It can take a long time for a pupil to be ready to study towards Grade 1 pending the amount of practice they do and the speed of their progress. Before this can be even considered note recognition must be confident, an understanding of keys and key signatures needs to be grasped. I introduce scales to assist with the latter and then introduce pieces with related key signatures.
It is important that a pupil can play examination scales with fluency and from memory before introducing the examination set pieces. Otherwise the tendency is to focus on the pieces and not learn the scales and broken chords are learnt in a panic a few weeks before the exam.
I also introduce sight-reading at an early stage so my pupils gains confidence with these tests. This is an important part of their examination particularly as this takes 21 points of the result. If your child’s exam result is affected negatively by this part of the exam make sure you and your child work out what mark they would have got if it was not included in their result. This can lift spirits hugely and give your child a more positive feeling towards their result.
Aural tests are additionally part of the syllabus which I cover in my lessons. These can be additionally practised at home or in the car on long journeys with the ABRSM aural test cds.
Therefore, there is a lot to cover and prepare before entering a child into an examination. Nearer to the examination I encourage longer lessons ie 45 mins to enable more time to cover the syllabus. or additional lessons to focus on just sightreading and aural tests.
A child needs to be prepared to practise very regularly with the support of their parent alongside their other school commitments, examinations and additional clubs. As their teacher, I like to feel the pupil, parent and myself work as a team towards this examination goal.
ABRSM provide the Prep Test should a pupil wish for an earlier goal before Grade 1. This is a simpler examination which the pupil cannot fail and they are given a certificate. This test can give a child confidence performing in front on an examiner and a sense of achievement. It also gives them experience of having to do regular practise to gain fluency with memorised exercises and learning two pieces.
More details about the ABRSM syllabus.
For each exam there are a range of different major and minor scales to learn from memory and play fluently. Additionally, there are broken chords for Grade 1 and arpeggios for Grade 2 upwards. There are three set pieces to learn (but not from memory) – a choice is given in the ABRSM piece book. This book also comes with a CD which I would encourage all examination pupils to buy so they can listen to their pieces. Alternatively, individual exam pieces can be downloaded from the following ABRSM webpage.
On the exam day
Always get to your child’s exam venue at least 30 mins early on the exam day allowing for parking and time to warm up and calming of nerves.
Make sure your child looks smart and if they have long hair encourage it to be tied back or make sure it is neat and off your child’s face.
Remind your child to say “Good morning” of “afternoon” to their examiner and smile!! This immediately puts the examiner in a good mood. Remember they could have seen many examinees that day and you want your child to stand out!
Encourage your child to take their time when they first sit at the piano and tell the examiner if the stool is not at the correct height for them. Remind them that this is THEIR examination and the examiner should always be prepared to wait a little before your child starts their piece and sets the tempo in their head before playing.
Make sure your child’s hands are kept warm with gloves before the exam or guide them to run some warm water over them. This enables more flexibility in playing. If they are nervous then guide them to take some deep breaths. A parent could can guide them to take a deep breath and exhale very slowly while you count out loud. Anxiety is very connected to breath so this is key to controlling butterflies and any fear.
If time allows take your child out for a congratulations hot chocolate or cupcake making sure that whatever their experience was like you are very proud of them indeed.
Always encourage your child to learn something fun, light-hearted and a piece they will enjoy after the examination. Encourage them to try a piece of jazz, ragtime or contemporary so they learn something new rhythmically or a new style of music. I tend to introduce a new key or new scale after a couple of weeks after the exam so they continue with a good warm up structure and can go on to learn a piece in a new key.
Remember examinations are good for structure and goals but NOT the be and end all.
The most important thing is your child is developing a wonderful hobby and passion which will give both themselves and others around them huge happiness for life.