Piano Grade Five Exam – 8 July 2011


UPDATE: I later found that I passed this exam after all, with a mark of 114/150.

TINKLE THE IVORIES_This photo from sxc.hu user verzerk

This morning saw me taking my Grade Five piano exam, something I’ve been practising for for several months. My three chosen pieces were Bach’s Air: 4th Movement from Partita No 6 in E Minor, BWV 830, Gedike’s Miniature in D Minor, and Ernest Bloch’s Joyous March.

I really enjoyed learning the second of these pieces, the Gedike, Although the hardest to learn, I think it was the most beautiful of the lot and, out of the three I performed today, it went the best.

After my pieces, I was asked to play some scales and arpeggios. The first I was asked for was C Major, a famously easy one due to its lack of black notes, and I played it flawlessly. Then came the tougher ones. When asked for a chromatic contrary-motion on A-flat, my mind went blank and I forgot not just the notes, but also what on Earth a chromatic contrary-motion scale was at all!

The sight-reading piece, mercifully, offered some hope. I’ve never excelled at sight-reading, but this year I’ve improved noticeably after being taught how to do it under the exam conditions. I also benefited greatly from the extra-time allowance that I’m given, increasing my preparation time to three minutes. I kept my cool and managed to play the piece I’d been given quite well – although the lovely examiner had set me the easiest one on the page.

The aural, something I’ve always picked up a number of marks in in previous exams, was the opposite. In one section the candidate is required to clap back the rhythm of a melody that the examiner plays. I went so drastically wrong, due to the length of the phrase and the amount to remember, that the examiner even asked, "Do you want me to play it again?". Despite being a singer in the Taplow Youth Choir, I failed to sight-sing the sequence of five notes. This hadn’t ever happened in preparation, and even when the examiner played me the note I was struggling with, I still couldn’t quite pitch it. I put that down to the knock-on nerves from my mistakes earlier in the exam.

But whatever. It’s out of the way now, which is nice. I went into the exam today feeling happy to give it a bash, but knowing if it went horribly wrong I could always re-do it in November. Weirdly, despite it going so badly, I’ve come out of exams feeling worse and never yet failed a music exam. We’ll have to wait several weeks to find out exactly how I did, but so long as I scraped the minimum 100 marks then I’m happy.

Andrew Burdett

Andrew Burdett is a twenty-something from Maidenhead in Berkshire, working for ITV News.