At last, the summer is coming! With their first Royal Irish Academy piano exams behind them, the younger students are tangibly close to the long stretch of summer holidays. All of them seem completely untroubled by the very exams I found so scary when I was young.
As a child I was sent to cello lessons after school. Quite honestly I used to dread them. Every week we would repeat the same pieces, scales and arpeggios and I would despair because this was, quite frankly, no fun. As I recall, in cello exams students had to play three set pieces and three chosen pieces. My teacher would always leave the chosen pieced until the very end of the year. For this reason I was sent to cello exams several times feeling underprepared, panicked and absolutely terrified. Everyone knows what it is like to sit an exam when they don’t feel prepared. What’s even worse is when you are expected to perform competently with trembling hands.
In college I studied voice as my main instrument and I loved it. It was a complete change from cello and it made me understand what had made me so afraid. In singing, my teacher went step-by-step. She made sure I understood something completely and could put it into practice before going on. I made incredible progress and loved every second of it.
Although I didn’t enjoy those years of cello, they have given me an understanding of how students respond to different teaching styles. I always try to react to how much the student is taking in, never wanting them to feel left behind or bogged down by the theory. And I would NEVER allow a student to take an exam they didn’t feel ready for. Learning to play and read music should be about fun, passion and self-development, not about a piece of paper issued by an exam board.
One of my mature students also took the leap into piano exams before Easter. She went in feeling confident about her ability, although, she explained, she was doing it for the experience. The outcome doesn’t matter to her. She enjoyed the whole thing from start to finish and is eager to begin the next grade along. This lady is in her sixties and started learning piano with me last Autumn – what an inspiration!