Tuesday, June 07, 2011

3 Ways to More Effectively Recall Your Technique on Exam Day

When I examine students for Royal Conservatory Exams in Canada and Carnegie Hall Royal Conservatory's Achievement Program in the US, technical requirements are part of nearly every exam. And when there are a lot of students to hear in a regular examining day, I ask for the next technical requirement pretty quickly after they've finished the previous scale or chord. Therefore, you need to be going through the right thought process when getting ready to play your technique, lest your months-long preparation go for naught on examination day.

Below you'll find a quick rundown of the three main steps you need to think through when recalling each scale, chord, or arpeggio before you play them.

But first...

If you haven't done your practicing or haven't learned your technique properly, this list won't help you. Being able to recall your technique properly only works if you've actually done the work and spent the time going over each pattern and key day after day, week after week, month after month. Quite simply put, if you haven't taken the time to learn everything propery, this list will do you absolutely no good.

So if you've done the work and know all your technique, here are three steps to help you better recall it on exam day:

1. Listen to what the examiner asks for. If they ask for A flat major, don't play A major. If they ask for C minor, don't play C major. Listen carefully.

2. Think before you play. Some specifics include: What is the starting note? Which finger goes on each starting note? Where are the thumb crossings? Are there any raised or lowed accidentals to remember? What articulation should I use? What kind of tone should I play with?

3. Play. This is the easy part if you've gone through the first two steps.

Teachers: if you have any more suggestions on how students can better recall technique on exam day, leave them in the comments.


  1. I ask my students to repeat back what the examiner asks for. This helps them to listen, verifies that they have heard correctly, and gives them a moment to think.

  2. Mike Langlois2:16 AM

    Chris, I have to disagree with some of the specifics of no. 2. While one should undoubtedly think before playing, I think that these types of thoughts are more of what should be going on in the practice room in preparation, than during the exam itself. In an exam situation, this should all be assimilated so that all the brain has to think is something to the effect of, "Ab major, parallel motion, legato" or "b minor, contrary motion, leggiero." It seems to me that if one has to recall thumb crossings on the day of an exam, it is too late, so I would say that this is more advice for an emergency situation where one hasn't had the necessary practice time.

  3. Anonymous4:01 AM

    I have found I really need to drill my students in finding starting positions. I make it part of their practise routine...they must not only play through technical exercises daily, they must drill through the "starting position only "of each technical element. I have also found that during their "hormonal haze" years (12-14, typically) they are more likely to play A instead of A flat etc. Used to drive me insane until I figured this out and now we have good laughs about it and a raised eyebrow or gentle "ahem" is enough for them to recognize this seemingly unbelievable type of mistake.

  4. Thanks for the comments and differing viewpoints!

  5. Think before you play - this would really only apply if one is really nervous and needs a few seconds to calm down and get themself together otherwise as Mike said, the candidate should already be at the stage where they don't need to think about what they are playing.
    Having said that, I think it was Liszt who said:
    "Think Ten times. Play once"