Piano Exams: to Take or Not to Take?

Piano Exams: to Take or Not to Take?

I have been asked this question many times by parents: Should my child take the piano exams, and are they important? Often, my answer is, “it depends“.

Exams can be a great motivator, and encourage commitment to acquiring the necessary skills to play the piano. It also serves as a benchmark of the student’s competency, and gives a visible measure of achievement. The ABRSM certificate is also widely recognized and can be used for entrance into schools and colleges.

However, speaking from personal experience, focusing solely on passing examinations does not provide a holistic musical education that I have grown to favor.

My Personal Journey

I started learning the piano at the age of four and was promptly put on an exam treadmill. From the beginning, technique, drills and memorizing was the norm. My first two teachers were only focused on making sure I score well for the exams, and for many years, all I practiced were the 3 examination pieces. I had no knowledge of any songs outside the curriculum, and at that time, I honestly thought that learning the piano was a chore.

At the age of 12, I met my third piano teacher, someone whom I give full credit for nurturing a love of music in me. She taught me how to appreciate music, and how to bring out the character of a song in my performances. And for the first time, I learned songs outside of the examination curriculum!

I remember how happy I was to finally be able to play Für Elise, Mariage d’Amour, and even cheeky songs like The Entertainer. These songs were well within my competency, but my previous teachers never thought of introducing them to me. They were too concerned with my grades reflecting well (or poorly) on them that they missed out on providing me a holistic music education.

A Lifelong Journey

There are benefits to taking the ABRSM piano examinations, and I do encourage students to go for certification. However, I often remind parents not to be too narrowly focused on exams, and not to send their child for exams too early.

It is my goal for each and every one of my students to continue to play the piano throughout their lives, and to develop a real love and enjoyment for music. Most of my students still go through the ABRSM exams, although I do not insist that they sit for every grade. I also make it a point never to sacrifice their understanding and enjoyment of music in favor of an exam certificate.

Ultimately, music should be an enjoyable, lifelong journey 🙂

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