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  • Stuart Barr

To examine or not to examine?

At some stage in their musical journey, your child’s music teacher may mention the possibility of entering your child for a graded music exam. Whilst learning that your child has met this milestone may be incredibly exciting for you, it can also be a daunting prospect...especially if you don't know much about the graded music exam process!

We’ve written this blog post to share some of the pros and cons of children taking graded music exams, and some top tips for whether you decide to enter your child, or not!


Exams can be a clear way of showing how your child has progressed over a certain period of time. However, it’s very important that children aren’t pushed to get through as many grades as possible as quickly as possible! Your child may wish to join certain music schools or ensembles. These might require specific levels of playing, and grades can be an easy way to demonstrate this!

Many students take pride and pleasure from the visible results of their hard work and practice, and certificates hung up in their practice space can motivate them further! You will probably feel an enormous sense of pride when your child takes a music exam, and rightly so! (Just make sure that this doesn’t put any additional pressure on your child for future exams)

Music exam successes can look fantastic on a CV as proof of extra-curricular activities. They also contribute to UCAS points for University applications later down the line (in the UK).

Your child may enjoy the challenge of studying for an exam, and it may give them something to focus on and aim towards! Preparing for and taking a music exam gives your child first hand experience of practising for a certain performance goal. This can build their confidence and improve their self-esteem.


Not taking music exams can really express your child’s musical ability or enjoyment. An exam certificate is physical badge of their musical journey, but it’s the child’s inner enjoyment of making music that’s more important.

It is highly likely that your child will already be taking exams at school, and as part of their other extracurricular activities. It is important to consider how well they might cope with the additional pressure of a graded music exam. If your child ends up taking numerous exams per year, they will only have time to learn a very limited number of pieces (which they will have a limited choice in), this could lead them to getting bored and losing inspiration.

An exam is only a tiny snapshot of your child on a particular day, meaning that it may not indicate their true abilities, which could knock their confidence.

The exam board’s repertoire may not be content that inspires your child!

Top Tips for Taking Graded Music Exams:

Why not start learning an instrument, and enter yourself for an exam? This will allow you to experience the process first hand!Discuss different exam boards with your child’s teacher. One may suit your son or daughter better.It is incredibly important that your child’s teacher can advise on aspects such as stagecraft, presentation and managing anxiety, so make sure that they are prepared to support your child with this. Ensure that your child doesn’t just play exam specified pieces and exercises, they should be learning additional repertoire too, as well as learning about the background of the set works!

Top Tips for Not Taking Graded Music Exams:

Find another musician or teacher to listen to your child occasionally, so that they can receive feedback from someone other than their teacher. Ensure your child gets the opportunity to perform publicly, whether this is in competitions, concerts, or to friends and family!Make sure that your child has something to work towards, and look forward to musically - this will keep them engaged and motivated!Just because your child doesn’t want to take exams, that doesn’t mean they can’t play pieces and exercises from the syllabus!

Overall, the way in which exams are used by a teacher is vital to whether the outcome for the student is positive or negative. At the end of the day, being a well-rounded musician is about more than being able to pass a graded music exam, although taking them does have the potential to open up certain doors for your son or daughter. The most important thing for yourself and your child to remember is why they are learning an instrument in the first place, and that should be for pure enjoyment rather than for any examination achievements!

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