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Dear Dylan #003
Free advice, asked anonymously
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Dear Dylan #003
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User image Dear Dylan #003
Posted by Dylan Christopher, 11 months ago
Tags: dear, dylan, agony, uncle

Dear Dylan #003

Dear Dylan,

I have my Grade 1 exam in the next couple of weeks and I am really nervous.  What can I do to stop them getting in the way of the exam?

I am an adult if that helps?

Anonymous

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Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for getting in touch; exams are a point of nerves for everyone, even if they don’t show it.

I frequently explain to my students before any such ‘outing’, be it a concert, competition, or exam, that nerves are a sign that they care.  They are a physiological response that we cannot really control, but we can manage them.  Remember, nerves are based on the ‘fight or flight’ response; there is a third often neglected, uncontrollable, and not often considered option ‘freeze’.

We have the same reaction carrying out a musical performance as we do if we were being pursued by a grizzly bear.  Our heart rate increases, our senses are heightened, our legs shake when we want to run, our hands shake if we want to fight, or we freeze if we cannot choose between the two.  The main difference between taking a graded exam, and being chased by a bear, is that a bear can actually cause you physical harm (potentially killing you), but an exam cannot.

Despite nerves being nerves, the nervous response to the bear is considered perfectly rational, but, a nervous response to an exam is considered irrational; this does not make it go away or any easier to manage.  What you need to remember is that you are likely to be nervous because of ‘not knowing’, particularly if this is your first exam.  This is a reason why I consider Grade 1 to be the most important of exams as it gives you a chance to see what the process is like with low demands and low stakes.

Our minds are fascinating places, we spend our entire lives in our own heads, hearing our voice.  The prospect of considering what other people might be thinking can be scary, especially so when you are paying an ‘authority’ to cast a perceived ‘judgement’ over us.  I do not like to be judged, so I do not judge others.  Furthermore, despite popular opinion, examiners are not there to do this.

‘Examine’ means ‘to inspect’; in simple terms, this is a showcase.  You are literally paying a human being to listen to you; now, think, who is in charge under those conditions?

Remember to breathe; slow deep breaths will decrease your heart rate.  Learn from the experience and use it in the next one.

I wish you the best of luck with your exam; do write back with your story!

All good wishes,

Dylan

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Dear Dylan,

You have mentioned counting a number of times on your blog.  You make it sound so easy.  I try and try but can’t.  I think you need to consider that for us mere mortals, it is not as easy as you make it sound.

Anonymous

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Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for getting in touch; I am so sorry that my words resonated with you.  Particularly so if they were felt in a negative way.  I will explain below my insistence on counting and the importance of doing it.

I cannot speak for other teachers and only myself.

When I start with a newcomer, I help build their skills from the bottom up, not the top down.  I have little concern with learning pieces; that would be thinking about a result, before carrying out a process.

What is the point in knowing “The answer is four” if there is no understanding of what the question was or how to work it out?  Let us go a little deeper into this analogy; what relevance is there in knowing that “The answer is four” if the person saying it has no understanding of what four is or why it is significant in this situation.

All of these occurrences amount to what it feels like from my perspective when a student learns a piece of music but cannot understand a fundamental concept in the process, that being counting.  The problem with not being able to do it is not an occurrence that manifested in the present; to understand it, we need to delve into the past.

The reason why many people struggle with counting is because they disregarded the activity in favour of playing pieces.  The need to impress people and feed an ego meant that the basics where rushed to get to what the student considered “actual music”.  This manifests in the present by that skill not being at a level where it can be carried out confidently.

Brace yourself; to remedy this problem, one would need to revisit and build the skill from the bottom up. Until the student does this, there will always be a problem with pulse, counting, much to the discomfort of the listener.

If you have a teacher, talk to them about it; they will think highly of you for taking responsibility.

All good wishes,

Dylan

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If you need advice or help with a problem (music related), please get in contact
and I will answer with honesty and sympathy.

 

 

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Dylan completed his music training with honours at Colchester Institute, where he studied piano with Australian pianist Lesley Young, and composition with British composer Dr Mark Bellis. While studying, in 2009, Dylan won Colchester Institute’s Canon Jack Award for Solo Piano adjudicated by Andrew Ball.  A composer, promoter, and advocate of contemporary classical music, Dylan joined the membership of Colchester New Music in 2014.

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