One of the much-lamented sticking points of sitting music exams is the Grade Five Theory rule. If you follow the ABRSM syllabus, then you have to pass a formal Grade Five theory exam before you can sit a Grade Six practical, no matter what instrument you play.
The reasons behind this rule are sound; in order to play and understand music in the higher grades, you really need to have a sound knowledge of how music is put together. It’s not just random, after all!
Theory is not the most exciting subject in the music world, especially for children. And unless they have extra theory lessons, progress can seem very slow. My eldest sat and passed her Piano Grade 5 Practical in December 2013, and has just finished working through the Grade 4 Theory syllabus last month. This year she is sitting her Grade 5 practical for the Double Bass and after she can’t go any further with exams until she gets the theory equivalent under her belt.
DD1 disliked learning theory from her current piano teacher and was reluctant to devote any more of her lesson time to it. So I decided to take drastic measures.
I went online and Googled ‘Grade Five Theory Course’. I think I was looking for an online course of some sort; something that was a little bit more lively than the books she was working through with her piano teacher.
The second result down lead me to the Soundscool Website. And it sounded like it was just what I wanted.
Soundscool is a small music school not far from Reading in Berkshire. Daniel and Sandra welcome students into their lovely home and teach them piano, singing and cooking.
They are a bit far away from us to use them for regular lessons, although if we lived in the vicinity I definitely would. But they also offer a two-day, Grade Five Theory course.
The course has been running for three years and during that time hundreds of people have attended. All of them have passed the Grade Five theory exam after doing the course and following up with 10 past papers afterwards, many with merits and distinctions.
We had half term coming up, and they were running a couple of course during this time. Unfortunately, both were already booked up. I send Daniel an email anyhow, and after some discussion about DD ( what instruments she played, and to what standard) he said they could fit her in to one of the half term courses. I said yes please!
Next I had to convince my 13 year old daughter that giving up two days of her half term would be a reasonable use of her precious holiday. She was not convinced, but I managed to persuade her with the promise of a night away with some one to one time with me. Luckily enough she is still fond enough of me to consider ‘mum time’ a positive thing and she eventually agreed to attend the course.
After reading the information about the course and finding it involved cooking and food, as well as theory, I was sure that DD was going to enjoy herself. But she was anxious about not knowing anyone, not being able to understand the course material and of the dreadful possibility that she might be bored.
She needn’t have worried. She thoroughly enjoyed herself over the two days and was almost in tears on the first night when I told her the next day finished an hour earlier. She made new friends, got to try out dough and pasta making, had plenty to eat and came away confident and enthusiastic about Grade Five Theory. She said that she now understands a lot of things that had confused her before and she is looking forward to sitting the exam.
I honestly didn’t expect her to be so fired up about it and was thrilled to have such a positive response from her about it.
The Soundscool Grade Five Theory Course cost £200 for the two days, which included all materials, food, drink and cooking ingredients. This may sound expensive, but in London we pay £22 for a half-hour piano lesson so £200 wouldn’t even cover 5 hours worth of theory instruction. Doing this course DD got 9 hours worth of theory tuition and two hours of cooking, craft and food.
She won’t sit her exam until June, so we have plenty of time to go through the practice papers, but we are both confident that she now has the skills and knowledge to do well.
Both of us would recommend this course as a fast and fun way to prepare for a Grade 5 Music Theory exam.