Tag: ABRSM piano diplomas

Piano Diploma Exam: Quick Study (Part I)

Quick Study is definitely deemed one of the most challenging parts in a piano diploma exam (ABRSM).

Many exam candidates are confused, believing that a quick study test in piano diploma exams is not much different from a sight-reading test in graded piano exams. They cannot be more wrong.

Needless to say, passing a sight-reading test in graded piano exams is not an easy feat for some. Many piano students spend most of their time drilling the piano exam pieces, leaving little time on the scales (because they are “boring” and “technical”, and ah, they bear less marks), and not much at all on the sight-reading test.

The truth is, one does not need to pass the sight-reading part in order pass the whole piano exam, and therefore, students (and teachers) simply ignore this part that’s deemed “unpreparable” and focus instead on the other parts that are much more manageable. Years go by, and many piano students’ sight-reading ability went undeveloped.

Poor sight-reading skill is a major contributor to a majority of piano students’ decreasing interest in music learning and piano lessons. When a piano player can read quickly, grasping most of the music elements at first glance without taking a lot of time to figure out what’s going on in a new piece of music, s/he can then focus on how to project varieties of beautiful tone and express musical phrases and styles suitable for that particular piece of music.  Reading and learning new music become fun and exciting as opposed to a chore or to some, an excruciating experience.

When students in their graded piano learning years are not trained with the amazing skills to sight-read quickly, they are not only left with the notion that learning new pieces is a difficult and long process, they also find themselves dread about advancing to the next level: piano diplomas.

A lot of piano students (and piano teachers) choose ATCL, the first professional piano diploma by the Trinity College London, as it does not have a sight-reading/quick study test. On the other hand, for those who prefer dipABRSM, the first professional piano diploma by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), one must pass “all the requirements of both sections” in order for his/her diploma to be awarded, and that includes a quick study test (Note: Section I is the recital, while Section II has quick study and viva voce, towards which programme notes is counted).

Now, a lot of piano diploma exam candidates thought they were well prepared for the quick study test, since they believe they could read music fairly well. Sadly, they are usually surprised (or even shocked) by the fact that their quick study score is so low that they cannot pass the whole exam, even when they pass all other sections.

So what is the difference between a sight-reading test and a quick study test, you might ask?

The difference cannot be underestimated.

The level of difficulty in sight-reading tests increases as the grades progresses. Examiners might not be as strict in their markings when it comes to earlier grades like grades 1-3, but I see comments on sight-reading test for a grade 5 piano exam candidate that demands certain level of musical phrasing and stylistic awareness. One can understand the level of sight-reading ability a grade 8 piano exam candidate needs to display in order to achieve a higher score.

In a quick study (using dipABRSM as an example), the music is of two pages long. That requires quick reading and grasp of musical styles in the 5 minutes of preparation given to the piano diploma exam candidate. Although the music is composed especially for the exam, the styles can be of any musical period. What that means is it can be composed in any style of the Baroque to contemporary period. Candidates should familiarize themselves with all kinds of musical styles and periods.

One must wonder, “how is it possible for me to know all kinds of musical styles and periods before the exam?”

To this question, I say, no one can do that in a week or two. However, it is entirely possible to learn to play all kinds of music with certain level of ease at first glance, not to the degree of perfection, but to show a pianist’s awareness and well-rounded knowledge (and surely, skills), performing a new piece of any style at a pleasantly enjoyable level. I myself absolutely enjoy playing all kinds of musical pieces at first glances, from early period to new music. For me it’s a great opportunity to learn something new – there’re just too many pieces I’ve never heard or played before even after years of study, performing and teaching!

Since one cannot improve his/her quick study ability in a short period of time, a diploma piano exam candidate must start training early and systematically.

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repertoire advice,

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How do you choose your piano diploma exam programme?


Choosing a right programme for your piano diploma exam sets the right path for ultimate success. 

How do you choose your programme then? And how do you know if the programme is right for you and the exam purpose? 

1. READ THE SYLLABUS

Follow the guidelines strictly is the first and foremost key to success in your piano exam.

You must read the syllabus carefully.

If you are the teacher, read the syllabus! 

If you are the candidate, read the syllabus too! Do not rely on your teacher to do the work.  There are so many details in the syllabus that your teacher just cannot explain everything to you in your lessons (although of course the teacher is equally responsible here). 

The details include the prerequisites to enter each diploma exam, the time limit and choices of the recital programme, the word count and format of the programme notes etc etc. Always refer to the syllabus for clarification. And you get get a physical copy from the board itself – they will mail it to you upon request.

2. CHOOSE AN APPROPRIATE RECITAL PROGRAMME

Some candidates may choose to play all of the pieces from all four different musical periods, while others three out of the four, depending on timing as well as one’s preference, musicality and technicality. So if the programme has three pieces, it is typically (but not confined to) Baroque- Classical-Romantic or Classical-Romantic- 20th-century. 

You should bear in mind that it is not only the period that differentiates one piece from the other. It also depends on the genre and the style of the piece. Generally, you would want to include a bigger sonata piece as the centre piece of the programme (it is not compulsory but common choice). Then from there you think about how to balance it with pieces of other styles/periods/varieties.

3. CHOOSE THE PIECES ACCORDING TO YOUR ABILITY

In order to achieve the best result in the exam, you must choose the pieces that shows different spectrum and the best of your technicality and musicality.

Do not just choose some pieces because they are “easy” to handle so you can practice less, or “difficult” only to show how fast you can move your hands. The programme must show your best ability in delivering substance and variety of skills and understanding in the playing and music.

How do I choose for my students then? 

I always like to choose for my students a lighter shorter piece to start the whole programme, something with separate sections/movements that stops in between, to gently ease themselves into the recital process. If the student is of higher level of technicality, I would choose a more technical and fun short piece at the end to show off their virtuosity. If the student is more musically expressive, I make sure s/he has a piece to showcase that side of playing ability as well.

The choice is limitless. But you must choose accordingly.

I welcome any questions regarding the piano diploma exams.

Happy practicing!

Teresa Wong

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Three Crucial Steps to Prepare for a Successful Viva Voce Exam

Prior to the “big day” aka diploma exam day, I ask my students to do three steps in terms of viva voce preparation for me (assuming they have already done all other steps I have given them in the course of diploma exam preparation). And I would like to share with you these three important steps that would give any candidates feel much more prepared and confident to perform well in the coming exam.

The three steps to prepare for a successful viva voce session are:

  1. Think
  2. Write
  3. Speak 

 

  1. Think

THINK about what and how you are going to answer the questions the examiners pose during the exam. I always give my students a bunch of potential questions the examiners will ask. It is very important to prepare ahead. Don’t just think, “oh, I will know how to answer them during the exam.” No way! Even you have the information at hand/in your head, it is crucial that you think about how to put the information together in a clear, simple presentable speech. And that leads to the second step..

2. Write

WRITE. THEM. DOWN. Seriously. This is the next step you must do especially when you worry a lot about how to say what you need to say in the real exam. I hear a lot of this or a variation of this, “oh, I will know how to answer them because I have the information in my head.” Really? I don’t think so. If you cannot write them down, you cannot answer them. It doesn’t have to be written in full paragraph/sentences (although it certainly helps), but at least in point form, using clear, simple sentence structure. And for those who are not native speakers: this is NOT an oral English exam, so don’t worry too much about the grammatical mistakes or trying to sound like a native speaker or Shakespeare! – actually they might not even understand you if you speak like the latter anyway. The easiest way is to speak clearly and slowly in simple sentence (just use present tense in all circumstances to make it easier for yourself when in doubt), so that you can present your ideas through effectively and get points for that! I do advise those who worry about their oral English ability to write out everything in full sentences first, not to memorize them, but to…

3. Speak

SAY IT OUT LOUD! It is very important for anyone to not only practice their speaking, but also practice talking about music. I have met so many musicians/candidates who might know a lot about music yet fail to deliver their ideas through speech. It is great you can perform well for the recital part, but you do also need to speak well in your viva voce too! Therefore, I always advise my students to TALK TO ME in our lessons, especially in the last few sessions prior to the exam. I ask them questions, and they give me answers in terms of the general repertoire, background of pieces, form and analysis, composer information, etc etc. I also check their programme notes and pose some questions based on what they wrote (and help with some editing- they do have to write their own notes first!). I encourage students to practice talking out loud at home for the viva voce practice and come back with the answers so I can help correct the content as well as sentence structure. That way students feel much more prepared and confident going to the real exam session.

 

I welcome any questions on the viva voce/programme notes/piano diploma exams in general.

A guided video to how to revise for your viva voce exam part:

Teresa Wong