What are music exams like? Who should take them? Are they beneficial to a student’s musical success? Read on to answer these questions.
Many people are often surprised to hear that an art form like music can be tested, similar to math or science. In fact, there are numerous music exams available all over the world for different instruments. And this is separate from competitions. These are actual exams with specific criteria to study, an adjudicator that provides feedback, and a numerical score. To name a few, some examples of these exams include the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music exam (ABRSM), the Royal Conservatory of Music exam (RCM), Trinity College graded exams, the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) exams, amongst others.
The specific requirements of each exam varies, but the structure is roughly the same across the board. Each exam has multiple levels based on the student’s experience and technique. Each level has its own syllabus of requirements for both technical work and pieces to perform. Some exams will also include a portion for sight reading, aural skills, and/or music theory. The student will then prepare the required materials with their private teacher, who will help guide and direct them. And ultimately, the student will perform the prepared repertoire for a judge, who then provides a numerical grade along with some feedback.
Generally speaking, these exams are for serious-minded students, who like to work towards goals. But this does not mean that the student has to be an advanced player, who wants to attend a conservatory. At West Amadeus, we provide a specific audition prep program to help all ages and levels prepare for exams like these. The only requirement of the student is dedicated practice time at home, patience, and a willingness to learn and prepare. Many of these exams (like ABRSM, Trinity, RCM) are designed for all ages. At West Amadeus, both our children and adult students alike work towards these exams.
Even students who are leaning an instrument for fun can benefit from exam preparation. This is a great way to set a goal, track progress over the course of a few years, and learn diverse repertoire in a short span of time. Each music association will have different rewards associated with their exam. For instance, those who score high in NYSSMA (offered only for school aged children enrolled in their school’s orchestra/band programs) can attend the All County or All State Conferences. These conferences allow students to represent their county or state with like-minded musicians who also scored high. ABRSM and Trinity exams, on the other hand, can help students receive college credits in countries like the UK. At the very least, these exams are a wonderful way to measure musical progress.