Diploma Day 2018, hosted by the London Piano Meetup Group, was held at Morley College on Sunday 10 June. Now in its third year, this one-day workshop for people taking, or considering taking, a Performance Diploma is proving very popular and successful. Six pianists participated in masterclasses with renowned teacher Graham Fitch, and everyone benefitted from Graham’s wisdom, insights and friendly teaching style. There were some nerves, both spoken and unspoken, but one of the key aims of the event is to create a supportive “safe space” where people can perform part of their diploma programme and receive useful critical feedback. Anyone who has studied with Graham, or has attended his classes and courses, will know that he has a particular knack of identifying a few key areas in each piece and giving the student useful suggestions to implement in practising. What is very gratifying too is hearing the changes that occur in someone’s playing with just a few suggestions from Graham, and everyone can learn from watching others being taught in such a friendly and accessible situation.

In addition to the masterclasses, regular breaks throughout the day allowed people to chat about repertoire, the exam process, anxiety and more, and I gave two brief talks on Choosing a Performance Diploma (of which more below) and managing performance anxiety.

a great gathering of like-minded people!

Neil, performer

“Another fabulous day and Graham Fitch was superb. I have picked up so many technical and practising tips

Janet, observer

Had a fabulous day yesterday playing at the London Piano Meetup Group’s Diploma Day. An expert masterclass taken by Graham Fitch and workshops on all sorts of other related topics.

Kate, performer

We enjoyed a wide range of repertoire, including music by Scarlatti, Rameau, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Fauré, Debussy, Grainger, Webern and Sculthorpe, and it was clear from each participant’s “mini recital” that much thought had gone in to selecting pieces which fulfilled the criteria of the performance diploma while also creating a contrasting and interesting programme.

A compilation of live tweets from the event offers many nuggets of advice from Graham- including a National No Pedal Day which was endorsed by concert pianist Stephen Hough.

Read the tweets here

Judging by the popularity of this year’s Diplomas Day, the event will run again in 2019. To keep up to date with London Piano Meetup Group events, please join the mailing list by contacting londonpianomeetup@gmail.com or by joining the LPMG Facebook group

Huge thanks to Graham Fitch for inspirational teaching and to Claire Hansell of LPMG who organised the entire day and ensured it all ran like clockwork.

CHOOSING A PERFORMANCE DIPLOMA

  • Be very aware that the lowest, Associate level diploma should not be considered as “Grade 9”. Unlike grade exams, Diplomas are recognised professional qualifications and as such require a significantly higher level of musical competency. The expected standard of playing for an associate diploma is equivalent to the performance component of the first year in conservatoire.
  • With a variety of diplomas on offer, select the format which you feel will suit you best as a musician. There is a lot of snobbery surrounding certain exam boards – but don’t feel that one exam board’s Diploma is necessarily “better” than another, rather that there are “different” diplomas on offer. All are recognised professional qualifications and the Associate, Licentiate and Fellowship diplomas across the three main exam boards (ABRSM, Trinity and London College of Music) all share the same RQF levels (4, 6 and 7 respectively). The repertoire lists for each level of Diploma are almost identical across the three main exam boards and the diplomas accrue the same academic points.
  • Consider also why you are taking a diploma. Is this for a personal challenge or to enhance your professional career, as a performer or teacher? This may also influence the diploma format you choose. For example, you may feel you don’t wish to be tested on sight-reading in which case the Trinity Diplomas, which are heavily weighted towards performance and include no sight-reading/quick study, may suit you better.
  • Once you’ve selected the exam board, read the regulations very carefully and ensure you can fulfill the criteria. Note that some exam boards require evidence of a pass at Grade 8, for example. Details such as the timing of the programme are very important and attending to these details demonstrates your professionalism. If you’re submitting a programme comprising own-choice repertoire, seek approval from the exam board in good time.
Choosing a programme
  • Unlike in grade exams, you don’t have to offer a chronological programme that includes music from specific periods (Baroque, Classical, Romantic etc). Instead, create a programme which is contrasting in terms of tempi, moods, styles. You could, for example, create a programme entirely from 20th-century music and still fulfill the exam criteria. Consider how the pieces work as a concert programme rather than as an exam.
  • Select music that you know you will enjoy studying and playing rather than pieces which you think will impress the examiner. We all play better if we like the music we’re playing!
Further reading
Many more articles on Diplomas, including my own Diploma journey, can be found on this site – type Diploma in the Search box.

Back by popular demand……

“A hugely valuable day”

The London Piano Meetup Group is holding its third Diploma Day on Sunday 10th June 2018 at Morley College, London SE1. This full day event is aimed at adult amateur pianists who are considering, or planning to take, a post-Grade 8 performance qualification, or piano teachers and pianists who would like to observe several hours of inspirational teaching with acclaimed teacher, writer and pianist Graham Fitch.

The event takes place in the Holst Room at Morley College, near Waterloo Station, which has a beautiful Steinway D concert grand to perform on. The day will run from 9am to 5pm and is intended not only to provide resources and information for participants, but also to network with other like-minded (and diploma-aiming!) pianists.

screen-shot-2015-10-22-at-15-49-10-e1445945525634

The day will include:

  • Performances of diploma repertoire from participants preparing for their exams
  • Feedback in a masterclass-style format from acclaimed teacher and pianist Graham Fitch
  • Workshops, discussions and Q&A sessions with Frances Wilson (a.k.a. The Cross-Eyed Pianist), covering the planning, preparation, practice and execution of a performance diploma, plus supporting components including understanding and managing performance anxiety, presentation skills and stagecraft, and writing programme notes.
  • Q&A session with a senior representative from one of the UK’s leading exam boards.

Performer places cost £85 for the full day. Apply to perform here (deadline 15 April)

Observer places cost £17 – book tickets

There is much value in observing others being taught together with the opportunity to discuss repertoire, practising, preparation and more with other pianists

Feedback from participants at previous Diploma Days:

“The introduction was helpful as I’m at the planning stage of my diploma”

“I got the feeling that a diploma is an achievable goal for me”

“I appreciated the positive, supportive atmosphere”

“I enjoyed hearing lots of different repertoire, some well-known and some new”

“Graham was fantastic at getting to the nub of things quickly and was hugely inspiring to performers and observers alike”

For any questions in the meantime please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Claire Hansell at londonpianomeetup@gmail.com.

 


graham-fitch-750x750Graham Fitch has earned a global reputation as an outstanding teacher of piano for all ages and levels. He is a popular adjudicator, a tutor for the EPTA Piano Teachers’ Course, and a regular writer for Pianist Magazine with several video demonstrations on YouTube. His blog www.practisingthepiano.com features hundreds of articles on piano playing and together with his multimedia eBook series is read by thousands of musicians all over the world.

avatars-000208691703-0he3lq-t500x500Frances Wilson is a pianist, piano teacher, concert reviewer, writer and blogger on classical music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. A passionate advocate of adult amateur pianism, Frances co-founded the London Piano Meetup Group in 2013. She has hosted and participated in workshops, masterclasses, courses and meetups for adult pianists, and completed Licentiate and Associate Performance Diplomas (both with Distinction) in her late 40s, having returned to the piano after a long break. Frances has acted as a syllabus consultant for the London College of Music’s graded piano exams and has written teaching notes for the new ABRSM piano syllabus (to be released in summer 2018).

The second Diploma Day, brilliantly organised by Claire Hansell, who with Rob Foster, runs the London Piano Meetup Group, was held at Morley College on Sunday 9th July. As with last year’s inaugural event, the day was designed to give those taking performance diplomas a chance to perform selections from their diploma programmes to Graham Fitch and a small friendly audience, and receive expert tuition and guidance from Graham. In addition, Frances Wilson (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist) discussed the benefits of taking a performance diploma, which diploma to choose (all the main exam boards – ABRSM, TCL and LCM – offer a variety of diplomas), how to select repertoire and create a varied programme, and offered advice on stagecraft and presentation skills, and managing performance anxiety (see the end of this article for a link to download Frances’ notes). In the afternoon, Peter Wild, senior lead examiner from Trinity College London, joined the event and took questions from the audience.

There were fine performances, including a most impressive rendition of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne, Mozart’s Sonata K310, and a delightful Scherzo Humoristique (‘The Cat and the Mouse’) by Copland which closed the event on a very light-hearted note. Graham Fitch offered plenty of excellent advice on practising, technique, projecting one’s vision for the music, and good preparation, as always peppered with colourful metaphors and presented in an accessible and articulate manner. It was a most inspiring and supportive day, of benefit to adult amateur pianists and teachers alike.

Claire and Frances live-tweeted during the event – find a compilation of the tweets (plenty of pianistic wisdom) here

Download the DIPLOMA DAY 2017 notes (Word doc)

London Piano Meetup Group

The London Piano Meetup Group is holding its second Diploma Day on Sunday 9th July 2017. This full day event is aimed at adult amateur pianists who are considering, or planning to take, a post-grade-8 performance qualification, or piano teachers who want to observe several hours of inspirational teaching.

The event takes place in the Holst Room at Morley College, near Waterloo Station, which has a beautiful Steinway D concert grand to perform on. The day will run from 9am to 5pm and is intended not only to provide resources and information for participants, but also to network with other like-minded (and diploma-aiming!) pianists.

screen-shot-2015-10-22-at-15-49-10-e1445945525634

The day will include:

  • Performances of diploma repertoire from participants preparing for their exams
  • Feedback in a masterclass-style format from acclaimed teacher and pianist Graham Fitch
  • Workshops, discussions and Q&A sessions with Frances Wilson (a.k.a. The Cross-Eyed Pianist), covering the planning, preparation, practice and execution of a performance diploma, plus supporting components including understanding and managing performance anxiety and stagecraft

Feedback from participants at last year’s Diploma Day:

“The introduction was helpful as I’m at the planning stage of my diploma”

“I got the feeling that a diploma is an achievable goal for me”

“A hugely valuable day”

“I appreciated the positive, supportive atmosphere”

“I enjoyed hearing lots of different repertoire, some well-known and some new”

“Graham was fantastic at getting to the nub of things quickly and was hugely inspiring to performers and observers alike”

The organisers are looking forward to seeing familiar and new faces at this event, and hope that it will be a valuable and useful day for all attendees. For any questions in the meantime please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Claire Hansell at londonpianomeetup@gmail.com.

Tickets for participants (to observe) are £17 each

BOOK TICKETS

Please book by midday on Wednesday 5th July, as there is unfortunately no facility to pay on the door on the day.

Link to Facebook event

graham-fitch-750x750Graham Fitch has earned a global reputation as an outstanding teacher of piano for all ages and levels. He is a popular adjudicator, a tutor for the EPTA Piano Teachers’ Course, and a regular writer for Pianist Magazine with several video demonstrations on YouTube. His blog www.practisingthepiano.com features hundreds of articles on piano playing and together with his multimedia eBook series is read by thousands of musicians all over the world.

avatars-000208691703-0he3lq-t500x500Frances Wilson is a pianist, piano teacher, concert reviewer and blogger on classical music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. A passionate advocate of adult amateur pianism, Frances co-founded the London Piano Meetup Group in 2013 and is co-administrator of Piano Network UK on Facebook. She has hosted and participated in workshops, masterclasses, courses and meetups for adult pianists, and completed Licentiate and Associate Performance Diplomas (both with Distinction) in her late 40s, having returned to the piano after a long break. Frances writes a regular column on aspects of piano playing for Pianist Magazine’s online content and is a guest blogger for classical music website InterludeHK.

Managing the practise of a selection of pieces, as one needs to when preparing for a performance diploma, can be problematic and at times frustrating.

I find juggling four works at the same time so tricky. If I leave one aside for a while, even only a week, it seems to fall apart!

For my Associate performance diploma I had 7 works in the programme and for the Licentiate 8 (I treated the Bach keyboard concerto as 3 works from the point of view of practising). All the pieces had their own particular difficulties, knotty sections which needed focused practise. Ensuring that everything was practised regularly and systematically became a feat of time-management, as my practise diary attests, with each day’s work minutely mapped. One of the most important things I took away from the experience of preparing for my Diplomas was understanding how to practise deeply and thoughtfully.

  • If you have limited time to practise, learn to be super-efficient. If it helps, map your practise time in advance and keep notes of progress in a notebook. These notes should include 1) what you plan to achieve at each practise session and 2) what you actually achieved. The notes you make after the practise session should offer food for thought and consideration at the next practise session. However, allow your practise plan to be flexible – there will be days when you can’t practise, or don’t feel like practising, and I believe it is important to be kind to oneself on those situations, rather than beat oneself up for not practising. Rigid schedules can be unrealistic and dismotivating.
  • You don’t have to do all your practising in one chunk (and bear in mind that after about 45 minutes, one’s attention is waning and it’s time for a break, if only five minutes to do some stretches and make a cup of tea). Taking breaks during practise time helps to keep one focussed and engaged and ensures practising is productive and mindful, rather than mindless “note-bashing”.
  • Learn how to dissect the pieces to spotlight which areas need the most attention. Take out technically challenging sections and “quarantine” them so that they get super-focused work. And don’t just quarantine sections once: build quarantining into your regular practise routine and return to those problem areas regular to ensure noticeable improvement.
  • Break the pieces down into manageable sections and work on those areas which are most challenging (technically, artistically or pianistically) first while your mind is still fresh and alert. Start anywhere in the piece, work on a section, and then backtrack and do an earlier section before knitting those sections back together.
  • With a multi-piece programme, try to have the works on a rotation, so that you start with a different work (or movement if playing a sonata or multi-movement work) at each practise session rather than spending a week, say, working on a single piece.
  • Even when you feel a piece is well-known and finessed, spend some time doing slow practise, memory work, separate hands practise etc. Be alert to details in the score – dynamics, articulation, tempo etc: even, and especially, when a piece is well-known we can become complacent about such details and overlook them.
  • Schedule regular play-throughs of entire pieces, and (about 3 months prior to the diploma date) the entire programme, even if some works are not fully learned/finessed. This allows you to appreciate the overall structure and narrative of both individual works and the entire programme, and helps to build stamina.
  • Practise away from the piano is useful too. Spend time reading the scores and listening to recordings – not to imitate what you hear but to get ideas and inspiration. Go to a concert where some of your repertoire is being performed and in addition to listening, look at the kind of gestures and body language the pianist uses and how he/she presents the programme (all useful pointers for stage craft and presentation skills, on which one is judged in a performance diploma).
  • When we’ve been working on the same pieces for a long time, we can lose sight of what we like about them as we get bogged down in the minutiae of learning. It’s worth remembering what excited you about the pieces in the first place, why you chose them and what you like about them (I ask my students to make brief notes about each of their exam pieces, and I did the same for my Associate programme).
  • Above all, enjoy your music and retain a positive outlook throughout your practising.

Further reading

The 20-Minute Practice Session – article on Graham Fitch’s blog

I offer specialist support for people preparing for performance diplomas, including advice on planning a programme, writing programme notes, stagecraft and managing performance anxiety – further details here

The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) has launched a new performance diploma, the ARSM, designed as “a bridge between Grade 8 and the DipABRSM”. The new Diploma, ARSM (Associate of the Royal Schools of Music), is different to both Grade 8 and the DipABRSM in that it includes no supporting tests (technical work, sight-reading/quick study, viva (for DipABRSM) or programme notes). The repertoire list is taken from the DipABRSM syllabus, though much reduced, and candidates may include 10 minutes of own-choice repertoire of Grade 8 or above standard to create a recital programme lasting 30 minute in total. To all intents and purposes this “diploma” looks very much like a reinvented version of the Advanced Certificate or Trinity’s Advanced Performance Certificate.

Concerns about the new ARSM have been expressed by piano teachers via Piano Network UK, a large and very active Facebook group comprising piano teachers, pianists (professional and amateur) and piano lovers, of which I am co-administrator. I would like to share some of these views here. My colleague and friend Andrew Eales, who writes the excellent Piano Dao blog, will be publishing a more considered response to the ARSM, together with an interview with Penny Millsom of the ABRSM in which he hopes to clarify some of the issues raised below. 

Please note that any views expressed here are independent and my publishing them does not necessarily mean Andrew and I support or endorse them. They are drawn from a diverse range of British piano teachers of differing ages and experience. My own comments and views about the ARSM diploma are in italics.

Level of attainment, marking and assessment criteria

  • I find the fact that Distinction is set at 45/50 interesting (in comparison to 70/100 for the dip/Licentiate levels) – though I have yet to decide what this actually means, if anything, about the marking, relative standards required, contributions of the viva and quick study…
  • In my view, it is simply Grade 9. Something on easy terms just to get letters after people’s names. 
  • Any old examiner, presumably no requirement for them to be a specialist in your instrument. So the exercise itself is kind of worthless, and the marking will be pretty irrelevant. But here, have a qualification…

Is it really a “Diploma”?

  • It’s essentially a composite of other products/services that ABRSM already offer – an examiner who is already there to examine Grade 1 players, a repertoire list that already exists… from a business point of view it seems like a great idea because ABRSM don’t seem to have needed to do much at all to add this to their overall offer, but the market could be quite large.
  • I don’t understand why it is marketed at associate level
  • Doesn’t this just devalue the DipABRSM in performance? By all means have the equivalent of the Trinity Advanced Certificate but don’t call it a diploma when it so clearly isn’t!
  • Same repertoire as the DipABRSM. So like a diploma, minus the bits people complain about. So, not particularly educational. 
  • I just don’t think it is sufficiently rigorous to be called a Diploma
  • It claims “associate” status, but simply isn’t on that level. So it devalues genuine associate diplomas as a whole, and is misleading to potential students/parents.
  • By calling it a “diploma” ABRSM have blurred the boundaries between the graded amateur exams and the higher professional diplomas. And very few people, if any, outside the profession (parents of students for example) will appreciate the difference. My concern is that it may devalue the higher diplomas and lead to further dumbing down across all exams. I’m afraid I feel it is primarily driven by commercial interests on the part of ABRSM. 
  • One of the main purposes of a professional qualification – and especially having letters after one’s name – is so that prospective clients are reassured that we are properly qualified. 
  • Hard to believe that this will confer diploma status, and entitle the holders to put letters after their name. To the general public, there will be little difference between an ARSM and a FRSM, or anything in between
  • This is really just a money-spinner. I cannot understand the logic in it being marked out of 50, or am I missing something?! It doesn’t appear to be accredited at a particular level, and I agree with others that it shouldn’t really confer diploma status. 

Who it is for?

I can see this new Diploma suiting some of my more talented teenage students who would like to improve their performing skills and/or want a different challenge post-Grade 8. A number of adult amateur pianists whom I know have also commented that they would like to take this diploma because the format encourages one to “enjoy playing”. 

A couple of teachers who are keen to improve their performance skills have expressed an interest in taking the ARSM as a form of continuing professional development:

  • …to me it is simply about skill refreshing. I do appreciate others’ concerns but perhaps for piano teachers who haven’t done any serious practice in a while it could be a good thing?

If you have views on the new ARSM diploma please feel free to leave comments below or use the contact page to get in touch.