Julie Haskell answers questions on AMEB exams

A couple of weeks ago, the VMTA ran a one-day piano teachers’ conference at Piano Time in South Melbourne. I always try to get along to these events as it’s great to network with other teachers and the presenters and learn new tricks and techniques to improve my teaching practice.

The most interesting session for me was a presentation by noted Melbourne pianist and teacher Julie Haskell (also current VMTA president) who talked about AMEB exams from an examiner’s perspective. Julie was careful to note that the presentation (and therefore the notes in this article) contained her own opinions as an examiner and not those of the AMEB.

Pleasingly Julie, like me, stresses the need for students to learn at least 20 pieces a year (see my previous article on the success of my 40 pieces a year challenge). I hoped that this was old news for the teachers present, but I’m sure there are still teachers out there just teaching six exam pieces each year.

Julie also advocates introducing exam pieces gradually, dispersed with the learning of other pieces during the year. When asked about how to determine when a student is ready for an exam, Julie suggested that by the time a student is booked for an exam, he/she should already be capable at that level, even though their pieces will not necessarily be polished. Julie also stresses that teachers should never enter students who they expect will only get a C or C+ for an exam as they are probably not ready. She also recommends discussing the “general knowledge” component of the pieces throughout the year as a regular part of lessons. (I do the same with sight-reading and aural).

The following were the other main points that I picked up from her presentation and that I feel may be of relevance to other teachers preparing candidates for the AMEB:

  • Photocopies are fine to aid or avoid page turning.
  • Using digital downloads of classical music from IMSLP is OK (I’ve always wondered about this!).
  • Teachers only need to rub out general knowledge info from music. Fingering, phrasing, dynamics are all OK.
  • Examiners will generally request to hear one extra list piece and this isn’t normally the candidate’s choice.
  • For scales, it doesn’t matter what octave you start in as long as you don’t run out of notes!
  • Don’t forget to practice technical work hands separately as this is requested in all exams levels.
  • In regard to playing from memory, Julie says that it’s about how the student plays the best. If a student plays better from music, they should use it. Playing from memory is not meant to affect the mark.
  • For sight-reading, it’s OK to finger over the keys, but students shouldn’t play anything.
  • Aural – OK to hum along quietly when the examiner plays if that helps.

Hopefully that might answer some of the questions you may have about exams, as I did before the seminar. Please remember however that this is not advice sanctioned by the AMEB and neither Julie nor I take any responsibility for inaccuracies.

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Tim Topham

Lead blogger and coffee snob
Best-known for his blogging and teaching, Tim is also a well-respected presenter, performer and accompanist based in Melbourne, Australia. You can check him out on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.
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