Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ramblings after the music exam

After six months of learning her exam pieces, Caitlin finally completed her Grade 1 drum kit exam about 2.5 hours ago. She played her pieces well but it sounded like she was unsure and made some mistakes in the improvisation test. Whatever it is, I'm glad it's over. Being the non-practiser (she only started practising on a daily basis two weeks ago while averaging one practice a week on normal days), I think she has done well enough so far. While it would be great if she scored a distinction, just like how it'd be great if she scored straight A's in school, it's the effort that counts in the end as no one can be perfect at everything. Learning has to be fun, not a stressful chore.

I remember learning the piano as fun in my lower grades but when I reached grade 6 onwards, it started becoming a pain and a chore at times, especially nearing the exams. Those days, (I think even these days), most of the exams were the ABRSM ones which focused on classical pieces only, and required you to master the playing technics very well, and practise your scales, arpeggios like crazy. It was tiresome playing those three classical pieces over and over again for one whole year. Although the teacher also taught other pieces for leisure, most of them were still classical pieces. And the theory exams were also increasingly difficult with music history, composition and harmony in the higher grades, and all also classical based. Nevertheless, I managed to complete Grade 8.

Trinity Guildhall has non-classical syllabus but we didn't know about it then (the teachers did I'm sure but did not offer us the option). Trinity lets you play contemporary pieces like jazz for exams. And only Trinity has the syllabus for the drum kit (i.e. playing the entire drum set) while ABRSM's syllabus for the drum is only for the snare drum, under the percussion syllabus (more for classical/orchestral purpose I guess). If I had known about the Trinity syllabus, I'd probably have opted for that for my Grade 8 piano. While being able to play classical music well is good, I think it's better to be versatile with different styles of music and being able to play a variety of genres. Learning harmony only at Grade 6 is a bit too late in my opinion. Playing by ear is not even in the syllabus.

That's where I see the Yamaha Music syllabus giving the headstart and advantage for the child to develop his/her musical hearing, playing by ear, rhythm and composition abilities. At age 6, they are already leaning to compose songs, find the accompanying chords to given melodies and even transpose. Although not every child will be able to master these, at least they are learning it unlike ABRSM where I remember, only at age 15 or so, I learnt about writing chords and composing, and had not been given the opportunity to sharpen aural skills. I picked up playing by ear on my own but did not master it as I think I lacked the foundation (taking the ABRSM syllabus)and maybe also the natural talent.

Whatever it is, I think parents should be clear with the reasons they are giving their children music education. I had shared before (see here) why music education is beneficial. Like everything else, a child must not be forced or manipulated to learn something, simply because the parents think it would look good to have credentials for playing a musical instrument. Or even at least two musical instruments plus numerous co-curriculum activities in order to gain a place in a prestigious institution of higher learning. Or worse, if it is simply to keep up with the Joneses. The neighbour's child is learning the flute, violin and piano, so must their child....scary...why the need to compare, the need to be one up?

The child is the one who will be learning and playing the instrument(s) so it's best to ask the child if he/she is interested. (More here.) I believe care must also be exercised not to 'brainwash' the child to think that they will like a particular instrument of your personal choice. Also, whether they do well in the exams (if they do take them) should not be the measure of their worth. What's important is that they tried their best and are enjoying themselves learning.

I should remind myself of all these whenever I attempt to get Caitlin to practise or perfect a particular piece, or even in her studies. The piano and drums were after all her own choice even before I seriously considered starting her on musical instruments. I must learn to trust her to know what to do. We may think she's only seven and doesn't know what's good for herself but time and again she has shown she knows. Like drums and piano for instance. We nag at her to practise but when the time comes, at the last minute, she will practise on her own (even though we feel it could have been better if she started earlier!)I must not get caught up with the 'kiasu' mentality that's pretty rife in this ratrace society....

Meanwhile, there are many fun things awaiting us the next few weeks of the school holiday. Even getting C's Year 2 schoolbooks could be fun, with checking out the contents and wrapping the books, visiting some friends and their kids, taking short trips (hopefully) and a one-week holiday in Singapore visiting mostly kids' attraction places and catching up with relatives there.

1 comment:

mumsgather said...

The piano teacher wants my girl to practise at least an hour each day but I do not agree with that approach. We give piano priority near music exams, we give school lessons priority during school exams so there is no forced learning and my girl enjoys playing the piano very much. My boy will be starting soon too and he is very eager to. I wonder if the eagerness will last. Haha.