Music exams are so popular amongst children and parents, that it is often thought to be the only route for learning. However, there can be a number of reasons that kids may not want to sit them. It is important to know that there are some brilliant alternatives.
The true level of a musician is not measured by the grade they have achieved!
Why would children not want to sit music exams?
- They may not enjoy the repertoire they have to learn. Most exam boards offer the choice between just a few pieces. If none of them appeal, it can be very uninspiring to study them for several months
- They may find them too nerve-wracking. People are affected by performance nerves to varying degrees, and the whole experience may be too difficult (Check out my tips on performance nerves here)
- They may just want to play for fun! Children have so many tests and assessments these days – maybe they want to enjoy their music lessons without the pressure of exams
- They may find music exams too difficult. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but some of the more traditional exam boards don’t work to everyone’s strengths. Your child may find that the structure doesn’t suit their preferred learning method, and they find this particular method too challenging.
Will it not affect their chances of Scholarships/University applications/other achievements?
No! This is a very common misconception. When including musical achievements in applications, the important thing is the level they are working at, not which exams they have actually passed! Even at the highest level of application (music college, for example), they will only be interested in the level they are working at. All decisions will actually be made in an audition – and even a Distinction at Grade 8 doesn’t mean anything if the performance doesn’t go well on the day.
The only exception to this rule is with regards to UCAS points. Passing Grades 6, 7 and 8 will score you some UCAS points to count towards your Uni application, but they are very minimal in comparison to A-levels or equivalents.
What are the alternatives?
This is where the fun starts! Without exams to govern the lesson structure and rate of progression, there are many options for how children can learn.
Working towards music exams without actually sitting them
Some children enjoy the structure of an exam syllabus, but don’t have the confidence to actually sit the exam. This is absolutely fine! It gives the teacher the flexibility to vary the pieces, and try out different ones to suit the student’s tastes. It allows them to dip in-and-out of scales, sight-reading, and aural tests. They can work at the pace of the child, without the pressure of a looming deadline.
Working in this way gives everyone a very clear indication of the level the child is playing at. The exam itself is not necessary. Some children even change their mind as they go along, sitting some grades but not others, according to the amount of school work they have at the time. (This is also something that you are allowed to do, but not many people realise. You can skip grades, and just sit the ones that you want to)
Sit a ‘Performance Assessment’
Some children would be happy to sit exams if they could have a free choice of repertoire – and they can! The ABRSM offer a ‘Performance Assessment’, which gives students the chance to perform their own repertoire. They are given feedback from an independent examiner, but cannot ‘pass’ or ‘fail’. It gives them something to work towards and a sense of achievement, but allows them to work exclusively on the things that they enjoy.
Enter a music festival/competition
There are lots of local music festivals if you look for them, which your child will be able to enter. They have different ‘classes’ according to age, ability, and repertoire. Anyone is able to enter these, so long as they can meet the criteria of the chosen class. Your child will then perform in front of a small audience and a panel of judges. They will receive feedback, as well as the chance to win their class! These festivals are very inspiring for children, as they get to hear their peers play as well. They are quite nerve-wracking, but give children the opportunity to play the music that they love and are most confident with.
Play for fun
This doesn’t have to be as vague as it sounds! Your child’s teacher can help to construct a plan for progression, which allows your child to play the things they enjoy. There is a lot to be learnt from playing pop music, songs from shows – even making up their own music. Music tuition doesn’t have to be formal and stuffy – a balance can be found between different genres of music. Even if your child ‘hates’ classical music, there is so much to be explored. They are sure to find something they love with the right guidance. They can still work through progressively more difficult repertoire, address different techniques, and learn about the theory of music, without the limitations that music exams provide.
As long as your child is continuing to practise, and is staying motivated by what they are learning, you will continue to hear results!