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Thread: Helpful exam strategies?

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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    Default Helpful exam strategies?

    For those who are taking piano exams, or whose friend or relation is...

    What will help in preparation?

    Does it help, for example, to play the exam piece cd or the pieces played on YouTube as background to surfing the net or whatever, to let the music seep into one's brain?

    Or is it counter-productive, because it will just stress you and/or make you tired of it?

    Does it help to exercise your fingers when away from the keyboard?

    Is there a mind-set - a diet - a pastime - that has helped you to get in gear for a piano exam?

    Well, here is the thread where you can read about it, or contribute your own tips to help others.

    It's also a good place to whinge about the stresses and difficulties of exams, which I think can be therapeutic.


    Thanks in advance for any helpful replies.
    My fiddle my joy.

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    Senior Member Headphone Hermit's Avatar
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    Q. What will help in preparation?
    A. Hard work

    Q. Does it help, for example, to play the exam piece cd or the pieces played on YouTube as background to surfing the net or whatever, to let the music seep into one's brain?
    A. Hard work helps more

    Q. Is there a mind-set - a diet - a pastime - that has helped you to get in gear for a piano exam?
    A. The mind-set that helps most is .... there is no shortcut for hard work

    hahaha! Guess who is currently marking resubmissions from students who failed first time around
    "Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils." Berlioz, 1856

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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    Thanks!

    But to be serious, I'm not here denying the value of 'hard work' or that it helps 'more' - but are there other things that when added to hard work can help?

    Studies have shown that just spending hours in practice doesn't do the job as well as 'intelligent practice', such as slowing down passages or phrases to practise in isolation. Other studies have shown that reading through things before you go to bed, but then leaving them for a day or two before the (non-music) exam is helpful, because it takes a certain time for things to sink in & then resurface in the brain.

    That sort of thing...

    Still hoping to learn from the experience of others, and also to relax into a bit of camaraderie.
    My fiddle my joy.

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    My father just forced me to sit at the piano and play. It worked well.

    I find that it's a lot like playing a sport. What's the key to having a great golf swing?I don't think that anything would have helped me then, except work.

    I guess some of the videos by elite players dissecting what they did would have been useful and would have broadened my horizons, but even then, I think endless repetition is more useful...

    Just do it.

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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    Thanks - of course, we are 'just doing it', but as this is the keyboard forum and many of us are taking exams, I had thought it would be nice to share experiences and advice that has helped someone to master troublesome phrases and so on.

    One thing to watch out for is not to do endless repetitions unless one is sure it's right - because otherwise, one is instilling bad habits.

    Another good thing is to practise something very hard, and then leave it for at least three days before picking it up again. That gives it time to sink in. It chimes in with my experience - that when I've finished practising a violin piece for my teacher, and moved on, if I play it again several months later, I often find that I can now manage the tricky bits.
    My fiddle my joy.

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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ingélou View Post
    . . . One thing to watch out for is not to do endless repetitions unless one is sure it's right - because otherwise, one is instilling bad habits.
    Amateurs practice until they get it right ... Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong

    Another good thing is to practise something very hard, and then leave it for at least three days before picking it up again. That gives it time to sink in. It chimes in with my experience - that when I've finished practising a violin piece for my teacher, and moved on, if I play it again several months later, I often find that I can now manage the tricky bits.
    Although not having had to bear the "exams" when I was studying piano, and later organ, I did play in many a recital and/or competitions over those years.

    Practice is the key - if one has not been working on the piece for an exam or recital all along, and waits until days before the presentation, is going to produce bad results. The music must be within our souls where we are playing from the heart and not just reading notes from the page in front of us.

    The competitions in which I played, the piece was performed from memory. In the case of organ competitions, it was more complex as there are stops to be added/removed and then we are also playing with both feet as well.

    In all my practice sessions I begin with a familiar piece and end with another very familiar piece. I do so because I see the benefit of ending a practice session on a positive note rather than ending on a negative note, frustrated with a new piece for example.

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    The term 'exams' has a universal meaning, maybe. If so, here are two suggestions for success:

    1) Know the material.

    2) Present the material in a way acceptable to the examiner.
    I spent a fortune on deodorant before I realized that people don't like me anyway.

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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    As regards 2, a bit of acting comes in useful.
    Body language that expresses confidence but not overweening, a love of music, and some sort of 'spirit' of the particular piece.

    When I did my lowly-grade violin exam last year, my bow shook on the last notes of my best piece, Carolan's Air, and I felt in despair, because it was nervous trembling coming from inside and I had no conscious control over it.

    Left was Irving Berlin's 'Putting on the Ritz' - my worst piece. But I realised that I had to go for it, and put the wobbly bow out of my mind. So I put myself into battle mode, and smiled - very hard for me - and adopted a swaggering stance and really 'swung' as I played it.

    It was my best mark!
    My fiddle my joy.

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    Senior Member quietfire's Avatar
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    I don't know if this has been mentioned before or not, but if possible, choose the right pieces.

    Cannot stress how important this is. Choosing a musical piece that is at the right level and ones that are in your wavelength so to speak will make the difference between day and night.

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    Senior Member quietfire's Avatar
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    I realise this thread is a bit old, but nonetheless, there will people always taking music exams.

    Here are some useful tips for ABRSM:

    http://ca.abrsm.org/en/exam-support/coping-with-nerves/

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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by quietfire View Post
    I realise this thread is a bit old, but nonetheless, there will people always taking music exams.

    Here are some useful tips for ABRSM:

    http://ca.abrsm.org/en/exam-support/coping-with-nerves/
    Thanks, quietfire.
    I've given up on classical violin exams in favour of folk fiddle sessions, but who knows, maybe in the future I'll find time to start learning the piano again, and then I might try exams. Taggart's piano teacher is an excellent exam strategist, which surely helps.
    Last edited by Ingélou; Mar-31-2017 at 19:55.
    My fiddle my joy.

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    In my experience as a judge for piano exams, I've found that students often have trouble recovering from memory slips. They sometimes get totally lost and end up having to start over from the beginning.

    I spend a lot of time helping my students develop recovery strategies. I teach them to practice starting from many different places in the piece. This allows them to keep going when they make mistakes, because they've learned how to pick things up mid-phrase without missing a beat.

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    OP, your first questions were heading in the directions of easy ways around the big work. I think the only valuable tip can be to examine your practise habits. Are you using your time as efficiently as possible? Are your methods perfect? If not, then that's where you have to optimize. Obviously get enough sleep but before you change your diet looks at your methods.

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    Senior Member Ingélou's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robeck View Post
    OP, your first questions were heading in the directions of easy ways around the big work. I think the only valuable tip can be to examine your practise habits. Are you using your time as efficiently as possible? Are your methods perfect? If not, then that's where you have to optimize. Obviously get enough sleep but before you change your diet looks at your methods.
    Um - not exactly...
    My OP was simply opening up the topic and asking what psychological, physiological, organisational, or other methods have been found helpful by posters.

    I was simply hoping that others would share their experience, (as indeed a few have, and thank you) and I took it for granted that if you want exam success, you have to work hard.

    Heck, I should know that - first I worked hard to pass my exams, and then I spent my career helping young people to pass theirs. But in English, not music - and every subject has its own requirements.*

    I wasn't suggesting that there are 'easy ways around the big work' - I was asking for suggestions.

    So - now over to you to give some examples, Robeck.
    In what ways, hypothetically, can one 'use one's time as efficiently as possible'?

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    * (I don't myself play the piano or take piano exams, though I have friends who do. I started the thread to help those who do and because I'm interested in the topic of how to learn and remember new skills.)
    Last edited by Ingélou; May-12-2017 at 09:53.
    My fiddle my joy.

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