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I'm in my thirties; I've played acoustic guitar for about a decade, but recently took up "proper instruments" flute and piano as a beginner - playing from score, learning scales, etc rather than just bashing chords. I did do up to grade 3 classical guitar (in the UK) as a young child so I luckily can read music, etc.

I have been having semi-formal lessons and bought myself some ABRSM grade 1-3 books on both instruments.

I'd frankly feel a bit of a fool turning up as a grown man, to do a grade 1 piano exam, and I wondered if there is any point doing grades other than for a sense of achievement. If I work through pieces and grade requirements, is there a benefit to taking the exams?

Do many adults take the grade exams, especially the very low grades?

  • ABRSM's take on the subject – AakashM Feb 11 '15 at 14:24
  • When my kids started learning to play in the local brass band, as is very common here in South Germany, I decided to learn clarinet. After a year the teacher said all his students had to do D1, which is theory and practice for brass band. So I enrolled and did it too. I had the advantage over the little kids of being disciplined at learning, but of terrible nerves at playing. In the exam I was the oldest person in the room. The examiners were very excited and complimented me on my courage. Well, I went back and did D2. – RedSonja May 20 '15 at 12:01
  • The experience was very good for me, and the structured theory material has been helping me ever since. They do have older students - maybe 10 a year - and recently they have started offering D courses just for adults. – RedSonja May 20 '15 at 12:01
  • My aunt was a concert-grade pianist via superb individual teachers, but had never completed any formal courses. When she went into piano teaching after two or three decades as an accompanist and repetiteur, she took the top couple of grades and the licentiate examination to qualify as a piano teacher. – user207421 Apr 7 at 4:48
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I organise an exam centre for guitar (electric/acoustic/classical) and bass exams. Whilst 80% of candidates are younger than 18 or so, that leaves 20% adults. Most of them come with a bundle of nerves, but I see them for the next, and the next,and so on. Frequently they say "I don't know why I'm doing this", but the main real reason seems to be that they see it as a thorough, structured way to get good on an instrument.It somehow focuses them in their practice, seeing the goal.

Other instruments will have the same regime, so don't be concerned that you're following a 6yr old into the exam room. You will be judged on the performance, and no-one's going to think 'he should play better than that 6yr old, 'cos he's older'. The exam is not supposed to be subjective. Trouble is, most folk stop 'doing exams' in their late teens, so after that, they get out of the habit. Kids are doing tests and exams almost on a weekly basis, so for them, it's just another pesky exam.For adults, it's something they thought they'd left behind!

Give it a try. You actually don't need to go through each and every one. Start where comfortable, and see how it goes. Insist your teacher shows you exactly what will happen in those 10-15 minutes.

Also consider other exam boards - Trinity, LCM (RGT), etc.You may enjoy one better than another, but the standard of playing ought to be very similar. And the certificates are great for covering up dodgy wallpapering...

  • What do you mean by "see them for the next"? – anatolyg Feb 9 '15 at 13:13
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    @anatolyg - for the next exam grade, either 4 mths, 8 mths or a years time. – Tim Feb 9 '15 at 14:10
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After ten years with the guitar you'll have become quite comfortable with the instrument, and will have developed some musicianship. Naturally it's humbling to take up another instrument and find your fingers tripping over pieces of music that you could probably pick out on guitar while standing on your head.

Feel humbled, but don't feel foolish. Relish being a beginner! If you think grade 1 would feel like an achievement, do grade 1. Your teacher will understand your situation, the examiner won't care how old you are, and you don't have to tell anyone else. I knew a violin teacher who was an examiner for ABRSM, and he told me that it always gave him a real buzz to see an adult beginner. He had nothing but admiration for anyone who takes up an instrument later in life.

That being said, if I were you I'd take a look at the grade 5 syllabus. The music starts to get a little more interesting at this stage, and you might find that fact is enough to help bridge the bigger gap between where your technique is now, and where it needs to be to play at that level. I did all the violin grades as a kid, took up piano at 30, and did grade 5 after about a year and a half.

  • Interesting. With piano and flute I'm so far finding G1 is appropriate since I have to get to grips playing two lines at once, and learn how to get the darn sounds out, respectively. But it would be nice to be able to skip quickly through earlier grades if possible :) – Mr. Boy Feb 9 '15 at 16:25
  • How long have you been learning piano and flute? – Bacs Feb 9 '15 at 16:26
  • A few months, not practicing daily but at least a few times a week - I can play almost the first two octaves on the flute but having to learn the bass clef is a pain on the piano! – Mr. Boy Feb 9 '15 at 16:28
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I've just turned 60. I did piano, clarinet and music theory exams ten years ago. I've started playing the trumpet and loving learning a new instrument. For one thing the trumpet is much more reliable that the clarinet which I use for busking. I like doing exams and I'm planning on doing the grade 1 trumpet exam later this year. As far as I know there are no restrictions on the age you can do exams at.

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Taking certificates is generally always good, unless you are not aware about requirements (then the failure might bring unneeded disappointment). Check that is expected, and if you think you can do - then why not? This may help to meet new interesting people!

  • I just find the idea of proudly showing my Grade 1 piano certificate to anyone a bit ridiculous... if I know I can play grade 1 pieces isn't this enough? – Mr. Boy Feb 9 '15 at 15:12
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    I talk about taking exam as a process, not if to show the certificate later or not. Preparing for exam is always good for learning. – h22 Feb 9 '15 at 17:51
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    @Mr. Boy-You may think you can play grade 1 pieces but unless someone with the qualifications to grade your skills agrees then it is just an assumption on your part. Granted, for many people their own perception may be enough. But for others, tangible proof of progress helps keep them motivated and being able to pass "tests" is a form of tangible proof. – Dunk Feb 9 '15 at 19:32

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