Doing an piano exam for the Royal Conservatory of Music or National Music Certificate Program anytime soon? Here are some ideas on how you can improve your mark based on simply knowing and preparing for the correct examination requirements in your grade level.
1. Learn the correct number of pieces for your grade. You would be surprised how many students lose unnecessary marks by not learning pieces from each applicable list. Learning the correct number of studies is important as well--one for the Introductory Grade through Grade 2, two from Grade 3 onward. Another common problem occurs in grade 7 and 9, where lists are split into Parts 1 and 2--even though the list is divided into two parts, only one piece is needed for it. Taking a look at the piano syllabus will clear up any misunderstanding for what repertoire you need to learn.
2. Learn the correct movements for longer works. To quote the syllabus, "Each bulleted item represents one selection for examination purposes." Looking at the movements underneath the bulleted item (marked with an arrow (--->) will tell you which movements you will need to prepare for that selection. Here are a few examples from the Grade 10 list. In List D, if you're playing the Deux Arabesques, you'll need to learn either #1 or #2, not both. In the same List, those playing the Poulenc Suite française will need to bring 3, 6, and 7. From List E, those preparing the Bartok Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm will need to bring any two of #148-153 from Mikrokosmos VI.
3. Memorize your repertoire. In Grades 1 to 7, each piece played from memory gives you two marks per piece. This can add up considerably and is worth the investment of time and effort. In Grades 8, 9, 10 and ARCT, memorization is expected and is integrated into the mark for each piece. Memorization is not required for studies.
4. Learn the correct technical requirements and be able to play them at a high level. Spending time on perfecting your technique, as I have previously written about, pays dividends both in your exam marks and in your overall quality of playing. For my students, I emphasize both being able to find and begin each technical form correctly and then to play it with fluency (and correct fingering!). Some of the trickier technical forms in the middle to later grades include dominant and diminished seventh chords and arpeggios.
5. Work on the skills needed for the ear tests. Playback, rhythm, intervals, chords, cadences, and metre all play a part in building musicianship and excelling in these skills requires work.
6. Work on your sight reading. Great sight readers are made, not born. For some ideas on how to integrate sight reading into your daily practice take a look at my previous posting on 10 ways to improve your sight reading.
7. No cramming! Do your preparation in the weeks and months before your exam rather than in the last few days. It will "stick" better that way and help you build a better work ethic.
8. To be absolutely sure of what you need to prepare in your grade level, take a look at the latest Piano Syllabus for the Royal Conservatory of Music. Knowing the facts about what you need to prepare takes the guesswork out of exam preparation and gives you a much clearer idea about what to expect in the exam room.