As piano teachers, we have the (sometimes difficult) decision of whether to encourage our students to sit exams or not.
You may be faced with an array of questions from your student, their families, and you probably have your own questions as well. We’ll try and answer as many questions as we can, but if we’ve missed any leave us a comment!
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Exams are a controversial topic, and where one teacher will tell you exams are the best thing for improving students’ music skills, another will tell you you should avoid the ‘Exam Express’.
If a student is wanting to do well, piano exams take a high level of motivation and commitment. Having the goal of taking an exam, with a deadline to aim to, can provide a student with a nudge to up their level of practice. This can be particularly useful for a piano teacher with students who are interested in music but who lack the motivation to practice on a regular basis.
By providing them with a reason why they should practice, their half-hearted practice sessions will turn into dedicated practices. They don’t want to fail the exam, so they’ll put in the work.
This then eases your weekly battle of encouraging them to practice.
But of course, exams are not the only way (and certainly not the best way for every student) of motivating students.
Other ways you can help with your students’ practice:
As a teacher, you can see how well your students are doing. You can tell them how impressed you are with their level of progression. But sometimes achieving grade exams can be the visible evidence a student (and their families) need in order to understand how well they’re doing. Which then showcases how well you’re doing as teacher.
Exams are a fantastic way of measuring student progress, and the physical element of holding a certificate stating that you’re a good musician can really boost a student’s confidence in their abilities.
As we know, music is subjective. What sounds good to one person may not sound good to another. This is why examiners follow a mark scheme in order to be objective, focusing on elements such as pitch, time, tone, and performance.
If you’re interested in learning more, and even having a go at marking exams yourself, check out How To Mark A Piano Exam.
And to gain an insight into what it’s like to be a piano examiner, click here.
Exam boards know that students have different interests and different styles of learning. They also appreciate that piano teachers will have different aspirations for their different students. This is why there’s a huge array of exam boards all with different offerings.
When it comes to piano exams, these questions frequently come up:
As frustrating as this answer is, it’s the absolute truth. With the vast array of exam boards comes a vast array of options. This means the length, cost, and content changes depending on the exam board you have chosen.
Learn more about a selection of exam boards:
By working through an exam syllabus and preparing your students for exams, you’re able to help them build on their:
You can purchase the exam book and guide your students through the pieces, exercises and scales. You can source resources to help you train them to be able to answer the supporting tests.
For a more in-depth look at the supporting tests, check out
It’s then up to you to assess if there’s a necessity for the student to sit the actual exam, or if you think the exam experience would hinder rather than help.
Some students lack the interest to work on technical skills without having a clear goal or reason, and having the aim of passing the exam is the motivator they need. Others are simply happy with the knowledge they are progressing and boosting their music skills.
Piano exams are traditionally associated with young students. It’s seen that children and teenagers take exams, but once a student reaches a certain age, that’s the end. Some students and their parents even see it as a race to get to a certain grade before they reach a certain age.
BUT this is not the case.
There’s no age limit on piano exams!
If you’re a teacher with adult students, either who have returned to piano after a break or are completely new the instrument, you can suggest exams to them. We know students in their 60s and 70s who have decided to take piano exams, either to prove to themselves that they can, or because they’re a new exciting goal.
Adult students sometimes feel as though they’re unable to participate in the exam process as they’re “too old” and don’t want to be sat in a waiting room with students over half their age performing at higher levels. The emergence of online and video exams have led to an increase in adult students taking exams as there’s no pressure from feeling compared to other, younger, students.
No matter how old you are, the experience of playing in front of an examiner, while incredibly valuable, can be terrifying. While some students are unfazed by performing in front of anyone, others suffer from performance anxiety. The more practice they get (in live exams, video exams, and recitales) the easier performing becomes.
As their piano teacher, you can help guide them through the process of dealing with any performance anxiety they may face.
This is then a skill they can then transfer to other walks of life, for example, public speaking and giving presentations.
There is so much more when it comes to exams and exam preparation. Please look through the blogs and listen to the podcasts mentioned above. Hopefully, they’ll give you a wider insight into the world of exams.
Preparing students for exams can be hard, but in TopMusicPro we have SO many resources for piano teachers to help take the stress away, from transforming techniques to practice hacks.