The Little Known Torture Of Music Exams

It all starts innocently enough. You think it would be nice for your child to learn to play an instrument so you start looking for a teacher. Or maybe your child starts learning to play something at school?

Most parents have a pre-determined attitude to their children learning a musical instrument.  Some think it’s a waste of time. Others never got to learn themselves or were forced to have lessons and hated it. Some loved learning and still play now. It’s impossible not to hand a little of your own attitudes onto your children.

So your child begins to learn. They practice at home. Maybe you have to *encourage* them to practice at home. You’d like it if they just got on with it themselves, but very few children do this. Most like a bit of hand holding and the captive audience you provide. It’s a good idea to get into a habit of Listening From Afar and Keeping Your Mouth Shut as much as possible. By all means have a look through their books to see what practice the teacher has advised, but short of making sure they are aware of this weeks agenda, stay out of it.

Sooner or later, you will find that your child can play short, quite musical pieces.

Your heart will swell with pride and you will be convinced you are harbouring the next musical prodigy. Fear not. You will get over this.

If your child is learning the piano, it’s likely  that after a year or two of playing the teacher will suggest he or she sits an exam.

People have different feelings about music exams. Some don’t want to put their children through it, and worry that the pressure will take away the pleasure their child gets from playing. This is certainly a possibility, but what you should really be worrying about is that exams will take away any pleasure that YOU get from your child’s playing.

Still , it’s a nice bit of paper to have, and if you and your child can get through a music exam and still be speaking to each other, you’ll both have something to be proud of.

In the beginning, even the scales and broken chords that your child has to learn can be fun. The aural test and sight reading practice can seem like a game and it’s lovely to hear their exam pieces take shape. But after a while, the practice becomes a little tedious. You may have lean a little harder on your child to make sure they do their bit, and the teachers get pickier as the exam date approaches.

If you have no musical knowledge yourself, you may have to trust that your child is doing things the way he or she is supposed to. Just make sure they practice all their pieces and scales, not only the ones they like!  You can look up pieces on Youtube if you want to know how they should sound; just don’t freak out too much if the piece is played a lot faster online than your child plays it. It’s better to play more slowly and get things right, than it is to speed through it with dozens of mistakes. Your teacher may offer extra lessons. These are a very good idea, say yes if at all possible.

Your child may seem to have peaked too early; one day they may play their pieces perfectly, the next they will be all over the shop. Do not panic, I repeat, do not panic! This is normal. Give them lots of praise when things go right, don’t make a big deal of it when they make mistakes. The chances are quite high that they will stumble in the exam and they need to know how to cope with it. They shouldn’t correct themselves in the middle of a piece, but should just carry on playing  if at all possible.

By the time the exam rolls around you will probably be just as, if not more nervous, than your child. You will know all their pieces just as well as they do, inside out, and will be able to pick up a wrong note, a missed quaver or neglected legato better than your child can. You will find yourself muttering fingerings to yourself in the middle of the supermarket and have the melody of the bit they last played going round and round your head like a demented goldfish.

Check you have the date, time and the place of the exam correct. If possible, drive past it before the big day, so you can scope out parking places, potential problems etc. Get there 10 minutes early- no earlier. A lot of exam venues are private houses and there will be a small waiting room full of nervous looking parents ( usually mums) and children. You want to be in this environment for as short a time as possible as you will probably be able to hear the other candidates playing, which is extraordinarily nerve wracking.

And of course this means that you will be able to hear your child  sitting their exam. This is probably one of the most excruciating experiences you will ever have as a parent. It is truly hideous.

Hopefully it sounds a bit like this.

Remember to breathe.

And when your child comes out, no matter what you heard on the other side of those doors, just plaster a grin on your face and say ‘well done’. There will be time for an exam post mortem later on, but immediately after the exam take your little darling straight to the nearest coffee shop for a hot chocolate and the biggest slice of cake they can manage.

They have worked hard and deserve a treat.

And hopefully, in 4-6 weeks time you will be get good news and will be able to take a photo like this.



Today, at 3:23 and 3:55pm, my oldest two will be sitting their Grade 4 and Grade 2 piano exams. The girls are relatively composed, I am a complete mess- wish us all luck!

5 comments on “The Little Known Torture Of Music Exams

  1. Bless you. My daughter does piano and flute, I am ALWAYS a nervous wreck and last time we actually turned up to the exam 1 minute late – the woman nearly didn’t let us in! I felt so guilty as it was my fault for getting lost around the one way system in Reading 🙁 Anyway, all was well that ended well and I wrote a similar post at the time. Your girls are doing so well 🙂 I am sure they did brilliantly today!

    • I think they did okay. There was some horrid sight reading apparently. They also do trombone and double bass through school, but for those they take them into a room far away where I can’t hear them. I like that much better!

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