The Mythical Grade 8

ABRSM Exam Certificates

Grade 8 is the highest available graded instrumental exam. For parents and students alike, it can seem like a glowing light in the distance – a magical target that once achieved will bestow the mythical status of ‘musician’ on anyone who can reach it.

Here are 8 myths about reaching Grade 8:

Myth #1 – Grade 8 means I’m good enough to be a professional

Nothing in music qualifies or says you’re good enough to be a professional. The people who decide if you’re good enough to be a professional are the people who pay you! Grade 8 is definitely a good target if you want to have a career in music. It should set you up with a solid technical foundation, and give you extra skills like sight-reading and aural awareness. By the time you reach Grade 8, you’ll also probably have a good idea of whether you want to make a living from music. However, Grade 8 alone isn’t going to get you paid work – you need more skills than what is included in Grade 8. Diplomas, higher education study and participation in plenty of amateur performing opportunities are the things that will help you get started as a professional.

Myth #2 – By the time I get to Grade 8, I’ll be able to sing/play anything right away

There’s some truth in this one. By Grade 8, if you’ve really achieved the all-round standard, you should be able to tackle most music. There’ll be very little that’s off-limits. However, there’ll still be things which take work and could take months or even years to perfect. There’ll be lots of things you’ll be able to sight-read (more or less), but not everything will be!

Myth #3 – Passing Grade 8 means I don’t need any more lessons

At Grade 8, you need lessons more than ever! As you get better, there’s lots you’ll be able to do in your own practice times to improve, but when you’re working at a post-grade 8 level you need a teacher who has experience working with advanced level pupils who can refine and improve your voice. The right teacher will also help you to work out what steps to take next in your music “career” – whether it’s full-time study, diplomas or a summer school.

Myth #4 – By the time I get to Grade 8, I’ll be able to write my own music

Grade 8 is a performance exam, so you never have to learn to compose as part of it. Some boards do have an improvisation option, but there’s no real composition element. If you get to Grade 8 with ABRSM you’ll probably have a good idea of what sounds good and bad, and some of the basic theory you need to back it up. However, composing is a different skill to playing.

Myth #5 – If I get Grade 8 in one style of singing, I’ll never be able to sing any other music

Not at all! Grade 8 is a sign that you’ve hit a good level of proficiency in one style of singing, but very few people who sing professionally (other than perhaps those at the top of their game) only sing in one style or genre. If you’ve reached the giddy heights of classical Grade 8, you can probably start in at a higher level for rock & pop exams or musical theatre exams, though you’ll still have new skills to learn. I’d actually recommend getting experience in two or more vocal styles to give you greater vocal flexibility and a wider range of options.

Myth #6: Once I’ve passed Grade 8, I can teach my instrument

This, for me, is one of the worst myths out there. Graded exams do not qualify anyone with teaching skills. This is, however, a point a which one could consider the possibility of teaching, and look for a mentor to guide you through the early stages of learning to teach. Grade 8 is one of the requirements for taking teaching diplomas, as are more advanced theory qualifications, and I would always recommend getting a teaching qualification so that you and your future students know you know what you’re doing. Please, whatever you do, don’t set up teaching the day after you get your Grade 8 certificate. You’re not doing anyone any favours. If you’re interested in qualifying as a teacher, please contact me. I’m not yet qualified to teach teachers, but I can recommend a number of other teachers across the UK who will be happy to mentor you.

Myth #7: Grade 8 makes me a musician

If you need a certificate to prove you’re a musician, you probably aren’t one. Being a musician is a gut feeling, just like becoming an adult. Whether it’s the moment sight-reading clicks, or the day you perform perfectly in a competition, you will, one day, find that thing which makes you feel like you can hold that title.

Myth #8: Grade 8 is the end

Grade 8 is not the end. It’s the end of the beginning. Go out and explore where you can go next!

 

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