When will my child finish these AMEB piano exam pieces?
My six-year-old friend proudly announced that after Christmas she was going to progress to Grade One (and by Grade One I mean her year level at school, not the AMEB piano exam.) Knowing she is an avid reader, I replied, “you will enjoy reading some more challenging books in Grade One.” She stared blankly for a moment. “But I can already read,” she retorted. Speaking cheerfully and with encouragement, I said “Yes, but in Grade One you will learn heaps of new words.” Again, blank stare. “But I already KNOW words.” She (who shall remain nameless!) honestly believed that she had finished everything about reading.
This misunderstanding happens in learning music, too. A piece might be brought to performance level, but it is never “finished.” Even if a student receives an A+ for their Grade Two AMEB piano exam, in six months or a year later, a student can revise one of their piano exam pieces and bring to it the new levels of expression and technique that have developed.
If a student has had great success with a piece, and played it with excellence at their AMEB piano examination, it is valuable to keep that piece “under their fingers” (as piano teachers say!) They can feel proud of their achievement every time they play that polished piece. For example, they can look back with satisfaction when they play through their Grade Three AMEB pieces rather than just labouring over their new (and difficult) Grade Four AMEB pieces that might take a while before they start sounding enjoyable.
Think of the student who was awarded “Honours” in a piano exam in May. He may admit in July “I can’t play anything right now” when invited to perform at their school assembly. How sad! Even beginner piano students learning with a beginner piano book or the AMEB P-Plate Piano books should have something ready to play when an audience is excited to hear them.
You can encourage your child by choosing the least-busy day of their week, and asking them to play through their most recent polished pieces just once like a mini-concert every week or two. You may need to ask your piano teacher to set this as homework so the child will not groan at you! Perhaps video their old AMEB piano exam pieces on your iPad or iPhone (or the Android versions) then put them on YouTube to show off to their friends.
Ask your child’s teacher about performance opportunities not only to prepare them for an exam but also to celebrate the development of a favourite exam piece. In Melbourne where I teach, there are many piano master classes, soirees, solo festivals, piano competitions and eisteddfods. Over the past few years, I have had several students attend the Team of Pianists Spring Piano School, where they were able to play their Baroque music on a real harpsichord, and were invigorated by a scales competition, as well as having experienced teachers give them suggestions they could try on the spot – very different from an exam experience!
Sometimes parents have asked me, “When is AMEB finished?” or “How many AMEB grades are there?” There is a Certificate of Performance available after Grade Eight, before the Associate Diploma (AmusA) and the Licentiate Diploma (LMusA.) At this point, I need to urge you to remember: don’t confuse “finishing AMEB” with “finishing piano.” Piano exams are just steps towards the goal of loving music, understanding music, and playing music proficiently with expression – hopefully for the rest of their lives.