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All credit to Alex Aitken [see Music Teacher, September, p.6] for his tenacity in achieving a rounded musical understanding and great expertise on the organ.
No examination board is perfect, each has a slightly different emphasis, but I should like to mention that ABRSM’s offerings are far more diverse than he imagines. It is a pity that so few teachers avail themselves of the Practical Musicianship exams, for instance [see Music Teacher, March, p.26]. Not only is the Grade 5 a practical alternative to the Theory exam, but the graded scheme provides all the things for which he is asking: ‘playing unfamiliar music while interacting with an accompaniment, exercises in transposing, reading in different clefs, copying back short melodies by ear, and harmonisation for pianists’.
There is the invention of a melody over an accompaniment as well as free improvisation, answering questions on an extract (seven-stave score by Grade 8), figured bass realization, sight singing, and sight reading including realization of ornaments. The study books, Musicianship in Practice, are a valuable resource for any instrumental learner, whether the exams are taken or not.
It could be that Aitken wishes all this to be included in the more traditional exam, but it would become rather lengthy, and even more expensive than it is at the moment. I earn less per hour from examining than from teaching; the reason being that ABRSM is a charity, upholding its four conservatoires financially and offering educational support and scholarships throughout the world.
I believe that there is still a need for
6 October 2021 MUSIC TEACHER
exams which reflect technical excellence and nuance in the playing of instruments. Who wants to listen to a pianist who ‘seeks refuge in the pedal to cover technical inadequacies?’ I am also aware that without the motivation of an exam, many pupils would not attempt to sight read. They are not all as motivated as your correspondent. As for scales, it was the playing and viewing of them in scale books that taught me all orrespondent. As
ab about keys...
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As Aitken says, ‘much of the responsibility for a holistic and deep musical education lies with us teachers.’ So, I am grateful to him for opening up the subject so vividly; and maybe more teachers will use ABRSM’s Practical Musicianship exams to achieve that end.
Nancy Litten, pianist,
violinist, singer, co violinist, singer, conductor, educator, composer, adjudicator and ABRSM examiner (writing in a personal capacity)
by Harry Venning www.musicteachermagazine.co.uk