I started piano lessons when I was about 12 or 13 years of age. I did grades, up to Grade 4 – which I scraped through in December, 2000. Suffice it to say, I didn’t really practice that much!

I should take a moment to explain that if you don’t know much about the ABRSM grading system, if you are learning an instrument you can do various grades, which range from grade 1 (the easiest) through until grade 8 (the hardest).

Anyway. Three years ago, once I’d graduated, I took up the piano again (not literally, pianos are heavy things). I’ve been playing a fair bit since then, and I think I’ve made progress. I’m pretty sure I’m better than I was when I did Grade 4, but of course it’s actually quite difficult to quantify that.

One of the pieces I’ve learnt to play over the past year or two is Arabesque no. 1 by Debussy. It’s a lovely piece, and according to this page – it’s Grade 8 standard! Ok, so it’s probably not “hard” Grade 8 standard, but still… it came as something as a revelation to me, because I’d always seen Grade 8 as a sort of mystical place where people who have actual musical talent roam.

I’m not saying that I’m one of those people who have actual musical talent, but it was an interesting perspective for me nonetheless! I don’t think I’ll actually do another exam for grades — doing scales etc was one of the things which put me off playing the piano in the first place – but it’s good to know that you can make progress even if you don’t have anything to prove it formally!


3 responses to “Grade 8”

  1. Of course you can! I failed my grade one and then didn’t bother with the grades from that point – I just played for fun 😉

  2. Actually the grading system is fundamentally flawed (speaking from experience, as someone who plays several instruments, though only cello to grade 8 standard). The exams test how good you are at playing the pieces you’ve rehearsed, answering the questions you’ve practised answers to, sight-reading the short extracts as accurately as possible, and generally playing all the right notes in the right order. There is far more to being ‘musical’ than this. You can be grade 6 and still be musically more talented than someone with grade 8. Playing the right notes is one thing, knowing WHY you’re playing the notes is another altogether, and is something that can’t really be taught. As such, you can get your grade 8 through sheer perseverance alone, yet not be able to compose, interpret, modify, improvise, listen, or have a general understanding of music in a wider sphere than your own few exam pieces. True, those exceptional people who do excel at music generally find it easier to reach grade 8, but that doesn’t mean that someone with less inherent musical talent can also reach grade 8.

    Sorry, rant over.

  3. that doesn’t mean that someone with less inherent musical talent can also reach grade 8

    What are you saying, Matthew? That I don’t have inherent musical talent? :p

    Actually I think I have the inherent musical talent of a tone deaf ferret — and ferrets are not usually known for their inherent musical talent anyway — so what you’re saying is probably quite accurate.

    Anyone can learn to play a grade 8 piece given enough time and patience. What’s more important is what goes on between the ears, i.e. having the brain to be able to interpret a piece, and just in general be able to make it sound good.

    Still, with exams I just say what I always do… they’re flawed, but they’re the best thing we’ve got at the moment!

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