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Learning music benefits us in so many ways that studying for grade exams might be viewed as incidental; yes, it is a handy option that is open to us, but certainly there is more to life than testing. However, it is also true that grade exams can richly support a student in their development, which we would wholeheartedly encourage.
When weighing up whether to start work on music exams, timing is an important factor. For most of us, at some time or other we will really benefit, but for beginners there is little value in rushing into grade work. Far more important is to develop a love for making music, and acquire that key ingredient, the practice habit.
I try never to see any music grade as an end in itself. Certainly, it is a measure of something; that you did some work, that you made some progress, that you developed a certain amount of self discipline. But for grades to be meaningful, you need a sense of mission, because most of all they are about the work you do along the way, which can be work of real quality if you are committed and actually enjoying it.
Of course, everything may not go right first time, but sometimes life’s most memorable lessons derive from experiences where things do not initially go to plan. As we learn how to respond to set backs, they can be highly educational, and a student on a mission to prove to something to him or her-self after an earlier disappointment may take far more from the whole experience than another who coasts to high marks.
Ultimately, many of our students get real satisfaction from grade work, but from my perspective play and practice should generally lead, and exams follow, rather than the other way around. That way, you can set a really high performance level naturally, and your exam results should reflect this.