In September last year, I wrote a blog post titled Australian piano exams compared: which syllabus is the best? and made a commitment to my readers that I would trial a couple of the alternate (i.e. non-AMEB) examination boards in the coming year and report back regarding my experience.
The original post has remained in my top-five most-viewed articles ever since so I thought it was time to give you an update and discuss my experience with one of two new exam boards that I trialled this year: Trinity College London (TCL). I’ll be writing about my experience with another board, ANZCA, later this year.
You might be wondering why on earth I would bother getting my head around a whole new exam system (or two!) when the AMEB has always provided a comprehensive and well-regarded program for students.
I guess, for a variety of reasons, AMEB exams do not always suit the way I teach or the students in my studio. For example, most of my students have hectic social and sports lives and see piano as more of an enjoyable sideline than a potential career. Preparing for AMEB exams is an arduous process for these kids as they just don’t have the time to properly learn long, difficult pieces and even if they do, they don’t have much time for the jazz, pop, improvisation, aural skills, theory, etc. that should form part of a balanced education.
I’m also a big believer in the importance of improvisation, which is not studied as part of the AMEB syllabus, but can be a focus in Trinity. Similarly, I like that Trinity students need only prepare 3 relatively short pieces per grade rather than the AMEB’s 4-6 often long ones. This results in students being able to continue studying many other pieces during the year rather than just their exam pieces (see my post on the success of my 40 pieces challenge).
Personally, I also have a strong desire to continue learning and improving my studio teaching practice. There are at least 5 exam boards available in Australia and some are far more progressive than others. Effective teachers should make certain that the exam syllabus they choose gets the best outcomes for their students. One size definitely shouldn’t fit all!
So, what was the outcome of the trial? As you’ve probably gathered from the above comments, I have been extremely impressed by all aspects of the TCL system, its staff, examiners and teachers and most importantly, the syllabus itself which has a number of key differences when compared to the AMEB:
In addition, here are the other things that impressed me in a more general sense:
There are plenty of other aspects to commend TCL including piano duet and trio exams, performance exams which are offered at multiple levels, and a completely new Rock and Pop syllabus. The exams do cost a bit more – $128 for Grade 3 versus $88 for AMEB; I imagine much of this is due to TCL bringing over an examiner from London.
All in all, I strongly encourage other teachers to give Trinity College London a trial in their studios if they feel their students would benefit.
Published in Music and the Teacher, the journal of the VMTA November 2012 Vol 38 No 2.
Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.