Guide to a Distinction in a Piano Grade Exam Watch

mark252623
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Hello! I am Mark - Hopefully I can help some of you.
I am currently 16 but I received my 142/150 in grade 8 piano 3 years ago. (I'm now 18.)
I have also acquired a diploma in the piano, along with grade 8 in guitar.
Okay - so if you basically just do as I say here, you're essentially guaranteed a distinction. This initial post might also answer any common questions you have...
I often see questions like 'which grade should I take and when' and stuff, so basically if you follow this, you can take any grade that isn't completely out of reach to you, just as long as you don't be silly and only 'loosely' follow any suggestion that you decide to follow.

How to memorize/learn the Scales.
Well. First off, make sure you learn where the semi tones and tones take place in each scale, for example in any major scale, the semi tones are only between the 3rd and 4th note, and the 7th and 8th (=1st) note of the scale.

Next you'll want to play the scale you're learning a few times slowly.
Once it kind of fits underneath your fingers, the most efficient way to learning them fluently is rhythmic practice. If rhythmic practice is new to you - take note.
Rhythmic practice essentially involves taking something that is in straight quavers or semi quavers (such as scales) and applying dotted rhythms to them so that afterwards, when played normally, they are easier.
A scale would normally be quaver quaver quaver etc...
So practice it first: dotted crochet, quaver, dotted crochet quaver etc...
Next the other way round (often harder): quaver, dotted crochet, quaver, dotted crochet etc...
Then do both rhythms again staccato, then legato again, and finally, straight quaver (normal) rhythm legato. If you follow this, and do it a few times over a few days, the scale will be fluent. Rhythmic practice that also features different articulations is the best form of practice to get any fast or scalic passage fluent. Also coming up with other rhythms will help too!

How to Learn the Pieces
For fast sections, please reread the section above about rhythmic practice.
Turn off your phone when practicing - concentrated practice for 1 minute is better than phone-on-your-mind practice for 10 minutes
Playing pieces from start to finish over and over again is NOT practice. When you sit down at the piano, go to a part of the piece that you know you can't play well, play each hand slowly separately and then play hands together slowly. If need be then go through each bar one at a time until it is fluent. At the end of your allocated practice time for a piece, you can play it through maybe once or twice, but this simply alone is not enough to perfect a piece. Rhythmic practice is very important! Try eyes closed! Try exaggerating the rubato! - Trying things make you think about the piece and therefore help drill concepts of the music into your mind. Oh yeah - Rhythmic practice.
I dare you to get a pen and paper right now and right down all the dynamics of each section and any expression markings or tempo markings of a piece - once you fail at this, go through the music AWAY from the piano and memorize any markings given by the composer.
If you are playing any Bach then also make sure you know where the themes are.
People doing lower grades also tend to make the mistake of repeating the same rubato ideas throughout a piece - don't bore the examiner, be creative.

Regarding the Aural
Don't complain about how you can't sing. Examiners. Don't. Care.
Your voice is fine. Examiners know which pitch you meant to sing if you sing slightly out of tune, and no marks are given for quality of voice.
(Sometimes you'll be given the option to either sing back the melody or play it on the piano, always choose to sing.)
Maybe do a little practice with your piano teacher or basically anyone.. The aural sections aren't hard and really you shouldn't worry about them

How much practice do I need to do? Which Grade should I take?
Here's how it works. If you want distinctions. Here.
Grades 1-3: 10 minutes of concentrated practice a day
Grades 4-6: 20-30 minutes of concentrated practice a day
Grades 7-8 30-60 minutes of concentrated practice a day.
Seriously TURN OFF YOUR PHONE before you sit down at the piano.
Start off with scales. Play 2 or 3 of the ones specified by the grade and make sure you go through the rhythmic practice concepts I listed above - this will stop your time from being wasted. Don't spend more than 10 minutes on scales, preferably only 5. If you're doing grades 1-5 then simply playing through your pieces once a day hands separately each hand at a time, and then playing through each ones hand together first slowly and then up to speed, can simply be enough practice. The lower grades don't require much dedication to practice methods other than just playing through.
Grades 6-8: Do not just play through your pieces. Spend at least 10 minutes repairing any bars that you can't play and just make sure all sections are as fluent as each other. One good use of your practice time is to sit at a desk and just write down every single fingering that you play on a photocopied version of the piece - do not underestimate this.
So after your 5 minutes of scales, and then 10 minutes per piece of concentrated practice finish off by playing through your favorite piece one last time or by going online and finding some fun sight reading.

If you have any questions or would like some help with specific sections of any piece, feel free to ask.
Thanks for reading!

if you take anything away from this post, please be rhythmic practice and practice featuring different kinds of articulation. This really helps with accuracy, memory and fluency of anything you're playing.

1/27/2019 - Edited (most points were not edited at all.)
Last edited by mark252623; 9 months ago
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georgiapullmanxx
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This is so helpful - thank you Mark!
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furryface12
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This is brilliant! Will link it from https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/sho....php?t=4406554 which is a sticky but hopefully it'll really help people
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SilverCrest
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Thank you for this! I'm really bad at sight-singing, any advice you could give on that?
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mark252623
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(Original post by SilverCrest)
Thank you for this! I'm really bad at sight-singing, any advice you could give on that? I'm doing ABRSM Grade 8 Piano by the way.
Slightly hard to explain over text, but essentially you need to learn how all of the intervals sound and be able to recognize them. There are plenty of useful internet tools to learn this - but you need to learn all the 3rds 2nds etc in major and minor form and then sight singing will be fairly easy (:
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SilverCrest
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(Original post by mark252623)
Slightly hard to explain over text, but essentially you need to learn how all of the intervals sound and be able to recognize them. There are plenty of useful internet tools to learn this - but you need to learn all the 3rds 2nds etc in major and minor form and then sight singing will be fairly easy (:
I get what you mean. Thanks a lot!
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Kvothe the Arcane
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Just discovered your thread. Thanks for the advice. Hopefully it'll help me get a distinction in my next piano exam.
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mark252623
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(Original post by Kvothe the Arcane)
Just discovered your thread. Thanks for the advice. Hopefully it'll help me get a distinction in my next piano exam.
That's okay! message me if you have any questions or help is required.
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Kvothe the Arcane
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(Original post by mark252623)
That's okay! message me if you have any questions or help is required.
A couple unrelated questions.

Do you feel being proficient in the piano helped you pick up the guitar?
How did you go about choosing your diploma programme? I intend to do one afterwards.

Have a couple ideas already.
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mark252623
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(Original post by Kvothe the Arcane)
A couple unrelated questions.

Do you feel being proficient in the piano helped you pick up the guitar?
How did you go about choosing your diploma programme? I intend to do one afterwards.

Have a couple ideas already.
Yes, I do feel like this. Knowing the way intervals sound and knowing the best practice methods allowed me to reach grade 8 very quickly with very little practice.

I chose my programme based on pieces that I liked plus a couple that I didn't like but showed off my technical capabilities to the standard a diploma requires.

I would just look through their lists and listen to the pieces and choose ones you like - assuring yourself there is sufficient contrast.
Hope this helps (:
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HKP24
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(Original post by mark252623)
Hello! I am Mark - I feel the need to at least attempt to help a few of you.
I am currently 16 but I received my 142/150 in grade 8 piano 3 years ago.
I have also acquired a diploma in the piano, along with grade 8 in guitar.
Okay - so if you basically just do as I say here, you're essentially guaranteed a distinction. I might also answer any common questions you have...
I often see questions like 'which grade should I take and when' and stuff, so basically if you follow this, you can take any grade that isn't completely out of reach to you, just as long as you don't be silly and only 'loosely' follow my suggestions.

How to memorize/learn the Scales.
Well. First off, make sure you learn where the semi tones and tones take place in each scale, for example in any major scale, the semi tones are only between the 3rd and 4th note, and the 7th and 8th (=1st) note of the scale.

Next you'll want to play the scale you're learning a few times slowly.
Once it kind of fits underneath your fingers, the most efficient way to learning them fluently is rhythmic practice. If rhythmic practice is new to you - take note.
Rhythmic practice essentially involves taking something that is in straight quavers or semi quavers (such as scales) and applying dotted rhythms to them so that afterwards, when played normally, they are easier.
A scale would normally be quaver quaver quaver etc...
So practice it first: dotted crochet, quaver, dotted crochet quaver etc...
Next the other way round (often harder): quaver, dotted crochet, quaver, dotted crochet etc...
Then do both rhythms again staccato, then legato again, and finally, straight quaver (normal) rhythm legato. If you follow this, and do it a few times over a few days, the scale will be fluent. Rhythmic practice that also featuring different articulations is the best form of practice to get any fast or scalic passage fluent.

How to Learn the Pieces
For fast sections, please reread the section above about rhythmic practice.
Turn off your phone when practicing - concentrated practice for 1 minute is better than phone-on-your-mind practice for 10 minutes
Playing pieces from start to finish over and over again isn't practice. When you sit down at the piano, go to a part of the piece that you know you can't play well, play each hand slowly separately and then play hands together slowly. If need be then go through each bar one at a time until it is fluent. At the end of your allocated practice time for a piece, you can play it through maybe once or twice, but this simply alone is not enough to perfect a piece. Rhythmic practice is very important! Try eyes closed! Try exaggerating the rubato! - Trying things make you think about the piece and therefore help drill concepts of the music into your mind. Oh yeah - Rhythmic practice.
I dare you to get a pen and paper right now and right down all the dynamics of each section and any expression markings or tempo markings of a piece - once you fail at this, go through the music AWAY from the piano and memorize any markings given by the composer.
If you are playing any Bach then also make sure you know where the themes are.
People doing lower grades also tend to make the mistake of repeating the same rubato ideas throughout a piece - don't bore the examiner, be creative.

Regarding the Aural
Don't complain about how you can't sing. Examiners. Don't. Care.
literally your voice is fine. Examiners know which pitch you meant to sing if you sing slightly out of tune, and no marks are given for quality of voice.
(Sometimes you'll be given the option to either sing back the melody or play it on the piano, always choose sing.)
Maybe do a little practice with your piano teacher or basically anyone.. The aural sections aren't hard and really you shouldn't worry about them

How much practice do I need to do? Which Grade should I take?
Here's how it works. If you want distinctions. Here.
Grades 1-3: 10 minutes of concentrated practice a day
Grades 4-6: 20-30 minutes of concentrated practice a day
Grades 7-8 40-80 minutes of concentrated practice a day.
Seriously TURN OFF YOUR PHONE before you sit down at the piano.
Start off with scales. Play 2 or 3 of the ones specified by the grade and make sure you go through the rhythmic practice concepts I listed above - this will stop your time from being wasted. Don't spend more than 10 minutes on scales, preferably only 5. If you're doing grades 1-5 then simply playing through your pieces once a day hands separately each hand at a time, and then playing through each ones hand together first slowly and then up to speed, can simply be enough practice. The lower grades don't require much dedication to practice methods other than just playing through.
Grades 6-8: Do not just play through your pieces. Spend at least 10 minutes repairing any bars that you can't play and just make sure all sections are as fluent as each other. One good use of your practice time is to sit at a desk and just write down every single fingering that you play on a photocopied version of the piece - do not underestimate this.
So after your 5 minutes of scales, and then 10 minutes per piece of concentrated practice finish off by playing through your favorite piece one last time or by going online and finding some fun sight reading!

If you have any questions or would like some help with specific sections of any piece, feel free to ask.
Thanks for reading!

if you take anything away from this post, please be rhythmic practice and practice featuring different kinds of articulation. This really helps with accuracy, memory and fluency of anything you're playing.
Hello,
I've just found about this thread and its really very useful. Thanks. I wanted to ask you some questions
I'm taking my Grade 8 Piano exam this June 2018 and my three pieces are up to date, I'm playing Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.
I and average on my scales as I find it difficult to memorise and play straight away when asked. I' quite decent in sight reading and aural. Is there a chance for me to score a high mark by June, aiming for distinction?

Also, I am looking to go to music conservatoires in London so do you have any advice for that?

Many Thanks
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mark252623
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(Original post by HKP24)
Hello,
I've just found about this thread and its really very useful. Thanks. I wanted to ask you some questions
I'm taking my Grade 8 Piano exam this June 2018 and my three pieces are up to date, I'm playing Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.
I and average on my scales as I find it difficult to memorise and play straight away when asked. I' quite decent in sight reading and aural. Is there a chance for me to score a high mark by June, aiming for distinction?

Also, I am looking to go to music conservatoires in London so do you have any advice for that?

Many Thanks
Sorry for the late reply.
If you follow as I've said, or even half of it, the distinction should come pretty easily.
This sort of stuff doesn't require hours of practice, it requires regular and productive practice. Playing through pieces isn't productive.

With regards to the conservatoires in London, be very careful. If you're take your grade 8 a year before entry, I'm afraid the chances of you being up to standard in time are quite low.
They do, actually, and I'm not just saying it, value how you play more than your actual technique. But the two often improve together...
If your academia is up to standard, I would definitely suggest you apply to university instead of conservatoire, even if for music.

Hope that somewhat helps - Mark.
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Pianist7
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Thank you Mark for being you ...This is so gooood
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GeeDee
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Hello Mark, thank you very much for your insightful response, really helpful for a novice like me. We have a son who is 6 year old and he has his exams for Grade 1 Piano in a couple of months time. We never ever intend to have the piano practice a mundane task but a very enjoyable activity so that he keeps music for his life. But then now, this is slightly going off track and he finds practising music a chore. We are trying to engage with him and help him, could you please explain a little bit more in detail on how to practice Grade 1 pieces and scales to the rhythm ALWAYS! He seems to get it excellent sometimes, but it is not the case all the times!! Also, do you have any tips on sight reading for Grade 1 please? Thanks a million, if you could respond. Thanks again.Best Regards.
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