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10 Tips For Beginners Taking Practical Music Grade Exams - Solo Pieces

Whatever age you are, taking your first practical grade exam can be exciting but also daunting. I teach a lot of students who are beginners and the step from beginner to grade one can often feel like a big leap.


Beginner tips

I have started uploading some YouTube videos of a lot of grade repertoire solo pieces and I will continue to do this during the coming weeks. I have mainly done this for my students, so they have a reference recording to use when they practice on their instruments at home.


Here is an example of a grade 1 solo piece called Geared Up.



Passing a grade exam is actually very easy. Obtaining a distinction is also easy providing you have prepared correctly. Here are some tips to help you with that.


Tip 1

Practice playing the piece (or all pieces) from start to end and ignoring any mistakes or slips. This will help you be prepared better for the actual performance of that piece.


Tip 2

After playing the piece through, evaluate which is the worst bit and work on that separately. Fix the problem.


Tip 3

If you cannot get all the way through the piece, you need to take a step back and work on your note reading ability and your general technique. Make sure you practice scales, tonguing, slurring and any other areas that are related to the instrument you play.


Tip 4

Play the correct tempo. Even if you rehearse the piece at a slower speed while you learn it, you must aim to play the exact correct tempo for the exam. Use a metronome to help with that.


Tip 5

Play in the correct style. If you need to perform a blues piece, go and listen to some blues music so you can try and copy the style in your performance. Likewise do the same for pieces that are in other styles. Here is a Latin style piece!


Tip 6

Make any written dynamic contrasts huge. Work on being able to make it very obvious when you change volume. Make sure your sound is good no matter what volume you are playing.


Tip 7

Make sure you can play faster and higher than you need to for that grade. For brass, grade 2 often requires you to play a treble clef written D (4th line up on the stave). Make sure you have the ability to play a few notes higher than this before attempting the pieces for the exam. Likewise, if the piece you are planning to play requires a faster tempo, make sure you can tongue clearly at a faster tempo than you actually need. This will give you confidence.


Here is an example of such a piece for grade 2 - Men of Harlech





Tip 8

Track your progress. Make a note of your progress after you practice, if you are not making progress then you are doing something wrong.


Tip 9

Believe in yourself. Visualise yourself being successful. Think positively. Relax.


Tip 10

Enjoy making music. Enjoy learning from mistakes. Enjoy performing to others. Inspire your friends.



Here is one final video showing a higher level solo grade piece - Passion Fruit Samba!



I hope this is useful and I wish you all the best of luck!


Thanks for reading! ❤


Mark Glover

19/3/24

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