Guest Post: Piano exams success – 9 key points

With the spring exam season upon us, I asked a friend and colleague of mine, Melanie Spanswick, who has experience as an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), to offer some tips on how to do well. Here are her 9 key points for exam success:

 

  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 equals 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 develop 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. Remember the 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!!

Further resources:

Why take a music exam?

Magnus playing Vampire Blues by Kevin Wooding (ABRSM Grade 1 piano List C):

http://soundcloud.com/cross-eyedpianist/magnus-vampire-blues

Melanie Spanswick is a concert pianist and writer. More on Melanie at her blog ClassicalMel.

 

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