As a youngster my understanding was that the proof of learning an instrument was that you took your grades and gained qualifications. Grade eight was the mystical and far-flung goal to which we all aspired… the accolade which signalled not only success but completeness. It is after all the highest grade…isn’t it? 

Oh how naive I was. Now, although I still work towards specific goals for myself and occasionally gain a new qualification, I realise that growing musicianship is an end in itself and does not need measurable quantities, stressful exams, or scores to support a student in fulfilling their potential. 

This may sound strange, coming from someone who has just put six choir members through their Bronze Level One certificate test, (with a 100% success rate I hasten to add). Children can be helped by physical evidence that they are succeeding, and qualifications always look good on a CV later in life. Adults, too, benefit from qualifications to prove themselves in a competitive world.

The children pictured are proud of their accomplishment. This test was worthwhile… but so was their experience of singing to the Church congregation. They were amazing, with several performing solos and duets. 

The qualification gained was inexpensive… reduced to the cost of producing certificates as I can act as examiner, so choral examinations in the early stages are an inexpensive option, with these certificates issued at no cost to the students and their families.

At Community Music Malvern there is no need to take exams, and no need for any student to go through needlessly stressful situations. Exams are there for those who want to take them. The tests we complete with the Youth Choir are so lacking in stress the children barely realise that they are taking a test.

The emphasis is on enjoying music, on gaining real skills and musical appreciation, on performance skills, and on thorough musicianship for a firm understanding. In the Kodaly approach to teaching, there is no room for leaving the theory until last. Children instead learn to develop their inner ear and their sense of pulse. They learn relative pitches and rhythmic note values so that they become intrinsic to their understanding. They make musical sense of any piece of music from the word go. They learn to be creative in their approach and gain incredible flexibility, able to sing music whilst providing body percussion for example.

The fun is that the theory is actually the beginning of the practical, so that students start singing, and never stop, decoding rhythm and pitch from a score, being able to accurately record what they hear, or writing their own music with confidence from early on in their education.

Music learning goes on and on, and never stops regardless of scores, exams, tests or grades. The important thing is to experience music and begin the journey.