When it comes to exam pieces many students and teachers do a great job learning the notes and some take care to embrace the expressive detail provided by the composer or editor. What more is there to consider?
The ABRSM marking criteria provides a fabulous guide, not only for examiners but also for teachers and students. It’s well worth absorbing if you’re not familiar with it. Most people might expect to be assessed on the accuracy of notes, rhythmic flow, accurate coordination of the hands and other essentials but by digging deeper we can achieve a real connection with the music that is guaranteed to bring any performance to life. When it comes to the area of ‘Time’ on the criteria, for example, we need to be sure that the piece is being played at an appropriate tempo, that the rhythm is secure, that a strong sense of pulse is evident, and that rhythmic flexibility is applied where appropriate. When it comes to tone, does the performance demonstrate beautiful sound and is there variety of colour in the tone or is the sound rather monochrome, or over strident, or rather pale and apologetic? Is the texture well balanced, or does the accompaniment drown melodic lines? Is the dynamic range broad or rather restricted? Is the phrasing and articulation accurate and consistent, or is it absent, inconsistent, or only present in part, or over-stated or under-stated? Are the phrases presented with a sense of musical shape or is the playing rather directionless? Is the performance assured or rather lacking in confidence, or is it simply rather pedestrian and unimaginative? These are examples of what one should be considering in order to achieve a convincing performance that aligns with the stated criteria.
At the same time, it is important to stress that there is not an ‘ABRSM way’ to play the pieces. ABRSM goes to great lengths to reassure candidates and teachers that any convincing performance will be favourably assessed by examiners.
How do we ensure that we or our students give convincing performances?
In addition to the above, we need to have a good understanding of what is going on in each piece so we can highlight important points in melodic lines, in the rhythm, in the harmony, in the texture, and in the structure of the piece. We need to capture the musical character through the ways in which we approach rhythm, articulation, tempo, dynamics, balance between the hands, as well as through our understanding of the style and mood of the piece, of the composer, and of the historical context.
This course takes each of the pieces printed in the grade books and unpacks all of the above. Whether you are a student or exam candidate learning these pieces, or a teacher teaching these pieces, or a teacher preparing for the DipABRSM Teaching, this course will be invaluable to you. The content crystallises years of study and decades of teaching and examining experience, which it is my honour and pleasure to pass on to you.
I hope you enjoy the course and whether you are a student, a teacher, or someone preparing for DipABRSM, I wish you all the very best.