Whether you are a new piano player or a full-time professional, exams can be a strenuous and often daunting task. Each exam has its separate challenges. However, if you prepare for your exams correctly, it could mean the difference between passing and failing.
For this example, let us pretend that we are sitting for a Grade Six piano exam. Let the record denote that I have sat and passed a Grade Six exam. Although admittedly I did not pass it well – this was caused by a severe lack of preparation leading up to the exam. I did not put the time or effort into my preparation for this music exam. I can assure you from first hand experience that you need more than 15 minutes practice three to four times a week to effectively prepare for a Grade Six piano exam!
THREE MONTHS BEFORE THE EXAM
At this time you should be doing approximately one hour’s worth of practice a day, five days a week. In your selected pieces you should be able to at least press all of the right notes. This is the time to start developing your pieces from a series of notes to a piano masterpiece. Concentrate on things like expression, dynamics and tempo. Put some feelings and emotion into your pieces.
You should also profusely study all of your theory and scales. Too often scales and theory are neglected at this time and are only revised about a fortnight before the exam. This is a terrible mistake! Remember the more you study now, the more you will retain this information, thus having a better chance of recalling the required knowledge during your exam.
ONE MONTH BEFORE THE EXAM
It is time to up the anti a bit. You should be spending one and a half to two hours practicing a day, six days a week. This is the time to smooth out all of the minor flaws in your pieces of music. Practice things like getting that tricky triplet sounding fluent and making sure you hit the F sharp with your fourth finger rather than the fifth. These issues might seem minor, but it will help you immensely with your exam.
Practice without the sheet music in front of you and see how well you go. During your exam if you rely too heavily on your score, I can guarantee you will stuff up. Learn your music off by heart.
Also, make sure that your exam becomes your number one priority. Do not be distracted by other issues in your life. Do not become distracted by relationship, financial or other issues that might divert your attention from your exam. You will become stressed and worn out, and you will not perform at your potential.
ONE WEEK BEFORE YOUR EXAM
Now is the time to just practice, practice, practice! I would recommend doing between two to three hours per day by now. You should have all of the knowledge required for the exam. It is simply a matter of revising it for your exam.
Whilst we are working and studying hard, we have to remain relaxed. Put it into perspective; it is only an exam. There is no need to worry about it 24/7.
DAY BEFORE YOUR EXAM
Most people on the night before an exam practice for 5-6 hours, studying until some ungodly hour in the morning. This is a big no-no! At maximum you should only play through your pieces once. What I like to do is pretend I am actually sitting for the exam. So I would do my scales first, then my pieces in order, and then do some sight reading.
Don’t try to do any last minute revision for your exam. Chances are that you will only put unneeded pressure on yourself and more importantly you will only have a small chance to remember it for your exam. Do not get distracted by other things in your life. Your piano exam is tomorrow – everything else can wait another day.
Relax! It is essential that you get a good night’s sleep. I would recommend that you get 8 to 10 hours solid sleep if you can afford the luxury.
MORNING BEFORE YOUR EXAM
Do not do any work, whether it is piano related or not. Do something fun that doesn’t require a lot of brain power. Watch a movie. Kick a soccer ball. Do whatever that suits you.
Try to eat a healthy breakfast. However, if you suffer from butterflies in the stomach, which I suffer from immensely, don’t try to force anything down. It will only comes straight back up! (Trust me!)
I will say it again, RELAX! Try not to think about your exam. Don’t try to think about your theory, scales, pieces, fingering etc. etc. Don’t think about what you have and haven’t done for your exam. This is only going to get you all frazzled and this will seriously hinder your exam.
30 MINUTES BEFORE THE EXAM
By now you should be at the venue where your exam is being held. Do some ultra-light revision. Look through your music sheets and visualize yourself playing it as you read the notes. Play some ‘air-piano.’ Test yourself with a couple of theory questions.
Do not under any circumstances talk to other people about the exam. Do not ask each other theory questions. Do not discuss your pieces. Do not talk about previous exams or examiners. This is nothing more than an unwanted hindrance. Take a few deep breaths, relax and focus on your exam.
5 MINUTES BEFORE THE EXAM
Close the books for a moment. Take three deep breaths and focus. Think to yourself that this is just like any other piano practice session. Go into the exam with positive thoughts. Whether you have prepared yourself for the exam as I have discussed above or not, it does not matter now. All you can do now is concentrate on the upcoming task of your exam.
DURING THE EXAM
Two things will be happening to you about now. Firstly, you think you are doing well. Great! Ride on this wave of euphoria until the end of the exam. But you must not slack off! You still have a couple of pieces or a couple of scales or some theory to do. You must concentrate until the end of the exam. A lot can happen between now and then.