What’s your musical background?
I’ve been a Head of Music, leading students and staff in various music departments across Scotland, London, Hong Kong and Singapore. I’m an Organist, Pianist, Arranger, Orchestrator and Musical Director.
What made you want to get into examining?
It’s always something I’ve wanted to do, largely because I’ve prepared lots of students for instrumental performing as part of GCSE and A-Level courses. I wanted to share and develop my skills further – which Trinity has really allowed me to do.
What do you feel the benefits are of taking a music exam?
Confidence, courage, completion, progression, pride, achievement, and a reward for hard-work and perseverance in music.
What do you particularly like about the Trinity syllabus?
I think the repertoire is well chosen and considered for all grades – being friendly, in some cases characterful, fun and accessible, but also detailed, challenging and appropriate to each grade. I also like the flexibility offered to candidates, for example technical work can be scales and arpeggios, but it can also be a technical suite of pieces that showcase similar skills within a piece. The supporting tests offer flexibility and options to give candidates the best, most comfortable, options for them to respond to.
What are your memories of taking graded music exams yourself?
As an organist, my examinations had to be held at my local church. My very first Grade 4 exam was on a very dark, cold evening! My Grade 8 exam was in the summer, and I remember practising for a while beforehand. I think the examiner was actually sitting at the back listening to me play for quite a while, as the church had incredible acoustics, and he suddenly appeared from behind and said ‘I guess we’d better do your Grade 8 examination now…!’.
What do you most enjoy about being an examiner?
It’s fantastic travelling around the UK and internationally, meeting candidates of all ages, grades and instruments, and hearing them play and respond to the exam requirements. Every day is different and that keeps me mentally alert and challenged. But more importantly, it’s about the people I meet – and seeing someone come in nervous, but leave the room smiling at you, because it’s been far from the unknown, scary experience they thought it would be!
What’s been your most memorable moment as an examiner?
I had, as I can only describe it, a genuine privilege examining some Electronic Keyboard candidates in India and Dubai whose musicality and precision was such a pleasure to see, hear and witness.
Which is your favourite part of the exam to examine?
I enjoy examining all aspects of the examination as each part shows a wide variety of different skills from accuracy, technique, communication through to repertoire choice, interaction, memory skills and musicianship.
What are you particularly looking for from a candidate during an exam?
I’m looking for skill, ability, musicality in a natural approach. I’m also looking for attention to detail: even with early grades, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing and hearing someone articulate a piece well and make clear gradation in dynamics.
Above all though, I think the ability to keep yourself going through all parts of the exam, as best you can – even if you make small slips. If you can keep a piece or a scale going fluently from beginning to end, it is so much more musical than restarting or re-correcting.
What is your top tip for preparing for an exam?
I think the key word is preparation. Make sure you are really prepared, secure and confident in all parts of the exam – pieces, technical work and supporting tests. Some candidates think they can rely on their pieces alone – but the purpose of a music exam is to nurture and develop the all-round musician, and teachers and candidates should embrace this to the fullest in preparation for the exam.
What is your top tip for the supporting tests part of the exam?
Choose the ones that are best suited to your natural interest, talent and skill. But also, don’t have the mind-set of thinking some are easier than others, as they all require relevant preparation and skill.
What is your top tip for dealing with nerves?
The music exam, in many ways, is no different to what you’re doing in your lessons with your teachers – pieces, technical work, supporting tests – it’s just more formalised, with an examiner. Make sure you have several ‘run throughs’ with your teacher in an exam style, where you get marked – this will give you an idea of how things might be and feel for you. Perform your pieces to different people, if you can – even get a friend to come round and get them to ask you some scales at random! The more you perform to different people and in different situations, the less nervous you’ll be. But remember – a little bit of nerves is normal and good as it keeps the mind sharp and focused…
What’s the main piece of advice you’d give someone taking a music exam?
Be prepared, in all parts of the exam – treat pieces, technical work and supporting tests with equal importance and respect. The exam isn’t about pieces alone – it’s about showing the all-round musician.