Spring is the time of year that our students are preparing to take their music exams. Exams can be stressful for most of us. Performing in front of a critical eye can make us break out in a cold sweat, stumble over musical parts that we have nailed or squeak out that top note on our vocal piece. So what is the best way to prepare and walk into our exam with confidence. Here are a few tips that have been helpful for me as I had gone through my share of piano and vocal exams.
- Practice: This one sounds really silly but you must practice. A music exam requires a lot of work on your instrument. Practice regularly and practice often is the best way to learn for an exam. Some people leave it until the last minute but this is very stressful and doesn’t lead to high results.
- Make a Practice Schedule: Work with your teacher to set up a practice schedule. Each practice time should include your scales and technical requirements as well. These are often an after thought.
- Practice in Front of People: A lot of times the stress of the exam comes from performing in front of the adjudicator. So practicing your pieces in front of your family or even your dog will help you get comfortable with people watching you.
- Don’t Worry if you make a Mistake: When you’re in the exam something will go wrong. You will clip a note, sing the wrong verse or something that will not make your performance faultless. If you do make a mistake carry on and don’t let it affect you. So always practice to the end of the piece even if you do make a mistake-this will get you out of the habit of stopping every time you play a wrong note.
- Remember to Breathe: Nerves and anxiety tend to cause your hands to tremble, which of course is not ideal for someone who’s about to take a piano exam. So as you are waiting for your turn, take time to deep breathe in and out.
- Examiners are there to pass you: Don’t think of the examiner as a mean ogre trying to trip you up. They are there to listen and give you some tips on your performance. What an honour to have someone listen and enjoy your hard work while giving you some positive points to fine tune your musical program. They want you to succeed.
- Learn to Stop: Although it’s important to be well prepared, over practising the day before or on the day of the exam can send your brain into overdrive. Once you’ve had your dress rehearsal, put your instrument away and do something to relax. Stress and anxiety will do nothing to improve your performance, so watch your favourite show or chat with friends.
Angie Money is a vocal and piano coach at the Edmonton Academy of Music