I've read the debate over the last month or so with great interest and I'd like to take this opportunity to provide answers to some of the most popular and intriguing questions that have been posed to me.
1. Does the Board have any intention of introducing graded exams in composition?
Graded exams in composition will not be introduced in the near future but discussions are taking place - in the long term it is certainly a possibility!
2. Is there any chance of the scale list being reduced for piano exams? The list for Grade 5 and above is so unnecessarily long and some students are opting to do TG exams because they want to play pieces on the piano rather than endless lists of scales.
Yes - new technical requirements will be introduced in 2009 and the scale lists for piano will indeed be made more manageable in terms of volume, assisting both candidates and examiners. The standards of performance required will, however, remain the same!
3. The mark schemes for Grades 1 to 5 are the same. I understand that a Grade 5 piece is harder than a Grade 1 piece, but is that the only variation between the grades? Surely, for example, a Grade 5 pianist would be expected to have a better tone and dynamic control than a Grade 1 pianist to pass and similarly a Grade 5 violinist would be expected to have a better grasp of intonation?
You are perfectly correct - although the criteria are the same regardless of the grade the expectations of the examiner will be geared towards the particular level being examined and he or she will expect to see increasing development of musical polish and finesse. A Grade 5 violinist would indeed be expected to have a better grasp of intonation than one taking Grade 1.
4. What constitutes a 'musically shaped scale' - is a crescendo/diminuendo what is desired or is even tone more important? Does this differ from instrument to instrument?
Even tone is the most important consideration when forming a 'musically shaped' scale. The term 'musically shaped' incorporates such aspects as fluency, a sense of destination and a tempo appropriate to the grade being examined. Although the requirements do not differ from instrument to instrument the speed that scales are played at may vary! Full marks will be received for scales that are both blemish free and musically shaped.
5. What would the Associated Board's attitude be towards a candidate using a five string viola (strung C, G, D, A, E) in a viola exam or other unconventional instruments (e.g. electric bowed strings) in other instrumental exams?
It is perhaps not commonly known that unless the regulations specifically outlaw the use of a particular instrument or instrument variation the Associated Board deals with such situations on a case-by-case basis and assesses each one on its own merits. If individuals wish to use unconventional instruments they should make a request as early as possible before sitting a practical exam.
6. I would like to ask Clara if there is any chance that the Associated Board will be introducing examiners who specialise in the instrument being examined.
We believe that a generalist approach which examines the musical outcome and not the technical means by which it is achieved is most appropriate for the graded exams. Our diplomas are already examined by specialists in the particular instrument being assessed.
7. I have a controversial one: what does the Board think of the practice of entering the same exam twice in the same session to maximise the chances of passing?
Applicants and candidates are actually at liberty to enter as many times as they like. We do not believe that obstacles should be placed in the way of those who wish to enter an exam more than once in the same session as they will still need to reach the same standards in a single assessment as everyone else to pass. I should point out that this practice does not guarantee a better result unless a significant improvement has been made between exams!
8. Are all the parts of the aural test really that crucial to general musicianship?
Aural tests are not 'crucial' to general musicianship but they are desirable and beneficial - they are tests of general musical awareness appropriate to any musical subject.
9. Is there any way for teachers to offer feedback on syllabuses after they have been in use for a couple of terms?
Certainly! I can assure you that all comments are welcomed and will be forwarded to the relevant office. It is always extremely interesting for us to hear how our syllabuses are received. We can be contacted by post to 24 Portland Place, London, W1B 1LU or by email to email@example.com.
10. What is the most important thing to aim for in a practical exam when playing scales?
There are several extremely important considerations - it would be difficult to isolate a single one! I would attempt to keep six factors in mind in particular:
a) Immediate scale recall
b) Knowing each scale thoroughly
c) Avoiding restarts - aiming to play each requested item once only
d) Maintaining an even, firm tone
e) Good co-ordination
f) A realistic tempo in relation to the grade
11. I would like to ask about the performance assessment exam. 'These Music Exams' suggests that we should prepare 15 minutes of music, and that the examiner discusses with you what you want to get out of the assessment before you start, and how you did afterwards, then sends you away with a written assessment. How is this possible if the exam itself is only 15 minutes?
The 15 minutes provided includes the time needed for discussion - the music itself is likely to occupy approximately 12 minutes of that time. Repertoire that lasts less time is acceptable and those sitting the assessment are also permitted to play extracts from longer pieces if they wish.
I hope this has been useful and enlightening and I apologise for the fact that I cannot answer each and every question. I'm afraid that I won't be able to respond on the forums to individual queries that stem from this post but I very much look forward to reading next month's debate!