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ABRSM Vs. Trinity College London: What to consider when choosing an exam board for your graded piano

1. ABRSM Vs. Trinity College London: What to consider when choosing an exam board for your graded piano exam Firstly, I want to say from the outset, no student should be forced to take a certain exam board for their graded piano exam. Many teachers often favour one exam board over the other and teach from that syllabus their whole life – in many cases they don’t hold a balanced view and are stuck in their ways. This article does not serve the purpose of finding out the “better” or “easier” exam board, but to offer the student or teacher a balanced comparison to enable them to make an informed decision.

Overall, in the grand scheme of things, despite what you may read online, there are only minor differences between the two exam boards. The standards are the same, the level of assessment is the same, and both boards are widely recognised. Though they may be considered as equivalent in standard, that does not mean the piano exams themselves are identical in format or approach. The standard of the pieces are the same with both boards. In both cases, the pieces in the syllabus are carefully selected to meet a recognised graded level by a highly trained editorial team. The main difference between the two boards is the scale requirements. Trinity require fewer scales to be learnt and played in the exam, but instead, they require technical exercises (short mini pieces that act as a study of a certain skill). It is true to say that you will need to learn a lot less scales if you choose Trinity, particularly at the higher grades (6-8), however, candidates must not choose Trinity on this basis as the “easier option” because the technical exercises that have to be played instead are just as technically demanding, if not more in some cases, than the scales. Some students may find scale practice tedious and would rather focus their attention on performance in the exam, therefore Trinity would be more appropriate for them. There are also slight differences in the aural tests. Firstly, Trinity offers the option of not doing sight reading or aural at all in the early grades. This can be positive for younger pupils in the early grades who may lack the confidence in the supporting tests. A fundamental difference between the two boards in the aural test is all responses are spoken and not sung with Trinity. This can be appealing for youngsters whose voices are breaking and may lack the confidence of singing in an exam environment. However, just because the student may choose Trinity because of this, it does not mean all aural skills including singing should not be taught or covered in lessons. This is a fundamental point that I will come back to later- all musical skills should be offered by the teacher and covered in the lessons, even if you choose a board that doesn’t examine that skill.  Some teachers argue that the pupil who progresses through the ABRSM system will have achieved a higher level of overall general musicianship. They may also feel, that because passing grade 5 theory is prerequisite for grade 6 practical and beyond, that pupils will have a far greater understanding of what they are playing. Advocates of the Trinity board, may offer a contradicting view, that those pupils who spend hours learning endless scales, could be far better off spending time on the supporting performance exercises where they would learn skills such as balance, tone, voicing and coordination. Many switch to trinity after grade 5 as they want to avoid the theory exam. Don’t let this be your sole reason for avoiding abrsm. Instead, make your decision from a personal preference based on the exam format. Choose the format that play to your strengths but also let your teacher know that you wish to study all requirements from both boards in order to become a fully rounded musician at your appropriate grade. You will also notice that in the Trinity syllabus, there is an option for improvisation. This is unique to Trinity, and is not offered through ABRSM. The Trinity syllabus states “the test assesses the candidates ability to improvise fluently, coherently and creatively in response to a musical stimulus”. Improvisation is a fantastic skill to have in any musicians’ arsenal. Those who have been taught jazz, will no doubt have covered certain aspects of improvisation, however, many teachers who are rooted in the classical tradition may not have the breath of knowledge or confidence to include this into their lessons. If you are considering taking Trinity because of the element of improvisation included in the exam, I would suggest you discuss this with your teacher beforehand to check if they can give you professional guidance in this field. More info can be found here: Going back to comparing Trinity and ABRSM, its important to note that neither board is superior as they both provide a reliable standard of assessment for music students. Though they are recognised qualifications that carry ucas points, they are not professional qualifications such as the diplomas. They are a progression of bench marks achieved through a learning process. Once a student has passed grade 8 through Trinity or ABRSM, they will have acquired the skills to progress onto further study at university or through diplomas that will enable them to become professional musicians. Whether the grade 8 pupil has followed the trinity or ABRSM approach, at this point is largely irrelevant. And the central point is, even if a certain exam board excludes the testing of some musical skills, that does not mean the teacher shouldn’t teach it. For example, teachers should still focus on sight reading in lessons, even if the student does not wish to choose this element of the trinity exam. Sight reading is still a fundamental musical skill so should be covered in lessons even if it does not play to the students strengths under exam conditions.. Developing a critical musical ear is very important for all music students whether it features as part of the assessment in exams, or not. As most marks are given to the pieces, and most of the practising time will be spent preparing and perfecting the pieces, perhaps the board you choose should be based which pieces the student favours. After all, the student will in many cases will be living with these pieces for at least a year, so it is very important they enjoy them as this will come through in the performance. However, teachers should never stick to just the pieces of exams and they should be complimented with appropriate supporting repertoire for the grade. You and your student should listen to the pieces (many are on you tube now) and choose the board that offers pieces that you think suits the student best. Exam success will ultimately be determined on the overall musical outcome of the pieces, therefore it is important to have a student confidently secure while at the same time enjoying the piece they have chosen. For those considering a university application to study music should realise grade 8 abrsm or grade 8 trinity will be considered equivalent in standard, and will not favour one over the other. Furthermore in many instances they will ask you to attend a live audition. In summary, the role of the teacher is to bring out the very best in the student, and choosing the exam board that best suits the student best will ensure that success. However, a grade exam is only a snapshot of a students progression on that specific day. Teachers and pupils should work together at a whole range of musical skills and exercises, whether they are tested in the exam board or not. For those considering setting up their own music teaching practice, or want further information or guidance with any instrumental teaching issues, please refer to my online course that will give you professional independent advice from an experienced qualified and successful teacher. Click here for a summary of the course. Everything is covered from teaching skills, marketing, advertising, running a business, exams, and qualifications. For those looking for new educational piano pieces at the Grade 1-3 standard, please click here. This article was written by Matthew Clayton who is a piano teacher in Cardiff, Wales. Matthew has taught many pupils in schools, colleges and at his own private teaching studio at home. He has successfully put though over 100 students from Cardiff through their music exams, and has taught many adult learners who wish to take up the piano for fun as a hobby. As well as teaching piano in Cardiff, he also teaches music theory. In more recent years, Matthew now mentors aspiring music graduates who wish to set up their own instrumental teaching practise. He now offers and online teaching course. TO BOOK PIANO LESSONS WITH MATTHEW CLAYTON FROM CARDIFF PLEASE TEXT OR CALL ON 07967 836011 or Email He teaches in Cyncoed in Cardiff and charges £13.50 per half hour lesson. All ages welcome, for grades or for just enjoyment. 2. What to consider when buying a new piano for your teaching studio? 3. How much does a piano teacher earn? The recommended rate, as of 2017, set by the musicians union is £31.50 per hour for music teachers. A survey, that was conducted in 2015 by ISM discovered that most instrumental teachers charged in the region of £26 to £37 per hour. However, unless you are centralised in a big city such as London, many music teachers find themselves charging a lot less. A self employed teacher must take into consideration the “going rates” in their area before setting a price so they don’t out price themselves in the market. It is also worth saying that the higher end of the pay level is normally held by those teachers who have higher standards of qualifications such as a Masters in Music or diplomas in teaching from a recognised exam board. A music or piano teacher does not take 100% of the sales they make as lessons. Yes, the more pupils they have on their books, the more they will earn, but they also incur losses in overheads in the running of a private teaching business. These costs may include advertising, heating, lighting, the upkeep of a studio and musical equipment. Many music teachers hire accountants to help them work out what costs are tax deductible to ensure they can keep as much of their profits as possible. Some self-employed music teachers such as piano, violin or saxophone teachers supplement their income by teaching their chosen instruments for the local authority in schools and colleges. Many teachers are mobile and find themselves traveling to lots of establishments throughout the working day. Again, this cost of travel can be tax deductible. Those teachers who combine teaching in a private studio and in schools can maximise their income because they can teach full days. Teachers who have been teaching for many years can develop a good reputation and can increase they rates. Teachers out have professional values, excellent communication and organisational skills and have a business like approach to their teaching business will often take home salaries that are comparable if not higher than a state music teacher with qualified teaching status. Many teachers will also supplement their income with other activities such as running choirs and performing. Many piano teachers earn extra money by accompanying students at music exams. Skills as an accompanist are financially well rewarded. 4. How to manage your finances as a private music teacher If you are self employed music teacher, you will probably find yourself in a situation where you need to manage your own finances. You will need to declare your income to HMRC once a year probably in the form of a self assessment. Many piano, guitar and flute teachers who have many students on their books, who have lots of in goings and outgoings, find it very beneficial to employ an accountant to help the manage their finances and run their business. A good accountant will be able to look at your business finances and be able to claim certain things such as teaching materials, heating and musical equipment against tax to maximise your profits. Although teachers have to pay the accountant for their services, they actually find they make large savings in retaining as much of their profits as possible. Those who run the most successful teaching practices, are those that have good organisational skills. They keep an accurate log of all money going in and leaving their account. As they will be regularly invoicing parents, it is important they have a system where they keep accurate logs of attendance. Some teachers use modern applications such as ‘Live Teacher’ to help them with this, however, some who use the old fashioned methods of a hand written register and bills can run just as successful practices. The important thing is that teachers keep up to date and log all information on payments. Some teachers open business accounts with their bank. This can make payments easier and to some extent the bank will be able to help you with payments into the account. However, most teachers will find that parents and pupils will usually pay by cheque- these will then need to get cashed at your bank. It is important that teachers log carefully if a student has paid as it can be very embarrassing to ask for a payment that has already been made. The professional you operate your business, the more you will be treated as a professional and given respect by your pupils and parents. 5. What qualifications will I need to be a piano, violin or saxophone teacher? There are many different ways in which a person can make their way to become a teacher of an instrument such as piano, violin and saxophone. It is important to note that there is no one set route to becoming a music teacher, particularly a private instrumental teacher. Some teachers began by studying their instrument and completing their grades, then moving on to complete an A-Level in Music leading to a degree at University. Others choose an alternative path by studying diplomas through ABRSM and Trinity. There are three levels of diploma; the first is the associate qualification, then the licentiate and then the final and most prestigious diploma is the fellowship, which is equal in standard to that of a Masters qualification at University. Diplomas can be achieved in either performing, teaching or conducting. Some teachers hold diplomas in both teaching and performing, but most specialise in one. All diplomas require extensive study and an examination and in some instances viva. However, it is possible that with professional experience in orchestras or other music establishments, that one may wish to pursue a career in teaching music. They may not have all the relevant qualifications however; they often go on to be successful teachers. As long as they have all the practical skills to teach at the high grades and are accomplished at their chosen instrument, sometimes practical experience can be just as good a studying in an academic setting. Although, if teachers want to teach for a local authority they will probably have to show evidence that they have studied music in some regard. If they wish to become classroom music teachers they will need Qualified Teaching Status that will involve completing PGCE at a college or university. Those who wish to set up a private teaching practice need not hold any qualifications, however they may find that they don’t get as many clients and won’t be able to warrant such a high fee. That is not saying that they will not make good teachers, some piano and violin teachers will not teach above the Grade 5 standard, but will be excellent accomplished teachers who specialise in the early years of teaching. Having a good teacher as a beginner who specialises in the early years can be very significant in the child’s musical journey 6. What work experience should you consider if you want to become an instrumental music teacher? They’re many ways in which an aspiring music teacher can immerse themselves into the local music community and raise their profile. Before on embarking on a career as a music teacher it is worth considering work experience that will enhance your application as a school teacher or enhance your prospects of getting your first few pupils as a private teacher. Any opportunity of music making with adults or young people in the community, you need to take up. After all, most teachers set up local businesses that will feed the local area. Establishing a good name for yourself can count so much in your future years. Whether your work experience involves playing the piano, accompanying the local theatre group or singing and playing in a choir- as soon as people are aware you are becoming a teacher and they know and like you, your pupil intake will begin. After all, you will have a skill that you are demonstrating to people that they would wish to have. Getting involved with local choirs/dance groups will enable your prospective pupils and parents get to know you and witness first hand your love and joy of music making. Just like setting up any business, the importance of networking and extended your professional contacts is paramount. If you are a music student at University and would like to become a private instrument teacher, it is a good idea to join the ISM Youth Music Network, or get a students membership of the Musicians’ Union. There, you will be able to connect with like-minded people who may be able to enhance your progress in setting up a private teaching practice. If you are considering becoming a piano or flute teacher for example, it will be well worth your time to shadow a teacher who has had a lot of experience. Some teachers will be more than happy for you to come in a monitor their lessons. This will be invaluable for you to experience various teaching methods. After all, it may be a long time ago since you studied Grade one material, and perhaps you cannot remember how you learnt the piano with your teacher. It would be good advice to suggest that you shadow multiple teachers of various backgrounds and ages, and you can even gain a lot even if they teach a different instrument to yours- sometimes this can be even better as you will be able to entirely focus on the teaching method rather than focusing on the specific. 7. Should a piano teacher teach on an electric, upright or grand piano? You will read a lot of snobbery on the internet regarding what a piano teacher should teach on. However, we don’t live in an ideal world, and music teachers, just like everyone else have to consider practicality and affordability. A teacher who has been teaching for years, who has been running a successful, profitable business, may be able to afford a higher end piano. However, those who are initially setting up their studio will probably not have the finances to spend out on very expensive instruments. After all, it is not just the instrument that the teacher will need to spend out on, but office equipment, lighting and teaching materials, all of which can be very expensive. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that grand pianos are superior to uprights. It is the brand of piano that gives the instrument its price. For example, a Steinway and Sons upright would far out rank a grand of a lesser known entry level grand. Also, it is wrong to suggest that piano teachers who teach from a digital piano are conning their students out of an experience that should be the real deal. In fact, in the early years of studying the piano, from Grades 1 to 3, an electric piano can be highly beneficial to your teaching studio. Students can experiment with different sounds which they will find high entertaining, and secondly with the inbuilt beat function can play along to a backing that will help their timing and overall musicianship in the early years. Also, a real piano can be very intimidating for the younger learner, so having a digital piano that can have the volume turned down can be of great help. Also, its also worth mentioning that if you have many pupils attending your lessons in a built up residential area, you may be making a large amount of noise- so having an instrument where the volume can be controlled or completely suspended by use of headphones is high practical. Not to mention all the other benefits of the electric piano such as the recording and playback function and the ability to connect to a computer. All that said, most teachers will find the upright traditional acoustic of greatest value in teaching. A medium weighted touch with a slightly bright tone such as the Yamaha B range of pianos would be ample in a small teaching room and could be used right from beginners to grade 8. Those will a larger teaching room, who may teach above and beyond of grade 8, and have the available finances, may wish to consider a piano in the professional range such as the Yamaha U3. 8. Fresh ideas and new music for teaching piano students around Grade 1 There is no doubt that teachers can become bored by teaching the same piano method books year after year with their pre grade one to grade one pupils. The sad truth is, there are a handful of very good beginner repertoire that work very well and teachers stick to these like glue as they are tried and tested and often lead to success. Examples of these books would be the Piano Time series by Pauline Hall, Upgrade by Pam Wedgewood of the John Thomson series. These books may not have the most imaginative pieces in them, and in some cases are a bit dated, however, they take the learner through all the basic techniques, introduce the notes and basic hand positions leading to a “everything covered” situation with pupils, hence they popularity. However, having spoke to many teachers, they do get very bored teaching the same old music. My suggestion would be to stick to popular method books but supplement this with your own compositions or arrangements of music. The trouble with the method books is that by concentrating on a specific technique or issue, the tunes themselves are often not that great. Younger learners will love nothing better than if you can teach them tunes they recognise, albeit a simplified arrangement, such as Fur Elise or the latest pop song. If a teacher sticks rigidly to the method book alone, their boredom will come across in their teaching and not lead to good results. If you are looking for new educational piano pieces that are fun and exciting, I urge you to consider my three books. Each PDF can be downloaded straight away for printing or use on an ipad or computer. Each book relates to a specific period in history – children in particular will have fun making their way through characters and historical moments of the Tudor and Victorian period. Each piece has been carefully composed to reflect the standard of that grade. The most important feature of these books is that they are fun pieces that the teacher will enjoy teaching, and the pupil will enjoy learning. After all, enjoyment and fun is what music is all about. Click here to download. TO BOOK PIANO LESSONS WITH MATTHEW CLAYTON FROM CARDIFF PLEASE TEXT OR CALL ON 07967 836011 or Email He teaches in Cyncoed in Cardiff and charges £13.50 per half hour lesson. All ages welcome, for grades or for just enjoyment. 9. How to continue your professional development as a piano teacher Private instrument teaching can be a very lonely profession. Even if you teach an instrument in a school, you probably won’t get to meet like minded instrumental teachers as they will be in when you aren’t as there is often only one “music room”. Therefore is goes without saying that our own teaching methods can become stale and stagnant. Education is a constantly evolving as new research and fresh ideas are often brought to the fore. New ways of learning, and help with new technologies can really help a student’s progress. All good teachers will reflect on their own teaching methods. The more experience they have, quite often the more set in their ways they become. A self employed music teacher will not have to take courses to move their development forward, so they often stick to the same way of teaching that they have always used. However, those who attend courses with ABRSM and Trinity for example, not only get to network with like minded teachers, they will be taught new ideas and fresh approaches to music teaching. The trouble is that these courses are often very expensive and are often very far away. If you cannot not attend, my suggestion would be to get involved with the ABRSM forums that have a range of issues constantly being discussed. If you are new to the profession, or are thinking of becoming a private self employed instrument teacher I suggest you download my online course today that will go into detail a whole array of business and educational issues that you may come across. Not only will the course help you increase your salary and pupil numbers, but will help you become a professional teacher that will provide a first class teaching service that your pupils deserve. The course consists of a range of videos that are divided in specific topics, along with PDF worksheets and notes that will help you along the way. For more information please click here. The reason I set up this course is because there are plenty of music courses out there run by respected institutions that will produce many talented musicians, however, you will find little is specific training to become a private piano or any other instrument teacher. Most educational courses will focus entirely on the training and development of class room music teachers rather than instrument teachers, leading to a situation where they have to “learn on the job” so to speak. However, I have devised this course that has covered all the vital matters that you will need to know in order to become a first rate successful instrumental teacher. Click here to download. 10. Are you a piano, violin, or woodwind teacher that wants to enhance their career prospects? If you thinking of setting up your own music teaching studio, or are already a private instrument teacher, there is a high chance that you will have thought at some point of ways you can develop your career and find ways of enhancing your career prospects. Unfortunately, if you are self employed there won’t be clear steps that you can take of career profession that would be on offer if you were in an educational institution such as a school, college or university. However, this does not mean that cannot enhance your career by taking specific steps- the difference is it will need to come from your own self motivation. There are various ways in which a instrument teacher can take other supplementary forms of employment, while continuing their own teaching practice. Pianists, for example will have opportunities to accompany choirs, examination or dance classes. If you want to get involved in this area of work, it will be particularly important that you develop your sight reading skills up to a very high standard. Musicians with a good knowledge of the working industry may also get involved with arts administration. If you are an orchestral musician, there are industry specific courses that you can complete to a equip you with the skills of putting on concerts and the overall management of musicians. Charities such as “Music in Hospitals” are always on the look out, no only for performers, but those who have experience in the music management and administration. Those instrument teachers who have a love for singing can consider get involved with a local choir as either an accompanist or director, or both. Choir franchises such as “Rock Choir” are becoming very popular and offer their own training for prospective employees. Many teachers will take these roles as well as continuing their own teaching business.  If you are a performer yourself you will no doubt have had a lot of experience of playing in various settings at a professional level. You can put these skills to good use by becoming an adjudicator for various singing and instrument competitions and festivals. If you are highly accomplished in your field, you may also like to consider training to become a music examiner for an exam board such as the ABRSM or Trinity. If you would like to find out ways to combine these activities alongside your teaching business to sustain a full time steady income, please download my course here today. For those who wish to improve their teaching practice will get a lot out of downloading this course that will help you develop your existing skills. 11. The personal well being of a self employed piano teacher Most teachers will admit that the long hours of working and lesson preparation at often anti social hours encroaches on their private life and their personally well-being. A teacher friend once said to me that the fewer lessons he teaches, the more he enjoys teaching – and that is not because he doesn’t love the teaching profession – but it goes without saying that a teachers tiredness levels and be detrimental to their motivation. Piano teachers have noted that if they have a long run of pupils in an evening session, without taking a break, the lessons towards the end will suffer in enthusiasm and energy. Self-employed teachers are only human, and even if they enjoy passing on the expertise to music students, if they are teaching with mental exhaustion, this can lead to diminishing results. The problem is lies in the fact that the more pupils a teacher fits into his or her schedule; the higher their take home pay will be. It is great to be a popular piano teacher in the local area with lots of enquires and a full diary, however, we must balance this with looking after our well being. It is very important for a teachers own mental health, that they no their limitations and know when to say “no” – whether that be taking on a new pupil in an already busy schedule, or answering calls/texts relating to pupils long into the evening and weekends. It is also important for teachers to take a week or two break out of the diary from teaching. It is important for piano teachers to revitalise and recharge their batteries. If a teacher does not respect their own well being, their own teaching will suffer with lack of patience and engagement with their pupils that will have a detrimental effect on their teaching business. Teachers need to have confidence that if they are running an already successful teaching practice, they need not teach all the hours under the sun, and rest assure that if you are living in a built up area and have a good reputation, pupil numbers will maintain giving you a steady salary. If you would like to download my teaching course for piano teachers please click here. The course covers a range of issues relating to teaching issues and setting up a successful piano teaching practice. For further information click here. The course takes the form of online lectures through you tube videos supported by supplementary PDF documents and notes. If you are thinking of setting up your own music teaching practice, or want to improve on your teaching quality and educational thinking this course if for you. 12. Why do piano students stop taking lessons and quit? A question that is universal to all piano teachers is How can I keep piano students from quitting and how to improve the retention of pupils. Karen King has recently completed a thesis at the University of Etowah on why piano students quit lessons, which give some invaluable insights. Karen concluded in her findings that 80% of Americans quit their formal piano lessons after 2 -3 years of study. After finding out such significant numbers, Karen wanted to find out what were the main reasons of dropping the study of the instrument. She surveyed pupils who have dropped the instrument as well as pupils who are “continuing students” and found that those who dropped out were those who began at higher age of 8 years and the continuing students had started earlier aged 6. The findings of research were that factors such as parental involvement, socio economic status or academic ability all played their part. However, the findings weren’t, as you would necessarily expect. She found there was a higher drop out rate of pupils with stay at home mums with a musical background, which is very surprising. However, on further inspection she notes that over involvement from the parent, with an almost controlling element can lead to a resentment from the child and reduced motivation. Another significant factor in those who dropped the instrument was insufficient practise time. It was found that drop out students from grades 2-4 practiced 80 mins per week, whereas the continuing students were practising 155 mins per week. This of course effects the rate of progress and and a slow rate of progress will be a determining factor of why a student will quit. Karen’s studies also concluded that rewards and punishment for good or lack of practise rarely made much difference in reasons to give up, but instead it was the own inner motivation and if they cared enough and have the motivation to connect with the instrument that proved more important. Karen has noted that it was an idea from 25 years ago that the main reason why pupils would drop lessons was down to the teacher, but her studies did not find that as a factor. She has found that due to better teaching and better resources, students who dropped the instrument would still often have had respect and got along with their piano teacher. She noted that the culture of private piano teaching is really improving and that was very encouraging. For Karen, the ‘light bulb’ moment of how to prevent students from quitting was discovering that it was not the job of the teacher to motivate the pupil, it is the teachers job to create the environments in which pupils can motivate themselves. Students need to find their own, genuine motivation. Also, Karen found that positive results came from teachers who offered their pupils choices in their music studies. Even the provision of trivialised choices can increase they confidence and give ownership of their learning. Another way to encourage retention was encouraging parents to take their children to classical concerts so they can relate to what they were learning in lesson- this proved successful in homes were only pop music was played.

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