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Do music exams strengthen students' musical growth?

As the ABRSM exams come to a closure, students would now decide whether they should stop taking music exams for a while due to their heavy academic workload, or continue progressing on to the next grade. Some would even stop touching their music instruments after getting their almighty Grade 8 certificate. With this, many parents are now contemplating whether to send their children for grading exams as they do not want their children to lose their interests immediately after they complete their intended grade. However, music exams can be very beneficial, and there are definitely many other ways to contain students' music interest like letting students also play their favourite pieces in line with exam preparation. How exams help students in, are but not limited to:

1. Build self discipline

For students who do not take exams, they may not practise as much because of the lack of any goals. For instance, would any student below the age of ten self practise Scales at home if he or she is not taking any exams? Probably not.

2. Mastery of skills

Scales may be a boring and mundane process for most students, but they are the foundation in building techniques. Joy to the World or Canon in D are pieces made up by Scales. If the student had not learn scales, it would be difficult to master these pieces. Furthermore, exams "force" students to learn everything in greater detail, to master more difficult piece(s), which students who choose not to if they were not taking any exams.

3. Internationally recognized qualifications

Who do you think would be the best judge to a student's level of standard?

i. The student's music teacher? - Will there be any bias because of the teacher-student relationship?

ii. The student's parents/friends? - Are they professional musicians or music educators?

iii. The student him/herself? - Would students with low/high self esteem judge themselves differently?

What exams provide is that minimum level of assurance not just to the student but to the public that they are of a certain skill level. This is even more important if the student wishes to pursue music studies in university or in their career, where universities or employers would request for their music certificates.

4. Build confidence: Practise performing

When students take exams, they are required to perform in front of a stranger at performance level. This is slightly different from performing in front of their friends or family, where they may be more relaxed. It could be as stressful as performing on stage in front of a large crowd, which is a good training ground for building up their confidence.

No right or wrong approach

Of course, this does not mean students who do not take exams are unable to have self discipline, master their instruments, or are unable to build their confidence. There are definitely other avenues to build these, such as performing on stage, or practising their favourite pieces (most people would practise their favourite pieces a lot more) etc. Taking the exams is just one of the many different avenues to hone students' skills, and hold internationally recognized music qualifications.


Ms Tan

Principal of Silversnow Music School

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