It’s that time of year when many students across Ireland, the UK and other countries around the world are doing music exams. Of course, some exam boards offer sessions at different times of the year, but I thought I’d get some tips together. These are geared more towards pianists in some cases.
— Save the date! Take note of your exam date and time and put it somewhere safe but very obvious. Eg. Phone calendar with notifications, or inside your exam book.
— Get a good rest the night before. Sleep is important, and you will need to be at your best on the day.
— Know what’s involved – e.g. Scales, Theory, 3 exam pieces, sight reading, and aural tests in RIAM practical exams.
— Make sure you have what you need: sheet music, books, and anything else you may need in the exam.
— Arrive 10 to 15 minutes early (though sometimes the examiner can be either ahead or behind schedule).
— Check your posture. Don’t sit too close or too far away (your knuckles should touch the fallboard when your arms are outstretched). Adjust the stool so that your arms are parallel with the ground. You should be able to put weight on your feet too if you’re little, some kids might need a footstool for this.
— Always take your time. If you’re unsure of a scale take a moment to remind yourself. Don’t rush into your pieces, give yourself a little time before each one to calm your nerves and focus on the piece.
— Carefully prepare your sightreading – Play slowly. Even if the piece is marked presto, it will reflect much better to keep it together and allow yourself time to notice details. Aim to keep it slow with a steady pulse and enough time to look ahead. Know what key it is in. Look for any patterns in the music, any accidentals, double check which octave you should start in and how much you will need to move.
— Keep going – if you feel very nervous don’t worry about having to ask to restart. If you make a little mistake during a piece try your best to keep going. Have practice runs of this at home, and also practice taking it up from random points in the piece.