If you’ve been having piano lessons for a while, then your piano teacher will likely suggest to you to go in for a piano exam. As with all instruments, there are eight graded levels you can take. While most people start at level one, your teacher may suggest you start at level two or above. If you already know how to play an instrument, the first few grades may be skipped.
If you haven’t taken a music exam before, then you may feel a little nervous as to what the exam might entail. Exams are challenging but very rewarding, and most follow a set pattern.
The exam is a test of your playing ability, your ability to sight read music, and your general musical knowledge. You will be expected to play pieces of music, scales and arpeggios on request, and will also be asked some general musical questions.
Nothing in the test will come as a surprise to you, as the examiner will follow the syllabus that you yourself have followed as you prepared for the exam.
The best thing you can do to be prepared for your exam is to practice the pieces you’ve agreed on with your teacher. You should be able to play without mistakes under test conditions, confidently and with expression.
Also, make sure you have learned your scales and that you use proper fingering. Always mix up your scales, as the examiner will never ask you to perform them in the same sequence as you have learned them. You will be expected to play them at a reasonable pace.
Your piano teacher may suggest a mock exam in preparation for your real exam.
There’s more to the exam than just playing. You will be tested on both your sight reading and aural abilities: listening to notes and singing.
Don’t be tempted to ignore these aspects of the examination. You will not be able to pass future exams if you find sight reading difficult, so it’s best to get used to this as early as possible. You can help your sight reading by not looking at the keys as you play, in the same way a typist does not look at the keys as they type.
Try and associate the musical notes on the scale with the position of your hands and fingers. Try not to ‘translate’ the notes into C, E flat, G sharp etc. before you play them. Make sure you understand time signatures, key signatures and key dynamics.
Most people find being examined stressful. Remember, the examiner is not there to personally judge or trick you. They will simply follow a guideline that’s been established to work out whether you have attained the necessary ability to pass the grade. Just treat the exam as a normal lesson, and strive to do your very best.
Although it’s beneficial to pass your exam first time, you can always retake it if you fail, but if you have studied diligently in line with the syllabus, and have practised sufficiently, then failing is something you won’t need to worry about.