I am happy to enter students for exams with either the Associated Board or Trinity Guildhall. This is not at all compulsory and I do not enter students if I think they will not be able to pass the exam. I will not enter students for exams without parents’ permission and exam fees must be paid promptly.
Exams consist of three pieces, scales, sight reading and aural tests. Most of the marks are for the pieces but it is important that students regularly practice scales at home. I also work on the aural and sight reading requirements with students in lessons. Most of the marks are for the performance of the pieces but in order to get a really good grade, you need to get good marks for the other tests as well.
Scales are an important part of learning the violin and viola because they give players the ability to play easily in different keys and be fully fluent in all the finger patterns needed. Scales are all about reinforcing the finger patterns needed to play really well and to play in tune. Students are often apprehensive about learning scales because they seem “difficult” and have to be played from memory in the exam. However, if they are practiced regularly for only a few minutes each day, they can be easily mastered and many share the same finger patterns.
Sight reading: This needs to be developed through practice and a few tips do help. Firstly, take a few moments to look at the music before you start. Knowing the key of the piece and the time signature before you start is important. Being able to read rhythms accurately helps. Keeping a steady pulse and playing the rhythm accurately makes it easier to play the correct notes as well. Try to keep going even if you make a mistake. Observing the written dynamics (loud, soft etc.) will give an even better impression. Play confidently with a good tone and keep going even if you make a mistake!
Aural: This is about being able to hear and repeat melody, rhythm, dynamics, articulation and tempo. Here are some examples of the type of thing you will be asked to do.
Melody: hear a melody and sing it back to the examiner.
Rhythm: clap the pulse or rythm of the music and be able to tell how many beats there are in a bar.
Dynamics: where was the music loudest/softest. Did it get louder or softer suddenly of gradually?
Tempo: was the music the same speed throughout or did it change?
Trinity Guildhall offer alternatives to scales up to grade 5. These include three studies which do not need to be learned from memory. However, these studies are based on the scales and students still need to learn scales in order to be able to play the studies really well.