“Do we have to take exams for our piano lessons?” My student of 9 years’ old asked me today after finishing his lesson.

“No, of course not.” I was surprised to hear him saying that. Sometimes this little boy would give the most intelligent comment unexpected of for his young age.

“Why did you ask that?” I asked.

“Well, I have a friend who now lives in America, and he is also taking piano lessons there. He told me he never had to take any piano exams, and at his school they only taught two subjects: English and Maths.” He explained.

“That’s interesting.”

“You know, you also don’t have to take exams too for your piano lessons. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. But everyone here loves to take it. And it’s actually not a bad thing.” I continued.

My student has taken grade 5 exam recently and received a merit result, which made him and his mother very happy. But that happy effect didn’t stay long and didn’t help him with realizing the fact that he’s capable of doing more and that he’s not playing the piano just to fulfill his “duty”. 

***

I do think there is a merit to taking some tests for a subject you have learnt and worked hard on,  just to see how well you do it so far, but it’s only good for the student if it’s just part, and not all, of the whole learning process. What I mean is, for example, if we learn to be good at English only because we can pass the tests that we are given, we would focus on how to get a good score instead of how to be good at English. By the same token, when we learn to play the piano, if we focus on how to achieve a good score in piano exams instead of learning how to understand music and play the piano beautifully, we have already lost the essence of music learning and piano playing. 

I do see there is a phenomenon that if the student is not expected to take any piano exams for their piano lessons, they have a mentality of taking the piano lessons very lightly almost as if something they can throw away anytime they want. Certainly that goes a long way by tying a close relationship between piano lessons and piano exam results. If they are children, then it is because the parents focus way too much on getting a good result in piano exams and so the children are heavily influenced to think the same way as well. If they are adults, they have had this idea of “achievement equals to exam scores” deeply ingrained in their mind long time ago and it is sadly hard to be erased. I certainly do think there are high hopes for such eradication of false beliefs and new development of positive and growth mindset in each and everyone of them, only if they believe in it /me. 

***

My student happily received the photocopy of a new piano duet I assigned to him.

“Go work on this, and be brave ok?”

I said with an encouraging smile as I handed over the copy to him. 

“Sure thing!” He returned with a big smile and left the studio. 

Teresa Wong

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