Dr. Mario Ajero is internationally recognized as an authority in technology in piano pedagogy and music education. He has been invited as a presenter and performer at conferences such as the MTNA National Conference, the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy, the Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference, and the Royal Conservatory Summer Summit. Dr. Ajero is Professor of Piano at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas where he serves as the Keyboard Area Coordinator, teaches applied piano, piano pedagogy, and group piano classes.
Mario started teaching piano to both of his children around the age of 3. His daughter Olivia is 8 years old and recently earned a Certificate of Excellence for earning the highest score in Texas on the Level 5 Piano exam from the Royal Conservatory Music Development Program. His son Antonio (who goes by “Nio”) is 12 years old and has won prizes at numerous piano competitions. Nio has the distinction of winning the National Gold Medal for earning the highest score in the United States on the Level 9 Piano exam from the Royal Conservatory Music Development Program.
Highlights from this episode:
Piano exams can provide students a tangible goal to reach that provides much needed direction in their piano studies.
Piano festivals and exams can give both teacher and parent a much clearer picture of what their students’ strengths and weaknesses are, and this can help them become a more well-rounded musician.
Make sure the student and parent are prepared to handle an honest assessment of their current abilities.
Students who seem to advance through standard repertoire quickly and are interested in a bigger challenge and commitment might be well suited for the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) exams.
The Royal Conservatory Music Development Program website has many resources to aid teachers and parents who have little or no experience with it to prepare their children for exams.
Preparing for the RCM Exam:
The Royal Conservatory of Music piano exams are a big commitment
- Parents need to be aware that practical performance exams measure various aspects of musicianship: repertoire, etudes, technique, aural skills, and sight reading.
- This is not the type of performance you can really cram for in a day or even a few weeks before the exam. It takes several months of preparation.
- Depending on the level of the exam, students should set aside at least an hour of practice aside each day to prepare for it.
- The sight reading and aural skills are probably the most neglected aspects of the exam. There are online ear training activities that can test the student in preparation for the exam.
- As far as sight reading is concerned, doing a little bit every day helps of course, but parents don’t always know if their child did well on it or not. So perhaps they could record their child playing through some sight reading examples and either share it online with their teacher if they’re willing to watch or listen to it before the next lesson.
- Parents might also consider hiring their teacher for additional lessons to help their child prepare for the exam.
On the day of the exam
- Be sure to get your child to the exam center well ahead of the appointed time.
- They should dress as if it was a recital performance to emphasize the significance of the event.
- Prom dress is not necessary
- Dress or skirt (make sure it’s not too short)
- Nice slacks and a blouse
- Be careful with heels
- Suit/tux is not necessary
- Nice slacks with a collared shirt
- Be careful that jackets don’t constrict your performance
- Bring all original scores for music to be performed with measures numbered.
- There is also a repertoire sheet that you should print out and fill out before you arrive at the exam center. So make sure that is done ahead of time.
- Relax and let your child know how proud you are for devoting the time and work into this process.
- Parents aren’t allowed in the exam rooms. They will have to wait in the designated seating area. Don’t expect to be able to talk to the examiner to find out their score or discuss your child’s performance in detail.
- You won’t learn your score or see your critique sheets right away. They are generally posted on the website about a month after the examination.
What if my child doesn’t do well?
I’ve found the experiences where your child falls short of expectations to be great teaching moments. Inthe case of the RCM exams, the examiners are encouraged to not write harsh comments that would be taken personally by any student or their parent. It will be an honest assessment letting them know what was done well and what can be improved upon.
As a parent, don’t make remarks that place blame on the student such as, “well if you practiced more, then you wouldn’t have done so bad.” Help your child to take some accountability and think more toward the future than the past: “What do you think we could do to do better next time? Let’s work together with your teacher on a plan to make that goal!”
The musicianship skills that a student develops in the process or preparing for and participating in the RCM exams and similar piano events, will likely inspire them to explore other musical opportunities beyond what is required on the tests.
You can hear more of Mario’s teaching strateges at http://marioajero.blogspot.com/
Read Mario’s article recounting his initial experience with Royal Conservatory examinations on page 4 of their own publication, Music Matters.
Dr. Ajero’s YouTube channel features many videos of his children:
RCM preparation videos (These videos were created when the RCM program was formerly known as “The Achievement Program”)
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