On the “lowering of standards”

The Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM), Canada’s largest exam system, recently announced changes to the theory requirements for their diploma, the Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto (ARCT). I jumped for joy, in a manner of speaking, when I read the e-mail announcing the changes, but a cursory glance through some comments on a forum indicated that not all teachers are with me on this one.

The new requirements make it marginally easier for students to actually get the diploma without compromising an excellent education.  Specifically, students are now required to pass only 2 of the 3 advanced theory exams: Counterpoint, Advanced Harmony/Counterpoint, and Analysis. History requirements haven’t changed. Some see this as a dumbing down of the education of the students, and the devaluation of the ARCT.

There are 3 scenarios:

1. Do Counterpoint and Advanced Harmony/Counterpoint. The harmonic material required for Analysis is included in Adv Harm, and, along the way, the major forms of the Baroque and Classical periods have already been covered. Any student studying at this level should be, under the instruction of the teacher, analyzing every piece as they learn it. My goal is to enable students to write the Analysis exam with minimal preparation because they will have done all the work at the weekly piano lessons.

2. Do Counterpoint and Analysis. The counterpoint requirements for the Adv Harm/Ctpt exam don’t include anything new, just longer. Studying for the Analysis exam will of necessity include learning the material for harmony portion of the course. True, some practice of SATB writing with this material may be lost, but the knowledge will still be there.

3. Do Advanced Harmony/Counterpoint and Analysis. You can’t write advanced counterpoint without having learned how to write it in first level Counterpoint. The material must still be covered and the student’s education will not suffer for not writing the exam.

The other issue being discussed on the forum is the potential devaluation of the ARCT for those who already have it. With all due respect, I think the concern is unfounded. First, Joe Public still won’t have a clue what’s involved, only that it seems to be something to look for in a teacher. Second, the ARCT never has (to my knowledge) been accepted for credit at any post-secondary institution anyway; it pales in comparison to an actual music degree from a University or College with a good program. Every good teacher will continue to learn throughout a career, seeking knowledge and professional development from any number of sources.

I have to admit I was a bit surprised at these changes. The RCM typically adds exams, not subtracts exams (exams are a money-making opportunity, if you want to see the dark side). The only explanation given in the email, which is also on the website, is that this is “in response to the recommendations of teachers of practical and theoretical subjects.”  The sheer number of exams is daunting, and if this can help a few more students achieve the goal, I applaud it.

As always, I welcome comments including, or maybe especially, from those with a different opinion. I regretfully missed the workshop here in Calgary a couple of weeks ago with Dr. Janet Lopinski of the RCM. If anyone who attended would like to write a guest post about the workshop, or would like to let me know if the topic came up at all, contact me via email.

I have nothing to disclose with this post – I have no vested interest in the success or failure of any exam system. I use the RCM and other exam systems with students who want it and who benefit from it.

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About LaDona's Music Studio

Musician, pianist, teacher, blogger.
This entry was posted in Business of Teaching, Examinations, Theory and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On the “lowering of standards”

  1. Joyce says:

    Hmmm….nobody’s replied and I was so hoping to hear others’ responses. I’m with LaDona on this one…and I’m working on ARCT right now – taking the exam in June. My first thought was – sheesh! I did all the history/theory requirements already! And then thought – hey! I’ll get the “special certificate”. Thanks for posting this LaDona! It was an encouraging and insightful read.

  2. Thank you for your kind words, Joyce. I was hoping for more comments, too! The comments on the forum were pretty strong.
    Enjoy your special certificate :) and good luck on the practical exam.

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