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What is up with grades?
#2983007 05/23/20 10:16 PM
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I keep seeing a theme in the threads about grades. Grade 1, grade 2, grade 5, grade 8, etc... What is the purpose of these grades? Are they a universal thing? What happens when you complete the final grade?

How do you figure out what grade you are?

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Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983010 05/23/20 10:49 PM
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Folks who advertise their grade level are in some recognized piano program such as RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) or ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) and others as well (Trinity, AMEB?). I'm enrolled in the RCM program. It was free except for the course material and the exams. Of course, lessons will be extra. I started with Preparatory A then Preparatory B and so on. If you have no piano experience you'll start right from beginners level. It's not for everybody but doing it this way will allow you to progress in a structured and defined manner.


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Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983012 05/23/20 10:54 PM
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Grade exams set by various institutions are common in the UK, Canada, Australia and NZ. They are designed to provide, mainly children, with a well rounded musical and technical education step by step. Some are from preliminary grade to grade 8, others to grade 10.

Of course they are merely markers of progress. The real work is done by the student with the guidance of a teacher.

The exams have their critics, for example in the case of the Association Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) that they focus on three exam pieces at the expense of a wider range.

Children are used to being measured in this way at school and many like the recognition an exam pass brings. For adults such exams are of questionable value.


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Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983031 05/24/20 12:23 AM
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I follow the RCM curriculum and sit the exams. I personally like a structured and well-rounded/well-balanced musical education where someone (the folks at RCM) have thought out what kind of pieces I should learn at a certain level of development. They also include ear training, sight-reading and technical requirements (i.e. scales). It not only gives me structure in my learning, but it also gives me a goal to achieve at every grade level (i.e., passing the exam), which keeps me motivated and gives me a sense of accomplishment.

Some people like it, and some people think it’s stressful or even useless. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea.

My pianist friends, as well as examiners and other teachers who know I do this, are quite pleasantly surprised because it does take a certain level of determination and guts to go through with it. Not to mention that a thick skin is also needed since you’re among a sea of children when you sit the exams (e.g., in the waiting room).

I started with a Faber method book, then Preparatory A and B, and am now working on Grade 1 material.

In my area, completion of a high grade or ARCT (diploma level) are good to have if you want to teach, for example. Some local universities also require a minimum of grade 8 or ARCT to be considered for entry to their music programs.

Last edited by WeakLeftHand; 05/24/20 12:28 AM.

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Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983034 05/24/20 12:29 AM
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When the RCM examination system began over 130 years ago, it was devised as a structured system to insure a degree of unity of instruction across a vast and sparsely populated country. A student in Halifax, NS who passed the Level 5 examination would have the same level of background (technical and repertoire) preparation that a student in Calgary, AB or Vancouver, BC would have who passed the same examination. It also assured - to the degree that it was possible - that teaching repertoire and technique was pretty consistent across the country at any given level.

For many, the passing of a grade examination is the equivalent of a school's grading system; if you "pass" at the end of the year it means you have reached a certain level of accomplishment and understanding that enables you to go on to the next level. If you "pass" a music examination, then you have reached a level of accomplishment that equips you to proceed to the next grade, if that's the way you want to go.

Keep in mind, too, that successful completion of the Diploma Level examination (ARCT) in Piano Pedagogy gives the candidate the right to "hang out his/her shingle" as a bona-fide teacher of the RCM Syllabus. I know of several adults who have successfully completed the ARCT Diploma in Piano Pedagogy, and while it is no guarantee of the quality of an individual's teaching, it does testify to the fact that the candidate has achieved a certain level of knowledge, performance ability and pedagogical know-how to be certified as a wage-earning teacher. If nothing else, it does assure parents that the teacher to whom they are paying lesson fees is qualified to teach.

In brief, the grade system is a system of teaching that tends - or tries - to insure a certain amount of consistency and unity in the teaching of music from beginner to performance-level.

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Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983037 05/24/20 12:34 AM
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Sounds interesting. Is there any way to get a hold of the training material of these grades without paying any money or taking the exam itself?

Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983038 05/24/20 12:37 AM
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Originally Posted by ThePenist
I keep seeing a theme in the threads about grades. Grade 1, grade 2, grade 5, grade 8, etc... What is the purpose of these grades? Are they a universal thing? What happens when you complete the final grade?

How do you figure out what grade you are?

I think letting someone know what grade you are is a sort of short hand for saying, this is where I am at the moment. As to the purpose or grades and exams, there are many, but as an adult I enjoy taking grade exams for a couple of reasons. I am required to learn a bit more than just pieces; I might never have worked at improving my ear, sight reading, scales and arpeggios without the goal an exam gives, nor would I have done theory exams. Exams also require me to work a piece to performance and then perform that piece which normally I would be reluctant to do. Exams though are not going to be for everyone. Some will see exams as turning a hobby into an academic pursuit, for them this may ruin their enjoyment of the piano. Others are going to like the security of the exam system, but at the end of the day calling yourself grade ''x'' is pretty pointless.

Knowing what grade you are and just as important, what grade a piece is, lets you know what to expect, and if you are ready to tackle a particular piece.


True story: About six years ago when I had only been playing piano for a year, my wife invited someone over for lunch. Naturally we got on the subject of me learning the piano to which the lady said she was a grade 8 pianist. I felt she was looking at me for some sort of recognition, but I had absolutely no idea what that meant back then. I think I might have said something like ''that's nice'' and changed the subject smile


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Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983039 05/24/20 12:37 AM
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Originally Posted by ThePenist
Sounds interesting. Is there any way to get a hold of the training material of these grades without paying any money or taking the exam itself?

The RCM syllabus is free and can be accessed here:

https://files.rcmusic.com//sites/default/files/files/RCM-Piano-Syllabus-2015.pdf

If you want to buy the books, you’d have to pay for them. The books are a compilation of pieces from all over.

https://www.rcmusic.com/about-us/rcm-publishing/celebration-series®-2015-edition

Some pieces, the ones out of copyright, can be accessed free on IMSLP.

Each grade includes:
* a repertoire book
* an etudes book (except Prep A and B)
* a technical requirements book
* a theory book
* an ear training/sight-reading book

Last edited by WeakLeftHand; 05/24/20 12:41 AM.

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Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983040 05/24/20 12:38 AM
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I should add that RCM publishes a Syllabus (this one, for piano)

RCM Piano Syllabus

that contains an extensive list of virtually hundreds of pieces through the entire set of levels from Preparatory A to Diploma level.

Just check the link; it's free.

Regards,


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Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983051 05/24/20 12:57 AM
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Originally Posted by ThePenist
Sounds interesting. Is there any way to get a hold of the training material of these grades without paying any money or taking the exam itself?

Well, isn't the whole point of these exam systems to TAKE the actual test? The testing experience is what makes or breaks these systems.

Otherwise, you are free to learn the material on your own, but it doesn't guarantee that you will master all the materials involved. Heck, even if you pass the test, it is still no guarantee that you have mastered everything and/or will retain everything. Passing Grade 8 means that "at a moment in time" you passed Grade 8. It doesn't mean that five years after the test you are still "at" Grade 8.

I took AP Chemistry in high school. I got an A+ for the class and a 5 on the AP test. Now I don't remember anything from that class. Just like all academic subjects: If you don't use it, you lose it.


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Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983054 05/24/20 01:00 AM
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You can often pick up copies of the books second-hand on your local buy and sell list. Parents tend to get rid of them once the kids progress beyond them or give up the piano altogether.


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Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983103 05/24/20 05:24 AM
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Originally Posted by ThePenist
I keep seeing a theme in the threads about grades. Grade 1, grade 2, grade 5, grade 8, etc... What is the purpose of these grades? Are they a universal thing?
I've never known a musical life without the (ABRSM) Grade system, both in my home country and in the UK (where I somehow ended up in my teens and never left). Even the non-musical public has a general idea of the grade system in music.

In my home country, no parent would dream of hiring a piano teacher for their kids who didn't have a teaching diploma (ABRSM or Trinity usually): that would be like sending kids to a school where none of the teachers were qualified to teach. Learning piano was, and still is, regarded as an education, much more so than an enjoyable pastime or hobby, certainly not as a means to a showbiz career or for showing off the kids to impress friends & relatives (- 'See what my child can play! Look at his lightning-fast fingers in Maple Leaf!!" smirk ).

Therefore, it stands to reason that if you embark on learning to play piano, you have proper lessons, and you learn it properly (not just learning simplified versions of pop or whatever you fancy by rote).......and you do exams to determine progress, just like at school.

The grade system, being so ubiquitous in the UK and several other countries, also enables everyone (whether in music education or not) to have a good idea of where a student is at, musically. When I was at my new high school and wanted to join the school choir, the only question the choirmaster asked me was "What grade are you?" (not what instrument I played, nor whether I could sight-sing, nor even whether I could sing in tune - all that could be discerned simply from my grade level). Similarly, when I was looking for someone to play duets with, I simply asked them what grade they were at. No worries about hitching up with someone attractive of the opposite sex to sight-read through some easier violin sonatas like the Spring Sonata or K304, only to find she can't keep in time, or even (shock! horror!!) can't sight-read......

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What happens when you complete the final grade?
You pat yourself on the back whistle.......and prepare for the diplomas.

That will take a few more years of intense learning and practicing.

Nobody ever said that learning piano is easy.

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How do you figure out what grade you are?
By doing the exam.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983214 05/24/20 10:30 AM
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I'm in the USA, I hear no talk of grades. I am in an adult group that meets up at someone's home to play, some have children taking piano. There is no mention of grades or taking tests. I only found out such things existed on this forum.

I've also studied voice, violin, and guitar when I was younger, again no grades or exams in the US. But we have to prepare and polish pieces for performance.

Re: What is up with grades?
wszxbcl #2983217 05/24/20 10:36 AM
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Originally Posted by wszxbcl
I'm in the USA, I hear no talk of grades. I am in an adult group that meets up at someone's home to play, some have children taking piano. There is no mention of grades or taking tests. I only found out such things existed on this forum.

I've also studied voice, violin, and guitar when I was younger, again no grades or exams in the US. But we have to prepare and polish pieces for performance.


Whether you hear about piano exams in the US depends on the particular instructor: some encourage them, and some don’t even mention them as a possibility.


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Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983218 05/24/20 10:36 AM
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I kind of take this route but without taking the actual exams- also I learn nine pieces rather than three and now I’m on grade four I’m slowing down because there’s other pieces I want to learn as well.

Re: What is up with grades?
WeakLeftHand #2983221 05/24/20 10:38 AM
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Originally Posted by WeakLeftHand
Not to mention that a thick skin is also needed since you’re among a sea of children when you sit the exams (e.g., in the waiting room).
LOL I hear ya! When I sign up and take my seat in the waiting room parents look at me and wonder where my kid is. It is a little embarrassing to be sure. As well, I’m always amazed to hear a very nicely played piece from behind the door and then see an 8 or 9 year old kid come out - he/she did a better job than I could 😊. Still, it’s worth it.


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Re: What is up with grades?
dogperson #2983235 05/24/20 10:56 AM
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Originally Posted by dogperson
Originally Posted by wszxbcl
I'm in the USA, I hear no talk of grades. I am in an adult group that meets up at someone's home to play, some have children taking piano. There is no mention of grades or taking tests. I only found out such things existed on this forum.

I've also studied voice, violin, and guitar when I was younger, again no grades or exams in the US. But we have to prepare and polish pieces for performance.


Whether you hear about piano exams in the US depends on the particular instructor: some encourage them, and some don’t even mention them as a possibility.

Yes, dogperson, I was only sharing my own experience in my own little corner of the world.

Re: What is up with grades?
ThePenist #2983237 05/24/20 10:57 AM
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These grades are a cash-cow for the organizers and a way for whoever takes them to get some self gratification. I'm from Eastern Europe and only found out about grades when I came to the UK and looked for a piano teacher (almost all of them teach nothing but grades ... otherwise they would be out of a job). Took the first one to see what its all about and then decided to go a different way smile


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Re: What is up with grades?
wszxbcl #2983238 05/24/20 10:58 AM
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Originally Posted by wszxbcl
I'm in the USA, I hear no talk of grades. I am in an adult group that meets up at someone's home to play, some have children taking piano. There is no mention of grades or taking tests. I only found out such things existed on this forum.

I've also studied voice, violin, and guitar when I was younger, again no grades or exams in the US. But we have to prepare and polish pieces for performance.

The operative word here is "level," not "grade."

It depends on the teacher and parents and other social aspects. More often than not, the people who are obsessed with levels are also the ones who know nothing about music. It's a mask for their ignorance.


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Re: What is up with grades?
earlofmar #2983333 05/24/20 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by earlofmar
...Exams also require me to work a piece to performance and then perform that piece which normally I would be reluctant to do. Exams though are not going to be for everyone...

This would be me, for a number of reasons. For one thing, the act of scheduling and showing up is stressful for me, not to mention the stress of performance.


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