As we continue through our guide to the piano grades, when we reach grade 6, we reach an incredibly interesting point that few actually appreciate.
After speaking with many piano teachers and exam consultants, it is around this level of playing that nuance within piano playing becomes far more of an important factor than simply being able to play the notes correctly.
Today we will be breaking down not only what we mean by this, but will introduce a few more subtle and advanced concepts that you may not currently be aware of within your playing.
Where many of the guides we have already written around graded exams are more focused on the physical exam itself, today we are going to be more focused on how to enhance your expression and carry a conversation within the piano.
Nuance In Piano Playing
We have spoken about this extensively in our guide to adding more expression into your playing, however at this level of play, this is an essential skill to understand the concept behind. Ultimately when playing at the grade 6 standard and above, the examiner is far more interested in your ability to tell a story, understand the meaning behind music and how to express that meaning than what your fingers are physically pressing.
Of course, there will be new pieces of theory and more challenging levels of chord progressions, scales and arpeggios and hand independence, but these can all be learned relatively quickly in the same ways that we have done for the previous grades. As always, you can of course find the full syllabus to grade 6 on ABRSM’s website.
When it comes to nuance and subtlety, we are speaking more about understanding the mechanics of the piano and how to utilise it to your benefit, from injecting dynamics and tempo changes and being able to extract what C.Bechstein calls the ‘colour’ from the instrument.
This is often why the very first thing we would recommend doing at this level is asking either the teacher or student whether or not the piano is fit for their needs anymore. More sophisticated piano playing requires a more sophisticated action and without this, you will not be able to extract the required level of nuance, making it far more difficult to be able to pass the grade effectively.
For example if you are still playing on a budget piano or older instrument, it may be worth reading our guide to signs that your piano is holding you back and considering upgrading or part exchanging your instrument or at least speaking to your teacher to see if you can practice on a more sophisticated instrument.
At this level of play, aspects such as key release, correct pedalling technique and even posture all become crucial in ensuring that you are able to express as intended.
Avoiding Piano Burn Out
We have mentioned this in a number of articles before, however after speaking to many who have already taken their exams at this level, the number one piece of advice they gave us was to not over practice. Especially when preparing for more advanced exams, is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to practise for hours everyday, but almost all of our students were recommended by their teachers to step away from the piano for a few days around a week or two before their exam. By taking a break so close to an exam you alleviate any concerns you may have about particular passages and pieces of theory, this is very much a case of trusting your own instincts and trusting that your teacher believes you are ready.
It is not worth getting yourself stressed out over the exam (remember our golden rule: The examiners ultimately want you to pass!) and by taking a few days or even a week off, this can completely reset your mindset the next time you approach the piano and you may even realise that you are suddenly further along than even you first thought. If you are feeling a burn out, then don’t panic, it is easy to overcome! Read our guide to reigniting your passion for playing here.
Remember afterall, piano playing is supposed to be FUN! If you are not finding enjoyment, it might be time to take some rest and have a short break from playing.
Keep A Piano Diary
Since introducing it, we have been overwhelmed by the level of support that we have had from people beginning to start piano diaries and the exact same goes for grades. In the same way of resetting your mindset as taking a break, keeping a piano diary is a fantastic reminder on how far you have come and what you are confident that you already know.
Use your piano diary as a confidence booster to enforce the fact that you have got this! Or likewise, use it as a revision tool to help realise any gaps that you might have in your learning as these are the areas you may want to focus on.
Talk To Your Teacher
Feeling exam anxiety is common around this level of play as unlike before, there are far more nuanced aspects of your performance to focus on, however remember that you have a support network around you in the form of your family, friends and of course your teacher. Use them to bounce new ideas around and express how you are feeling. There is nothing worse than bottling up your emotions before an exam as this leads to unnecessary stress!
We hope this short guide to passing your Grade 6 exam has helped you realise a few things about what your examinar may be looking for outside of ‘just playing the repertoire’. Remember, if in doubt, contact your piano teacher!
If you would like more information on upgrading your current piano or learning more about which kinds of actions are required to express a higher level of nuance within piano playing, contact our experts today or visit our showroom for more information!