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Why Aural Tests Count!

 

Why Aural Tests Count!

 

Just because aural tests are the last bit of the exams doesn’t mean they should be the last thing you practice!

 

But sadly they are.

 

Even some teachers leave them until the last minute – putting more emphasis on getting marks up for the pieces as well as worrying about scales and finally sight-reading.

 

Just recently I was asked to accompany a grade five exam and in the rehearsal a week before the exam date the student asked me when she was supposed to start practising her aural tests?!?!? And after a bit of a twitter rant it seems that this isn’t unusual. Some teachers do indeed not rehearse the aural test section at all and leave it to the accompanist to do.

 

But why?

 

They’re a good chunk of marks so they can make the difference between a pass and a fail.

 

Also aural is important.

 

It shouldn’t just be something that gets dragged out near an exam date. It should filter through into every lesson. Yes I know it’s difficult when you have students who only have 20 minute lessons, even 30 minutes is a push to get everything done in time.

 

But people should be well rounded musicians.

 

The aural tests are annoying I know, but their focus is on elements that students should be encouraged to do and should just be part of lessons regularly (then they become less of an exam only worry).

 

The clapping – this is great to see whether their musical memory is working and if they can externalise what they hear in their head. Clapping the pulse is also perfect for working on their sense of ‘in time’. If the rhythms flow then everything else will make sense and then they have a bit more brain power free to think about other things (hint hint… dynamics!)

The singing – has so many benefits including memory, pitch and getting students to understand the relationship between the distances between the notes

The listening – students should be regularly encouraged to listen and appraise what they’re playing, so if they’re listening to a teacher or another student play it starts to get their ear used to listening while they’re thinking.

 

Like everything I’ve written about recently that’s focused on the exams – it all boils down to regular practice.

 

Aural skills should be part of a regular lesson and it should be things that students are working on their own too.

 

So – if you’ve got an exam coming up – don’t just leave it to the last five minutes of your lesson to work on them. Ask your teacher what will be in the exam and get friends, family and loved ones to sing at you, or clap things for you to copy. Or be self-reliant. There’s loads of examples on youtube for all of the aural tests for every exam board. So go and look.

 

Practice. Practice. Practice.

 

You can find some clips I’ve done for the aural tests here

 

And if you want some more hints and tips about loving the singing element – check out the blog post here

 

Everyone Hates Singing

Everyone Hates Singing

 

Unless it’s in the shower or with their favourite CD – that’s different.

There’s loads of studies available to tell you why singing is good for you physically and mentally. It’s also not just good for your general playing, but also your sight-reading. But everyone always hates the singing element of the aural tests!

Every grade level there’s a singing element – a lot say this isn’t fair and I really can understand. But singing is so good for you. It works on your ear, your memory and if you can sing what you have heard it’s a great to show that your brain has understood and can externalise sounds.

For the early grades it’s just copying sounds and repeating them, then as the grades progress they do get harder. If you want help with the singing element of the aural tests – check out my youtube channel for some handy videos.

Once you get to grade four that’s when the singing takes on a new edge with: sight-singing

What is sight-singing?

Sight-singing is basically singing something you’ve not seen before and pitching it out loud rather than using an instrument to find the notes (unless you’re a singer).

Just from a confidence point of view you will be more likely to play a new piece better if you know how it goes. And if you can sight-sing then you can hear how it goes before you play it!

You can start working on this at any level of your music experience and even if you’re not thinking about exams.

Start with something simple like just singing back a few notes that you hear, then increasing the length of the piece you copy. This will help you get used to singing and listening to the sound you make, as you will need to make sure it is the same as the original.

Then start by practising singing your scales and arpeggios -remember this is what music is built on.

Then pick a nice key and draw a few notes (unless you have a handy aural test book - grades 4-5 have good examples of this) on a piece of manuscript paper. Just work on the first 5 notes of the scale. Draw them, sing them, play them.

Like everything – it does just come down to practice.

 

Exams: What *is* the examiner looking for?

Exams: What *is* the examiner looking for

 

Now, I know there’s no real answer I can give you to ensure you get a distinction in your exams (sorry!). And although the exam boards have a strict marking scheme that can tell you boundaries and what examiners should be awarding marks for, I thought I’d just dedicate this blog post to my experiences as a teacher, student and trainee examiner to what I’ve found that this means.

 

The examiners are LOOKING FOR REASON TO GIVE YOU MARKS

 

YES! Yes they are!

 

It’s so easy to concentrate on the bits you’re not so sure about, the tiny mistakes, the bits you’re not confident about, the missed dynamics. But actually the examiners are always wanting to find reasons to give marks (partly because they don’t want to fail you – otherwise they’ll have to hear you play the same pieces next term!).

 

So – don’t worry about any mistakes you make, concentrate more on giving it a positive spin.

 

One area they really concentrate on is intonation and tuning. Now this is a bit of a tricky area, because when you get anxious you might find that you note control is harder to maintain. So do remember to keep listening while you’re playing.

 

DYNAMICS!!

 

This isn’t just a bug bear of mine (my students will be pleased to know!) but it is one of the more commented on aspects in the report sheets.

 

Examiners are looking for colour and depth to a performance – not just note accuracy. They want a performance. So that means ensuring the articulation is precise and that the dynamics are there.

 

I hope this helps calm the nerves a bit.

 

Remember: they want to award marks, not take away. So give them reasons to give you more!

 

 

 

Exam Prep: What to do, what to do...

 

Exam Prep: What to do, what to do

 

Exam season is on us once more and once again – practice becomes that little bit less enjoyable and that little bit more fraught.

 

So – how do you prepare for an exam…

 

Well, the easiest thing to say is – you practice.

 

You do the same as you would in a normal lesson in a normal week in a normal moment of your life. Exams are easier if you make less of a big deal of them (easier said than done I know).

 

When you’re on the run up to the exam you really do need to make sure that you’re working on all elements of the exam – obvious I know, but I do know a lot of students that leave sight-reading and the aural tests practice to happen only during their lessons. And I also know many, many students who leave the scale practise until the last minute too!

 

DON’T!

 

Make all elements of the exam elements of a normal practice routine. They they will become something that you do, rather than something that only happens in exams (so therefore something to worry about).

 

DO:

 

Make your practice session a really effective one.

 

Warm up – long notes, dexterity exercises, octave jumps, articulation work, see how fast you can play, see if you can work over tricky jump sections without getting extra ‘blup’ notes in between.

 

Scales: Make sure you work on all of them (not just the ones you like – the tricky ones won’t get any easier!), make flash cards or just write their names on a piece of paper and pull them randomly out of a hat. Mess around with the articulation, add some rhythms… do you know the scales inside out and back to front?? (For more practice ideas see our Scale Blog Post)

 

Pieces: Don’t feel you need to practice all three *every* session – split them up over the week (maybe keep notes to remind yourself which you practised and when).

 

Sight-reading: Find an old piece, turn the book upside down. Play it backwards. Try a couple of lines of the other exam pieces. Just look at something new!! If you want a super sight-reading boost – check out the Horrible Sight-reading for Lovely People Course

 

Aural Tests: Don’t just leave it to the lesson time to practice. Ask your teacher for a list of what you need to work on. There’s loads of great aural test clips available on youtube! Including mine!

 

DON’T

 

Just play through your pieces. Play through once but then isolate the sections that need working on. Do slow practice to ensure your fingers know what they need to do. Start in the middle of the piece so your mind’s fresh for when you get to the challenging section. Be really, really fussy!!

 

DO

 

Remember to focus on your dynamics. Examiners love dynamics! Make them really, really obvious.

 

DON’T

 

Worry about the singing bit of the aural tests. It’s not worth stressing over – and remember everyone hates it, it’s not just you!

 

DO

 

Have a mock exam. Get your teacher to give you a practice exam so you know what to expect. Get a parent, grandparent, friend, partner, whoever to listen to you while you play. Get them to pretend to write things down as you play (as this is what usually makes people feel the most nervous about).

 

DON’T

 

Don’t forget – your scales, aural tests and sight-reading etc. are easy extra marks – they really can make the difference between the results you get. So do remember to practice them in your own time as well as your lesson time. (I know I said this a second ago – but it’s so important it needs mentioning twice!!).

 

DO:

 

Have fun – try and relax and enjoy it! It’ll be over before you know it!

 

Good luck!