Guitar Grade Exams?

Are guitar Grade exams good for you? Are they something you should be pursuing? The answer varies, I find. For some people they are very useful -they give concrete goals, a timeline with a deadline with clear material to practise and at the end of it an assessment of level and the sense of satisfaction, of achievement of having completed a goal. This is not true for everybody, though. For some people the study of the instrument done that way becomes ‘another school subject’, a chore that they feel limits them, circumscribes them. On the other hand, studying for an exam means you have to, in addition to the pieces, prepare the technical material (like scales, arpeggios, aural comprehension tests, etc) that you might not be so inclined to do work on if you didn’t have to for an exam.

I teach guitar in two secondary schools. At least in one of them I am expected to prepare people for exams -I’ve never been told I should achieve a quota of pupils doing them or of grades achieved but I know it is expected of me to put a certain percentage of people through them. What I normally do is, I prepare them until they are at a point where they could reasonably well pass a Grade 1 exam and ask them whether that is something they might be interested in doing. I do try to put across the possible pros and cons in them. Let them decide.

There are some practical benefits for pupils that age: UCAS (the UK entity that grants and allocates University entry) ‘likes’ to see you having done a Grade 6 instrument. Of course they are not interested in whether you play music but in whether you can develop a discipline and method that enables you to achieve a goal like this. Also for pupils that age there is the fact that parents like to see that there is a level of achievement stated in a diploma, again a statement of level reached.

It is a bit different with adult learners and the answer is more often (but not always!) that exams would not be a good idea. It is however a good idea, again, to discuss the issue when it looks like it would help keep the interest and the regular practice, etc.

It is always a good idea to discuss the topic and put forward why it might be a good idea or otherwise.

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