04 December 2018
By Ellie Palmer
Piano exam season has crept up on us again!
Settle your exam fears with these 8 practical tips...
With the LCM and ABRSM pianoforte examinations beginning again this spring, students like yourself will be starting to feel the pressure. This is all natural of course, but annoyingly these nerves can take over in the final few weeks of preparation. So, what are you feeling?
You are most likely worried about making mistakes on the day; you’re worried that the occasional wrong note here or there will lose you too many marks. Or perhaps you are worried about the other areas of the exam - the sight reading and the viva voce. Whatever it is that you are nervous about, there are ways to settle your fears so that you can focus on what is most important; simply showing the examiner exactly what you can do.
Here are Pianist’s 8 tips on how to get rid of nerves before your piano exam.
1. Be prepared
There are two types of nerves when it comes to live performances:
- Knowing your pieces well but being nervous about small mistakes
- Being under-prepared and worrying about big mistakes
The best advice we can give is to simply practice. If you can play your pieces precisely and well in practice, then you will be okay. Yes, you may make a small mistake or two, but these won’t be enough to pull your grade down by any more than a couple of marks. Even if you did have to stop mid-performance, trust your instincts. You know the song well enough to pick it back up again very quickly. The examiner will notice this as an example of your perseverance.
2. Avoid over-practising on the day
The last thing you want to do is shatter your own confidence by over-practising, which leads to mistakes being made. Here is our advice:
- Practice through your entire set no more than twice on the morning of your exam.
- Don’t touch a piano again until you are in your exam!
- If you need to, practice your hand shapes, fingering, and tempos on your knees whilst you are waiting to be called in.
Viva Voce, however, is different. You can’t practice this enough. To take your fears off the performance itself, practice your viva voce with a friend or a parent. If you’re confident about one aspect of your exam, this will flow into the other areas of the exam. It’s beneficial all round.
3. Remember why you are there
Whether you are doing Grade 1 or Grade 8, you are here for a reason. What is that reason? Either:
- You passed your previous exams and qualified for this one, or;
- Your teacher thinks you are more than capable of taking this grade.
The bottom line is, you earned the right to take this exam. There was a reason why your previous examiners gave you a pass, merit or distinction. There’s a reason why your teacher feels you are ready to take this exam. They believe that you are talented at playing piano and they believe you can succeed. The only person left to believe this is yourself.
4. Declare that you ARE going to do well
Leading on from the last point...
Once you realize that those around you want you to succeed, it’s important to then believe in yourself that you can succeed. Making mistakes in practice can so easily knock your confidence. But we have realized that the best way to combat this is to simply tell yourself that you will do well; not that you can or you might, but that you will. What’s the best way of doing this?
"Your own words will have more impact on your future than anything anybody else says about you." – Joel Osteen, Theologist.
Theologist Joel Osteen talks here about just how powerful your own words can be in creating a positive change in your life.
“Many people are overly critical of themselves, saying, ‘I’m so clumsy. I can’t do anything right.' In your case, those words might be, ‘this piece is too hard, I can’t do it.’"
"They may not realize it, but those words sink into their minds," he says. "Before long, they develop a defeated mentality and diminished confidence. One of the best ways to break off negativity is to simply speak words of victory. It’s not enough just to think it; you need to hear it, because what we constantly hear ourselves saying we will eventually believe."
So, what can you tell yourself before your exam?
- "I am going to get through this hard piece without making any big mistakes."
- "I will get a distinction in this exam."
- "I am going to remember everything I learnt."
You’ll be amazed at what happens when you say positive things about yourself.
5. Remember to breathe
Here’s another practical tip for you. Nerves and anxiety tend to cause your hands to tremble, which of course is not ideal for someone who’s about to take a piano exam! The breathing exercise on the left will help calm your nerves, allowing your hands to settle and focus on playing.
Not finding the breathing exercise useful? Having a little sing in the bathroom before you go into your exam might be the better option for you. Singing releases chemicals called endorphins and oxytocin around your body which help to relax you and improve your mood.
7. Go easy on the caffeine
You need to do everything you can to hit that ideal combination of being relaxed but focused. If you are a regular coffee drinker, one coffee in the morning won’t do you any harm. Just make sure that you are leaving over an hour between finishing your coffee and starting your exam. You don’t want to be too alert. If you aren’t a regular coffee drinker, leave it that way.
One of the tricks to doing well in pressurizing events like your exam is to keep your routine exactly the same: if you don’t normally have caffeine, don’t have it.
8. The examiners are there to pass you
It's very easy to slip into the habit of viewing the examiner as this negative figure; as someone who is watching your every move in the exam, hoping – just hoping – to spot a small mistake so that you can be marked down. It's easy to believe that it's their job to highlight your flaws and to try and take marks from you.
However, the reality is this: examiners want to pass you.
Wait, they want to pass me? They want to see me do well?
Of course, they do! Yes, it’s their job to be fair and to judge your performance on a number of factors. But ultimately, they get joy and pleasure out of seeing students excel. Who wouldn’t?
So, remind yourself of these when you approach your next exam:
- Work hard and you’ll reap the rewards
- Relax on the day
- Remember why you are there
- Believe in yourself
- Remember to breathe
- Remind yourself that the examiners are on your side
These pieces of advice helped me through my exams.
And now I hope they will help you through yours.
Need some last-minute advice on piano fingering before your exam? Click here for 5 of the best tips.
If you need a little more in-depth practice, we have a host of varied piano lessons available for free here.