Why bother taking exams?

ABRSM Piano Exams

29 years ago a young boy, lets call him Joe, was entered for his ABRSM Piano Grade 1 examination.  He made a reasonable effort and just about passed the exam scoring 102 out of 150.  Approximately 28 years later, I received a telephone call.  It was the same chap who had now moved to Wiltshire and was enquiring about piano lessons, having not played it since school days.  I always welcome new pupils so gladly accepted the challenge of helping him and we commenced lessons around Autumn last year.

Initially we did go right back to basics but Joe was very keen to learn and make progress.  He had said initially that he wasn’t bothered about taking exams and just wanted to learn to play the piano for his own enjoyment. This of course is absolutely fine. However, as the months passed and he started to do well i mooted the notion that he might want to consider studying for the ABRSM Grade Two Piano Exam.

Initially he was sceptical so I suggested just having a look at the pieces and maybe trying some of the scales and arpeggio exercises just from the point of view of improving his technique. Sight-reading is a core part of ABRSM exams and is worth a hefty 21 marks. Of course out of all the elements of the exam, its perhaps the hardest to prepare for.  In my view the only way to improve sight reading skills is to do a lot of it – in Joe’s case he learnt a lot of other short pieces alongside the Grade 2 pieces and also worked his way through the exercises in the ABRSM Sight-reading book for Grade 2.

Roll forward another few months and in Summer this year Joe entered and took his Grade 2 piano exam – ironically exactly 29 years to the day when he took his Grade 1 in July 1986.  In line with my expectations he was awarded a Distinction and in fact scored 21/21 for his sight-reading.

I realise that exams aren’t for everyone but they are a good way of marking progress. Not only do they give pupils a clearly defined goal and opportunities to improve both performance and technique, but most importantly of all, at the end you get a shiny certificate in recognition of your achievements!

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Jules Addison teaches piano in Wiltshire and is Musical Director for The BlueBellesThe Pewsey BellesCirencester Male Voice Choir, & The GWH Trust Choir.