It’s show-and-tell today

When the hour turns sociable I’ll be on the doorstep of the exam centre to pick up the results of my students who played on the 24th of October.

Here is why I don’t like the exam system per se.

  1. It is merely a reflection of how well you played (and answered questions) in a specific 13 minutes, under hectic stage fright.
  2. There is 1 person judging and his estimation of how well you played is final.  There is no point of audit here – a gripe I’ve had previously with the system.
  3. The danger is always that the whole year goes by polishing 3 pieces, some scales and a bit of technical work instead of making progress and discovering music.  Not much fun!
  4. The added danger is that children take a disappointing grade so badly that they lose their enthusiasm for the instrument altogether and stop.
  5. And finally, pressure from parents or the student themselves can be so severe that after the exams, pass or fail notwithstanding, the instrument is dropped.

All this is rather counterproductive to the goal of developing musicianship in young people.  Concerts and musical functions, as well as ensemble play, go much further towards this goal. And this is why exams don’t form a major part of my teaching practice – in fact, they interfere with my method more than they help, but occasionally they are called for, anyway.

The real benefits of exams:

  • They can be the motivator to get an otherwise lethargic student practising.
  • There is a real increase in technique:  Not from the exam but from two months of highly focused practice.
  • That little piece of paper can in some cases be used to open doors – e.g. certain youth orchestras want to see Gr 4 or Gr 5 before accepting a member (rather than auditioning, or additionally to).
  • And…  there is that issue of music as a matric subject.  But it takes more than passing a practical exam for that, these days; they have changed the rules.  The updated rules are subject for a different post.


One of my students has broken his shoulder by trying out a friend’s motorbike and falling.  We wish him a speedy recovery!


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