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Music Education And Music Exams

What is our perception of it?

We have been hearing this issue about the views on music education. On the one hand, we have teachers who feel that music students should not be rushed into a rat race to take exams every year just for the sake of certification. On the other hand, most parents who send their children for music lessons are solely interested in their children getting certification. Many teachers have told us that by putting their students into exam situation every year, it has taken the fun out of learning music and because so much importance and emphasis is put on exams, the order of the day is to only do the things required to pass exams. This does not allow teachers to include other material to further broaden the knowledge of their students.

To a certain extent, this is true. School work and other activities are filling up a students time each and every week. Someone said that "parents put their kids through this as it is a very competitive world out there. This is mileage for the kids". Perhaps but does it have to spill into learning music too? This leaves very little time for other things and with much emphasis on sitting for music exams, teachers and students are paranoid of not excelling well and therefore, music students only do the required syllabus pretty much for the whole year. It is rather sad if this is what learning music is all about, because at the end of the day, all the certificates that decorates our wall or home is just that........ decorations. It does not necessarily reflect on how much the music student really knows. Sit down and talk music to these students and you will know how much they really know about music. There are no answers to addressing this issue but we can only offer advice, suggestions and look at righteous attitudes regarding music education.

No matter what qualifications you have, never stop learning more about your craft . . . . . and that is music. Music is a very wondrous thing and enriches your life. Whether you are an enthusiast or a musician (includes music teachers), the question is how passionate are you about this great art form.

Do you realise that there are not many, or perhaps any really good concerts form artistes happening here in Malaysia? How come?

The level of music appreciation is simply not enough. Besides music, arts and the performing arts suffer the same fate too. Our society needs more patrons of music and the arts. I am stretching the boundaries here to include the general public. Tall order this one. You may lament that the education system here stresses more on academics as opposed to the arts and therefore, people are ingrained to place importance on academics. Equal importance is put on getting certification too and thus, the need to sit for music exams to get certification.

For those of you who attended our workshops over the past months, you will recall that we posed four questions for you to ask yourselves. To re-cap, they are
1. How effective are you as a music teacher? Effective does not mean that all your students passed their exams only. There is more to it
2. Are you doing enough for yourself and your students?
3. (If not) what more do you need to do?
4. How creative are you as a music teacher?

As teachers, we don't have all the answers to everything. There is a lot of room for improvement and for the betterment of ourselves. Like in my opening line, we must not stop learning. Have enquiring minds to want to know more than you already do. Make it a habit to set aside some of your income to invest in publications and sound recordings that can help you in your profession.

This is a start to building up your personal music library. Expose your students to recordings. There are so many musical works especially in classical music to listen to. Publications should include books on music philosophy, child and adolescent psychology, creative music instruction, music psychology and therapy, orchestral scores to go with recordings, history on the development of music, biographies of composers, books that chronicle the emergence and development of various musical styles and genres, etc. Obviously you are not required to go buy them all at once. Acquire them monthly or as frequent as you financially can. Being knowledgeable, you can impart this knowledge unto your students.

Question 4 is one area where many teachers have a dilemma. You may have some creative ideas but there are worries. Would it be effective? How do I implement them? Will the ideas work?

There is much worry about whether it will achieve the required results. Then again, there is that question about the allocation of time to do these considering the theory and practical work students have to do for exams. Somehow, it always comes down to exams, exams, exams!!!

We can suggest some ideas which are not new ones at that, but will help in some way. You can begin by organising performances among your students. If you teach in a music center, organise performances to include all the students in mixed set-ups: Solo performances, duets, trios, group performances to include other instruments. Some teachers teach more than one instrument. Learn to do your own arrangements for your students to perform. This way, you and your students have something to do and learn. Performing together instils greater confidence and developes better understanding of music. It helps to develope or enhance their sense of tempo, 'hearing', musical ideas and so on. There is a lot to gain by doing these things.

It is said indeed when I recently heard about a view given on what being a musician is all about. Picture this! Long hair, grundge looking and into alcohol and drugs. Pretty narrow view. Dim witted, in fact. We music people are a creative lot and have a respectable job in promoting an art form. The way we project ourselves reflects on us. So long as we carry out our duties and responsibilities with professional integrity, we have nothing to worry about how others perceive of us.

Remember, learning music is NOT all about List A, B and C. Some teachers have told us that parents put pressure on them to make sure that their (the parents) child pass the exams. This causes the teachers to feel paranoid of the student failing. That is why most teachers adopt the entire exam syllabus as their teaching syllabus where they do not include much of anything else except what is required for the exams only. If this is what music education is all about, then it is wrong.

There are many publications that can be very interesting for classroom situations. Source whatever you can although there are limitations as to what's available. Be willing to try new things when you chance upon them. Most importantly, be able to look at a publication discerningly and identify its merits. Finally, be creative. Involve musical games or the likes in your lessons to make it fun. Remember, nobody functions well in a tense or cold atmosphere. Look at the following situations:
1. I go to music classes because my parents says so.
2. Mom! All of a sudden I don't feel good. Can I skip music class today?
3. Oh No!! Music class again. Didn't I just go to one last week?
4. Great! I am looking forward to my music class today!

We all know which statement we would like our students to say.

Besides being a teacher, we must play the role of a counsellor not only to the student, but also to parents. Get to know the parents and keep them informed about their child's progress. This way, parents are constantly aware of their child's progress and if a child is not ready for exams, at least their parents know about the situation. Be encouraging to your students. This will give them better confidence and assurance.

Lastly, try not to get yourselves into a competition with other teachers. Picture this scenario! "There is this teacher whose student can sit for the Grade 1 exam within 2 years of starting music lessons. So can mine". What if that other teacher's student is hardworking and is naturally more gifted? How do you compete with that? Don't kid yourselves. Some young children develope early, some late. So, let them take it in their own stride and give encouragement, not put pressure!

There are issues that has never been openly addressed although they are issues that teachers face from time to time. One of these apparently is the pressure some teachers feel from parents of their students who expect graded certification. The reason, so it seems, for sending them to music lessons is to get some kind of certification or else it is pointless (to some!). Teachers say they teach better and can do more if the purpose of learning music is not for the pursuit of certificates. Otherwise, the students only learn three main pieces for their practical exams and mainly play these throughout the year besides fulfilling other requirements like theory. Okay! Okay! Some other repertoire is included too. But the question is how much?

If there is any truth to it, I would just like to say one thing and that is, learning music is all about understanding and appreciating it and is not solely for the purpose of a paper chasa. I am not taking sides with anyone. I personally think that kids and teenagers today experience quite a lot of pressure. We have heard of peer pressure, living up to expectations of their elders and probably everyone else in this world.

So, learning music should be great relaxation and most importantly, fun. But nooooo! At music lessons they are propelled into the competitive, must-pass-music-exams environment again. Children and teenagers today have their entire daily routine planned out for them. They are up to their necks with so many things to do. Parents will feel good if their child does well in everything but not everyone is born the same. We cannot go round comparing our kid to some other kid who is a lot more brilliant. When it comes to music, let them take it in their stride. Don’t push them into competition with one another. Music is about sharing, not competing.

Sometimes without realizing it, adults impose their daily life environment on their children. Perhaps some do it voluntarily on the reason that they know what's best for their children. Sometimes, we adults may have the answers. But not all the time. As for music, I say let them take their time and not rush them into taking exams. Let them have fun and enjoy music the way it should be enjoyed.

There have been reports from psychologists that learning music brings many benefits to the music student especially young children. Some of these benefits include building confidence, developing character and discipline. Personally for me, music makes me more sensitive cos' we need lots of it for expressiveness when performing. This also spills into our life in some way. Think about what this world would be like if there was no music. For the young dancing! For all or most of us, it would be difficult to imagine a situation like this as we are so used to it being there all this time. Sometimes we take it for granted and look at it as something we need to show that we are more cultured, learned.............whatever, just fill in the blanks.

If you have been to a great concert that you really liked and enjoyed, and felt real good after that experience, you will know what I am talking about. Remember, music is of sharing the mood and felling of fun, happiness, enjoyment and of having a great time.


This article "Music Education And Music Exams (What Is Our Perception Of It?)" was published in the October 1998 No.24 issue of "Rhythms" a music bulletin.