I'm going to fail my violin exam.

July 30, 2018, 6:58 AM · As some of you may know from my most recent discussion post I have a violin exam very soon: a little over a month away. However there is a slight problem; I have been so busy this year that i just have fallen so behind my exam schedule and i just know that there is no way to prepare in time. i'm going to go the exam and i'm going to fail. I haven't learnt even half of my scales yet and my pieces are all sounding absolute rubbish. no matter how much i practice i won't be able to pass and i can only possibly fit 2 hours of practice into a day anyways. i just need as many tips as possible that will help me prepare for my exam, i am desperate at this point. and please don't say "its ok if you fail because you will learn from your mistakes" because it isn't ok and i need to pass this particular exam more than any other for particular reasons. thank you. PS: this post may possibly make no sense because i'm currently freaking out and haven't proof read this thing. thanks

Replies (13)

July 30, 2018, 7:15 AM · 1. Don't freak out.
2. You've still got time.
3. Slow practice.

(You can do it!)

July 30, 2018, 9:55 AM · If you spend the next month with this kind of attitude, I don't see how you could pass. In fact, if you'd spent the last year with this attitude, you'd probably not pass.
Even if it's not okay if you fail, you put away your anxieties and fears and get to work. Do you know what the most important parts of the exam is? Focus on those. Do you know who's for sure on your jury and what their priorities are? Emphasize those priorities.
You do the best you can and you use what knowledge you have to leverage what you *can* do to achieve the best score you can.
If you're serious, you might also consider taking steps to becoming less busy, showing that while you might have fallen behind (and so your performance is sub par) you recognize this and are taking steps to bring your performance up to par. I don't know what your exams are or how competitive they are, but often commitment, recognition of what caused your deficiencies, and steps taken to correct them *before* your mentors intervene count for something--and that "something" might be "you almost passed" to "you barely passed."
July 30, 2018, 10:13 AM · So you have six weeks or so, and two hours a day. Have some notion of what your priorities are for that practice time. (It might also help you to add another 30 minutes a day, even if it has to be snatched at odd intervals. That's a 25% increase in your practice time.)

You should not have to "learn" scales per se. There are only three finger patterns (starting on open G, starting on 1st finger, and starting on 2nd finger, and if you follow the Flesch fingers you'll generally start on 2). For an advanced player like yourself, scales are drill and refinement. Or at least they should be.

On the repertoire, don't allow yourself to go down the rabbit hole of draining time into intransigent passages. Work on them, but focus your time on the things that will get you the most return on time invested. You have to be able to get through everything, but on a time crunch, triage and prioritize.

Edited: July 30, 2018, 10:52 AM · What Leonard said + don't waste time on what you already know/mastered. If you mastered the first 3 bars of a piece, skip them, don't wast time playing from the start. Same for scales, if you stumble on the 3rd octave, don't play the first 2 etc. Keep an optimistic outlook, don't plan to fail it won't get you anywhere.
July 30, 2018, 1:03 PM · Failure?? I would not label any musician at any skill level a failure as a person. Not achieving your personal short-term goal? That's something else, almost all of us experience that disappointment. You do not have to advance one grade level every year. In general; for any exam, audition, or solo, make sure your pieces are 100% within your current skill level. Otherwise, one dangerous passage can ruin your composure and confidence for the entire event. Music is supposed to be enjoyable, and you are definitely not having fun now. This might be an example of how our modern system of grade level exams, competitions, auditions, are not right for everyone. The student can loose track of why they are doing this, and drop out. Our music world then looses a lot of middle-level, amateur to semi-pro musicians. I am not talking about the students that intend to be top-level soloists or pro. orchestra players. They have to go through the system.
July 30, 2018, 1:09 PM · Also keep in mind that you don't need a perfect score. You just need to score enough to pass. Knowing this will help reduce your stress. Find out what that is and make sure you do enough to pass that score.

And once you do that, try to incorporate more time in your already busy schedule so that you don't get so stressed next time and score better.

Edited: July 30, 2018, 3:45 PM · First off, change your attitude. As Tim has already stated, there's no way you'll pass if you go in with the belief that you'll fail. Even if you were Hilary Hahn, or Joshua Bell, you'd fail anyway with that attitude. Your mindset is so important and is easily overlooked. Change it and you're set.
It may be a month away. But you still have time.
I've never had an exam. But I'd like to tell you a short story. I know a pianist (and composer and guitarist), and his grandmother invited my family to her house, for the primary purpose of me playing "with" him (we took turns) on the piano. I had been playing Für Elise for a few years, but only the first part. I was having a bit of difficulty with the second part. I'd also been slacking off with practicing, because I can't focus with people around. And guess where my piano is located? In the living room. Where everyone spends their time. It's difficult, and for me, music is something done in privacy and quiet solitude. I'd been considering quitting entirely, because I knew I wouldn't progress if I didn't practice.
So I hadn't practiced for at least a week, and in another week I was supposed to "perform" for this really good pianist? I was slightly panicking.
I spent a half hour a day practicing this piece and some other exercises (mostly Hanon) until the dreaded day came. I was nervous.
For violinists, there's no reason to worry about having to adjust to another instrument in a moment's time, in most cases. With pianists, we do. It's why I don't perform regularly, or part of why, anyway.
Not to mention that this particular piano was too loud, and much too muffled with the pedal. The keys were angled differently than mine, and sounded different altogether.
All in all, I did well. I zoned out a bit, and once I realized that, I lost my place, but I carried on. The pianist said I played it better than what he did.
Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves. Even when we know we need to succeed in our goals or whatever, we pressure ourselves too much.
You shouldn't need to practice any more than two hours a day. Try for one. And take breaks. It's fine to take a day off. It's even refreshing, and should be recommended more often.
Don't fret. Work on it section by section. Record yourself, constantly. Take it slow. Work on what you find difficult, and only work occasionally on what you find easy.
But also practice things you won't be doing for the exam. Keep up on your other pieces. Play what you know now. You could organize your practice time into something like this:
Five minutes warmup.
Five minutes scales.
Five minutes on difficult part of piece #1 for the exam.
Five minutes playing something you enjoy playing, not for the exam.
Five minutes etudes.
Five minutes listening to your recordings and taking notes.
Five minutes on difficult of piece #2 for the exam.
Five minutes on easy part of piece #1.
Five minutes scales.
Five minutes on another piece you enjoy.
Five minutes on easy part piece #2.
Five minutes on difficult part of piece #1.
That's a sixty-minute practice schedule.
By breaking it up into smaller bits, and only spending five minutes on one thing before moving on, you're more likely to improve. You'll be more productive.
And once you are finished that hour, you're done for the day, unless you feel like practicing at some other time in that day.
Hope this helps.
Edited: July 30, 2018, 3:57 PM · What Leonard and Roger said and part of what Jeanette said + general strategies of practice and learning. If I had known of these earlier, maybe my career would have been in a different field... (... and sure, if the piano would not have been located in the living room... or if there would have been silent pianos back then of similar quality like nowadays...)

First of all, don't practice mistakes. Never ever do that. Don't play a hard passage over again and again. It's not only inefficient, but you will stumble over the same problems all the times. Instead, chop these difficulties into chunks you can concentrate on. One chunk should not be longer than 6-8 notes. Your brain isn't able to digest more than that at once. Your brain isn't built to focus on a whole passage made of multiple bars. Start with where it hurts most in a phrase. This can be a shift, a string crossing or a fraction of a fast slur, or whatever. Then once you've nailed that, add one note after another until the phrase is complete. Once you accomplished a step further, even if it's a small one, don't let it go. Repeat it, 6-9 times neuroscience tells us would be in general a good number for memorization. Less than that, and it will again slip away, more often will not help any better but is just a waste of time. Even if it's not perfect yet in your own eyes and ears, save it up for later - in half an hour or even tomorrow.
As often mentioned, practicing slowly is also an important technique which can easily combined in many ways with the mentioned "chunks". There has been said enough about it.
Even if you feel pressed and in lack of time, allow yourself to rest. Also during a practice session. If you practice highly focused following the mentioned techniques, then this is really awfully hard work - pretty much more exhausting than hours long microsurgery (and jepp, I know what I'm talking about...), and even harder than noodling through one piece again and again, hoping it to improve by itself or by accident. I did so when I was a piano student, and although I became a bit smarter about these things in the past 25 years, I still cannot withdraw completely from this habit, neither on the piano nor on the violin. It is just too tempting, since the direct way usually occurs to us as the easiest. Mr. Pearlman says something about that in one of his YouTube channel videos ("Itzhak on practicing"), and if I remember right he proposes 10 minutes rest per 15 minutes of focused and efficient work - but you'll better watch by yourself.

Practicing in an efficient way is something that does not come to you by itself. Some of us may have better instincts with that than me, but the rest of us mere mortals also has the chance to learn about it, it's not a nature's gift. I had a gorgeous piano teacher in my youth who gave me perfect sound and technique, and although I'm quite happy with my current violin teacher, these things were something I had to explore by myself - and unfortunately I cannot see that "how to practice efficiently" would be one of the fundamental lessons music teachers are teaching our children. (At least in central Europe where I live.)
What I found to be really beneficial to me was a book by the great german cello teacher Gerhard Mantel, titled "Einfach üben" which means "simple practicing" or "simply practicing". Unfortunately I could not find an english translation.

Edited: July 30, 2018, 6:32 PM · Part of being a violinist means that you practice on a regular basis. The purpose of exam is to provide a relatively objective feedback on your progress. Failing an exam sometimes it better than passing it knowing that you barely passed.
Edited: July 30, 2018, 4:37 PM · Camilla,

I can understand the anxiety over exams, as can most people, they are, by design, anxiety producing.

What playing music/sports, meditation, and all those other disciplines teach is "focus." The key is to be able to push all the other stuff aside and just play the music. No, it isn't easy but that is what it really is all about. Of course, what the Buddhists call the "Monkey Brain" wants your full attention so you have to either put him in a cage or give him something to do.

Lydia: There are actually four attitudes (as Doflein calls them) of your fingers for scales: 2&3 together, 3&4 together, 1&2 together depending on where the half steps are. The fourth "attitude" is all whole steps when the half step is at the nut.

Edited: July 30, 2018, 9:32 PM · Rocky Milankov: Camilla wrote "and please don't say "its ok if you fail because you will learn from your mistakes" because it isn't ok and i need to pass this particular exam more than any other"

She cannot afford to fail this, so it's better if she passes even if it's not a high or perfect score. Also, if she fails and she can't take this test over, it will be computed into her course grade, which in turn can mess up her overall GPA.

Gosh, I'm so glad my university days are over! It was so stressful!

July 30, 2018, 10:04 PM · @George -

Lydia is correct.

Bb - Gb/F#

These should be long memorized and ingrained at the advanced level.

July 30, 2018, 10:14 PM · George, I'm guessing you're talking about first-position scales for the beginner. I'm talking about Flesch three-octave scales for the intermediate and advanced player. Camilla, working on the Mendelssohn concerto, certainly qualifies as advanced.

Honestly, an advanced player ought to be able to finger any scale in an arbitrary fashion, which is what is required in repertoire. Familiar fingerings are useful for bridging the gap to fluent mastery of the fingerboard -- i.e., you'll always have some shifts that are super reliable because you've practiced them a bunch in scales and arpeggios and whatnot.

Camilla, one thing that I have learned over the years is that there is ultimately no substitute for practice time, and a sufficiently long lead time to learn your repertoire. When you're short on time, you are essentially deciding what gets left in a fragile state. If you do that, make sure to practice recovering from your mistakes.

If you are truly, honestly unprepared, don't take the exam, assuming it's optional. Bad performances tend to be confidence-shattering and they can linger with you long afterwards. It's just not worth it.

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