Tuesday, 29 May 2012

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Music Examinations?

The music exam.  Are they worth going for or can they put you off the whole experience of learning music?

It all depends on the individual.  If you are self motivated and can keep that motivation to learn and develop throughout your music career then music exams are just leading to a piece of paper.  This can be especially true for the adult learner.  An adult learner has usually already got all the qualifications that they need and a music qualification is not much use.  The chances are that learning to play a musical instrument is more of a hobby and something that they have always wanted to do.

Sometimes though, especially with an adult - life gets in the way.  Children, jobs and house moves can all get in the way and motivation is often difficult.  Sometimes as a result a music exam can help give the adult something to aim towards - a deadline.  The adult can see the progress they desire by simply moving up the grades every 6-12 months.  Again though, this does depend on the adult and whether motivation is needed over the medium to long term.

With children, music examinations can be seen as more important but for a very different reason.  Nobody knows where life will take you as a child and which job or career they will end up in.

Music examinations lead to an extra qualification to the usual ones they can obtain at school.  It gibes them something extra to put on their CV, personal statement and on their UCAS form when applying for university.  On the face of it, taking a music examination is a no brainer.

The trouble is that exam after exam for many years can also make children dislike or even hate music.  It is important as a teacher to not make exams the basis for a whole lesson if this is the route they decide to take.  This balance is hard and one that we aspire to in my music school, www.primavolta.co.uk.

Personally, I try to use games in lessons, then run through exam material and then add some fun pieces of music.  This can also double up as sight reading as well as showing the student that you really do want them to be able to play the music they feel is important.  Our student area allows this for all our students so that boredom does not sink in.

Scales, exam pieces, sight reading, composition work and theory can be hard work.  For some students the qualification is not worth the amount of work needed for each exam.  The structure of a music examination and the deadline does often move the student forward, combined with slick and innovative teaching.  The teacher should be abel to spot when the student needs a break.  This could just be a week or two off examination focus or even a complete break for a few months after a big examination.  Communication between teacher and pupil (and parent if appropriate) is key at all times.  If the student is feeling down, listen and adapt the lesson as appropriate. 

Music examinations have their place.  Make sure to discuss your feelings about them with your teacher and make sure you communicate these feelings if your opinion changes.  This will keep your desire top master your musical instrument from disappearing. 

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