A guide to preparing for the autumn exam session (Nov 2015)

We have put together a guide to help you prepare for the Autumn exam session in November 2015. The deadline to pass a mock exam for entry to this session is September 19th 2015. Students not completing a mock exam by this date will enter at the March 2016 session.

How long to practise every day

Recommended practice times:
Grade 1: 35 mins; Grade 2: 45 mins; Grade 3: 55 mins etc

How to break up the practice for Grade 1 (adjust timings for higher grades)

10 minutes
1) Arpeggios, Broken Chords & Contrary Motion scales. If you make an error, start the scale and play until it is perfect (the same applies to the requirements below).
2) All minor scales, hands separately.
3) All major scales, hands separately.

Listen to how your scales should sound for Grade 1 & Grade 2. Do yours sound like this? Ask mum and dad to compare and contrast the audio clips with your playing.

5 minutes x 3 (15 minutes)*
Each piece – hands separately, then hands together. Start with the difficult sections first, do not always start from the beginning of your piece. Parents – listen to all the pieces online with your child at least twice a week (either using the official ABRSM CD or the excellent Yohondo Youtube channel). Listening to the pieces enhances your awareness of the sound, shape and patterns of the pieces, thus making it easier to learn the piece. Listen to the changes in dynamic – there may be subtle increases and decreases in volume; listen if the tempo speeds or slows; what is the character of the piece? Is it happy or sad? Major or minor? Does the name of the piece match the sound you are hearing? Has your child read the footnotes that accompany the piece? Use the Summer holidays to find out about the composer of the piece: when did they live, where were they born, what other music did they compose? Find lots of other pieces by them and use this as part of your musical practice at home during the long summer break.
*Nb five minutes is the bare minimum to practise each piece. 

5 minutes
Two sight-reading exercises a day from your book (Joining the Dots, Improve Your Sight-Reading, Specimen Sight-Reading Tests). Give yourself one minute to prepare each piece. Play through any difficult bits, then attempt it hands together. Keep going if you make a mistake. Ensure the key signature is present! Then play it again and see if you can improve on your performance the second time. If you get bored of the sight-reading tests, then print off some fun pieces from the internet to learn for a sight-reading challenge, or try to learn one of the other pieces in the exam book. Learning just three pieces per grade is very limiting and does not develop your sight-reading skills. Students that become confident sight-readers are able to play several of the pieces in the graded exam book with ease. This is also a good indication of readiness for the exam when new pieces can be learned quickly as this means sight-reading skills are well developed.

5 minutes
Online aural tests are a vital part of your daily practice routine. There are 2 full sample tests available for free at e-Music Maestro. Hofnote has hundreds of tests available for around £8 for Grade 1. Subscribe to either web site and work on different exercises every day. The test is in 3 or 4 sections.

TOTAL TIME: 35 minutes (Grade 1)


Summer Holidays
Use the Summer break to stay on top of all your piano practice. You can record it in a practice chart to make sure you are practising the various requirements in rotation. Parents – make sure your children are practising more than just their pieces. The other elements of the exam, as detailed above, need equal attention. Here is a useful weekly practice chart.

Practice notebook & charts
Graded exam students should be writing their own notes in their practice diary with the teacher’s guidance each lesson. Take notes throughout the lesson as you work on each section of the exam. This ensures that notes are written by the student and that they have fully understood what they should practice at home. Additionally, each student must fill in the scale practice chart & daily practice chart each week and present to the teacher at the start of each lesson along with a verbal summary of their week’s practice and progress. Do highlight any achievements of which you are particularly proud!

How to Enter the Exam
All students hoping to enter the Autumn exam session must book a mock exam session with Musical Orbit before the deadline of September 19th. A pass must be achieved in each section of the exam, not just the pieces. If a pass is not achieved in each section, the exam entry will be deferred to the next session in March 2016.

Perform Your Pieces
Play all three of your pieces at our October student recital. We have timed this to ensure that all students can gain vital experience of performing all three exam pieces in public before the exam session in November. Beat the nerves on exam day and perform regularly in public to ensure you feel as confident as possible when playing to the examiner.

Mock Exams with Musical Orbit
Mock Exams with Musical Orbit

Author: Lorraine Liyanage

Owner of the SE22 Piano School in East Dulwich. Founder and Director of the Dulwich Music Festival. Piano teacher based in East Dulwich since 2007.

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