In tune with the times

The introduction of more musical genres and group examinations is aimed at ensuring that formal musical appreciation continues to thrive, discovers TAN SHIOW CHIN

EXCITING developments are on the horizon in the music education scene. Aware that music education is evolving, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) has come up with several innovations including more jazz music exams, a Music Medals programme and new online resources for teachers and students. 

ABRSM chief executive Richard Morris, who was in town recently to promote these new developments, is excited over the positive impact these innovations will have on the Malaysian scene. 

Traditionally, classical music has been a favourite with students, but ABRSM is beefing up its curriculum with the introduction of jazz. - filepic

Jazz it up! 

Expanding beyond classical music, the ABRSM now also offers examinations in jazz music. 

The piano, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and clarinet are the instruments that ABRSM is offering in this genre. 

Introduced only two years ago (except for jazz piano which was introduced in 2000), this little known examination is part of ABRSM’s efforts to expand its repertoire beyond classical music.  

Morris said: “More and more, we need to break down the barriers in music. We take the view that it is the playing of music, in any form, that is important. Jazz is a very established musical form, which has existed for almost a hundred years.” 

The jazz exams are currently available from Grades One to Five. According to Morris, the exam format does not differ much from classical music.  

The main difference is that jazz students have to improvise pieces during their examinations beginning from Grade One itself. 

When asked about the demand here, Morris said: “In Malaysia, we find only a small number of people interested in jazz, but they are a very enthusiastic group.” 

Morris says that the board is also thinking of introducing pop and rock music exams as well.  

Group fun 

Another trend that ABRSM is incorporating into its syllabus is group classes. 

While most students in Malaysia still learn one on one, more and more students in England are studying music in groups of two to four. Besides being more economical, students also find it fun because they are playing with their friends. 

According to Morris, there are two major advantages offered by group classes – they promote a healthy sense of competition amongst the students as well as exposes them to other styles of playing. 

In line with this, ABRSM has introduced the Music Medals programme, which allows students to be examined in groups. 

This programme, with more emphasis on ensemble pieces, was started last year and is available only in the UK. However, the Board is currently assessing the demand for this type of examination in other countries. 

Aimed mainly at younger students who are more likely to learn in groups, the programme has five different levels of medals – copper, bronze, silver, gold and platinum.  

The level of proficiency required to obtain the silver medal is roughly equivalent to that required to pass Grade One, while the platinum medal is equivalent to Grade Four. 

Another advantage is that the students will be assessed by their own teachers who will first have to undergo training from ABRSM. 

Among the safeguards that will be put in place is that videotapes of the exam sessions must be sent to ABRSM, where a moderator will check the accuracy of the assessment and if necessary, re-examine the marks given. 

Students will first be assessed individually, then as a group. They will be graded according to each segment and their marks added together. 

Morris: More and more, we need to breakdown the barriers in music.

New developments 

ABRSM is working with the Education Ministry to explore the possibility of establishing the Music Medals programme in government schools.  

Although the Music Medals programme has not yet been introduced in Malaysia, the materials are available via Penerbit Fajar Bakti, which is the sole agent for ABRSM Publishing Ltd in Malaysia. 

Another new development in ABRSM is their move into cyberspace. 

Just launched in September, is an effort by ABRSM to break down the compartmentalisation between theory and practical learning. 

With audio files available at the site, students and teachers can easily cross-reference musical theory and its practical applications. 

Morris hopes that the site will serve to increase general interest in music among young people, as well as a resource for those taking the ABRSM exams. 

The site also features specially commissioned pieces from the classical, jazz and African music genres. 

Morris also hinted that there will be changes to supporting tests, that is aural, scales and sight-reading, in four years’ time. 

However, teachers will be given at least two years to introduce the changes to their students. 

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