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ABRSM Exam Preparation

2019-02-26

For those of you who have been studying an exam syllabus and have signed up for music exams back in January, the exam season is soon upon us. Our music school upstairs in our Tunbridge Wells branch, becomes the examination centre for a month, and hosts examiners from Trinity, London College of Music and the Associated Board.  We host up to 400 students from near and far, whether tutored privately, at school, or here at Brittens Music School. The next exams run from the 4th of March to the 6th of April.
 
If it is your first exam, don't be worried. The examiners WANT you to pass. You will already have worked through the requirements of the syllabus with your teacher, and you still have several weeks of practice to perfect your playing before the big event! 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 haven't been there already, go along to the ABRSM website.  On their site is a booklet 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 the exam works.
 

What To Expect

On the day, arrive early! When visiting Tunbridge Wells, there are a variety of places to park; the closest of which would be Hoopers car park across the road, or just up from there at Calverley Park behind the Sainsbury Metro (both Pay and Display) plus the station car park down the side of the building. We are positioned directly across from Tunbridge Wells train station, so if you can manage with your instrument, then arriving by train would be easy as we are directly across the road from the station.
 
When you check in, you will be asked to write down 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.  If it is a piano exam, we have Yamaha upright pianos in our practice rooms.  
 
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 they mark is to start you at the pass mark, then give you points for good work and remove points for mistakes. If you make a mistake, remember that all the time you play, they are giving you points for what you got right!
 
They are looking at 5 main areas as you play:
 
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 & arpegios, 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.
• With sight-reading, these demonstrate 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 are all helping you recognise these musical features.
 

Managing those nerves:

• 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 you, and popping over to the ABRSM site will also!
• Visualise success.  Imagine the certificate.  Remember all the times you practiced, thinking about this exam, and 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 relaxes the tension in your face, and enables you to relax more.
• Remember that you actually really enjoy playing your instrument, and keep concentrating 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 (anywhere 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, so 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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