Teaching for exams

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In the first half of next year, my three rather advanced flute students all aim to sit AMEB exams – one each at grade 7, 8, and AmusA. This is rather exciting in a way, giving as it does something concrete for me to work them towards. My problems with the AMEB system aside (and anyway, there is a massive review of the flute syllabus underway at the moment), it’s still the easiest way to get music students to work towards a really hefty goal, especially at this level.

Having a look at the requirements for these exams, I was surprised at just how much the student must prepare, especially in seventh and eighth grades. For seventh grade they have to prepare four contrasting works to full performance standard, as well as have two more works as their ‘extra list’ – they will have to perform a portion of one of them. That’s about 45mins of music. In addition, they have to memorise a long list of scales, arpeggios, and other technical work. It’s not that I wouldn’t encourage students to practise and memorise tech stuff anyway, but the set up doesn’t actively motivate good practise.

The problem for these three students will be the summer months. They are all at university (one studies engineering, one pharmacy, and one arts/music) and living at college. This means that when uni finishes at the end of November, they’ll be heading back to Rockhampton, Bundaberg, and Hong Kong. Bit hard to pop by my place for the occasional lesson then. So how will I keep their practise on track?

Well, today I made up a scale practise book for one of them, with the AMEB requirements and relevant pages from the tech work-book, plus exercises by Wye, Reichert, Moyse, and also Christine Draeger and Rosamund Plummer. It’s a pretty hefty thing, but I’ve done a worksheet for her to track her practise of these. Hopefully by the end of the holidays she’ll at least be on top of her scales! I might do a similar worksheet or even online log for her to record repertoire practise in a way that I can check up on how things are going.

This is all for the student in Hong Kong, who’ll be going for her eighth grade. We’ve discussed the possibility of Skype lessons and we might give it a try. She’s also thinking of having lessons with someone in HK, but I don’t have any idea what the teaching there is like and whether that would actually be detrimental at this stage or not … Not that I think it would be bad, it just might conflict too much with what I’ve been saying, and we’ve made some pretty major changes to her embouchure and way of playing over the last few months that I don’t want messed up.

This does raise the question of how I keep my own practise ‘on track’, and the answer is probably that I don’t – or at least not enough. My technical practise is coming along really nicely and I’m very happy with it actually, but REPERTOIRE!! It causes me so much pain! I don’t know quite how to approach practising actual works of music, particularly spatially notated or other non-rhythmically specific pieces, and the result is that I put it off off off and it doesn’t happen, like when it didn’t happen today. But feeling guilty doesn’t help, as usual. Making time for listening and planning, just a little bit every day, might help… I’ll aim to do a bit of that tomorrow, in amongst teaching early in the morning, grocery shopping, and the Reclaim the Night rally. Then there’s Pierrot!! Anyway, practise must somehow happen, as I have a lesson with Kathleen on Saturday.

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