We live in a competitive society where exams are taken for all sorts of abilities and skills. This is true nowadays at least in most European countries. Young people grow up with competitive mentalities and under pressure to perform – this can be good; but in excess it can also be damaging.
This mentality also applies to music education. The graded exam system for musical instruments, singing and music theory has become increasingly popular over the past years and the majority of students want to do them. This is good for getting used to performing in front of others – as well as learning the materials for the exam – and receiving proof of one’s level of ability and learning.
Yet, the exams seems to be overtaking the learning process so much (at least with some students!) that the overall learning process gets sidelined and the sole focus is on passing the exam. But what about developing your skills and ability on general level and, as a result, becoming a confident and capable performer?
I always advice students to do roughly one instrumental exam per year – I strongly feel that everyone needs a fairly good amount of time for developing their overall musicianship abilities and becoming confident and capable musicians. This makes getting ready for the exams so much easier as well – you don’t feel like you are having to learn something very hard but rather you feel that you are at the right level for learning the exam material. What I have witnessed many times is that students just want to pass the exams and so just focus on the exam materials, but then they struggle as they are not yet at high enough level to learn the materials well.
As a teacher, I feel that I need to guide them in not just focussing on exams, but also their overall musicianship skills and, most importantly of all, their enjoyment of playing a musical instrument as well as providing them with a creative outlet.
Here is to enjoying learning to play music and not to stressing over exams!