Would it be possible to get some examples of notable musicians failing various entry exams in very early years of their career? I am especially interested in which instruments and styles are the most difficult to estimate.

Answers should include actual references or statistical data.

  • 4
    I think it's instrumental to understand the fact that a musical career involves so much more than just theoretical knowledge and technical skill. I'd almost say that an entry exam says virtually nothing about a person's ability to succeed as a professional musician.
    – Lee White
    Apr 17, 2015 at 13:30
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    Any genre in mind? I'm sure the majority of notable musicians in many genres have never done an "entry exam" of any kind... they're too busy making music and don't have the money to burn. Apr 17, 2015 at 14:01
  • 1
    It depends on what kind of musical career you are referring to. Session Musician Studio, Session Musician Live, Producer, Writer, Band - Lead, Band - Backing, Sound Technician, Orchestra, etc. Apr 17, 2015 at 16:12
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    I'd be surprised if there were not countless anecdotal examples. "Genius in X was thought by her or his teachers to be a dunce at X" seems a common story: Einstein leaps to mind. But making a living out of being a musician seems so hard that perhaps being open to having it as a hobby instead of a career is a wise choice to consider; after all that worked for Einstein!
    – dumbledad
    Apr 17, 2015 at 17:00

3 Answers 3


It should not really happen because an experienced teacher will be completely aware of what the students chances are at an entrance exam and if his chances are slim a good teacher will simply not let him apply. You don't just chance your arm and apply and hope for the best. You have to be realistic about these things.

That being said I'm sure that most of the applicants at Julliard for instance are of a high enough standard that they could very easily still become fabulous performers in there own right (even if they do not succumb to Julliard's immense standards.)


In my opinion, (this is a very opinion based question however it is a good question regardless.) It is all down to how well the musician grips an audience. Think about all of the talent shows kicking about on TV. These mass produced artist seem to me to have very little musical prowess... yet they gain a living in the music industry through fame and a record deal as a prize for getting through... in my music scene very few if not no artist has such luxury. Its all about playing your music the best you can and impressing and gripping audiences. That is how most bands if not all bands make a living/ successful career out of music. If not its usually through scandal... In our day and age anyway.

It also Stands to reason whether you are gaining a career in teaching music as this requires a lot more technical knowledge of music. knowing the grading system and being high up in the grading system is how you progress as a musical teacher.

  • Can you please elaborate on "knowing the grading system and being high up in the grading system is how you progress as a musical teacher"?
    – lobi
    Apr 17, 2015 at 17:53
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    It would probably be best to google the grading system, I am not graded in any instrument I just gained knowledge from my friends that grading exists ("like im grade 4 in piano" and so on) I self taught drums and vocals so im not experienced with the grading system(s). Apr 20, 2015 at 9:19

The exam you took has been optimized for selection only. You are not informed what exactly went wrong during the exam, how much does it went wrong, was it "lights out" or just a narrow miss. This approach kills in place all unfair attempts to complain but also does not help beyond the process of selection.

An exam that appears easy ("just perform any three pieces of your choice, no restrictions") may actually be very difficult, depending on how are these pieces envisioned by commission. While you have not seen obvious written rules, it may be some unwritten rules about these pieces, or other behavior like attempt to self-accompany with piano while singing. The commission may declare they are "ready for everything" yet do not like unusual approaches if other good applicants present something more expected.

There are exams that are optimized to certify the standard grade rather than to select into some group matching requirements of the unknown difficulty. Take ABRSM grade exam or similar. It should give you more feedback.

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