Music Exams - What to expect on the Day

Posted by Brittens Team on

Preparing for your ABRSM ExamsFor those of you who have been studying for a music exam and are now ready to take it, every term the Music School upstairs in our Tunbridge Wells branch becomes an examination centre for both the ABRSM and Trinity College London. We host students from near and far, whether tutored privately, at school, or here at Brittens Music School.

If it is your first exam, don't be worried. The examiners WANT you to pass and you will already have worked through the requirements of the syllabus with your teacher. This article explains a few things about the exam so that you are as prepared as you can be when the day comes.

If you are taking an ABRSM exam, they have a booklet on their website called Your Guide to ABRSM Exams. We really recommend that you read it through as it gives an insight into what they are looking for and how it all works.

On arriving in Tunbridge Wells, there are a number of pay and display car parks. Nearby ones include The Great Hall, the entrance of which is accessed from Mount Pleasant, just up from the BBC Studios. You could also use the Torrington car park, which is accessed from London Road and is above The Range. Tunbridge Wells station car park is just down the little service road next to the shop, but this requires buying a whole-day ticket so will be a bit more expensive. The shop is very close to Tunbridge Wells railway station, so coming on the train may be more convenient for you. 

As you enter the exam centre you will be met by the Exams Steward. They will check you in and you will be asked to write down in which order you would like to play your pieces. This is just so the examiner knows what to expect from each candidate. You will then be invited to use one of our practice rooms for at least 10 minutes, perhaps more if it is quiet. The warm-up rooms all have pianos - mostly Yamaha.

When it is your turn, take a deep breath, and walk in calmly - the examiners are NICE people, who work with nervous students all year round; they are used to helping you calm your nerves.

The way the examiners mark is to start you at the pass mark. You will then be given points for good work and have points removed for mistakes. If you do make a mistake, please try not to worry about it. Remember - all the time you play, they are giving you points for what you got right!

They are looking at 5 main areas in your playing:

Pitch - that you play all the notes accurately
Time - that you are able to play with a stable tempo or beat without fluctuations
Tone - that you control the projection of the sound - adhering to the notations in the music
Shape - attention to the form or structure of the piece, phrasing, repeats etc.
Performance - this is where your confidence shines through, where you show that you enjoy playing, are in control of the piece, and are able to communicate that throughout!

Once your pieces are over, you will move to the other three elements of the exam;  scales & arpeggios, sight-reading, and aural tests.
  • The best advice for scale prep, is to keep playing them everyday. The more you play them, the better technique you will develop and the easier they are. They show that you have awareness of the keys and familiarity with patterns.
  • Sight-reading demonstrates that you are able to recognise rhythm and melody, are able to KEEP GOING, and able to catch some of the musical details.
  • Aural tests develop in complexity as you move up the grades, but are designed to show that you are able to recognise musical features, and that you can distinguish pitch and rhythm. The more you are familiar with the tests, the better you will be. Singing along to your favourite songs, and listening for changes in a melody will all help you recognise these musical features.

In terms of managing your nerves: keep yourself fit, and make sure you eat and sleep well. It is like any exam - you need to be in peak condition.
  • Be prepared for the day. Reading this article will help, and popping over to the ABRSM site will also!
  • Visualise success. Imagine the certificate. Remember all the times you practiced, thinking about this exam. Now you are here, make the most of it!
  • Playing in front of a stranger can be a challenge. Perform in front of friends or family, so you become more used to an audience.
  • Control your breathing - nerves tend to make us breath faster, which won't help your control.
  • Smile - it will help remove any tension in your face muscles and you will relax more.
  • Remember that you actually really enjoy playing your instrument, and keep focussed on the music.
  • If you make a mistake, MOVE ON. Don't linger on it, and don't worry about it - we all make them. Enjoy the rest of the performance.
Once the exam is over (it will last between 12 and 30 minutes depending on your grade), you are free to leave! You have 7 days to report anything that you feel impacted your performance on the day. Your results will be available online via your teacher in around 2 weeks, with a certificate arriving within the month.

If you have forgotten anything on the day, we have a fully stocked music shop at the music school. Broken reeds, bows, forgotten your music? We've got you covered!

We wish you the very best of luck in your exam, and look forward to welcoming you at Brittens Music!

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