music examinations

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.


Post-Examination musings

I had a terrible dream the other night that I got an 83% on my Conservatory Canada Level 7 Contemporary Idioms examination. Normally, I'd be happy with an 83, which is First Class Honors. However, having turned music into a profession, I was aiming for higher. I also wanted to beat my highest exam mark from my youth, an 88% on my Grade 8 RCM practical, which I got on my second attempt.

[Note to students: Get a good night's rest the night before an exam and don't spend it staying up all night to read a juicy novel or else you wind up botching your exam and need to re-take it.]

I digress. I was therefore delighted to log into ConCan's site and find that I scored 88.7% (on my one and only attempt). Now I'm itching to see my exam comments.

So, how was it, you ask?

What a surreal experience. It didn't feel like an examination at all. It was far more relaxed than my RCM examinations in my youth.I vacillated from feeling calm, almost lackadaisical to thinking, "Oh my God! This is my exam. For real. Eek." It felt more like a lesson with a very relaxed examiner. As for the improvising section, I was just jamming along with another teacher.

I felt pretty confident in my technical elements, although my hands weren't completely in sync on my first mode (B Aeolian). Growing up, this was one of my weakest areas so I was determined to show that I've matured.

The same goes for ear, rhythm, sight-reading and keyboard harmony. Gone are the days when I was a panicking mess over two lines of sight reading, stumbling and pausing all the way through. It's amazing what a difference a slow, steady tempo makes, as well as counting out loud!

The repertoire went generally well. A few tiny slips in Gershwin's I Got Rhythm and a few more oddities in Vince Guaraldi's What Child is This? Hey, I was just glad my tempo was there for both. Manteca went quite well as did Thriller Rag.

The examiner stumped me on one of the Viva Voce questions. I didn't research jazz waltz enough so I was winging it with my answer. When he asked about Dizzy Gillespie and Manteca. I said the first thing that popped into my head, "He had big cheeks...I heard him play a while back."

It didn't help that the room had many hard surfaces. I should have compensated more for it but the excitement of the moment kicked in. So, the examiner said I was a little percussive and not melodic enough. Too technical. I've never considered myself a technical player. I've been called "expressive" and "analytical" but never "technical". Until now.

I thought I had dynamics but if anything, I suspect he'll say I needed more contrast and shaping (it's something we always say to our students, why should this time be any different?).

I had a mini-lesson afterwards which was basically like a master class. This added to the "non-exam" feel of the experience.

I felt all right about the exam. I didn't feel terrible either. I simply felt that I could have done better. That is probably what fuelled my dream the other night.

One colleague asked whether I'll prepare for the Level 8 exam. I'd have to think about it. I'm too busy trying to incorporate all these new tricks I learned into my gig repertoire.

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Music Exam Preparation Tips

Exam timetable  

With music students across the country taking exams next month, I thought it would be apropos to post some exam preparation tips. Some of these are "general exam" tips, but for the most part, they can be applied to music exams. After all, an exam is an exam, whether it is theoretical or practical.

A few other things I've been constantly reminding my students are:

  1. You can't cram technique: practice those scales, chords and arpeggios (and vocalises if you're a singer) and get everything faster than the listed speed. The required speed gets you a pass. If you want a higher mark, go faster (just make sure it's a tempo you can maintain, play cleanly and with good tone).
  2. Spend more time on the areas that need work. For many students, it's the technical requirements or the ear and sight reading tests. For others, it's memory or "that one dreaded piece".
  3. Look at the mark breakdown, spend more time on the areas that are worth more marks and also make sure that you're not giving any "easy marks" away. If you're in Conservatory Canada, that information is in the back of your piano book. If you're in RCM, check the Syllabus for your instrument at any music store (perhaps consider investing in one).
  4. Practice frequency is the key. Right now, the more "airtime" your pieces and technical elements get, the more opportunities you give for everything to sink into your mental and muscle memory.
  5. Perform often between now and exam day - it's the closest you can get to simulating exam performance conditions. See if your teacher can sign you up for a student recital hosted by one of the local teaching associations or schedule your own mini-recital and invite all your family and friends to hear you run through your exam repertoire.

(c)2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary. AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Piano Exam Tips

Many thanks to the authors who have put together these informative articles on preparing for a piano exam.

I especially like the second one, which gives you a timeline from three months prior your exam to afterwards:

Piano Exams - A Guide to Preparation
Tips for Preparing for your Piano Exam
Piano Exams

Happy reading!

(c) 2008 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

In the Home Stretch!

At long last, my students and I are at our final week of lessons for the school year. It has been an intense year. Since I began teaching full-time in 2001, this is the largest group of students I prepared for music festivals and exams.

It's been a rewarding year. My students and I have enjoyed improvising, chording and embellishing more. My heart soared to see how many of my students persevered and did well on stage and/or in their exam(s).

It's been a frustrating year, with some students who either didn't like piano, didn't practice enough or piano just wasn't a good fit for them.

I have just completed all the year-end student reports and put together their shopping list for the summer and fall. Hopefully, my students will remember to tinkle the ivories a few times over the summer so we don't have to start from scratch in September.

I hope to work my way through Conservatory Canada's Contemporary Idioms program this summer, namely the technique. I know the scales and modes from writing them down in theory lessons. But now, I need to be able to play them fluently. I also plan to do more composing over the summer. It will be an adventure.

Everyone is looking forward to the break. And even though I've made myself available to teach in July; a part of me is hoping that no one takes me up on that offer. I have one week off before I start my summer job. August will be a true break - my first since...I really don't remember. Maestro and I are really looking forward to it!

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