AMEB exam preparation tips

Over the following 10 weeks I’ll share some “don’t”s originally from an AMEB article  on exam preparation.

DON’T Practise like it’s going out of style… the week before the exam.

Sometimes when an exam or concert is looming large, we panic and resort to an extreme practice regime as a source of last-minute, confidence-boosting performance assurance. Remember that your body is a delicate piece of machinery and that suddenly increasing the number of hours spent playing or singing every day is more likely to result in injury and fatigue than super-human musical ability. Instead of shredding your strength in an extreme instrumental all-nighter, try short, targeted practice sessions that focus on problem areas and include plenty of breaks for the muscles and the mind. By suddenly ramping up your practice routine just before the exam you’re actually telling yourself that you don’t know the music well enough. Instead of surrendering to exam panic, step away from your instrument and remind yourself that you do know the music and you know it well. Use a bit of self-talk to ward off doubt and to keep yourself calm.


AMEB Practice Tip #10

Perform as much as you can

Everyone gets nervous performing. However, the more you do it the more your confidence develops. Over time, performing begins to feel like a very natural thing to do. Play to your family and friends. Grandparents are good because they never get tired of listening to you play! Look for opportunities to perform at school, in eisteddfods and competitions. Doing an exam can be daunting if you have very limited performance experience. And an exam should really be like a performance. Don’t just play to your teacher. The more you play for other people the more confident you will be when exam time comes around.

AMEB Practice Tip #9

Make music with other musicians whenever you can

Get involved making music with other players whenever you can. If you are a pianist, play for a singer or with someone learning an orchestral instrument. If you are a string or wind player there are so many wonderful duets, trios and quartets you can play. Join a choir. You will learn ensemble skills, how to phrase and breathe with other players and singers, and gain a knowledge of how your part fits into the whole. Again, musical awareness and sight-reading can be developed significantly by making music with others.

AMEB Music Hack #8

Have fun!

Remember that all of your hard work is really aimed at making it easier to get your instrument or voice to do what you want it to do. From time to time, play around with the sounds you can make – beautiful sounds, ugly sounds, funny sounds and sad sounds! Get up close and personal with your instrument (or voice) and experiment away. If you’re not enjoying playing or singing at the moment, maybe you just need to reacquaint yourself with the joy of making sound. Learning music is challenging but should also be fun and rewarding.

 John Cage says, ‘Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.’

Procastinate less and do more

This list of tips which I will post over 7 weeks was published by CMuse

Choose what to practice next

Have you ever had a “what now?” moment after you are done practicing a particular piece? Being at loss as to what to do is a huge productivity killer, so make sure you plan ahead of time what to practice next. Alternatively, have your instructor give you a sensible list of compositions you can study and practice.

AMEB Music Hack #7

Go to concerts

Seeing a live classical music performance is insanely exciting… the nerves, the spectacle, the variety, the triumph! So why do we so often save concert-going for ‘special occasions’ or one-off experiences? It is easy to think of concerts as expensive ventures or special-occasion experiences, but this is not necessarily the case!

Google your local university music department and attend one of their (usually free) lunchtime concerts. Most professional concerts also offer discounted student tickets or last-minute ‘student rush’ tickets. Even better, have a soirée-of-sorts with your musical friends. Get an opportunity to practice performing in front of others, support your friends and be introduced to a lot of great music!

Check which WASO concerts are coming up soon.

AMEB Practice Tip #7


Memorisation is a valuable skill and being able to play through a piece from memory gives you freedom and confidence in performance. The printed score can be a crutch and can hamper expression. Memorisation can also be very useful for confronting nerves: with the score gone there is no safety net, you have to get the notes right. Proving to yourself that you can play the piece without the score is definitely confidence boosting. When you are memorising music try to play through the piece in your head away from your instrument. If you’ve really properly memorised a piece you should be able to sit down with a piece of manuscript paper (or a software program like Sibelius) and write it out. Don’t just rely on finger memory because this is what tends to fail when you are under the pressure of a performance. Know the notes as well as the fingerings.

Procrastinate less and do more

This list of tips which I will post over 7 weeks was published by CMuse

Just do it!

Overwhelmed by a task and at loss as to where to begin? There’s no best way to go about it than just starting. If you know you have to tackle the first Prelude of Rachmaninoff but you have no idea how to convey that pathos that has most pianists end up drenched in sweat, just start playing, and, eventually, things will take care of themselves. Diving into a cumbersome task headfirst can get your productivity (and creativity) flowing.

Monday motivation

The following is from a blog post by Samantha Coates.  Over the last 5 Mondays, I’ve posted her sport / music analogies. Please visit her fabulous blog.

Be your own practice coach

Piano practice is actually much harder than sport practice, because it is a solitary activity. In sport, the coach is there all the time, telling you what to do. In piano, the ‘coach’ is the piano teacher, and you only get one lesson per week with him/her; the rest of the time, you are on your own at home. So a practice coach analogy helps:

First of all, don’t skip piano practice. The same way you would never dream of missing basketball practice and letting the team down. The same way you reluctantly get out of bed at 5am to go to squad training at the pool, knowing that you won’t improve if you don’t do this and that the coach will really yell at you if you miss it.

Secondly, don’t slack off in your practice. Playing pieces once from beginning to end is as useful as a training session where your coach offers you a hot chocolate and a comfy chair. Just as you are expected to put in 100% effort and be exhausted at the end of sport practice, you should be prepared to engage fully in your piano practice, working on your weaknesses and constantly trying to improve.