What do music exams involve?

  • Candidates progress from Preliminary to Grade 8 practical exams.
  • Exams require students to be able to play technical work (i.e. scales, arpeggios, etc.) as well as four or five short pieces of music that must be chosen from a list provided by Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB) or Australian and New Zealand Cultural Arts Ltd (ANZCA). Finally students are given short sight reading and aural tests. The technical work and pieces of music must be played as close to perfection as possible.
  • Students will not be asked to perform everything that they are taught for their exams as time does not allow for this. In fact, exams can be as short as 15 minutes for the lower levels, or as long as 45 minutes for the higher grades. The examiner will choose just a few things to listen to during the exam.
  • The examiners are fully qualified by AMEB/ANZCA to be able to conduct the examinations.
  • The exams are held at the Piano and Organ School of Music and are scheduled between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. from Monday to Saturday, inclusive, during government school terms.
  • Comprehensive exam reports are issued by the examiner and fully reflect the given performance in traditional academic format. In addition to the report, an attractive, academic certificate is also issued in the names of the signatory bodies. For AMEB these are the Universities of Melbourne, Western Australia, Adelaide, and the Ministries of Education in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania.

AMEB establishes national standards for the study of music. It conducts a system of examinations Australia-wide, with accreditation based on nationally-recognised levels of achievement in practical and theoretical (music theory) subjects.

The advantage of doing exams:

AMEB and equivalent qualifications are regarded as benchmarks for assessment in music, and the syllabuses provide frameworks for studies leading to secondary school certificates, university entrance and the establishment of professional careers in teaching and performing. AMEB awards are also recognised internationally by such prestigious institutions as Cambridge University, UK.

In other words, students who choose to do exams are able to include it as one of their VCE subjects once they reach a certain level (i.e. grade 5 piano or organ) or it can also count as a university entrance subject for some courses such as education. For those who are really keen to teach music in the future, then exams are essential. In brief, AMEB/ANZCA exams are a qualification that you will have with you for the rest of your life.

What you need to be aware of?

Technical work and the pieces of music that are to be performed in the exam must be played as close to perfection as possible. This does not happen overnight! It takes hours of practise over several months to be able to play five songs with lots of expression and animation, and at the same time with minimal mistakes. Therefore students must be willing and disciplined enough to be able to play the same scales, arpeggios and songs over and over again at home for several months. Therefore, exams are not for everybody! It is important that young students enjoy playing the piano, organ!

Choosing the right exam:

The studio's preferred examination body is AMEB. There is a choice of three AMEB courses for piano: Piano (Pianoforte), Piano for Leisure and CPM Keyboard.

The following descriptions are taken from the AMEB website:

The Piano (Pianoforte) course involves slightly more preparation time due to the extra list requirement – with five pieces presented for examination in Grades 2–4 and six pieces in Grades 5–7. The candidate is examined on both their aural and sight reading skills. This course encourages the candidate to study repertoire from significant periods in traditional keyboard musical history. From a Sixth Grade level, written examinations must also be undertaken in order for the Practical certificates to be awarded” (AMEB).

Piano for Leisure should not be seen as a “lesser alternative”. This syllabus allows students to pursue classical or light classical piano, more contemporary repertoire, pop repertoire, jazz or any tailor-made combination of these styles that suits the candidate's taste. ‘Piano for Leisure is also designed for students with busy activity schedules. Examination requirements are less than those for Pianoforte grades. It needs to be firmly understood, however, that this does not mean a lower standard in performance. Piano for Leisure is for students not intending to pursue keyboard performance as a principal focus. It is for those seeking life-enrichment through musical activity of a high standard” (AMEB).

The CPM Keyboard syllabus caters for candidates who would like to really develop their creativity. Backing tracks and/or live accompaniment are encouraged to enable the candidate to develop their ability to play with other musicians. Three pieces (two set works and one free choice) are presented for examination in Preliminary–Grade 4 and four pieces (two set works and two free choice) in Grades 5–8. Similar to the Piano for Leisure course, the teacher can utilise the candidate's strength by selecting either Sight Reading or Aural skills to be examined. In addition a "creative” section is included, giving the candidate an opportunity to improvise over a given chord chart with a backing track provided. Improvisation, original compositions and arrangements of pieces are encouraged in this course. There is the flexibility to choose repertoire from jazz, rock, fusion and popular music styles” (AMEB).

The Electronic Organ syllabus covers a diverse range of styles. In order to adequately and musically realise the demands of a syllabus covering such a diversity of styles, students must have an appropriate organ at home with a variety of percussion facilities befitting the complexity of each repertoire. The instrument should include two manuals, each of 4 to 5 octaves and a pedal board of 1 to 2 octaves compass.

Tips for preparing for your exam:

Exams can be a strenuous and often daunting task. Each exam has its separate challenges. However, if you prepare for your exams correctly, it could mean the difference between passing and failing.

3 months before the exam:

  • Aim to be doing approximately one hour's worth of practice a day, six days a week. In your pieces you should be able to press all of the right notes. Begin developing your pieces into a piano/organ masterpiece. Concentrate on things like expression, dynamics and tempo. Put some feelings and emotion into your pieces.
  • Study all of your general knowledge and scales. The more you study now, the more you will retain this information, thus having a better chance of recalling the required knowledge during your exam.

1 month before the exam:

  • This is the time to smooth out all of the minor flaws in your pieces of music. Practice things like getting the arpeggiated chord, triplets etc. sounding fluent and making sure you hit the F sharp with your fourth finger rather than the fifth.
  • Practice without the sheet music in front of you and see how well you go. During your exam if you rely too heavily on your score, you will stuff up. Learn your music off by heart.
  • Make sure that your exam becomes your number one priority. Do not be distracted by other issues in your life.

The day before the exam:

  • Don't cram in hours of practise on the night before your exam (it's too late now). At maximum you should only play through your pieces once. Pretend you are sitting the exam – play your scales first, then pieces in order, and then do some sight reading.
  • Don't try to do any last minute revision for your exam. Chances are that you will only put unneeded pressure on yourself and more importantly you will only have a small chance to remember it for your exam. Do not get distracted by other things in your life. Your piano/organ exam is tomorrow – everything else can wait another day.
  • Relax! It is essential that you get a good night's sleep.

Morning of the exam:

  • Try to eat a healthy breakfast. However, if you suffer from butterflies in the stomach, don't try to force anything down.
  • RELAX! Try not to think about your exam. Don't try to think about your general knowledge, scales, pieces, fingering etc. etc. Don't think about what you have and haven't done for your exam. This is only going to make you feel more nervous.

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