Do most of your students take piano exams? Do most of your students need to take piano exams? Are your re-registration rates not what you’d like them to be? Are piano exams to blame?
What is the purpose of a piano exam? I can only think of four (or maybe I only want to think of four) and I want to challenge three of them.
Purpose #1 – A goal to be achieved.
This purpose has some validity. Without recognizable goals students WILL lose interest in the piano. But does an exam really have to be a goal?
Purpose #2 – A learning experience.
A good examiner can provide a plethora of valuable information. A bad examiner will waste a lot of time and money. Why does a learning experience have to be graded? I have seen exciting, captivating master classes where students learn a ton all the while avoiding the pressure of being marked.
Purpose #3 – Future Piano Studies
This is the only purpose I believe to be of any value. Various post-secondary institutions require documentation of a piano player’s abilities. If you have students that will make a living playing piano then by all means the exam route is the way to go. Are all of your students bound for the concert stage?
Purpose #4 – Bragging Rights
Parents and teachers love the idea of their little piano players playing beyond their expectations. It is a badge of honour parents can display proudly as their kids progress rapidly through the grades.
If it’s not already crystal clear, I’m not a huge fan of piano exams. Certainly not in the way they are being implemented today. In most piano studios, exams are a given… a destination every student starts working towards the moment you hit the bench.
And if every one of your students is working towards an exam, your studio could be at risk! Exams paint every student with the same brush. They assume all students enjoy the same “test pieces”… when in fact very few students enjoy the “test pieces” at all. And yet, many piano teachers make all of their students practice and prepare these pieces for a large portion of each school year. To me this sounds ridiculous… students being forced to play pieces that have absolutely no meaning to them for long periods of time. No wonder they don’t re-register! Students who are marked favourably on their exams may feel good about themselves (or they may not care). However, students who receive less than desirable marks immediately gain a negative attitude towards their piano skills. Is this quick “snap-shot” of their abilities (wrapped in bundles of nerves and anxiety) really worth damaging their musical self-image? Will they ever play those pieces again (most likely they are sick to death of them). If not – why do we care so much about the piece-specific comments the examiners provide?
If you want to find piano students and keep your piano teaching studio running strong, seriously consider whether most of your students need to prepare for piano exams. Are there alternative ways of teaching that provide the same benefits of an exam?
And lastly… don’t worry about what the parents think. Parents don’t sign their kids up because they want them to take piano exams. They sign their kids up because they want them to learn the piano in a supportive, encouraging and stimulating environment. If their kids come home with a passion for the piano that keeps them practicing for hours, they won’t care if “little Sarah’s” in Grade 1, 2, or 99!