I’m a believer in the piano exam system. It’s a motivator, it keeps teachers on track, it ensures students learn a wide range of repertoire style and technical and musical skills (depending on the particular exam system).
Not insignificantly, it’s part of our Canadian culture.
In thirty-some years of teaching I’ve only once, last year, had a student do a grade 1 exam. My thinking has been that it’s unnecessary, it can hold a student back time-wise, it’s a stress that young kids don’t need. Just get them playing and enjoying and start in on the whole thing at grade or 3 or 4. For the record, most of my students take most exams from grade 5 (Intermediate) and up.
But something has happened this fall that has me re-thinking the grade 1 exam. I’ve been hit with the realization of just how important it is to the students themselves to be in grade 1. It’s like some validation of their achievement and ability. The method books, however good they might be, are seen as the pre-school or kindergarten of piano.
And I don’t know this for certain, but I suspect it’s the question most often asked by other kids or adults when the subject of piano lessons comes up. Being in grade 1, and working toward an exam, gives some bragging rights.
So I’m making the transition to grade 1 a bit earlier. I’m embracing the adage that children will rise to the level of expectation. And I’m planning on a whole lot of exam preparation in the spring.