Those music grade exams…

ballansmall-copy.jpgStress levels were running high in the guinea pig cage a couple of weeks ago.  November for the exams suddenly transmogrified to 1st November – a big difference in practice terms between 1st and 30th, particularly with the October holiday to think about.

No1 son was clearly not ready by the weekend before.  No2 son, having ridden an empty  threat of the exam annually for the previous 2 years, should have been note perfect.  His parents certainly were, particularly as No1 played the same pieces for the 2 preceding years (so that makes 4 years of Pink Panther…  Thank goodness there isn’t a No3).  But the timing of one of the pieces was still a problem, so OH decided a piano recording was needed to play along to.  This we managed by 2 days before the exam and it was a revelation.  Aaagh – could have been done a year ago.

Meanwhile, No1’s pieces were still ropey, he still didn’t know his scales – there is never any scale practice at school and it is very difficult to make them do at home something that is not reinforced at school – and neither of them had done any aural or sight reading, and a bare minimum of playing with accompaniment.  So we agreed No1 shouldn’t do the exam.  But the music teacher disagreed and, as you will know, teachers are always right.  We had a crash course in scales, he did the exam and there were tears.

So my comments/questions/complaints are:-

  1. Is it acceptable for a teacher only to cover part of the syllabus and expect the rest to be done at home? Difficult when we don’t have a piano and the aural syllabus is quite sophisticated. Even more difficult when we don’t realise this is what is expected.  I assume this isn’t the approach to SQA teaching.
  2. Why are there no parents’ evenings for instrumental teachers?  I know you’re all busy with concerts etc in the evening but perhaps this should be part of the job.  One evening at the High School for all instrumental teachers for the whole cluster would do it.
  3. If there are problems, why don’t we as parents hear about it? For the main curriculum, I get a phone call if a piece of homework dares to be handed in late. (I’ve even had calls to tell me the children are absent when they’re sitting happily in class).
  4. It is so difficult to get in touch with the instrumental teachers as they are only in school part of the time.  I’ve found I can’t rely on messages getting beyond the front desk – but communication is another issue for another day. 
  5. Is there a value in doing the grade exams?  I happen to think there is:- they give the children a target to work for, they should be a logical part of a steady progression in their musical development and as such should just slot in, they should give the children an affirmation of the standard they’ve reached and so should be an achievement that recognises their hard work.

Trouble is, we should have known better because we went through something very similar with Grade 3 at primary.  I put that experience down to the problems of roving teachers trying to organise stuff through the primary school and assumed all would be wonderful once we were in the high school system.  Wrong.

Our main concern is that the children learn to enjoy making music and develop a lifelong skill.  And I have to say the teacher concerned has done lots of good things with them, they both enjoy playing and we’ve always had a good relationship with the teacher.  I feel so let down over the exam, but just hope we can sort it out in a grown up manner without a big falling out. 

We won’t be doing any more exams unless I can be assured that the system is overhauled!

3 thoughts on “Those music grade exams…

  1. It’s great to have a parent blogging at last. I can’t really answer many of your questions. I do know however that some secondary schools have musical instructor parent evenings. Have you had a read of Alan Coady’s blog ( to get an insight into the life of an East Lothian Musical Instructor? Looking forward to read more of your proposed posts in time. Ollie

  2. It’s great to find a parent on here. As a teacher, parent and musician, I think you make important points. I have to say that my experience has been that it has always been possible to discuss my children’s progress with the instrumental teacher at parent’s night. I look forward to more of your cooments.

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