Notes from the Piano

Setting Non-exam based goals


There is always a huge buzz with lots of enthusiasm and energy amongst piano students at the start of a new term, particularly after the long summer break with many students having had no lessons or very few lessons since July.

I am always really happy to see everyone (even those who have done zero practice over the summer). One of the best things about the start of a new academic year is the sense of possibility, and excitement about new music to be discovered, practised, and performed. I look forward to helping students set new goals and discover new music through which they will progress along their pianistic journey.

As pianists we are incredibly lucky to have such a wealth of repertoire available to us at every stage of our learning and pianistic development, therefore my heart sinks when so many students announce that their goal this term is to pass the next Grade, indeed many often arrive with exam books in hand.
I must clarify that I am not anti-exams in any way, quite the contrary, many of my students choose to take piano exams and diplomas at various stages of their learning journey, it is HOW the exams are used that is important; a piano exam syllabus is NOT a curriculum.

Most piano teachers will want to introduce students to so much more than just graded pieces of music. For a healthy and musical journey students need to learn at a wide variety of music from many different genres and eras, discovering music which not only helps them to progress at every level, but also to discover the music which speaks to them and helps them to develop a lifelong love of the piano whether they become professional musicians or not, the music they play can inspire students, foster intrinsic motivation to practice and learn more, and bring much joy throughout their lives.

In addition to my private teaching practice, I also teach at Guildhall School of Music in the Junior Department where the focus is very much on musical development and performance rather than exams. Our students are encouraged to perform in our weekly concerts where there is a wonderful atmosphere of sharing music amongst the performers, teachers, and parents. Students receive positive feedback on their performance and learn from an early age how to communicate their music with an audience.

In my private practice, like many teachers, I offer termly concerts and other performance opportunities such as festivals, workshops and masterclasses which give students an opportunity to perform some of the repertoire they have learned that term. A concert performance is a great goal to set, and the detailed practice involved in preparing for your performance will really help to develop your playing.
By all means take exams as and when you are ready, but if you really want to set goals which will help you improve this year do consider a different approach and make use of your teacher’s repertoire knowledge to take a dive into all the riches and learning opportunities it has to offer, I promise you will not regret it!

Lorraine Augustine is a Pianist, teacher and adjudicator based in Bedfordshire, with over 40 years’ experience of teaching and performing she teaches piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and runs a busy private practice in Bedfordshire.