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Grades 1 - 8

Teaching and Pedagogy: Is putting violin students into grade levels and letting them take examinations a good thing in the USA?

From Jaime Villanueva
Posted February 22, 2008 at 04:16 AM

In England violin students go to examinations that promotes them one grade higher if they pass. They have a selection of violin pieces they should be able to play for each grade. I wonder if a system exists in the USA similar to that.

Does the Susuki Book 1 similar to the pieces that a Grade 1 in England have to master? I wonder. Is there a website that specifies the skills a students has to learn in order to be promoted to the next level? Is this a good system to have in the USA?

From Benjamin K
Posted on February 22, 2008 at 08:40 AM
You can find all the details on the UK grading system here:

http://www.abrsm.org/?page=exams

From Marina Fragoulis
Posted on February 22, 2008 at 01:21 PM
I know there is a similar leveling system in the US but I'm not familiar with it. I ignore it all together actually but come to think of it if anyone can share this info I should probably know more about it.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on February 22, 2008 at 01:06 PM
ASTA is starting up a program called "Certificate Program for Strings". It seems to be modeled on the ABRSM system, or perhaps the RCM system. Details are at astaweb.com.

(It is interesting to read the teacher forums at abrsm.com. There seem to be a huge litany of complaints about these tests, from the teachers. I can't judge for myself, because none of my students have ever participated in such a program.)

Back to the ASTA program that is starting up, there is a whole list of reasons why these tests are great on their website. They are:

-"Uniformity of expectations between states." That is a lovely idea, but in order to make the playing field level, $$$ will have to be spent. I would be curious where the $$$ will come from. Some states are wealthier than others, you know...

-"Continual feedback through an examiner's comments on student progress." This is a nice idea. This would work well as long as the judges were given quality time to compose written comments.

-"Documentation of achievements that can be used when applying to youth orchestras, summer music camps, and college admission." I thought that is what auditions were for...

-"Professionally designed and printed certificates for students." OK...

-"Member access to CPS handbook online." OK...

-Access to a marketing brochure about the CPS program to use for recruitment." OK...

-"A listing in AST for all participating teachers." OK...

-"Use of a specially designed CPS logo for teachers to use on materials and cards." OK...

-"Listing of all participating teachers and students on the website." OK...

I personally don't find any of these reasons particularly compelling. I do know that my child students, in public, private, and home school, are tested to death. I don't hand out grades for tests. We do recitals. Also, many of these reasons are centered around the marketing of music, and that pushing tests on students will drum up business.

ASTA's tests have not started up where I live. I am not sure whether my students will be participating or not. Anyone else started this program yet?

From Jon O'Brien
Posted on February 22, 2008 at 02:18 PM
I don't know what it's like in the USA but in Australia (the AMEB) it is a positive, forward-looking system that makes a healthy and helpful contribution to the classical music world. It is a very well run and maintained system, and highly thought of everywhere it is known. In England the AMEB is very highly regarded, I believe.

Standard entry level to a Bachelor of Music in Australia's most respected music colleges tends to be an A or high distinction for AMEB grade 8 (though I've heard on the grapevine this is more like grade 7 now, but I don't know if this is true). After grade 8 there are three Diplomas: 1) AMusA, 2) LMusA, and 3) FMusA (Fellow of the AMEB). A lot of Australia's top graduates from BMusic courses specialising in performance would have done the LMusA, or be at that level. Many people go no higher than going for the AMusA, though obviously to have the LMusA is very desirable. No doubt it helps getting teaching jobs. Audition of course remains the only way to get anywhere in the world of performing.

Some people, of soloistic ambition, have said that such examination programs are unnecessary, and I suppose for some people this is true. For me I need the AMEB because it's all I've got! Too old to go to university to do violin, no matter what level I reach. I have to have something down on paper to show principals and parents that I'm not a musical nobody, if one day I want to teach.

From Marina Fragoulis
Posted on February 22, 2008 at 02:36 PM
Hmm, I guess that's the difference here in US. Juilliard doesn't care what level you have reached on paper. You could walk in as an anti-social home-schooled kid that's never been out of the house. If you play well that's all they look for.
From Jon O'Brien
Posted on February 22, 2008 at 02:53 PM
Sorry, I didn't explain that system very well - I meant that the general standard expected on auditioning for entry to the top schools is approximately that expected for doing well at AMEB grade 8.

Whether or not the student has actually done the AMEB exam is much less important. Only the audition counts, just like at Juilliard. As you say, any rough kid can get in - they only care that you can play well.

The actual exams themselves are useful stepping stones for a lot of student musicians. It helps give them something to have as goals along the way, and the formal qualifications certainly help later on with getting teaching jobs.

From Andrew Yi
Posted on November 17, 2010 at 10:39 PM
From Ruth Brons
Posted on November 18, 2010 at 06:18 PM

The New Jersey State Chapter of ASTA was among the first of the United States to adopt the Certificate Advancement Program [ASTA CAP], and I have been encouraging my entire large Suzuki studio to participate.  

I deliberately went looking for this program when I started to build my studio, after a relocation, and I am very to glad to have found it.

I was not looking for a way to compare students, but rather a way to nurture each student's development.

I was looking for a way to:

* acknowledge student accomplishment to nurture student pride

* assure parents that adequate progress is made year to year

* to reinforce that such things as posture and technique are important

* to teach students that we can set goals, prepare for them, and succeed

* some guidance for advancing repertoire, outside of the Suzuki books

I have found all these benefits, and much more, in the ASTA CAP program. 

Our state ASTA CAP administrator has been key to the success, by making sure these private exams are well run and staffed by lovely teachers skilled in positive feedback.

And the students understand the value of the program to their growth.  At their request, the exam is scheduled in the spring just prior to our program's scholarship competition and solo recitals.  They wanted the exam feedback and experience to help them better prepare for the competition, and they wanted the competition experience and feedback to help them do their best performance for their most important audience:  their parents.

Because there is some flexibility within each testing level [for example, students competency can range from playing more difficult repertoire than required to earn "Honors" designation, to just barely passing on the easiest repertoire I can pick from the lists], I can use the program as sort of an equalizer.  For example, I can have two students who are in 5th grade in school both test at Level 4 -- even though one may be working in Suzuki Book 6 and the other in Suzuki Book 4. This is so great for encouraging the students to keep at it even though a friend may otherwise seem to be far ahead.

I have come to try, even if it takes a couple of years,  to get the students testing at a level that is equal the student's grade in school minus one.  I do this because I am selling to the students the long range goal of accomplishing Level 10 in their Junior year of high school -- so they can brag about it on their college applications [even if they are not planning to go further with music]. Students can take their first test at any level, and may even skip or repeat levels -- just not go back to a lower level.

This year will be the 5th year of my studio's participation, and my students will be testing at every level -- from the Foundation Level for my 1st graders up to several high school juniors who are indeed now preparing for Level 10.  I even have a student who has moved to Saudi Arabia who plans on taking his exam via SKYPE.

SO, with personal knowledge of close to 250 positive ASTA CAP exam experiences so far - I can definitely vouch for it!

 

 


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