Repertoire vs. Comprehensive Examinations.

Repertoire vs. Comprehensive Examinations.

Some helpful facts and personal thoughts from a teacher/examiner.

Questions by AUSTAQ

Responses by Loreta Fin, Senior String Syllabus Advisor – AMEB

Most teachers will by now be aware that the AMEB has introduced Repertoire Examinations. When I first heard of these examinations, I was concerned that the integrity and standard of examinations would be compromised. My main fear was that some teachers might feel that it was no longer necessary to teach technique, as it was not required for the examination. Here are some answers to questions you may have, as well as some personal philosophies regarding examinations of this nature:

 What is the difference?

  • Preliminary to Grade 4 play 3 works, plus an Own Choice – 4 in total
  • Grades 5 to 8 play 3 works, plus two Own Choices – 5 in total
  • The 3 works must be chosen from the syllabus or AMEB grade books
    • Grade 4: ABC, Grades 5 to 7: List ABC, ABD, BCD or ACD
  • Own Choice works CAN be chosen from the syllabus, or be a work that the teacher deems to be of a similar length and standard, but NOT necessarily in the syllabus. Approval from AMEB is not required.
  • Repertoire exams do NOT contain Technical Work, Sight-reading, Aural Tests or General Knowledge.
  • The examination criteria, objectives and grading are the SAME as for a comprehensive examination.
  • Each piece in Repertoire is of EQUAL value – including the own choice/s, which are not “Extra List” Pieces of lesser value.
  • If a piano accompaniment exists, it MUST be presented for ALL works, including Own Choice – as opposed to Comprehensive, where piano accompaniments are NOT compulsory for Extra List Pieces.

 Why would you choose to put a student through a repertoire rather than comprehensive examination? (Are some students more suited to it than others?

  • Some schools only allow 30-minute private lessons, making it difficult to fit in all elements of the comprehensive examination
  • Some schools teach only in groups – even in higher grades
  • Some students are involved in multiple co-curricular/outside school activities and it is becoming increasingly difficult to compete with these commitments or for students to commit to adequate practice.
  • Music is becoming a bit like sport: Students come to training (lesson) and play the game (ensemble rehearsal/concert). Practising in between these is not always a priority.
  • Some students actually learn and play pieces quite well, but their commitment to practising the other elements is less than ideal.
  • Students may wish to do 2 examinations in one year, to move ahead. In this instance, I would allow one comprehensive and one repertoire in the same year – this is usually limited to Preliminary – Grade 4.
  • Some of my students play Comprehensive on Violin and Repertoire on Viola in the same year – or vice-versa.
  • Repertoire Exams can be used as a “practice-run” for the comprehensive exam.

 Do you prepare students the same way?

Personally, I think it is VITAL that we don’t stop teaching the other elements. I explain to my students that music is just like any sport, or ballet or chess, you need have the SKILLS (Technique) and you need to know the RULES (Theory/ General Knowledge).                             As string players, we need to possess keen AURAL skills, so that element is a given. “Almost”, “kind of”, “sort of” and “nearly” in tune are ALL out of tune. In general, I do NOT allow my students to do Repertoire exams from Prelim to Grade 4. Even in a 30-minute lesson, it is usually possible to cover all elements.

 From Grade 5, my students are taught G and A “With the Worx”, (C and D for Viola). This consists of 3 8ve Major, both minors and arpeggio sequences, followed by 2 8ve Dim, Dom, Broken 3rds and Chromatic. When they can play this in under 3 minutes, they are allowed to do Repertoire examinations for Grades 5, 6 and 7. I have found that this “carrot” actually works! Sight-reading is taken care of by being able to include more pieces in the lesson, as the technique is “done” in 3 minutes – IF they practise! Of course, students who have longer lessons, and progress each week can easily still do a comprehensive exam.

 In Grades 6 and 7, the “worx” commencing on 1st finger goes up to 3rd or 4th position, and the Dim/Dom/ Broken 3rds and Chrom are extended to 3 8ves, thereby covering most of what is required in the Comprehensive examination. This is still done in 3 minutes, as the tempo must increase. AMEB Technical exercises are still followed.

 Grade 8: My personal feeling for MY students is that there is NO option to do Gr 8 Repertoire. I believe that at this level – and especially if there is any suggestion of wanting to follow music as a career, or progressing to AMus etc, they MUST have the commitment to study and perform technique.

Does it make a difference in the end?

I would not be telling the truth if I said there was no difference. Some students just do the work and are prepared for every lesson, having followed instructions carefully and are ready to move on. However, this is not the norm. Most examiners would agree that we often encounter students whose pieces are of an A or B level, but the other elements, especially technique and sight-reading, let them down. Therefore, the end result, had THOSE students just done a Repertoire exam, would most certainly have been different. The other point to consider for some students is that it is far less stressful – and dare I say, more enjoyable to reduce the amount of work required for an examination. In short:

  • NEVER stop teaching technique – it is SO obvious to an examiner when a student presents for a repertoire exam and their technique is unsound. The result will reflect this.
  • The assessment of the Repertoire examination still requires evidence of understanding the aspects of musicianship, tone, technique and indeed knowledge of key, form and structure of their works, even if these are not assessed elements in their own right.
  • Try to teach technique from memory from day 1 – don’t use music, but rather, rely on patterns (a topic for another article)

 Any other tips for teachers deciding which to choose for their students?

  • Keep using the old series 7 and 8 books for a wealth of choices, without having to guess about appropriate levels for Own Choice and Extra List Pieces.
  • If a student is capable of performing pieces well, but has difficulty memorising technical work etc., Repertoire Examinations may be a good option. However, this is NOT a license to eliminate the other elements which are essential for creating outstanding performers and bestowing a life-long gift to these young musicians.