Sitting exams in a musical instrument can be a bit of a controversial topic among musicians and music teachers. On the one hand you have teachers who sat exams themselves who advocate for the structured approach that can help develop technique and theory and expose students to a broad range of repertoire. On the other hand, you have teachers who prefer to teach in a more student-led approach, introducing theory, technique and repertoire as it becomes relevant to the students’ specific goals.
There is definitely a case to be made for both approaches and ultimately, like almost everything in music lessons, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In my experience, the decision to exam or not to exam should be made on the basis of the individual student and their reasons for doing exams.
In this blog, I’m going to quickly outline some of the right and not-so-right reasons for doing exams, as well as some alternatives to exams for students who might be on the fence about whether or not exams are right for them. It’s worth noting that my background is in AMEB (Australian Music Examinations Board) exams, although Trinity, ABRSM and ANZCA exams are all other options, and a lot of the information here can be broadly applied to any exam syllabus. However, anything specific should be checked against your specific exam board’s syllabus to avoid confusion.
You SHOULD do exams if: You are motivated by having a deadline to work towards and a clear path to that goal: One of the biggest benefits in my opin
ion to sitting exams is the fact that there is a very clear goal in mind, a deadline, and a checklist of things that need to be prepared to meet the goal by the deadline. For many students, this sense of structure, order and having a clear goal to work towards can help motivate them to practice