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ABRSM and RCM Piano Exam Comments

Source: Singapore Piano Shop & Music Book Online Shop   Published: 7/8/2019 9:30:28 PM   Clicked: 1128

I've enjoyed the piano for many years but stayed pretty much at the same level...maybe even sliding backward. Achievement has always motivated me and the exams are no different. Although the method books provide some theory, they do not delve into the subject as deeply as the exams require. There are certain concepts that are easy and others that use language that is unfamiliar to me. Music theory requires me to think beyond piano notation. That may be my biggest hurdle.

Scales and chords are the other competence that I've dabbled in but not mastered. For RCM level 6 I have 4 major and 4 minor chords. Must do scales in 16th notes at 60. That is really moving along and it must be flawless. I'm doing slow practice and really feeling my hand position and shape over the keys. AT a faster pace I've found that my left hand shape interrupts my scales and makes me miss black keys going down the scale. This work has also given me insight into the tension I carry into my playing. I'm consciously aware of the tension and teaching myself to be one with the piano movement.

For the moment I'm thinking I will do Bach French Suite #1 Sarabande; Kuhlau sonatina 55, No 2; and maybe a Schumann. The romantic era is easier for me for some reason so that one has several choices. The sarabande is short and killing me with the detail of finger movement.

There have been many threads or comments related to the piano exams both ABRSM and RCM. Some do them and some hate them so they are clearly not for everyone but some of us find them useful benchmarks of progress or challenges that inspire. Still the work can be daunting. This thread could be a place where we offer some support and conversation along the way.

Two years ago I successfully prepared for and passed the Level 5 exam and I'm currently working towards the Level 6 RCM exam. None of my teacher's other students assign themselves such mountains to climb. It'll take me at least until next year to have the repertoire ready to play for an examiner. I'm taking the Coursera "Music Theory" course to refresh my theory. I'm practicing the aural with online and CDs.

Still...Some days the exam work moves productively and other days I'm tired of all of it. Today is one of those days where my motivation is waning. Would love to hear how you're preparing and how you manage the ups and downs.

I think an exam support thread is a great idea. It is a long, hard journey from one exam to the next, and it is nice to have moral support. Doing the exam route requires a lot of time and dedication, and the requirement to polish pieces and technical exercises to a higher quality than might otherwise be done. That said, I believe that following this course has been very valuable in the development of better skills at the piano. So, I would be interested in hearing everyone's experiences or questions about doing the exam.

For anyone taking ABRSM exams, and I can share my experiences. The pieces were not the hard part for me. The sight reading, aural skills, and technical requirements took far more time for me than learning the pieces. These auxiliary skills are a major part of the test and need to be proficient to get a good score. That was a shock to me when I started this route. The sight reading is far more difficult than I expected, and by grade 5 you need to be able to perform any scale or tonic arpeggio.

My first examiner was a very encouraging lady, who calmed my nerves completely. As a result, the exam was not stressful. After the exam, she talked to me about how much experience that I had, and encouraged me to keep going. The next exam I took was the grade 5 theory exam, which is required to take practical tests above grade five. Preparing for that exam required a lot of study. It was a three hour exam, and was not easy.

Last fall I took the grade five practical, and the examiner was all business. He never cracked a smile, but he did speak with me afterward in a cordial manner. I am glad he was not my first examiner, but I was well prepared and not overly nervous. So - be prepared for anything! In November I will will sit Grad 6.

I have tried to learn a lot of pieces at my level. I am now set on three pieces for the November exam, Over the Rainbow, Minuet and Trio from the Sonata in Bb by Beethoven, and Erster Schmerz by Bortkiewicz. The Minuet and Trio is about 70 bpm, and needs to go to 100=1/4 played in 1/16th's. The trio is particularly tricky. Ester Schmerz is a piece I started two weeks ago. I have another romantic piece I can play if this one does not mature well.

I am still making the odd mistake in scales and arpeggios, especially melodics, which worries me. The sight reading is a holy terror. I now can sight read very well at the grade 5 level, but it is like they took a major step up at 6! Changes in clefs, irregular time signatures, complicated rhythms, lots of ledger lines. Eek! So I am doing 1/2 per day on this and every other day Aural test work. Aural is fine except the singing from the score with accompaniment. A singer I am not!

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