exams

Music theory is a passion of mine. As a composer as well as a music teacher, I realise that teaching music theory provides the building blocks of a more complete musician. Put simply, “knowledge is power.”

So it was with great interest that I have noticed that the ABRSM (The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music), who lead the way in music examinations in the world, was having a major overhaul in the way they test music theory, starting from January 2018.

Why the change? What will be different? Are there any resources to help with the change?

Why the change

A need to modernise their exams and react to feedback from teachers and students has brought on these recent changes. Looking at the new specimen papers, you get a feeling that the tests are less ambiguous than in times past.

Differences

The changes will only affect grades 1-5 at the moment. The rhythm-writing in early grades is being replaced. This used to provide a nice little introduction to the basics of composing but I would imagine that the quality of preparation for this question would have varied greatly from teacher to teacher depending on their own skills or imagination. At the grade 4, there used to be the option of the word-setting question. That has now been axed as well as the option of writing a complete melody at grade 5. How will students cope with the transition into grade 6-8 where composing is a large portion of the assessment? I think that step will be harder for candidates from now on. I have long thought that, although the exams for grade 6-8 are excellent, the resources and support material for these higher grades are appalling and desperately need revamping by the ABRSM. But that’s a subject of another blog.

Gone are the SATB open and short score converting question which was extremely time-consuming. I really like the use of multiple choice questions for the meaning of performance directions. Generally, the exam looks a lot more inviting, modern, clean which is very welcome.

Resources

At the start of 2019, the old exams papers for 2018 will be posted as a preparation booklet but that is quite some time away. In the meantime, the ABRSM has published on their website two sets of sample exam papers as a free download.

I really like a free quiz page that you can share with students to give them practice with the new multiple choice question. That will continue to be a very useful resource do-doubt.

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Alphabet Piano Game

Teaching adults music is both rewarding and challenging!

Rewards

I enjoy teaching adults. During the course of their lesson, our conversations together are very stimulating. The stories they relate from their own life experiences are a great source of enrichment and entertainment. Over the weeks and months, we form good friendships together. From a practical point of view, teaching adults can also help to strengthen our teaching businesses. Adults can often come later in the evening when it’s too late for younger pupils, or if they are retired or work shifts, they might be able to come in the daytime.

One thing I like about adults is their high level of motivation. They seem to fall into either one of two categories. Those who started having lessons as children but stopped for one reason or another. And those who simply never had the chance earlier in life. Either way, they have probably wanted to take up lessons for quite a considerable time and are therefore incredibly determined.

Challenges

Adults often tell me that they don’t think they can make very quick progress because they are [···]

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It was at the age of seven, when I came to the United Kingdom, that I first encountered the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) music examination system.  “What grade are you?” the other children would ask when I told them that I played the piano.  It was not a question I had encountered in the United States, and I didn’t know what to tell them. However, soon enough, my new piano teacher decided that it was time for me to take one of these examinations, and I began to learn all about the system. [···]

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