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Originally Posted by johnstaf
I think exams have a value if they are providing concrete goals in a well-rounded regime. Ideally the exam would be incidental. However, when the aim is the exam itself, as opposed to developing the necessary musical and technical skills to play a set of pieces, students can often go astray.
Hopefully, passing the exam is not different from "developing the necessary musical and technical skills to play a set of pieces". I would assume this is the case unless the passing standard is very low. The main argument against the exams I've seen so far on this thread is that some teachers or students overemphasize passing and therefore spend too much time on the small number of pieces required on the test.

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I've read through the entire thread now and will probably respond to some of the posts here.

In the meantime, I mentioned twice that the quality of the instruction / instructor is a major factor in this question. I have not seen a single response to this idea. Is it deemed unimportant?

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I feel like I owe this thread a constructive reply given my earlier comment. I'd like to add that here, if it please the court.

I don't know much of anything about ABRSM, RCM or any of that lot. I know peripherally what they're about and, given my age and lack of talent, they're really not my path. But I appreciate what they represent, at least to me: the ongoing democratization of access to knowledge. Think about it. Music (outside of peasant song and dance) was once the exclusive province of princes and kings, a plaything of the wealthy or a strict disciple of the church. This is the only way many of the composers we here study and revere knew music while they lived. Through their efforts and, in no small part through the efforts of the revolutionaries that followed them, that has changed.

ABRSM and programs like it make the curricula once available only to the connected or the rich available to everyone. It flattens the curve, allowing more people to learn to understand music. It isn't perfect; many of its flaws have been noted here. Even its adherents wouldn't say it's for everyone.

So to the initial question: what is it for? Bearing in mind that I haven't studied it or used it and do not know anyone other than the posters here who have, my impression is that it expands the study of music to those for whom it might not otherwise be available. Coupled with good teaching and a strong desire to learn, it can springboard people into a lifelong pursuit of something they love, even if they never do that thing professionally. See bennevis as an example of what I mean. I think there's too much emphasis on the professional aspects here as is it. Finding a profession in performing music for a living isn't just about talent but also about luck and lots of other little things. Studying music and our ability to do so is a gift, and one we overlook too often in my opinion.

So it is a business? Yes. Does it deserve scrutiny, cynicism and even antipathy? Certainly, in some cases. But overall, I feel like programs like this are a net positive for all of us. We're spoiled in our riches of comfort and knowledge sometimes, and too short-sighted (and short-lived) to see beyond our own prejudices. ABRSM (and programs like it) are just tools. How we use them, or indeed if we do at all, is up to us.

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Originally Posted by keystring
I've read through the entire thread now and will probably respond to some of the posts here.

In the meantime, I mentioned twice that the quality of the instruction / instructor is a major factor in this question. I have not seen a single response to this idea. Is it deemed unimportant?

I am the product of poor, then indifferent, then excellent and finally fabulous piano teaching over a period of 17 years. Not once prior to my performance degree in university did I take an exam or study harmony or history or any rudiments of music. I auditioned and got in on talent, not knowledge or certificates. To this day I still do not know how many sharps or flats there are in a key, but I can read and always have been able to sight read anything put in front of me, including transposition, and made my career on that knack.

I would say instruction/instructor and talent are the vital determining factors.


edit: I just remembered that I had to take a harmony/materials placement exam after being accepted at university. My girl friend spent a week teaching me basic harmony, so I guess exams have a place. laugh

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For the purposes of auditions, nobody gets in based on anything other than the way they play.

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Unfortunately one of the people who is not too keen on ABRSM et al is no longer with us, and from that viewpoint I'm kind of unsure of the value to me in particular of this discussion.
I've no doubt that all of the various 'boards' that set these kinds of exams are aware of the issue of 'purely training for the exam,' and my wife who spent more time talking to the teachers than I did says that the ABRSM have looked at overhauling their approach (regularly? hmm) but always came back to the same formula.
I came across this video of somebody taking Trinity College Grade 7 exam:

and here a comparison of Trinity College and ABRSM by a piano teacher:
http://musiconlineuk.blogspot.com/2017/06/trinity-vs-abrsm.html
but, although 'the devil is in the detail' as they say, both are, at the end of the day, exam-based in how they measure progress.
I'm still, though, at a loss to understand how other 'systems' work. If, for example, it's a question of recitals, then do they not just take the place of exams, so the 'candidate' can concentrate purely on the recital piece?
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Confused of Brittany!


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Originally Posted by johnstaf
For the purposes of auditions, nobody gets in based on anything other than the way they play.
Excellent point. So, if one just wants to make music for fun, or if one wants to study at an advanced institution of music, there is only value in how you play, no matter how you achieve that goal.

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Originally Posted by keystring
I mentioned twice that the quality of the instruction / instructor is a major factor in this question. I have not seen a single response to this idea. Is it deemed unimportant?

And how you propose to measure the quality of the teachers? With exams?

This gets us in to the "turtles all the way down" territory of infinite regression without defining anything.

Idem per idem gets really boring fast.

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At the risk of appearing pushy - does anyone see the quality of the instructor and instruction as a major factor in the quality of a system such as RCM, AMEB, ABRSM? I have tried to stress that it is, but with no response, maybe nobody else thinks so and I'm barking up the wrong tree.

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Originally Posted by keystring
I mentioned twice that the quality of the instruction / instructor is a major factor in this question. I have not seen a single response to this idea. Is it deemed unimportant?


Keystring, I don't think anyone has deemed that concept unimportant, but more likely self-evident. Without a good teacher, an exam syllabus doesn't do very much. Give a beginner an exam syllabus and you get... a beginner with an exam syllabus, and probably a terrified beginner at that.

I have heard horror stories about teachers that abuse the exam system - only teaching the syllabus pieces and thus not producing well-rounded musicians. I would call that musical malpractice. This probably does happen, but I've never known such a teacher personally. I've seen teachers/schools who do push exams (especially in Taiwan) and teachers who eschew exams (like my former teacher, though I don't know if any exam boards where available at the time and in the remote area where I grew up).

I can only speak for myself and my students. I personally find value in the ABRSM exams for myself. I did my Grade 5 (both theory and practical) earlier this year, and am working furiously on my Grade 8 for next May. It gives focus to my practice (I work best with a concrete goal), two of the three pieces are ones I want to play anyway (a Bach P&F from WTCII and a Beethoven sonata movement), and the certificates look good on the wall of my studio where students and parents (and perhaps most importantly, the parents of potential students) can see them. I do get asked about my qualifications from some potential students/parents, and such questions are definitely fair game.

As for my students, I tell all of them that I recommend the exams but I don't require them. And I have some students who, for one reason or another, I would not recommend the exams to them.

I currently only have one student doing the exams - an adult beginner who is more like a piano-playing demon. She wiped the floor with her Grade 1 (Distinction), and will be more than ready for Grade 2 in May (when I'll be doing my Grade 8). She has her own reasons for doing the exams, and she seems to enjoy the process. I will also note that she plays many more pieces than those on the exam syllabus. (We are tentatively planning to have her sit for Grade 3 next November and then slow down to one grade a year so that we can focus more on standard repertoire.)

Now, I have serious reservations about putting students all the way through to Grade 8. I think some aspects of Grade 8 are just ridiculous. I am spending 45 minutes a day on scales and arpeggios - 45 <expletive deleted> minutes a <expletive deleted> day. If I weren't extremely motivated, I would have chucked it already. But I am seeing progress, the fruits of my labours. I'm hoping that my students will be able to build up the scales and arpeggios gradually over the years (like I should have, but didn't) rather than attacking them head-on like I'm doing. If it gets to the point where my students have to spend this amount of time on blankety-blank scales and arpeggios, then I don't think it's worth it. (In that case I would consider Trinity.)

Just my two cents. I can only speak from my experience as a student and teacher in Alabama, and now as a teacher and exam candidate in Texas. YMMV with geography, culture, phase of the moon, level of tides, etc.


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Originally Posted by keystring
At the risk of appearing pushy - does anyone see the quality of the instructor and instruction as a major factor in the quality of a system such as RCM, AMEB, ABRSM? I have tried to stress that it is, but with no response, maybe nobody else thinks so and I'm barking up the wrong tree.


Hi keystring,

I think someone has already mentioned that "quality" is subjective and there is no way for someone prospectively know that they are being taught by a quality teacher. Respectively, based upon experience, one can make personal judgements.

This is different from a pedigreed teacher or institution, that will charge someone lots of money to become part of the pedigree and will help increase the chances if earning money within the music profession. This is totally distinct from the subject that you are raising.

Then there is the subject of exams, where someone pays someone to judge them. Assuming one has worked hard at learning how to please, one can get good marks at pleasing someone else's taste. So one can work hard and pay money for a passing grade. That's fine, if that is what one likes to do.

I avoid all this by simply enjoying creating music. I am in no rush because there is nothing to be in a rush about. There is no stress (which helps to create beautiful rhythms and tones) because there is nothing to be stressed about. Admittedly, there is little drama, but at my stage in life, I don't need drama, just quiet enjoyment of life.

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Originally Posted by 90125
And how you propose to measure the quality of the teachers? With exams?

Thank you for trying to answer.

Perhaps my question and point were not understood. I don't know whether you read my longer posts where I set this out. I am not thinking about selecting anything or anyone. The discussion and argument is about these systems being good or not. Let's please examine this.

First, looking at method books (the little I know of them). These also introduce material in an organized manner, in stages over grades. The method books also do teaching. They will introduce a concept, explain the concept, give exercises maybe for making the concept clear, and then also have pieces where you are applying the concept. An astute, diligent student can probably learn a fair bit even with an inexperienced or not so good teacher - assuming that what the book presents is decent. A good and experienced teacher might be hampered by the same thing, if he has a better or different way of presenting things. Or he might use the book, but say "Ignore this instruction, because / there are exceptions.." Etc. In any case, if the book does some instructing, then the instruction by the teacher is less critical.

Systems such as RCM do not instruct - the teacher is expected to do so. You get your scales, chords, etudes, pieces, and later theory etc. grade by grade. For pieces the teacher chooses which ones to teach, and how many. You can get the "three pieces per grade for the purpose of exams" phenomenon, or something more extensive. HOW it is taught; WHAT is taught in the course of getting the material "done" can vary widely. Concepts and skills can be barely touched on, and superficially, or not. This is the teacher part.

If someone has had a good experience, and ends up being well-rounded, going along RCM, ABRSM etc., then you must look at both factors --- what the material holds, and how it was taught. For example, Bennevis has told us a few times about what his teacher did, and my impression has always been that he had an extraordinary excellent teacher. When considering the merits of these things, you must not separate the system from the teaching, because they go hand in hand. If I can go back to the method book example; that good, experienced, knowledgeable teacher might prefer RCM, ABRSM over a method book, because he wants to do the teaching in his own manner and only wants a framework at hand. Another teacher might make a mess of it.

Have I brought my thoughts out more clearly? smile

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Originally Posted by Dr. Rogers
I think some aspects of Grade 8 are just ridiculous. I am spending 45 minutes a day on scales and arpeggios - 45 <expletive deleted> minutes a <expletive deleted> day. If I weren't extremely motivated, I would have chucked it already. But I am seeing progress, the fruits of my labours. I'm hoping that my students will be able to build up the scales and arpeggios gradually over the years (like I should have, but didn't) rather than attacking them head-on like I'm doing.

Not that I'm trying to rub salt in wink , but I think a jump from Grade 5 to Grade 8 is huge in the extra 'technical' requirements (scales & arpeggios). The set pieces themselves aren't such a problem for you because your playing standard was already well up to it.

But if you had been going about it grade by grade (like me, a tortoise-like one grade a year as befitted my gnat-like musical talent), it would have seemed like a natural progression, because only a small amount is added at each grade.

Incidentally, there is a significant gap between Grade 5 and Grade 6 Practical too (more than between Grade 4 and 5, in my experience): many - ?most - students stop at Grade 5 because any Practical grade beyond 5 requires Grade 5 Theory. I know that some students - and possibly their teachers - start with the firm idea that they will stop at Grade 5, so they never bother with learning theory beyond what they need for the Practical.


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Originally Posted by jandz
ABRSM and programs like it make the curricula once available only to the connected or the rich available to everyone. It flattens the curve, allowing more people to learn to understand music. It isn't perfect; many of its flaws have been noted here. Even its adherents wouldn't say it's for everyone.

So to the initial question: what is it for? Bearing in mind that I haven't studied it or used it and do not know anyone other than the posters here who have, my impression is that it expands the study of music to those for whom it might not otherwise be available. Coupled with good teaching and a strong desire to learn, it can springboard people into a lifelong pursuit of something they love, even if they never do that thing professionally. See bennevis as an example of what I mean. I think there's too much emphasis on the professional aspects here as is it. Finding a profession in performing music for a living isn't just about talent but also about luck and lots of other little things. Studying music and our ability to do so is a gift, and one we overlook too often in my opinion.

+1

I hesitate to use the word 'democratization' with classical music, but my feeling is that that's precisely what the ABRSM and similar programs do: empower 'ordinary people' (i.e. amateurs with no or limited talent - like yours truly) with a wide range of musical skills that would set them up for life - for whatever they might choose to do with it.

The hugely talented would use it as a springboard to go on to a conservatoire (the current BBC Young Musician of the Year, Lauren Zhang, achieved her fellowship diploma in piano at 12); lesser mortals would go on to do other jobs and keep music as a hobby. What I did with my skills changed over the years - I played duets in various settings and sang in a choir (and conducted it on the odd occasion) as a teenager; then just occasional singing in ad-hoc choirs whenever I had time for rehearsal from work, plus giving a few lecture-recitals during the short period when I had access to a piano; and finally, since 2012, playing a regular monthly piano recital for a non-musical audience (in an allied profession to mine), principally in a proselytizing role, though of course also for their enjoyment. My (non-verbalized) 'message' to my audience is that: classical music is to be enjoyed, pure & simple, but if you want to take it further, you can too. And many have, coming to ask me questions after my recitals - about the music I played, and how to start (or re-start) music lessons, whether they are too 'old' etc. (Of course they are never too old - I tell them the story of my retired friend who started lessons at 60).

Quote
So it is a business? Yes. Does it deserve scrutiny, cynicism and even antipathy? Certainly, in some cases. But overall, I feel like programs like this are a net positive for all of us. We're spoiled in our riches of comfort and knowledge sometimes, and too short-sighted (and short-lived) to see beyond our own prejudices. ABRSM (and programs like it) are just tools. How we use them, or indeed if we do at all, is up to us.

Exactly.

The ABRSM is a business. It also makes money from publishing too (their scholarly Beethoven piano sonata edition - with three extra youthful sonatas - is a good example). Just like a music teacher makes money from lessons, and website teachers make money from viewers.


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There seems to be a real jump between grade 1 and grade 2 in ABRSM. Probably the largest jump between any of the grades. At least that's what I've heard many piano teachers state.

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Originally Posted by bennevis
[I hesitate to use the word 'democratization' with classical music, but my feeling is that that's precisely what the ABRSM and similar programs do: empower 'ordinary people' (i.e. amateurs with no or limited talent - like yours truly) with a wide range of musical skills that would set them up for life - for whatever they might choose to do with it..


Assuming that the TEACHING goes with it. From all you've told, you had an excellent and dedicated teacher. You received quality teaching within the program. Both sides are needed.

I know you ignore my posts, but I'd be interested in feedback on this. I'd be surprised if we weren't on the same page about it.

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Originally Posted by Michael P Walsh
There seems to be a real jump between grade 1 and grade 2 in ABRSM. Probably the largest jump between any of the grades. At least that's what I've heard many piano teachers state.

I mentioned earlier that it's very easy to get good marks in Grade 1. I believe that Grade 1 has the highest number of Distinctions awarded of any grade.

Examiners are asked to be lenient, because the candidates (whether children or adults) have never probably experienced anything like this before: a one-to-one exam where you are the sole focus of the examiner's beady eyes & ears...... wink


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Originally Posted by Richrf
I think someone has already mentioned that "quality" is subjective and there is no way for someone prospectively know that they are being taught by a quality teacher. Respectively, based upon experience, one can make personal judgements.
I would certainly disagree that there's no way for someone to know ahead of time if they are being taught by a good teacher. Can they be positive ahead of time? No, but if you look at the teacher's Forum, Piano Forum, and Adult Beginner's Forum you will find many threads where this topic is discussed with some good answers.

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Originally Posted by keystring
Originally Posted by bennevis
[I hesitate to use the word 'democratization' with classical music, but my feeling is that that's precisely what the ABRSM and similar programs do: empower 'ordinary people' (i.e. amateurs with no or limited talent - like yours truly) with a wide range of musical skills that would set them up for life - for whatever they might choose to do with it..


Assuming that the TEACHING goes with it. From all you've told, you had an excellent and dedicated teacher. You received quality teaching within the program. Both sides are needed.

I know you ignore my posts, but I am insisting on this. wink

OK, OK, I give in grin.

Yes, I had an excellent first teacher who imbued a somewhat ignorant kid with a love of classical music. She was my only source of it, in fact, as there was no music in my home.

And my subsequent teachers weren't bad either.....


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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by Richrf
I think someone has already mentioned that "quality" is subjective and there is no way for someone prospectively know that they are being taught by a quality teacher. Respectively, based upon experience, one can make personal judgements.
I would certainly disagree that there's no way for someone to know ahead of time if they are being taught by a good teacher. Can they be positive ahead of time? No, but if you look at the teacher's Forum, Piano Forum, and Adult Beginner's Forum you will find many threads where this topic is discussed with some good answers.


Teacher/student is a symbiotic relationship between two unique humans with totally unpredictable results. Just give it a shot and see what happens.

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