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  • Writer's pictureMary Barton

Sharing the Exam Experience #2!

Another exciting story from another adult student who took on the exam challenge! In this second instalment of Sharing the Exam Experience, adult student, Erin, reflects on her RCM Level 1 practical piano exam.

1.  Thinking about your exam preparations for the last few weeks/months:

  •  What were the most challenging aspects?  As an adult learning, making time to practice and prioritizing this on my schedule was the most challenging aspect. Following that, probably getting to all the various elements I needed to on a regular basis – like scales, pieces, etc – was hard, and I was pretty disorganized at first.

  • What were the easiest? Hmmm…

  • What did you enjoy the most about these preparations?  A sense of accomplishment and seeing progress.

  • What did you least enjoy, why, and what advice would you give other students who might also encounter this or feel this way? I corralled a few folks into listening to my exam pieces – that was not my favourite part of preparation. I felt like a show off! I explained it was part of getting ready for the exam, and everyone was really supportive. I even got some great feedback that I used the day of the exam.

2.     Do you feel you have grown as a musician in some way as a result of these preparations? 

For sure. I’ve played a few instruments at very low levels, and sang in a few choirs; but I don’t really understand how music is composed or structured. Preparing for Level 1 helped me understand some building blocks of music.

Preparing for the exam forced me to slow things down, and solidify skills that are probably foundational to the next few years of learning. I also learned how practicing BEYOND what you think is needed can help when you get nervous; when your brain turns off your fingers will keep going!

3.  Reflecting on the exam itself:

  • How did you feel walking into the examination room? Did the examiner make you feel at ease? Any thoughts you’d like to share? I was excited on exam day; nervous and happy. It seemed like I could see the finish line. I chatted with the other students, which made me feel like I was part of a community. Everyone was very supportive and even enthusiastic about someone my age taking a Level 1 exam. The RCM representatives were helpful and provided clear instructions; the Examiner polite and business-like. In the exam room itself, I felt rushed; time will tell if that was indeed a result of the Examiner’s vibe, my nerves, or just simply how things move on exam day. I learned a lot from this experience. Next time I will know what to expect, and how to take my time in the process.

  • What was the piano like and what was it like to play on? I practice on my niece’s second-hand digital piano that has seen some better days. It was so much fun to play on a proper piano! It had a very different sound, brighter and more fulsome. This underscores Mary’s advice to seek out different pianos to play before your exam.

  • How did you deal with nerves and do you have any advice or encouragement to offer students in that regard? I mentioned feeling a bit rushed, and my heart was beating fast. I took deep breaths before I played, and as the Examiner took notes, “played” the next piece in my head. Most helpful was to remember how I felt when I played the pieces well; this relaxed me and brought my attention back to the music.

4. Any other thoughts or experiences you’d like to share? For the first few months I wasn’t regularly practicing (eek!). It was hard at the end of a work day to sit down at the piano. I finally committed to a regular time of day to practice, at a time that fit into my routine (I’d read this was a good habit for learning an instrument, and it worked well for me). I also moved my digital piano to a room that had some natural light, and started lighting a candle to practice; I really liked creating an environment where I was happy and comfortable. Both these things made a difference to me.

5. What advice, if any, would you give students who are worried, nervous or apprehensive about doing an exam?

No doubt exams can be intimidating. And if doing an exam isn’t bad enough, there is a long checklist of things to get ready for that “scary” experience – learning songs, required scales, ear training, weekly or monthly lessons….

What helped me was the process of getting ready for the exam. Exam prep improved my appreciation of what I was learning, and strengthened my connection to the music. As I learned more, I got more comfortable – and began to feel less nervous and more excited. I think that working through my nerves about playing will actually help strengthen my focus in the long run. I also like having a goal to work toward, which is satisfying.

6.  Would you recommend doing exams? Why or why not?

 Absolutely! Even if it’s a long way in the future, doing an exam helps structure your learning.

Erin earned First Class Honours on her Level 1 exam and is already looking forward to tackling a Level 2 exam down the raod!

What about you? Ready to take on the exam challenge and catapult your learning to the next level?

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