MY GRADE 8 EXPERIENCE 23rd JUNE 2016
I have always tried to help students deal with stress and nerves when taking their ABRSM Grade exams. I have tried to pass on strategies developed over the years to make it less of an ordeal. Of course, some students thrive on it, but others really feel the pressure.
In April, I realised that perhaps, after thirty years, I had forgotten the reality of preparing for and taking an exam. I decided then to retake my ABRSM Grade 8 on the saxophone. That way I could re-
Scales – No escape! I practiced long and hard. I felt quite confident but I challenged my advanced pupils to randomly pick one for me. I revisited any I didn’t nail at the first attempt.
I felt relaxed, though I did have ‘butterflies’. I took the advice I offer to my pupils -
Pieces – I felt I played these with confidence, but with a few sticky patches. Parts of the performances were a bit of a blur as my mind was all over the place! ‘Mind melt’ can happen even after all these years!
Scales – Interestingly, I actually found them a little tricky, having to really make sure I had the correct scale type or arpeggio with the requested articulation. It’s easy just to ‘bash off’ scales, so this formality really made me think. I think I got most of them!
Aural – Agony! I suddenly thought I had no chance of remembering the sample phrase but somehow I got it. Identifying the musical features was relatively easy until I got to the musical extract. It was a modern piece with no tonal structure or obvious form. I gabbled about tonality, articulation, tempo etc. and will be amazed if the examiner understood anything I said!
Afterwards, I fell straight into the usual trap -
WHAT DID I LEARN?
Pieces and Scales – It is often said about music exams ‘what other exam do you go into knowing the answers?’. Well-
Aural and sight-
Post Exam – We are all annoyed when we make mistakes, but that’s all they are. Concentrating on the positive is definitely something I will adopt to help students see their exam experience in perspective.
Are all pupils suited to this type of exam? It is always important to remember that Exams are not the reason for learning an instrument. They are just milestones on a musical adventure taking in all the sights and sounds that music has to offer.
I will now give greater thought to entering students. I know a few of them who are not suited to the pressure even though musically secure. The exam flutters I experienced gave me greater empathy for talented students who have not done well in exams. I need, perhaps, to look at other less stressful ways of measuring progress.
All in all, a worthwhile experience and that, even after 25 years as professional musician, exam jitters can still get to you!!
Just had the results (within two weeks! A bit of a record!). I managed a high distinction with Aural going very well.