Why Taking Music Exams Is Not Always the Best Option

Bored musician

Disclaimer: JumboNote Music School endorses AMEB & Trinity exams and has successfully prepared and put through hundreds of students, and will continue to do so. However, there is another side of the coin argument that exam based tuition is not always best for all students, and that a careful balance should be achieved between learning for the sake of passing exams, and learning to increase a students musical knowledge and musicianship.

As a young beginner student or parent, you may be considering using AMEB and other exam methods as the primary learning process in your child’s musical education. While there are many benefits in doing exams, there are a few points you may want to consider before committing to the idea! To find out what AMEB exams are all about, visit our blog ‘AMEB Exams Explained – The What and the Why’. Read below to find out why taking music exams is not always the best option.

  • Exams Limit Students Repertoire

When learning music, nothing is more exciting than learning songs that you love to play, and friends and family love to listen to. Unfortunately, one huge problem with preparing students for exams is the limited and rather uninspiring repertoire students learn due to the huge demands exams emphasise in requiring students to cover course requirements. Instead of students learning each year  20-30 songs they love playing, exam students only learn on average 4-7 exam songs, which most students are not too fond of, or find inspiring to play. After students have been preparing for exams most of the year, and have played their 3 or 4 exam pieces over and over hundreds of times…. Obviously the magic of those songs is lost and the excitement of playing music diminishes after playing a limited repertoire of songs to death.


  • Students Learn Exams, Not Musicianship

When too much focus is centred around completing grade after grade, students tend to focus their learning on accomplishing exam requirements, rather than to increase their musical knowledge and musicianship. I have met students who are capable of playing quite impressive pieces of a distinguished grade level, however, when quizzing them on a simple musical task such as playing a simple song like  ‘Happy Birthday’ in a different key than written…. they have no clue. Such students can easily complete grade 8 with distinctions as they are taught to pass exams, however, their true musical ability in the real world is much lower and would be closer to a grade 2. I have seen students who were of a lower grade possess more musicality and musicianship than students in much higher grades, because their lessons weren’t focused on accelerating them through grade after grade, but rather on developing their musicianship.


  • Focuses on Course Requirements Rather Than Self-Discovery

An important part of growing into a competent musician is having the freedom tokids-in-band-playing-trumpets-and-violin discover your own personal style and preferences, especially in the Contemporary music world. When focusing on a yearly exam, that freedom becomes limited, as there is little room for musical exploration or development. A music student’s education shouldn’t be based solely on deadlines and course requirements.


  • Exams Can Limit Enjoyment

At JumboNote, we like to ensure that each student isn’t just learning how to be a better musician…we try to ensure that all student’s are enjoying learning…. period! It’s important (especially at a younger age) that music is associated with enjoyment and personal satisfaction, rather than stress and academic achievement that is often a by product of formal exams. Learning music should not be a race in achieving grades, but rather a personal journey where musical knowledge can be acquired.

  • Exams Eliminates the Opportunity to Set Own Goals/ Exercise Self-Discipline

As a musician myself, I understand the importance of being self-motivated and self-disciplined in terms of both creativity and financial security. It’s a great idea to give students control of their own musical goals from a young age, as opposed to making them feel “forced” to learn and develop. One of the problems with exam methods is that it takes away that freedom to discover and replaces it with a forced mentality of striving for perfection in requirements that students may not be all that passionate about. Encouraging self-exploration in music will motivate young students to continue learning and develop their art, rather than giving them set guidelines they must complete.


  • Limits Other Important Fun Musical Activities

Music ExamsThere is a ton of enjoyable and exciting activities and opportunities that could be missed by focusing heavily on exams. Things like incorporating singing with your instrument playing, interpreting cover songs in your own style, improvisation, songwriting, studying the history of music and jamming in bands are all important activities for any musician that sadly are lacking within the exam focused music culture. All of these important and exciting musical activities will improve your musicianship while also creating a possible musical career pathway.

There are many, many different ways to enjoy learning music and progress your musicianship besides doing exams!

At JumboNote Music School, we provide all students with endless amounts of opportunity to learn and discover music in many different forms. As well as preparing students in exams, we encourage all students to perform, play in a band (Band Jam) learn songwriting, and incorporate singing with their instrument playing.


Call 1300 787 697 or 0450 144 399 to learn more about what we offer at our Beverly Hills and Kogarah Music School.

Written by Jaydn Wilson & Darko Zoric

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