Question for the teachers: grade exams

Posted by: rlinkt

Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/04/12 11:37 AM

My 8-yr old has been taking lessons for a little over 3 years, and is making good progress on her playing skills, OK progress with theory, and not so much with ear training. To some extent, the lack of balance is a choice. Given the limited time availability per day, and the way she is picking up new material, right now it does seem to be the best choice to focus her time on the actual playing.

Overall I am very happy with her current teacher. The one concern that I have is that she is not a believer in the grade level exams. I have not been bothered by that so far. Now that I am familiar with this wonderful resource on the web, I thought I would solicit the opinions of the folks here about the importance of taking the tests beyond just the student's musical development. Do you think it is important?

Also, does the teacher need to be a member of the entity that administers the tests?
Posted by: dumdumdiddle

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/04/12 12:09 PM

Is your teacher a member of MTAC? That's the only way she could participate in their leveled exam program called Certificate of Merit.

Here's the link to more info on CM : https://www.mtac.org/programs/cm/index.shtml

Evaluations are in the spring but the deadline to sign up is Nov 15.

In CM, students (at the lower levels) perform 2 memorized pieces, scales/chords, do a short sight reading and ear training segment, and a written theory test. Levels are from Prep to 9/Advanced).

It's a wonderful program for students and for teachers. It helps me make sure I'm covering all aspects of piano and it's motivating for students as they progress each year to a new level.
Posted by: Peter K. Mose

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/04/12 01:03 PM

We piano teachers are split on this issue. Personally I'm pleased you have found a teacher who does not believe in testing. You might ask her why sometime.

But you are also raising bigger questions about testing, measurement, education, and society that only you can answer on behalf of your daughter.
Posted by: kayvee

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/04/12 02:58 PM

There is no right answer.

It depends on the teacher. It depends on the parent. Most importantly, it depends on the student.

It has its benefits. It has its flaws.

I know some who were very thankful to go through them. I know many more who now hate the piano because of them. Some who are thankful are wonderful pianist, while some are just plain awful. Some who hated them can barely play, but others are quite good.

There is no right answer.

If you do like the idea of what the tests do but don't want to put your daughter in testing, you could always ask the teacher to look at what is required at each level and make sure she can do at least that (so, for example, her ear-training doesn't fall too far behind).
Posted by: MaggieGirl

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/04/12 07:31 PM

As a parent, I'd consider them once my daughter is in late middle school. I think by that time, they may need a reason to give their peers for practice time (I have a test coming up...). Also, it adds something for college resumes down the road. They don't have to be super stars, but to show that they can commit, is a positive.

As I understand it (I could be off the mark), the testing my daughter's teacher uses is ABRSM and she doesn't have to take all the earlier tests.

I would be more proactive if she didn't already experience a testing environment. But she has tested and competed in stressful situations so I'm not worried so much about testing at this age.
Posted by: rlinkt

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/04/12 08:16 PM

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful responses.

My daughter's teacher is not a member of MTAC or ABRSM. I need to talk to her to see if she is at least willing to support the process. Personally, I do not think that my daughter cares much about the exams, at least now, but I won't be surprised if in another 3-4 years, it does matter to her.

Originally Posted By: MaggieGirl
As a parent, I'd consider them once my daughter is in late middle school. I think by that time, they may need a reason to give their peers for practice time (I have a test coming up...). Also, it adds something for college resumes down the road. They don't have to be super stars, but to show that they can commit, is a positive.


These are two very interesting observations. To some extent my consideration of this question was spurred by your second point. Two of our friends, whose daughters also learn piano, brought up exactly this point. As much as I really do not want to get fixated on stuff like this, its hard to avoid thinking about it once its been planted into your head. Your first point is really insightful. Glad that you brought it up.

Originally Posted By: Peter K. Mose
We piano teachers are split on this issue. Personally I'm pleased you have found a teacher who does not believe in testing. You might ask her why sometime.

I have indeed discussed this with her teacher. I have played guitar all my life, and never taken an exam. So I can't say that I am completely disagree with her stand on this topic. But she is not thinking about the college admission process confused
Posted by: keystring

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/04/12 09:37 PM

What purpose do you think exams would serve? Would you like your daughter to have ear training, and if so, have you mentioned this to her teacher? If her teacher does not believe in these tests, has she explained her views on them, and on teaching music to you?
Posted by: AZNpiano

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/04/12 10:24 PM

I'm a big believer in exams for piano, but it's definitely not for everyone. Both the parents and the student need to be super dedicated, and the teacher needs to know what she's doing. The deal-breaker is the student. If the student is not cooperative and obedient, then you can forget about testing.

Some students found me because they want to take the CM test. In my experience, their previous piano studies have been so shoddy, including a complete lack of knowledge in theory, sight reading, and [gasp!] ear training, that six or seven years of piano lessons is tantamount to CM Level 1. I kid you not. Whenever I get a transfer from a non-MTAC teacher, a giant red flag is raised.
Posted by: Peter K. Mose

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/05/12 11:34 PM

Let's celebrate an 8yo California girl pursuing music for its own sake with an agreeable piano teacher. But it sounds as if her guitar-playing mom might enjoy taking some belated exams now in guitar and theory and ear training.
Posted by: Ann in Kentucky

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/06/12 07:53 AM

Originally Posted By: Peter K. Mose
Let's celebrate an 8yo California girl pursuing music for its own sake with an agreeable piano teacher.


I'm all for celebrating music study for the enjoyment of it.

That reminds me: Last week at the end of his lesson an 8 year old boy was grinning widely. I thought he was about to laugh. I asked "Is something funny?" He said "I just like playing piano."

That made my day.
Posted by: Beth_Frances

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/06/12 07:49 PM

My piano teacher from 3-18 was *strongly* against exams, from the point of view that you end up spending a lot of time polishing 3-5 pieces, when you could have worked on 20-50 pieces in the same time, not polishing, but working on sightreading (which isn't going to progress significantly working on 3-5 pieces for 6-12 months) and getting a feel for different styles and composers.

Unfortunately though, some students wouldn't progress at all if they didn't have exams to work towards. That deadline is the only thing that can get them to the piano away from lessons. Kids (and parents!) also like to compete against one another, and be able to say what grade they have accomplished.

Personally I believe in a 50/50 approach. Playing lots of pieces that can be learnt in 1-3 weeks as well as some harder ones, but also working towards an exam for about 3 months once per year, to give a marker of where we're at and something to work towards.

It's also largely a matter of temperament. If your child is competitive or loves to perform they may get a lot of fulfillment from doing exams. If they love playing piano without needing external motivation than they might be better off without them.
Posted by: ezpiano.org

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/08/12 04:56 PM

Originally Posted By: Beth_Frances


Personally I believe in a 50/50 approach. It's also largely a matter of temperament. If your child is competitive or loves to perform they may get a lot of fulfillment from doing exams. If they love playing piano without needing external motivation than they might be better off without them.


Same ideas here. Among my students and parents, I give them choice of doing exam or not, and final decision is made by them, not me. Students are the main factor here. If students are not willing to cooperate, there is nothing the parents or the teacher can do.
Posted by: rlinkt

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/08/12 11:57 PM

Thanks again for all the input. Given the feedback I asked my daughter what she wants to do. Looks like she is inclined towards taking the exams.
Posted by: AZNpiano

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/09/12 12:47 AM

Originally Posted By: rlinkt
Thanks again for all the input. Given the feedback I asked my daughter what she wants to do. Looks like she is inclined towards taking the exams.

Well, it's too late to do CM for the 2012-2013 year. The registration deadline is coming up in a week.
Posted by: rlinkt

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/09/12 01:02 AM

She can start next year -- there isn't any particular rush. Also I need to ask her teacher to support the process, since she is not a member of CMTA.
Posted by: Peter K. Mose

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/09/12 02:53 AM

Originally Posted By: rlinkt
I asked my daughter what she wants to do. Looks like she is inclined towards taking the exams.


Sounds far-fetched to me. But I guess if mom wants her kid to do exams, even against the wishes of the teacher, then her kid will tell her mom she wants to do exams, even against the wishes of the teacher.

The world is a screwy place for us piano teachers.
Posted by: ten left thumbs

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/09/12 06:49 AM

Originally Posted By: Peter K. Mose
Originally Posted By: rlinkt
I asked my daughter what she wants to do. Looks like she is inclined towards taking the exams.


Sounds far-fetched to me. But I guess if mom wants her kid to do exams, even against the wishes of the teacher, then her kid will tell her mom she wants to do exams, even against the wishes of the teacher.

The world is a screwy place for us piano teachers.


Are exams really so dreadful?
Posted by: MaggieGirl

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/09/12 01:06 PM

If the teacher doesn't do them - you have talked to the teacher and they already confirmed this, are telling the teacher that if she doesn't do it you will find another teacher?
Posted by: ezpiano.org

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/09/12 01:10 PM

Originally Posted By: Peter K. Mose
even against the wishes of the teacher.


Speaking of wishes of a piano teacher...
I have student that is so good that I think he should do the exam, and the parents would not want to.
I also have student that is so bad that I think he should not do the exam, but the parents are pushing the student to do it.

If I am insisted in my wishes, I will lose all good and bad students.....
Posted by: AZNpiano

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/09/12 01:10 PM

Originally Posted By: ten left thumbs
Are exams really so dreadful?

It is only dreadful when the expectations of the parents, student, and teacher are mismatched. You can have the best parents and teacher, but if the student refuses to do the work, that's dreadful. You can have the best student and teacher, but if the parents are lazy and irresponsible--like being 2 hours late to exams?!--that's dreadful (yes, I've seen that happen!). And (maybe in this case) you can have the best parents and student, but the teacher is totally not on board. That's dreadful.
Posted by: ezpiano.org

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/09/12 01:13 PM

Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
Originally Posted By: ten left thumbs
Are exams really so dreadful?

It is only dreadful when the expectations of the parents, student, and teacher are mismatched. You can have the best parents and teacher, but if the student refuses to do the work, that's dreadful. You can have the best student and teacher, but if the parents are lazy and irresponsible--like being 2 hours late to exams?!--that's dreadful (yes, I've seen that happen!). And (maybe in this case) you can have the best parents and student, but the teacher is totally not on board. That's dreadful.


Thank you ANZ for saying what I am thinking.
Posted by: rlinkt

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/09/12 09:40 PM

Originally Posted By: MaggieGirl
If the teacher doesn't do them - you have talked to the teacher and they already confirmed this, are telling the teacher that if she doesn't do it you will find another teacher?

No. I know that she is not a believer in exams, and has perfectly good reasons for her stand. If she absolutely refuses, that would be unfortunate. But I wouldn't change teachers because of that -- she has been terrific for my daughter's musical development.

However if I did not think very highly of her, then I would be tempted to.
Posted by: ten left thumbs

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/10/12 04:13 AM

Originally Posted By: ezpiano.org


Thank you ANZ for saying what I am thinking.


It just seems a little strange to me to disbelieve (on the back of perfectly valid reasons to dread) that a child might spontaneously be keen on doing an exam. Children have all sorts of reasons for wanting to do an exam, like they want the certificate, their friend did an exam...

I mean, there is no particular reason, from the child's point of view, to suspect that something dreadful will happen.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/10/12 04:15 AM

Originally Posted By: rlinkt

No. I know that she is not a believer in exams, and has perfectly good reasons for her stand. If she absolutely refuses, that would be unfortunate. But I wouldn't change teachers because of that -- she has been terrific for my daughter's musical development.

However if I did not think very highly of her, then I would be tempted to.

I still find this confusing. Your daughter is doing well with this teacher, and she enjoys what she is doing. Her teacher does not seem to need to use exams to help her guide your daughter. Or at least, you don't seem to indicate that her teacher is lost in any way about where your daughter is. That is the purpose of exams, is it not - to help teachers know how to guide the student. So why is it unfortunate if she does not want to do exams? Is it not the judgment of the professional to know what tools she should and should not use?

I have seen no reasons given in this thread for having exams, but several reasons for not having them. That is, a parent gave college entrance as a reason. Even if it is for music study at the college level - my own child's admission was based on an audition and then a theory exam that was administered by the university. They are interested in knowing whether a student can play music with skill and understanding. From what you describe, that is what your daughter's teacher is giving her.

If on the other hand she is not teaching your daughter things that are usually featured on exams, such as ear training, and you think that if she got exams your daughter would get that skill, why not ask her about giving her ear training? That can be done without an exam.

To put matters into perspective, my own child was a late starter, and he opted out of exams so that his teacher would be able to concentrate entirely on working on what he needed to learn the most, without worrying about the agenda of the exams. This line of thinking made a lot of sense.
Posted by: Peter K. Mose

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/10/12 05:04 AM

Keystring has raised a worthy issue. Ten years from now, when little Janey from California wants to apply to a college or university, and her ambitious mom is hopeful that nonacademic music exams will enhance her chances of admission, that institution will instead want to hear her play, not view her past certificates of achievement.

For that matter, a written recommendation from a piano teacher would carry more value than an exam certificate.
Posted by: ezpiano.org

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/10/12 09:54 AM

Yes, I think ten years from now a lot of things will change. They used to have a Path B but from this year they get rid of Path B because it is not transparent enough for the college admission office to differentiate Path A and Path B.
I am pretty sure that a good teacher that provide solid foundation for well round balance piano education will help student to face any changes challenge in the future (ten years from now). I am afraid of some parents who taking piano lesson for the sake of taking test will produce students who cannot be creative in solution when real challenge comes.

Sorry, add on...
In another word, balance piano education can be done by taking test or not taking test. The keyword here is BALANCE.
A good piano teacher should balance everything from theory to performance to sight-reading and ear training. A good piano teacher should be able to notice which area is weak and trying to make it better etc.....
Posted by: rlinkt

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/10/12 12:02 PM

The piano teachers may find this completely laughable, but the reality is universities today are looking for students who not only excel in their studies, but in other areas as well. I am talking about regular college admissions, not going to college to study music where I suspect she will be selected on her own merit rather than a CMTA certificate. These kids have to show excellence in non-academic areas, countless hours of social work, ... in their applications. From what I understand, just saying that she plays piano is not going to get her any brownie points -- at least based on today's admissions processes. The admissions process certainly won't be the same in 10 years, but not knowing what it will be, its better to think about it in the context of what is known today. Given how much time she spends on piano, she will not be on that school softball team or whatever the kids who are spending their time a different way will have to say in 10 years.

Anyway, for the doubters, I would say don't look at the music education that you are providing just from one perspective. Just as the teachers have to think about the other aspects of their profession, the parents also have to consider how to leverage their kids music education. May be college will become so expensive that nobody can send their kids to college, and none of this will matter.
Posted by: AZNpiano

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/10/12 01:12 PM

Originally Posted By: Peter K. Mose
For that matter, a written recommendation from a piano teacher would carry more value than an exam certificate.

Why not both? Plus a list of music awards and exam scores from K-12? It certainly looks better than those folks who wait until 9th grade to take Level Advanced, pass it, and never touch piano again.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/10/12 03:38 PM

rlinkt, it looks like you have isolated some goals that you have in mind for your child. it helps a teacher to know your goals, so that she can design her program around your (and hopefully the student's) goals.

I was writing in as a parent, not teacher, btw. My children are in their mid-twenties so the college considerations were like "yesterday". The one who entered music looked at the lifestyle and environment of soloists and eventually opted out. He optimizes computer networks and troubleshoots for companies, and finds that many of the skills gained through serious music study have helped: self discipline, independent thinking, recognition and playing with patterns, creativity (thinking outside the box).

We come from many countries and many walks of life. I don't know how close the US and Canadian college systems are. Financial unreachability and/or crushing student loans are probably similar. Enjoy your children's childhood - it goes by all too fast. smile
Posted by: timtopham

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/17/12 07:04 PM

Hi everyone,

I blogged about the whole issue of exams recently and have been receiving some very interesting comments. You might like to read about it here: "Why working to exams is anti-piano".
Posted by: AZNpiano

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/17/12 08:47 PM

Tim:

What your article should blame is the teacher, not the test! There's absolutely nothing wrong with testing, or the test itself. The problem is the teacher who teaches solely to the test! And parents/students who take comfort in knowing that "passing" level 2 means the student has the "ability" of level 2.

If the teacher can't find more pieces to teach than the 3 required pieces per year, then the teacher is ill-equipped to teach and should not be teaching at all.
Posted by: rlinkt

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/17/12 11:32 PM

Interesting points, and discussion on your blog. I am completely in agreement with you that setting the target as passing an exam is missing the whole point. And that's not just for music.

In many ways, your arguments hold for many areas, such as academics. There are people who study to ace the exam, and people who study to develop a deep understanding of the subject.
Posted by: Ann in Kentucky

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/18/12 08:11 AM

Originally Posted By: timtopham
Hi everyone,

I blogged about the whole issue of exams recently and have been receiving some very interesting comments. You might like to read about it here: "Why working to exams is anti-piano".


Thank you for sharing this thoughtful essay.
Posted by: childofparadise2002

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 11/19/12 01:34 PM

Originally Posted By: rlinkt
There are people who study to ace the exam, and people who study to develop a deep understanding of the subject.


And there are people who develop a deep understanding of the subject and therefore pass exams quite effortlessly.
Posted by: Rennick

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 12/09/12 11:01 PM

I took piano lessons for 14 years (from age 3 through age 17). My piano teacher was amazing, and taught a popular method vs. the typical RCM (Royal Conservatory in Canada). This was great. I learned many skills, including theory, playing by ear, and playing chord charts (or comping as some call it).

Fast forward to later life. I'd love to begin teaching piano lessons. I've taught music lessons in another city (keyboard, guitar, drums) in a less formal setting (think "School of Rock"), and I feel I would be an excellent teacher. Unfortunately, because I never took exams, and didn't do a music degree, this option isn't as open to me as an independant teacher.

The first question everyone asks is "What grade RCM did you take?" One area piano teacher actually said that all those lessons were "wasted". Of course, I disagree, but I do wish I had an external validation of the level of piano performance that I had achieved. I wouldn't recommend to "younger me" to do an exam every year, but select milestones (grades 3, 6, 8) would have been a great addition.
Posted by: Minniemay

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 12/10/12 12:13 AM

Speaking as a college teacher in California, I can say that we DO look at whether or not a student has participated in CM and, if so, to what level. It gives us a bit of a ready profile of what theory and technique have been covered and that they have had exposure to a historical swath of literature.

I have, in the last 15 years, occasionally come across a student who has spent the entire year learning only the CM pieces, but that is a rare case. As a CM evaluator, I find most of the students to be pretty well-rounded.

How effective exams are has everything to do with the attitudes of the teacher, the parent and the student. They have to be a team if anything in piano study is to be worthwhile.
Posted by: timtopham

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 12/19/12 08:39 PM

Originally Posted By: Beth_Frances
My piano teacher from 3-18 was *strongly* against exams, from the point of view that you end up spending a lot of time polishing 3-5 pieces, when you could have worked on 20-50 pieces in the same time, not polishing, but working on sightreading (which isn't going to progress significantly working on 3-5 pieces for 6-12 months) and getting a feel for different styles and composers.

Unfortunately though, some students wouldn't progress at all if they didn't have exams to work towards. That deadline is the only thing that can get them to the piano away from lessons. Kids (and parents!) also like to compete against one another, and be able to say what grade they have accomplished.

Personally I believe in a 50/50 approach. Playing lots of pieces that can be learnt in 1-3 weeks as well as some harder ones, but also working towards an exam for about 3 months once per year, to give a marker of where we're at and something to work towards.

It's also largely a matter of temperament. If your child is competitive or loves to perform they may get a lot of fulfillment from doing exams. If they love playing piano without needing external motivation than they might be better off without them.


I'm with Beth - totally agree that it's really about the student and what will be best for him/her.
Posted by: adultpianist

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 12/19/12 10:30 PM

I have just posted on another thread about this. I still sometimes struggle with Grade 3 piece even though I have taken and got my exam. The way I have been working so far with my teacher is this.........

Tell teacher i want to do exams

Teacher agrees and we get books
Work on pieces,scale etc

Sit the exam

When we wait for results we work on one or two pieces at that level

When the results come through we look at them and I usually pass

We then immediately get the books reuired for the next Grade and start working on the next Grade as soon as possible.

At no time does the teacher ask me if I feel I am completely confident playing Grade 3 pieces and suggesting that unless and until I am, we will not move forward to Grade 4. Why is teacher heck bent on moving forwards like this? What is the teacher gaining out of moving a student forward so fast? Is it for self gratification so that the teacher can say all my students pass their exams so the teacher gets a pat on the back? My music school has been noted as 100% pass rate for exams so any parent knowing that would send their child to the school for lessons, because after all, no student fails an exam. I have not failed an exam, but I can tell you that I do not feel confident picking up any piece of Grade 3 material and sitting down and playing it and doing it fluently in a couple of days. That is where REAL learning comes..NOT from having a suitcase full of exam certificates where all you have done is cram like blazes for the exam so you pass and anyone who has had no musical training or doesn't know the first thing about learning music will be amazed and think you are a wonderful pianist.

On another note...when I got the examiners sheet from my exam, he noted down that one of my exam pieces sounded rather dry because I had not used the pedal. The piece did not require a pedal, there was no pedalling in the score so it was not used. I queried this with the head of my music school and said we should complain but he said it is not worth it. Is he correct or should I complain myself. The other thing I queried is that when I did my aural and had to sing echo the examiner said I sang three wrong notes and I know I did not. My teacher told me I can sing on the right note so the head of my school said perhaps the acoustics were not right in the exam venue so that it sounded wrong when in fact it was right. Again, he did not want to take this up with anyone as a complaint. Why should I be given lower markings for not using pedal when no pedal was required and for not singing the echo right when I know full well it WAS. I wanted my school to go back for clarification as to why the examiner made these comments, but they are not prepared to do so. Surely as I took the exam and feel I have been unfairly marked in those areas, is it not my right to get reasons why the examiner said what he said? Nobody should just accept what someone says if they feel it is unfair.


I think that perhaps it is seriously time to find another music school and teachers.
Posted by: MaggieGirl

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 12/20/12 12:48 AM

My daughter has tests (not music) with a panel of judges. Each judge writes comments and gives a score for each thing she does. We would never argue with a judge. They are professionals and have nothing to gain or lose by the scores they issue. Sometimes a judge gives a high score and another gives a low score for the exact same task. They are trained and have 30+ years experience but they still have things that they are aware of individually. So we say thank you respectfully and move on. If we don't like a score or in a competition didn't like the outcome, we never bad mouth the judges. For whatever reason they wanted something different.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 12/20/12 02:25 AM

This goes with the other thread you're referring to.
Originally Posted By: adultpianist
I have just posted on another thread about this. I still sometimes struggle with Grade 3 piece even though I have taken and got my exam. The way I have been working so far with my teacher is this.........

Tell teacher i want to do exams

Teacher agrees and we get books
Work on pieces,scale etc

Sit the exam

Now in regards to your questions in the other thread - the first thing here is that you have told your teacher the goal of doing exams. As a main goal this is aiming for something that is secondary and somewhat beside the point. The main point of music lessons is learning to play music on an instrument. Exams are a means of assessing whether the learning is on track, seeing what needs to be strengthened etc. When the assessment becomes the main goal, and the learning tasks are geared toward the assessment then it's all upside down.

A good idea is to figure what you want to learn. Is it to play the instrument well? To be able to dash off your favorite tunes in a general manner? To be able to improvise, or play jazz? These are real goals. Then you tell a prospective teacher these goals, and ask that teacher to do whatever s/he thinks best to help you reach those goals, and cooperate. Since teaching goes toward goals, the results will reflect the goals.

It appears now that your teacher did exactly what you asked for: prepare for exams. The logical order for exam-oriented lessons is that once you pass the exams for one grade, you go on to the next grade. That's what's happening.
Quote:
I have not failed an exam, but I can tell you that I do not feel confident picking up any piece of Grade 3 material and sitting down and playing it and doing it fluently in a couple of days.

You have some wrong ideas here. But
Quote:
That is where REAL learning comes..NOT from having a suitcase full of exam certificates where all you have done is cram like blazes for the exam so you pass

Correct. You set the wrong goal.

Quote:

On another note...when I got the examiners sheet from my exam, he noted down that one of my exam pieces sounded rather dry because I had not used the pedal. The piece did not require a pedal, there was no pedaling in the score so it was not used.

There are a couple of things to consider here. Some of the things you can be learning in piano lessons are elements of musicianship - how to think and act like a musician. That goes beyond what you do to pass exams, and personally I find this much more interesting as a student. Playing music goes beyond following the instructions written in the score. The musician will use knowledge about music and about the instrument and his ear to make decisions which will make the music sound good. A teacher who passes these things on gives a treasure. A judge who passes these things on is also giving a treasure which you can use.

If you aim to get high grades in an exam then you are aiming for an unimportant thing. If you look at these exams differently, as a learning opportunity then it is a rich thing. For example, with this pedal, if your teacher is up to it, then this could turn into an exploration and a discussion. "How can this music be made to sound better? If I had the skills, what might I do with it? Is it in fact dry? What makes music "dry"? What kinds of things make a piece come alive?" There are many things you could do with a comment like that.
Posted by: AZNpiano

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 12/20/12 02:43 AM

Originally Posted By: keystring
If you aim to get high grades in an exam then you are aiming for an unimportant thing. If you look at these exams differently, as a learning opportunity then it is a rich thing.

Nicely put! I say the same thing to many parents who sought me out to teach their kids, but my words often fall on deaf ears.
Posted by: Chris H.

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 12/20/12 05:31 AM

I don't believe that exams are anti-piano.

In the uk there is an obsession with exams and testing and most students will follow the ABRSM syllabus. Of course there are those who study piano simply to acquire certificates and learning to play is secondary. This attitude is anti-piano and unfortunately is often driven by pushy parents who want their kids to achieve higher grades than their class mates.

It isn't the test that's at fault though. For many these exams provide motivation and recognition of success. I think the syllabus is pretty well balanced on the whole and ensures that students play a varied repertoire as well as working on technique, sight reading and aural skills. You don't have to play nothing but three exam pieces for a whole year. That's down to th teacher and student. There are nine pieces in each book as well as another nine alternatives. Then there is plenty more repertoire out there to play as well. So it's perfectly possible to learn lots of pieces in a short space of time, then take the exam using just three set pieces.

Those students who get stuck on three pieces for a whole year simply don't want to learn piano. If you give them forty other pieces they will still do the square root of bugger all!
Posted by: Bluoh

Re: Question for the teachers: grade exams - 12/20/12 05:00 PM

Originally Posted By: Chris H.
I don't believe that exams are anti-piano.


Agreed.

The exams themselves are not at fault; it's just that the desire for the exams' marks are often overshadowing the desire to learn more music these days.

There are different types of motivation, and when you use the exam as an endpoint, or reward, then the child will be motivated for the reward itself, and not the music.

Generally, once a piece is played for an exam (i.e. prepped excessively months before), it's 'dead' and the student won't want to touch it for months afterwards. That's extrinsic motivation, and that's not what we want.

There are ways to prevent this, though.

I recently wrote a post about this that you might like to read: How to Be 10% More Motivated in One Step