A common whinge between a fellow teaching colleague and myself is the emphasis that prospective parents of students seem to place on Grade 8 as part of one’s teaching credentials: “Have you got your Grade 8?” “When did you pass your Grade 8?”. Grade 8, the highest of the amateur graded music exams, seems to be the be-all-and-end-all, and the main criteria on which a good many people, often erroneously, base their selection of a music teacher. I took my Grade 8 in my mid-teens, which is a long time ago now. Two years’ later I took A-level music. Looking back, I would say that the A-level rather than Grade 8 equipped me better for a career in music education (at the time, of course, I had absolutely no intention of becoming a piano teacher: I was off to university to study esoteric Anglo-Saxon literature!). The nature of the Grade 8 exam has changed quite a lot in thirty years (many feel it has been “dumbed down”); also many, many students are more than capable of taking Grade 8 in their early to mid teens. And, in the case of a notable few, even younger than that. At that time of life, I doubt many of them are seriously considering a career as a piano teacher, nor have the requisite maturity for the role.
Grade 8 does not represent the pinnacle of learning, and for the talented student, it can, and should, act as a springboard to auditions for conservatoire and music college, or at least to a Diploma, affiliated to a music school, such as Trinity College or the Royal College of Music. In fact, had I not left my piano teacher to go to university, I probably would have taken my Diploma then: it seemed the natural course after Grade 8. Now, in order to lend credibility to my standing as a teacher, an Associate Diploma seems the bare minimum I should offer in my professional CV. Diplomas provide a framework for the honing and maturing of performing and teaching skills, and are important in a teacher’s ongoing professional development.
Anyone who thinks a diploma is a simple step up from Grade 8, think again. While it is a logical next step for a competent musician who has achieved Grade 8, a diploma, even at the lowest, Associate level, is significantly more involved, requiring a high degree of attainment, combined with a professional attitude to preparation, communication, musicality, presentation and stagecraft. The diploma itself is a professional qualification, recognised by other musicians and music professionals around the world.
Trinity College of Music defines the Associate and Licentiate Diplomas as follows:
Associate (ATCL, AMusTCL)
The standard of performance is equivalent to the performance component of the first year in a full-time undergraduate course at a conservatoire or other higher education establishment.
Licentiate (LTCL, LMusTCL)
The standard of performance is equivalent to the performance component on completion of a full-time undergraduate course at a conservatoire or other higher education establishment. [Source: Trinity College London website]
The criteria and standards one is expected to meet are far higher than for Grade 8: a quick glance through the regulations for the Trinity College of Music Diplomas clearly demonstrates this:
At ATCL and at LTCL you should be able to demonstrate knowledge of the composers’ intentions, with contextual understanding of the musical material:
- the ability to communicate all technical and artistic aspects of the music at an appropriate professional standard, employing professional etiquette in presenting the programme
- awareness of your own musical voice in interpreting the performance objectives, drawing upon a variety of experiences in an individual performance
[Source: Diplomas in Music: Performance and Teaching from 2009, TCL]
There are many other requirements to be considered, and met, when taking a music Diploma, and the rigour of the exam is reflected in the expected learning outcomes and assessment objectives. For example, unlike in the grade exams, at Diploma level you select your own repertoire (either from the broad syllabus or by submitting an own-choice programme for approval). The choice of repertoire is wide, and from it you must put together a programme that demonstrates a wide variety of musical styles, moods, tempi and technical challenges. In the exam, you are assessed not only on your ability to meet the criteria listed above, but also on programme planning and balance, choice of repertoire, stagecraft, and written programme notes.
People have asked me why I didn’t opt to take a teaching diploma. The answer is quite simple: I just wanted to play. Also, I didn’t have the time to do the written submissions required, and I felt that I would gain a great deal, which would be useful in my teaching, by studying music in depth with the support of my own teacher. This was absolutely born out in my experience with the ATCL: to have immersed myself in the music I selected for the exam for 18 months gave me some remarkable insights into aspects such as:
- Structure, musical “architecture”, harmony
- The composer’s creative vision and how to interpret it
- My own interpretative insights into the music
- Historical contexts
- Technical challenges such as Baroque ornaments, cadenzas, rapid passagework
- Learning how to be a performer: to project and communicate the composer’s intentions to a high level, and to perform with original creative flair
- Drawing on one’s own personal experiences (not necessarily musical ones) in individual performances
- Developing a mature musical and artistic personality
For the student who is considering a career as a professional musician, all of these criteria are significant. And for a teacher, the opportunity for this level of deep study is very important. Music diplomas also offer the chance to study without restrictions on length of study or the requirement that one is taught in an institution. On another level, they offer the satisfaction of achieving a personal goal.
So, why am I taking a further, higher Diploma? The answers are simple:
- continued professional development
- the opportunity to explore more challenging repertoire with a clear goal
- to equip me with the confidence and credentials to teach at a more advanced level
- personal achievement
More information about Music Diplomas: