How can I help my child be ready for their AMEB piano exam?
Attend the lesson
You will get an idea of which pieces the teacher is wanting your child to put the most effort into, which scales they are struggling with, and more.
At home, you can quote the teacher: “Didn’t Mr. Smith say you needed to work on the pedalling with just the left hand before you play it with both hands?”
This always seems to hold more weight than a parental opinion, particularly if you are not a musician.
If you have questions, some teachers prefer to have longer conversations via email or phone outside of the lesson time, but make sure you let them know you would like to help your child prepare, and they will have countless suggestions for you!
Ask them to play you their scales in a random order
Your teacher has a list of scales and technical work that your child is studying in preparation for their exam. Make sure your child knows which scales their teacher wants them to work on, because they may only work on one or two in the lesson but need to work on all known scales in their practise at home.
You can ask your teacher to give you a list, then you can act as “examiner” at home by asking your child to perform one scale at a time. Often students practise scales in a particular order. In Grade Two AMEB piano for example, the nine scales include F major, D major and A major. Many students will play F major with right hand, then left hand, then both hands (“similar motion.”) Then they will play D major with right hand, then left hand, then both hands, and then the same for A major, and so on through all of the scales.
If you are helping your child prepare for their AMEB piano exam, then for the month before the exam you can sit with them for a few minutes and ask them to play one scale at a time but in a random order. “F major similar motion! Now D major with left hand. Now A major with right hand.”
You can purchase or create scale cards and put them in a box so students can dip their hand in and pull out the next scale. For detailed scale information, the AMEB Technical Work Book is available for purchase. Please check with your teacher regarding the current edition, as old editions will not be suitable.
Buy the AMEB Aural CDs
There is a listening (aural) component in AMEB exams. The AMEB have published a set of CDs of example aural exam activities for each grade. The instructions are given on the CD at the beginning of each activity to help children practise at home.
I suggest you sit with younger students while they work on this activity, and for older students you can set a short assignment (ie. Tracks 4-6.) Your teacher will help your child build their skills to the level required for their grade, as the CDs are for rehearsing at assessment level rather than being a learning tool.
Hear their sight reading daily
It takes only a few minutes for this activity, just like it does for beginning readers at school. You can use their Sight Reading Secrets book pages in order for the first few months of the exam preparation, then go back and pick examples at random when students have completed the book.
The mere presence of an audience puts a little pressure on the student, to create an exam-like environment.
Sight reading performances should be previously unrehearsed, and include a period of silent thinking for fifteen seconds or so before they start playing. Once their fingers touch the keys, they should try to continue without fixing errors or repeating any sections.
Please encourage them for completing their task, and praise them warmly if they tried to keep going without hesitations.
If you feel the need to give them feedback, make sure you start by telling them several things they did well. Then ask them questions and see if they can tell you what was difficult (ie. I paused here, I forgot the F sharp) rather than just announcing a list of errors. This thinking process for the students is important for them to realise what to prepare next time they sight read a piece.
Help them to practise answering questions of general knowledge
This can happen all the way through the year at home.
For Preliminary and First Grade, students need to know the notes, rests, signs, terms and titles of their pieces; also the keys or tonalities in which their pieces are written.
For Second to Fourth Grades, the general knowledge requirements in their piano exams are the same as for Preliminary and First Grade with the addition of modulations (key changes) which occur in their pieces.
They will not be asked questions about extra list pieces, but it is a valuable activity to quiz your children on these pieces anyway. It will boost their ability to discover the answer quickly, and it will ensure they understand the music they are playing. Of course, if the children don’t know the answer, you can encourage them to ask their teacher next lesson.
By Fifth and Sixth Grades, the general knowledge expectation is as for the previous grades with the addition of the broad formal structure and analysis of their pieces with some knowledge of the period and stylistic characteristics.
Now, if you are not a musician yourself you might like to ask the teacher to give you a list of questions and answers!
I highly recommend Ross Hamilton’s analytical notes, which he has written for every piece on the AMEB piano syllabus. You can purchase information about each piece individually, or order a book of “Grade Three Series 16” analytical notes. These will help your child understand their pieces, but particularly help you ask the student questions that an examiner might ask.
You can read more about how to help your child prepare for an AMEB piano exam:
- When should my child do a piano exam?
- When will my child finish these AMEB piano exam pieces?
- Do students need to practise Sight Reading before their piano exam?
- Official AMEB information about general knowledge, sight reading and aural