Music Conservatories

Music Examination Systems in Canada

An overview of the music conservatories used in Canada and the music examination boards, including RCM, ConCan and CNCM.

Piano Exam Tips - Speedlinking

Yes, it's that time again: time for teachers and students to really buckle down and refine all the required elements on their upcoming exam. Here are some websites with tips for preparing for your piano examination:

(c) 2010 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada.


On Conservatory Canada's Contemporary Idioms Syllabus

Last year, Conservatory Canada released their Contemporary Idioms syllabus. I must admit, I was slow to get on the bandwagon at first, partially because I wanted to hear comments from other teachers and partially because I wanted to take my time looking over the requirements. A few weeks ago, I sat in on one of ConCan's workshops on the syllabus. Unfortunately, I could only attend one out of the four sessions.

Derek Stoll and Steven Fielder made the workshop exciting, interactive and dynamic. It's an exciting program. I imagine teachers are seeing this as a way to keep some students from quitting in frustration because "piano is boring" or because they "hate their songs".

Students study a variety of the contemporary genres: rock, ballad/blues, jazz, swing, Latin, traditional/folk and ragtime. Unlike the traditional conservatory systems, memory isn't stressed. However, students don't get off quite that easily. They need to learn their chords extremely well because they are expected to sight-read and improvise off a lead sheet (or jazz chart). They have to determine which style is appropriate for these selections (e.g., swing pattern, waltz, Latin).

In addition, the technical requirements are very challenging. My older students and I are finding that after years of playing the good old major, harmonic and melodic minor scales, our fingers and brains are running circles with the old church modes and jazz melodic minor scales. We'll get it though, with a lot of patience and practice! Thankfully, we agreed to use this year to learn the new requirements and to simply explore the program. Next year, they'll be more comfortable to take the test.

I actually don't mind learning all these "new" scales. I've been itching to play different technical exercises. Although adding a new program into my studio means the investment of more music (so close to RCM's upcoming release of their new syllabus and books), I am drooling over all these songs that I can add to my gigging repertoire.

My 10 or so students who are trying out the program are enjoying it so far. Some of them are a little frightened about improvising in a certain style or the new technical requirements or reading from a lead sheet but overall, the switch has re-energized their playing and practice. One mother commented that her daughter is practicing "all the time" now, which wasn't the case last year.

The program is not without glitches. I heard there were a few bumps during the last exam session. ConCan was quick to update their syllabus online to reflect the feedback they received from students and teachers. I wrote them yesterday, requesting they ensure the next edition of the syllabus includes the correct book titles as Rideau Music and I have had a tough time tracking down some of the books. They responded to me right away, assurring me that they will make the necessary corrections.

It's a bit of a challenge to figure out how the eight-level system compares to the traditional 10-grade system. ConCan clarified things a bit for me there as well. Level 1 corresponds to Grade 1 in the RCM and CoCan Syllabi. Level 4 is about Grade 5/6, while Level 8 is the equivalent to Grade 10 in the traditional programs. I have heard some teachers say that they're not going to teach beyond Level 4 (some up to Level 6). Lucky me, I have three in Level 4/5, three in Level 7 and one in Level 8.

The program isn't for all teachers or all students, but that can also be said for all the conservatory systems and beginner method books. Some students are clearly "Royal Conservatory" or "Conservatory Canada" material. Then, there are the students who could thrive in either system. And then, there's the group of students who are "just playing for fun".

Regardless of which stream is best for a student, we can incorporate elements from the other programs to enhance our students' musical education.

It is wonderful to see how the resources and programs are evolving to meet the needs and interests of students and teachers.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

On Practicing, Performances and Piano Exams

The Calgary Kiwanis Music Festival is just around the corner. I used to accompany voice students at Kiwanis (just can’t swing it this year). I don’t have any students participating in Kiwanis this year, I do have several who have signed up for the Alberta Piano Teachers’ Association (APTA) Festival in May. Festivals provide musicians an opportunity to air out their exam pieces, hone their performance skills and get valuable feedback from esteemed clinicians. It’s a good goal to work towards (and some people can only get something done if there’s a deadline hanging over their heads). Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but how does one go about preparing for a festival (or exam for that matter)? As the old adage goes, “Practice, practice, practice.”

But don’t just take my word for it. Check out these funky links that break down HOW to prepare for a performance/exam/festival. There are some excellent articles on how to make the most of your practice session with limited time:

© 2006, Musespeak™, Calgary, AB, Canada. Updated 2014. All rights reserved.

Music Teaching 101

Happy New Year everyone! I am enjoying my Christmas break immensely, catching up with family and friends whom I haven’t seen nearly as much as I’d like to in the past year and playing extra rounds of catch and tag with Maestro. I even managed to squeeze in some creative writing (alas, still stumped on my book).

It hasn’t been all play and no work. My filing piles began to walk on their own, I simply led them to their correct places. I'm nearly caught up on my bookkeeping while the home, studio and office got a thorough re-org. Next on the list are: my Alberta Registered Music Teachers’ Association (Calgary Branch) projects, fixing the music library, preparing for the upcoming student recital and a manageable pile of administrative tasks.

My blog topic came to me while making my "to do" list - music teaching. Some students think they can set up shop at Grade 7 piano (or less), but that is extremely dangerous. You simply don’t have enough technical, musicianship and rhythmic tools in your arsenal at that level. Most teachers recommend that students begin teaching when they are in Grade 9 or 10 piano.

There is so much more to teaching than having your Grade 9 piano certificate. My blog entry titled The Most Common Question touches upon the non-teaching aspects of being a teacher. For more information about piano pedagogy, I recommend the following sites, which provide learning opportunities and certification for those wishing to become music teachers:

© 2006, Musespeak™, Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.