in Bulgarian Rhythm No. 4 from Mikrokosmos by Bartók

The ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) graded exam syllabus for 2015/6 is now readily available, and no doubt pianists across the world are selecting and practising the new set works. I went along to the launch a few weeks ago, held at Yamaha Music (formerly Chappell of Bond Street) in London, where ABRSM examiner and trainer, Timothy Barratt,  spoke about many of the chosen works for each grade. The Grade 8 selection is as varied as ever, and over the next few months I will be writing about a selection of Grade 7 and 8 pieces, offering a few practice tips.

It’s great to see old favourites on the list; many works appear regularly over the years. Hungarian composer Béla Bartók (1981-1945) is a particularly popular choice, and this year is no exception; his works appear in four of the eight  piano grades.

Whilst not every student’s cup of tea,  Bartók’s style is one of the most highly original of the Twentieth century. A superlative pianist (there’s an abundance of recordings of his playing), and prolific composer. I researched his piano music (specifically the three concertos) in Budapest when I was a student, and had the opportunity to speak to the renowned  Bartók  specialist and musicologist László Somfai about the composer’s highly individual combined use of harmony and folk songs, which was both informative and enlightening. 

Bartók amassed a very large collection of folk songs, which he acquired by visiting various Hungarian villages (and beyond), recording local musicians on an Edison Phonograph. Here’s a wonderful example of a typical recording (this features a Romanian Folk Dance and is over 100 years old):

Bartók notated and catalogued all the folk songs in his collection. They became a crucial source of inspiration in his own compositions, and the ‘folk song’ element was eventually completely assimilated into his style. Indeed it was to be his ‘hallmark’.

Mikrokosmos Sz. 107, was written between 1926 and 1939, and consists of 153 pieces in six volumes,  progressing from very simple pieces for beginners to advanced level works. They demonstrate Bartók’s commitment to and interest in music education (he wrote several sets of piano pieces for educational purposes). According to Bartók, the piece “appears as a synthesis of all the musical and technical problems which were treated and in some cases only partially solved in the previous piano works.”

Mikrokosmos concludes with the Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm, which are traditionally performed as a group, feature in Volume No. 6, and were dedicated to Harriet Cohen. The 2015/16 ABRSM syllabus includes the fourth dance in the set, No. 151, and it appears on List C (C1).  Bartók’s music has been described as dissonant and violent, and whilst there are elements of these qualities in his works, the breadth of musical variety found in this particular Dance (and in the set as a whole), is breath-taking.

For those considering this piece as an option for the Grade 8 exam, or perhaps who have already started learning this work, I have compiled a few practice ideas for combatting certain difficulties within the work, which may be helpful.

Of utmost importance is the rhythm, and more specifically, the Time Signature: 3+2+3 over 8. Unusual Time Signatures are renowned in the Hungarian composer’s style,  and Bartók has used the rhythm of traditional Bulgarian Dances here, but the melodic material is all his own. Interestingly, he described this dance as in the style of Gershwin but with his (Bartók’s) own tonality. This becomes apparent just by clapping the pulse. The unusual  rhythmic patterns may be unfamiliar to some, so they need complete assimilation before practising commences. Clapping the pulse followed by the rhythmic pattern of the melody (which can really in grain the ‘feel’), is the best way to start. After which, focus on clapping the rhythmic pattern whilst counting each beat out loud at the same time. Although there are few accent markings in this work, but there is a definite ‘push’ (or groove?) on the fourth beat of each bar (akin to jazz).  Once the rhythm has been understood, it’s easy to make swift progress.

The melody is featured in some guise or other most of the time during this short piece, whether alone in the right hand (bars 1-8), the left hand (bars 9-16, where it’s inverted (or reversed)), played in unison (bars 20-24), played in repeated notes (44-50), in right hand octaves (bars 55-58) and in sixths too (bars 59-66).  So the trick is to find a way to vary the sound and touch throughout. Bartók is always very specific about tempo and dynamic markings, but beyond this it is the job of the interpreter to work some magic. Here’s the original tune, which is bright and jocular, and must be played very softly and serenely at the opening:

Bartok Dance No

Start by compartmentalising the melodic sections, so you know where the melody occurs and how it has been transformed as the work progresses (analysing a piece can prove extremely effective; using red pencil is a good way to identify sections!). Then write as much fingering in as possible; suitable fingering makes all the difference when honing a smooth performance.

Next, concentrate on the ‘accompanying’ material, which is just as important (often more so), again, write in all fingerings, and touch should be predominantly legato (pedal should be kept to a minimum). The copious chordal left and right hand passages ably demonstrate Bartók’s use of bitonality (two keys at once) and in many cases, polytonality (many keys at the same time). Although this Dance is in the key of C major, the increasingly dissonant harmonic progressions throughout, provide the exotic flavour and spice.

As always, working in small sections usually proffers the best results, and certain passages require special attention. Take note of the ‘off beat’ accompaniment sections; bars  25-32 and bars 33-39 are a couple of examples. The syncopated chords can be lighter and generally shorter than the melodic material, but placing them correctly is vital and challenging. Success will depend on the grasp of the pulse, and assimilation of the ‘groove’. If rhythm is causing some grief, try breaking down further, dividing each bar into three sections, literally playing the first three quaver beats (the first ‘3’ in the time signature), then take a short pause. Now continue with the two quaver portion (the ‘2’ in the time signature), now another  pause. Then finally the last three quavers in the bar (last ‘3’).  It I. s  easier to understand a complicated pattern when broken up completely. This will take time, but eventually the 3+2+3 will be easily grasped, and joining bars or groups of bars will be relatively straight forward.

Chordal progressions such as those in bar 51-54 need flexibility technically. The 3+2+3 pattern provides the perfect opportunity to split the bar. Play the first three quaver group, immediately followed by the duplet (quaver) group, then a slight pause (to ‘rest’ the hand), before playing the last group of quavers. Giving the wrist a ‘rest’ in between the chords, allows for release of any tension and encourages a slight ‘push’ on the sixth beat of the bar, adding to the rhythmic energy and momentum. All chordal sections can be broken down in this way.

The other issue which needs addressing is moving at speed from one ‘section’ to another. Dance No. 4 has a swift tempo, with many figurations moving from one place on the keyboard to another quickly, and this combined with the fact that the dynamics sometimes change just as rapidly, mean a free arm and body are needed for accuracy. Try taking two bars such as this (bars 8 and 9);

Dance Bartok Example 2

And start by working hands separately. Leaps or jumps can be surmounted by slow, deliberate work. Play the last beat of bar 8 going to the first beat of bar 9, over the jump,  carefully calculating the movement needed by each hand to land accurately in the middle of the note with correct fingering each time.  Play the last chord of the left hand, in bar 8 (A, C sharp and E), then take your take time when finding the low E in the next bar. Once found, don’t play it, just sit on it and survey the movement needed for the jump. Do this slowly, taking your time. Once you’ve done this a few times accurately, you can go ahead and play the notes. Do this with the right hand too and then slowly put hands together, gradually building confidence with each jump before increasing the speed.

Another useful tool is to practice going too far i.e. one octave higher or lower than necessary (in this case, jumping in the left hand of bar  to bottom E, just below low F). Leaping much faster than actually needed, can also work well. When the speed is slowed down to the actual or original tempo, the jump can seem easy. Also working with accents and different touches  (especially important for changing dynamics) can reinforce the accuracy of the jump. Preparing the body mentally and physically for any jump is important, and this is made much easier when the upper body is loose and relaxed. Build a feeling of relaxation (or physical freedom) into jumps, so that at the crucial moment your body resists the urge to ‘lock-up’ and your arm feels light and free during the leap. Leaps are easier to judge if they are memorised.

These tips are just to help you get started. There are so many ways to work at a piece such as this. Here’s a great recording of Bartók playing all six dances. The fourth can be heard at 4 minutes 30 seconds.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


A few thoughts on Practical Musicianship and Keyboard Harmony

Today’s post highlights an important yet often forgotten element in music education. Most pupils take instrumental exams at some point in their musical training and are therefore familiar with aural and sight-reading tests; nearly all practical exams have these elements, irrespective of level. However, a much broader based training is necessary if pupils are going to become rounded and complete musicians.

Even if a student finds the  supplementary tests in instrumental or vocal exams straightforward, they would still benefit from more practical based musicianship exercises; one solution could be Practical Musicianship Exams. The ABRSM (Associated Board of The Royal Schools of Music) have a series of graded tests (1-8) covering a whole spectrum of skills which are different yet comparable to those found in the conventional aural tests. Practical Musicianship exams can be taken instead of the Theory exams; most notably, Grade 5 can be supplemented for Grade 5 Theory.

Subjects covered are similar to some of those featured in the Aural tests at the early grades, but from Grade 6 onwards, there are differing worthwhile tests. Pupils are required to sing or play some tests from memory, diatonic melodies (in more extended, complicated examples than those found in traditional aural exam tests), middle or lower part melodies, melodies with added expression, articulation, dynamics. There are also memory tests where the candidate is asked to play back, as well as transpose at sight, and recognise changes in a short musical extract. Answering questions about an extract from a score is another valuable test too.

The real benefit to any practical musicianship test must be the element of harmonisation, and ‘free’ playing or improvisation which is promoted in the advanced grades. If the keyboard is not a student’s métier, then practical tests can be played on any instrument.

It’s the element of thinking ‘on the spot’, which builds the foundation for advanced study. Theory exams are a great tool for understanding and practising harmony and counter-point; they could be considered the ‘first stage’ of learning, however, the realisation of harmony is truly grasped whilst improvising or harmonising at the keyboard. Useful exam tests include continuing a two bar melody by elongating to last eight bars, realizing a short figured bass passage by adding the required chords, and performing a ‘free improvisation’ based on a given poem.

Whether students decide to take an exam or not, keyboard harmony should perhaps be introduced into weekly practice regimes. Learning how to harmonise at sight and to assimilate figured bass are skills which are perfected over a period of time and with regular cultivation. Once basic harmony is understood, pupils can begin to harmonise,  so here are a few suggestions and ideas to implement during practice sessions.

1. An understanding of basic triads (or chords which use the root or tonic, third and the fifth notes of a scale and are built on degrees of the scale) and chordal progressions is needed, so ideally some theory must be studied first. The example below shows how triads are built on each degree of the scale (in C major here), and it’s these which form the basis for harmonisation.

Chord progressions 2

Then, for those with sufficient keyboard skills (possibly Grade 5/6 level), start by playing cadences (i.e. the ends of phrases and pieces which normally consists of just two chords). Work out basic cadences: Perfect (which uses chords VI),  Imperfect (chords  I, II, IV or VI to V), Plagal (IV-I) and Interrupted  (generally VVI) cadences, listening to how they sound and feel to play (you might find it useful to write them out first on manuscript). You could practice playing them in all different positions around the keyboard.

2. Now play those cadences in every key; it’s probably best to work through the keys methodically adhering to a pattern such as the circle of fifths or fourths. Once you are familiar with these chord patterns, more chords can be added to each cadential point, so that you end up with a four or five chord cycle such as; chords I – IV – V – I (or tonic, subdominant, dominant, tonic chords, see example below).

Chord progression

Incidentally, this simple chord cycle is one used often in pop music, sometimes repeated ad infinitum over an entire song. Again, try to work at these chords in all keys and observe the bass note in every chord as this is the key to successful harmonisation. The feel and sound must be noted and assimilated, as it will prove crucial when playing on the spot, adding chords to melodies.

3. Once basic chords and their patterns are thoroughly ingested and can be played without too much thought (i.e. without having to slowly work them out),  look at fairly simple melodies (perhaps those consisting of two or three four bar phrases), and decide how and where to harmonise by adding chords (either in the right hand or splitting the harmonies between two hands; the latter takes some practice). Sometimes one chord per bar will suffice if the tempo is quick. Next, play the harmonisation slowly at the keyboard adding the melody at the top of the texture. Concentration is key to begin with, and rather like sight-reading, it will all become easier and quicker over time.

4. Practice simple harmonisation for a while before negotiating Figured Bass, which is another type of harmonisation where symbols and numerals written under the Bass line indicate certain intervals and chords.

5. Reading through and studying hymns can be particularly helpful when learning to harmonise (and good sight-reading practice too!). Mentally take note of the chordal progressions, which will become more familiar. It’s also possible to notice the same patterns appearing countless times. Start by opening any hymn book, and also get a copy of J.S. Bach’s 371 Harmonized Chorales and 69 Chorale Melodies with Figured Bass (Riemenschneider), which are fun to sight-read and are a good place to begin. There are, of course, many other useful materials and resources. Melodies of popular songs are another never-ending source of suitable harmonising material.

6. After a period of study the basis of harmony and harmonisation will have been learnt and the student can begin to experiment with improvisation. Sometimes just creating a ‘mood’ or atmosphere in a short simple improvised passage of a few bars, is necessary to start with, again, slow-moving harmonic progressions (such as those suggested above) will form the backbone of any melodic exploration.

These stages may take some time and pupils do need to be fairly fluent at the keyboard (or any instrument) to harmonise and improvise effectively, but it’s definitely a productive and interesting area of musical study to be encouraged in lessons.

 


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


The Value of Music Theory

Last year I wrote a post about the importance of the Grade 5 Music Theory exam and it has become one of the most visited articles on my site. You can read it here. The main thrust of my argument is that theory (or the academic, written facet of music) should never be side lined in preference for the practical or performance aspect. Grade 5 theory is a significant exam because for some exam boards (namely the ABRSM), it’s imperative before taking the higher practical or instrumental grades such as Grade 6, 7 and 8. Not all exam boards require theory exams to be passed in this way, but irrespective of exams, I believe theory is as important as learning to play an instrument.

The reasoning for this is simple; whilst playing any instrument is great fun and instructive (we all know the benefits of music lessons), the construction of music is a very valuable tool. Whether a student wishes to take music seriously and become a professional, or whether they just enjoy playing as a hobby, reading and writing music fluently can substantially change their options and possibilities.

The piano is a fairly universal instrument necessitating a pupil to negotiate two lines of music at once (treble and bass) in order to play fluently, so if you are learning the piano then you will be assimilating both clefs, but for many other instruments, only one clef need be studied. Violinists will learn the treble clef (because the instrument’s sound is limited to playing high-pitched sounds) whilst Double Bass players need only know the bass clef (the Double Bass produces only low-pitched sounds). Many other orchestral instruments are similar to these examples. Therefore a young orchestral musician will go through all their learning processes in one clef unless they also learn to play the piano. However, if theory is studied there will be no such limitations; pupils will learn to read and write in both clefs automatically.

This also goes for so many other elements which I stated in my previous post; all 24 keys will be studied, as well as scale and arpeggio patterns, transposition, recognising intervals and knowledge of a whole variety of dynamic and expression markings. All important information, but the two crucial components which really need to be studied in-depth (for Grade 5 theory or otherwise), is the analysis of a piece of music and knowledge of chord construction. In my opinion, these are vital elements because they will facilitate the exploration and understanding of all musical genres.

Analysis is the examination of a work’s  complete structure. This will include identifying the formal structure (the form used, whether that be sonata form or a contrapuntal style such as a fugue), it should also encompass the break down of each work (your piece might employ Binary or Ternary form, for example) and the thematic material (how and where the melodies and themes occur). It’s akin to peering into the composer’s world and comprehending their handiwork. By observing compositional techniques, pupils can start to think for themselves. They will perceive how works are written and will have the perspicacity to compose themselves. This may be slightly more advanced than what’s required for the Grade 5 theory exam, but nevertheless analysis is such a vital tool in a pianists box of tricks and for this reason alone theory can prove enlightening.

The second important element in theoretical ‘know-how’ is chord construction and progressions also known as harmony. By understanding how chords are built and more crucially, how they relate to each other and the connecting principles that govern them, a pupil can learn to grasp them swiftly. If a pupil knows what to expect in a chordal progression, particularly with regard to cadences (or the ends of phrases), smooth playing usually follows.  Finding chord positions and their fingerings quickly will make sight-reading that much easier. Chord structures and progressions occur throughout all styles of music from classical to pop, so whether playing hymns for a church service or keyboard parts in a rock band, once the basics have been digested, everything falls into place.

Any student, young or more mature, will benefit enormously from studying the theory of music; it will quite simply open up a whole new world of musical possibilities.

Useful resources;

Music Theory in Practice: ABRSM ( from Grades 1-8)

First Steps in Music Theory Grades 1 -5

The AB Guide to Music Theory

Understand Music Theory


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Practical tips for your music exam

Photo courtesy of www.artmathmusic.com

December is upon us and the music exam period is now in full swing. Many may have already taken their practical exams but for those who have yet to endure these worthwhile tests, here are a few ideas which might just help your preparation. I tend to focus on piano playing on my blog but this advice could be applied to any instrument.

Irrespective of the grade or level of music exam for which you are studying, hopefully you will have been practising consistently throughout the term. It isn’t a good idea to leave all the preparation to the week before the exam because little can be achieved this way. Here are a few tips:

1. Establish a practising schedule; it’s far better to practise little and often especially when working towards an exam.

2. Scales are probably the best way to start your daily practice; they will get your fingers moving and are a good way to warm-up. If you don’t have time to practice them all in one session then establish a rota; you could asign two or three keys a day and practice all the elements in those keys (so if you are going to work at the key of C then you would play the similar motion scales in C major and C minor, thirds apart, contrary motions, arpeggios and so forth). All keys will then receive the necessary attention every week. Some exam boards require other technical work as well as scales so you can incorporate these elements into your scale practice too.

3. It’s also a good idea to practice scales in a completely different order to that which they appear in your scale book. The examiner will generally ask scales at random (obviously they will be from the list selected for the grade you are taking) and it can be a shock to have to recall keys in a different sequence from the one you have been used to.

4. You will normally need to prepare 3 or 4 contrasting pieces for most exams. It’s a worthwhile exercise playing through each one everyday without stopping or correcting yourself; this will get you ready to perform under pressure in your exam. Once you have done this many times and feel happy and confident with each piece, you can start playing them through to friends and relatives. Or better still, enter yourself for a local music festival where your performance can be appraised or judged by an experienced adjudicator and you will have a sympathetic audience too.

5. Don’t neglect your sight-reading. This is an important part of the exam but many students seem to leave it to the last week to start their preparation. The sight-reading element should really be incorporated into your practice schedule months before your exam. When practising, focus on two or three exercises a day playing at a very slow speed so that you are able to observe all the details in each exercise. The most crucial part of this test is to keep going right until the end. Once you stop and correct yourself you will probably fail this element of the exam.

6. Rather like sight-reading, aural tests (or ear tests) can easily be over looked or forgotten. It’s not easy to practice aural tests without the help of a teacher but there are ways to help yourself. Most tests require some singing so try playing single notes on the piano (to start with) and then sing them. Listen to whether you are actually pitching the correct notes. This isn’t really about producing beautiful singing sounds, it’s about attuning your ear and sharpening your sense of pitch. So don’t worry if you weren’t in the front row when God was bestowing vocal chords! Similarly, you can also train your ears to hear intervals and chord progressions by just playing them everyday to yourself on the piano.

Hope these basic tips are some help and very good luck with your exam.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Why is Grade 5 Theory so important?

 

Image courtesy of www.semiahmooacademyofmusic.ca

In the last few weeks I have repeatedly been asked about the Grade 5 theory exam, so much so that it has inspired me to write this post. I am talking about the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) theory exam. To those who haven’t yet taken any piano or instrumental tests,  this exam board is the most popular in the UK and the world (according to the ABRSM).

The Grade 5 theory exam is significant to pupils because according to the ABRSM’s rules once a grade 5 practical (i.e. piano exam) has been achieved it’s not possible to take a further exam (grades, 6,7 or 8) until you have passed the theory test. Many view this as a major drawback to taking ABRSM exams and I know plenty of teachers and students who have purposely switched boards to avoid this. Other boards don’t have a grade 5 theory requirement to take higher exams. Some pupils go to TrinityGuildhall, The London College of Music or Victoria College of Music exam boards instead.

Whilst I can understand the logic here, I can’t help but think this to be a major mistake. Yes, Grade 5 theory is tricky for many, but it has so many benefits for those wanting to go beyond Grade 5 level that it really shouldn’t be ignored. Music theory is bascially learning how to write music down or the ‘study of how music works’. It distils and analyzes the fundamental parameters or elements of music—rhythm, harmony (harmonic function), melody, structure, form, texture, etc.

The exam contains some valuable exercises and for those considering skipping this test here are a few reasons to make you think again:

1. In Grade 5 theory you will need to recognise all 24 keys and learn how to write them down. This will prove extremely valuable when taking higher exams (scales are based on these keys!) and for those going on to study A level music.

2. You will need to recognise intervals (a very important part of the exam) which will prove useful in sight reading development (especially sight singing) and will improve note reading in general. It will also help you grasp melodic movement quickly too.

3. Transposition is another beneficial exercise. That is, transposing music from one key to another. Woodwind and Brass instruments sometimes play in a different key to the rest of the orchestra and it’s useful to be able to ‘move’ or change their parts. Learning Alto and Tenor clefs are important as well.

4. Chord recognition. I think this is possibly the most crucial Grade 5 test. Understanding basic chord structure or harmony and cadential points (musical endings) is vital in writing or analyzing music. Assimilation of this exercise will prepare pupils for higher exams like music A level or practical music exams (piano, violin etc).

5. Writing or composing short melodies is great practice for the would-be singer songwriter or those merely wanting to express themselves musically. It also makes students adhere to writing logically in musical patterns.

6. Grade 5 theory also demands analysis of a short piece. This is an excellent exercise. Analyzing music will help you to grasp many musical elements swiftly. You need to know time signatures, rhythmic patterns, ornaments, as well as  dynamic and articulation markings.

There are so many advantageous exercises in this important exam and it really isn’t too difficult when you apply yourself. Do get a good teacher – one who is able to patiently explain everything and do make sure you complete all available past papers – this is the key to passing in my opinion. Don’t skip it – what you learn whilst studying for Grade 5 theory is far more important than passing. Good luck!


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Do music examiners account for nerves?

Do music examiners account for nerves? Several readers have asked me this question recently. Everybody feels some kind of anxiety before an exam. It doesn’t really matter what type of test is being taken, it’s just the fear of being scrutinized. Some students deal with nerves better than others and the most effective way to cope is to be very well prepared. I have already written about performance anxiety several times on my blog as it is a hugely important topic and you can read my suggestions here.

Examiners do bear in mind just how nerve wracking a music exam can be – they know that students are human and will make mistakes. However, they will only mark what they hear and are likely to comment if too many errors are made. It is worth remembering that even if you don’t play to your usual standard due to nerves, but have fulfilled the basic exam criteria and manage to play reasonably well, then you will pass.

Candidates exhibit nerves in different ways; some will forget scales, others will restart one of their pieces. If the errors are fairly minor (and they generally are amongst most candidates) then very few marks will be lost and the overall result won’t be affected too much. It’s easy for candidates (especially adults) to magnify their errors whilst in the exam room. They let the odd mistake create worry and doubt in their minds. This negative thinking can affect the rest of the exam so it’s best not to dwell on past imperfections.

If you have prepared extremely well for you piano exam and have had several practice runs (to friends and family or maybe other pupils at your teacher’s practice) then you should feel confident. This is the only way to deal with pre exam worry. The examiner DOES want you to get a good mark so try to enter the exam with a really positive mindset and don’t let the odd wobbly moment undermine your ability. Remember most students do pass and you should be no exception. Good luck.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Piano exam success: 9 key points

Music Lessons Glasgow | Violin Tuition | Sound Production CoursesSeveral of my piano 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, so 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 so good preparation allows you to feel more confident about playing. Confidence can equal distinction! Examiners recognize a distinction candidate before they play a note; they exude confidence.

2. It is a good idea to start your exam with scales (usually you can choose to start with scales or pieces). Starting 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 starting 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 (this is always encouraged by the ABRSM).

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 (including scales) 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 so 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 a distinction. Good Luck.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.