Simple Guide to Prepare for Piano Examination
Some parents who send their kids to learn a music instrument but choose not to enroll their kids to
take examinations. Without examinations, I wonder how they can gauge their kids’ progress. I
believe the requirement of the examination will set a direction for the kids to learn. The satisfaction of
passing the examination is a priceless experience. I put together this article, hoping it will be helpful
as a guide to prepare for piano examination.
Based on ABRSM practical examination, there are 4 different components as shown below:
1. Exam pieces. 3 piano pieces are chosen from a set list. The student is required to practise at
home and perform during the examination.
2. Scales and arpeggios
3. Sight reading
4. Aural Test
Preparing for the Piano Examination
1. Exam pieces
Choose three pieces from the list and practise them every day. Choose a specific time dedicated for
piano practice, for example 4pm- 5pm. Make piano practice a daily routine.
Explore and familiarize yourself with the exam pieces thoroughly. Learn the characteristic of the
composer’s style, understand and form a connection with the piece. You can go on YouTube to
search for a few well performed versions of the exam pieces and work with your teacher to find a
more suitable way for you to play the piece.
Practising a piece does not always mean that you have to play the whole piece. Learn and practise
bar by bar, phrase by phrase, section by section. Make sure you get the right fingering and can play
the notes accurately before moving on.
After you can play the piece from beginning till the end, focus on the phrasing, expression and
ornamentations. Remember to emphasis quality over quantity. It is pointless to repeat playing the
piece with wrong notes and poor articulation many times. Record your performance, listen and make
notes of your observation and assessment.
2. Scales and Arpeggios
Practise your scales before you practise the exam pieces. Playing the scales should serve as warm
up before you practise your pieces. Organise your scales and arpeggios systematically in groups.
Practice them one group at a time. Learn and quiz yourself on the key signatures of each scales.
Ask your teacher to quiz you. Quizzes will make learning more fun.
Play your scales with the correct fingering and with the right rhythm. Remember to play all scales at
the same speed and play arpeggios at a slightly lower speed. Repeat the scale that goes wrong a
few times to get rid of the problem before moving on to other scales.
3. Sight Reading
Train yourself to play without looking at the keys. Keep your eyes on the music sheet and try to read
ahead. You need to increase your reading skill to take in a few bars at a glance. Sight reading
should be practised every day.
You don’t have to restrict yourself to using the graded sight-reading books only. You are free to pick
up any music piece which interest you and play. Imagine the music before you play it. When you
play, pay more attention to get the rhythm right.
The first step of the sight reading process should be for you to examine the key, dynamics, rhythm,
any accidentals, tied notes etc. Tap and count aloud the rhythm of the piece. Then, play the piece
counting aloud. Keep playing even if you make mistake. Pause and take note of the mistakes and try
to improve in the next attempt. Don’t rush, it may be wise to slow down a bit.
4. Aural Test
Listen to any music and relate your test to it. Take note where the strong beat falls as this will usually
indicate the first beat in a bar. You will be tested to identify time and rhythm. Clap three fingers on
the palm of the hand during the clapping back rhythm test. This will allow you to clap fast rhythm
During the pitch test, the quality of your voice is not being tested. You will be allowed to sing to ‘la’ or
any vowel sound.
Your teacher will carry out mock examination session with you. Please ask for more so that you can
cover as many possible questions as possible.
On the Examination Day
Boys and girls, you should have enjoyed your practices and learning long enough to fulfill the
requirement of the examination. I bet you even learn more songs than the 3 exam pieces. You are
going to show your examiners how much you have enjoyed the pieces and your understanding of
the music at your specific grade. The examiners are nice people from a foreign land who are looking
forward to allow you to pass your examination so that they can see you again in the future at a
different grade. We all want you to succeed!
Learning to play a music instrument is a great way to train our kids to be disciplined. Every step they
make in their journey of their music education will give them great sense of achievement. Of course
they are supposed to learn to play the songs that are commensurate with their abilities. Therefore,
please do not compare them with their friends. Playing music should relieve stress. Therefore, as
long as the parents are clear that learning music is not a race, the kids will learn without pressure.
They will motivate themselves to learn with our encouragement and appreciation.