How to Get Started with Piano Accreditation Exams and Adjudicated Events
This article is a student’s guide to pursuing standardized exams and festival events for piano accreditation. The goal of this article is to take the intimidation and mystery out of going for these achievements by explaining their benefit and ease of taking the first steps with your piano teacher.
“How do you take piano study to the next level? What else is out there beyond weekly lessons?”
These are questions many parents have for me as a piano teacher when their child wants to get further into piano study. Aside from general recitals and school performances, there are a group of events and opportunities available that not only motivate students with a new goal, but actually reward the student for hitting a milestone. My top suggestions are to either pursue standardized accreditation exams or participate in teacher association events. Though there are a number of standards and organizations available to students, I’ll be detailing the resources I have the most experience with as a teacher.
First of all, the benefits of exams and festival events!
Students can have their pick in what they would like to participate in, but at the core, it’s important to see what the benefit is of going for a goal outside of the lessons themselves. It’s the goal itself that is most important. When you set a landmark as a student and see it through, it’s a powerful tool that builds confidence, and it’s an accolade that can be shared with others.
Also, in terms of progress, I’ve seen students make leaps and bounds in growth through directed study. In preparing a certain number of scales, memorizing a piece, and/or taking a theory exam, a student has acquired a set amount of knowledge and expertise in music that allows them to keep moving forward.
Are these standards overwhelming for a student?
Though an unprepared student may feel overwhelmed, the perspective I have on it is that they shouldn’t be—if they are, I haven’t done my job as a teacher. The goal for me is to make it fun! This comes from setting a practical goal and making sure the student is striving for something that can be achieved with my help and my involvement in the preparation. Sure, there will be some practice and studying, but I’ve never seen a student feel bad from working towards a goal and achieving it. The great aspect about the exams and festivals is that there really isn’t a time constraint. You sign up to take an exam or do a festival when you are ready, and it’s not a forced time line. That means, if you as a student don’t feel prepared by a certain date, you can wait for a later time to participate.
What exactly are accreditation exams?
Accreditation exams are leveled standards formulated by different organizations to test students by a set group of requirements. Basically, when you say you have passed the ABRSM practical and theory exam for level 5, that means you have demonstrated that you know up to that level of skill on piano. The two standards that I recommend for students are the ABRSM exams and Trinity College of London exams. Both are very similar and internationally recognized.
The thing I really like about these is that there are study guides, so students know exactly what they are going to be asked to present on the testing day, and I (as a teacher) can make sure the student knows everything that will be asked. Generally, you select a few pieces from a list to play, play a certain number of scales with their own parameters (like one octave, hands separate, etc.), do an ear training test (like replicating an example), and a few other requirements. You perform and demonstrate the requirements in front of a judge, and you receive a marking. As a teacher, I know if a student is prepared and won’t put them up to a test that is going to be too difficult, and most teachers share the same feeling. Therefore, the rate of success with these exams is very high, and a student can walk away feeling wonderful about their achievement.
As a best practice, representatives from both organizations (ABRSM and Trinity) agree that it’s best for a student to start at the easiest level for them and get their bearings before jumping into a very challenging exam. That way, success is even more of a guarantee.
What are music teacher association festivals?
Though most music teacher associations have judged recitals and competitions, I only recommend those for very ambitious students who have a strong motivation to do them on their own. I don’t like to push competition if it’s not something the student expresses enthusiastic interest in, as it requires a lot of self discipline and drive. For interested students, I say, “Go for it!”
However, I highly recommend students to participate in festivals, which are a lot more low pressure and fun in the same way the accreditation exams are. You prepare pieces that meet guidelines for the festival and perform in front of a judge. You received a grade and comments on your performance. As a piano student, I participated in festivals, and I can say that they are very low pressure, and you walk away feeling great about doing them. It’s also very helpful to receive feedback from someone who isn’t your teacher. In fact, some of the most valuable advice on my playing was garnered from a festival event when I was 12, and it helped me modify an important aspect of my playing that I otherwise would not have corrected as quickly.
An example of a festival that I am working towards with my students is hosted by MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) and involves students preparing two movements of a piano sonata to perform in front of a judge (no audience). As an added bonus to this process, students who participate always have an impressive piece to perform if asked, as it has been prepared to the best of their ability for the event.
For students looking for extra opportunities in learning piano, I highly recommend participating in accreditation exams and festival events. It’s an awesome feeling for a student to set a goal, prepare to the best of their ability, and have their effort recognized. In no way do I feel that this should feel like school or not be fun. The fun is in pushing yourself to the next level and growing as a musician. As we all know, sometimes you have to give yourself a challenge to make sure you accomplish a certain goal, and these tools provide the venue for a student to do so.