One aspect of every exam a student takes will involve their technical abilities on their chosen instrument being assessed.
By the time you get to the stage of entering for the exam, the student’s technique levels should be sufficient, or close to the level expected for that grade. So, how do we focus some of the lessons and practise sessions to ensure that this technique keeps consistent under pressure?
There is no blanket answer for this as each grade and each instrument will throw up various different techniques and challenges but as teachers, we can view these in some smaller subsets to help the student deal with this:
The Technique as a Technique
Focus on the technique simply as it is intended. Whatever the technique is, focus on it. Spend time looking at how the student applies this technique. Are they approaching this in the right way with the correct form to cleanly apply it? If this is a pitch-based technique, spend time looking at how the student is targeting the desired pitch and how they get there. Technique can appear in many ways. For a stringed instrument, this could be something as simple as correct pressure applied on any notes pressed down. Perhaps this is a vocal technique, you need to assess if the student is straining or moving into the technique correctly.
The Technique in a Familiar Context
Find a song that the student is very familiar with which deploys the technique in question. This will allow the student to practise this technique in a setting which they are familiar with and they may already know. I personally find that using technique in this way is a great way to introduce a concept to a student. They will know the song or musical piece well, which makes the context of the technique easier to take onboard.
The Technique in an Unfamiliar Context
During the exam the student may be tasked with playing a piece they may have only just been introduced to. This piece may contain one of the techniques that we are focusing on. If this is the case, it’s wise to practise this scenario in lessons by working on unfamiliar pieces which contain the technique. This will allow you to assess how well the student is able to perform that technique in a setting which might be less than familiar.
Overall, there is no definitive way to resolve all technique questions and worries but providing focus into the mechanics and context of these techniques can make a huge difference to how students perceive them in exams. We want to be sure the students are entirely confident and sure of how to approach the technique-based aspects of the exam. Even if this takes the form of unfamiliar pieces of music, the student will have a clear and concise understanding of how they should approach it to the best of their abilities.
About the Author:
This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge, a professional guitarist, tutor and journalist from Wales in the UK. He has been working in the music industry for over 10 years as a touring and studio musician with various artists, guitar tutor and writer for many high profile guitar publications. Read more of Leigh's pieces relating to Rockschool here...