Should I take music exams?

People often ask me whether they need to take music exams. There is no clear cut answer, it depends why you want to learn the guitar, what level you hope to reach, and the type of  learning structure you need so you can make satisfying progress.

I always  loved  music, but for many years my guitar  gathered dust in the corner of a room. I started playing again when I  recognised  I needed a diversion from my work.

I started playing guitar again , after a 20 year gap, to pursue a pastime which engaged my attention at different levels, and at first I thought it was the perfect stress buster. However, I soon realised that my “butterfly” nature meant I would do something for a while and then move off when something else caught my musical interest. This was fine until I became frustrated by my slow progress.

I get satisfaction from learning things which give me a clear sense of achievement. I needed a structure which gave me a sense of progress. So, somewhat reluctantly, I found a teacher who worked to grade exam standards…and …(this hurts me to say)…I made more progrss as a guitarist and musician in 6 months than I had in all the years I been playing and trying to improve without a proper structure. The exams forced me to work on my technique and knowledge, and they helped me to manage  my “butterfly” nature to stay on track.

However, the real pay off was not the exam passes. It was the fact I was able to play a much wider range of music, and the scope of music I could handle grew as I progressed through the grade system.

So for me it was a good decision to take exams, but it might not be the best approach for everyone. Therefore, some of my own students are following the examination path, others just don’t want that kind of pressure. However, in all cases I have people following a structure which helps them to improve steadily to handle more complex music and keep developing their technique.

The learning structure needs to be right for the individual student, exams may be part of the overall process, but they are just one of a series of benchmarks people can use to keep improving and manage the frustration that can arise when progress feels slow.

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