Tuesday, August 07, 2007

8 Ways to Improve Your Marks in RCM/NMCP Piano Examinations

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 fran├žaise 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.

20063169 look inside Celebration Series!: Piano Repertoire 3 (2015 Edition). Composed by The Royal Conservatory Music Development Program. For piano. This edition: 2015 edition. Celebration Series!. Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th century and 21st century. Elementary (Level 3). Method book & listening CD. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.C5R03).


  1. Anonymous11:58 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Just an update -- memory is now required for Grade 8 and up.

  3. Thanks, Alice. The new syllabus has been in effect for a while now - post has been updated.

  4. Anonymous4:07 AM

    Great recap of the exam. Just wanted to add that I struggled a lot with the aural part of the exam. I tried a lot of different things until I found AURALBOOK--an app you can download. It's really easy to use and super helpful. I used it like all the time before my exam and it really tested on me on what I needed to know and it gave me direct feedback. Pretty cool. Also, AURALBOOK is free so it was way cheaper than hiring a teacher.

  5. Anonymous2:01 PM

    I just hate ear training soooooooo much

  6. Anonymous6:43 PM

    What! Memorization is needed for grade 8!

  7. Ugh... I'm really bad at sight reading and ear training! Doing my grade 8 exam in April 2015!

  8. Is LRSM very difficult to pass?

  9. Anonymous8:08 PM

    Do it while you are young. Kids are sponges. My 15 year old is doing level 10.

  10. Should I play the repeats for my exam?

    1. Anonymous1:55 PM

      It is not required.

    2. It might not be, for me I know it is required double check your syllabes book or ask an instructor

  11. Anonymous2:00 PM

    It seems you should know this before, or at least your teacher should know this. My teacher prepares my kids very well. My kids have the absolute pitch, so interval and play back are not problem. I think theory is also easy for them. They are having more problem with clap back. Now, the new exam doesn't require it. I wish they kept it, so my kids practice the ear training CD a little harder.

  12. Anonymous8:38 PM

    Ear Training is hard for me too. But i just got to keep on practicing