When you are learning to play a musical instrument, as with any other activity, practice is key. It takes time not only to learn to read musical notation but also for muscle memory to develop. Students new to learning always ask us how much time they should be dedicating to practicing and how many hours a week they should be spending playing their instrument of choice.
As with any practice, consistency is key. We often advice students to do some practice every day, even if it is just 10 minutes. At least this way our brains and muscles do not have too long a break in between practice sessions and are more likely to develop quicker than if more time is left in between practices. What often happens is that students spend longer than the 10 minutes practicing anyway – once you start playing and enjoy it, you feel like doing more of it! More advanced students often find that even half an hour is not enough – with longer pieces and technical exercises, time goes by very fast.
Rather than focusing on time spent practicing, students should focus more on the enjoyment they find in playing and the outcome of their practice – it is a great feeling when you have learn a new piece and can play it fluently from the beginning to the end.
We receive many inquiries and questions about the graded instrumental exams that have become very popular nowadays – not only for assessing someone’s level of music education but also for gaining extra points for getting places in institutions such as secondary schools. Anyone can register for such an exam, which are organized and monitored by an independent examination body. Passing the exams gives a more formal and clear idea on one’s ability to play a specific instrument as well as their overall musical ability.
The exams are carried out three times a year in the autumn (October-November), spring (March) and summer (June-July). Generally we encourage students to do a grade per year of learning, though at times it might be possible to do two grades per year. The exams can give one focus and motivation to practice and learn; however, they should not be the sole focus and other materials in addition to exam pieces should also be played and practiced in order to develop as an all-rounded musician.
If someone has been playing an instrument for quite some time and hasn’t yet done any grades, it is possible to start on later grade. For example, go straight to grade 2 or 3. Your teacher can assist you in understanding your level of playing in relation to the graded exams.
For further information, for booking an exam, ordering exams books or any other details, please see:
The United Kingdom is the last country in Europe to still hold onto its class system. There is still much talk and division between the so-to-say upper class, middle class and working class. These divisions apply to taking private music lessons as well.
What we have noticed over the past five years that we have worked closely in the field is that the middle and upper classes are more likely to take private music lessons. Initially you might think that it has to do with finances – taking private lessons is costly on long run. However, a study by the examination board for musical learning found that, in fact, money was not an issue but rather a general interest – people from working class were simply not interested in learning to play an instrument.
Now this raises questions on whether it was purely a lack of awareness and opportunities, whether working class folks simply never really thought of learning to play an instrument as it was simply not presented to them and it was not in their culture and lifestyle to do so?
As in any field, awareness is key – which is why we are setting up workshops and information events in more working classes areas of London in order to engage those who might otherwise never thought to do so. This way more people will not only learn a new skill, but also have a chance to relax through engaging in music, let music influence other areas of their lives (such as increase their level of concentration) and have a hobby that can prove to be a great way of releasing stress and ‘letting off steam’.