The Start of a New Journey – The LMusA Diploma

So, I decided very recently to start preparations to take the AMEB LMusA (licentiate diploma) exam* –,_Australia . And when I say start preparations I mean pouring over the syllabus and checking out which pieces I’d like to start getting under the fingers, working on and working up. This is literally the start of a new journey and a new journey I’d like to share with you, dear reader.

Why the LMusA Diploma Exam? What’s my motivation?

We all have different motivations for wanting to take exams/ qualifications (or otherwise!). For me personally the motivation is twofold. Firstly I really enjoy the journey in preparing for something like this (a big event, a big concert, an exam). Secondly I do enjoy setting myself goals and timeframes – structure, if you will – in sharpening the mind and helping to push me onwards. And OK, I’ll admit there is a third motivation here – it is quite cool (I think) to get another qualification under my belt and another set of letters after my name.

It is mostly about the journey though, and how I learn and develop along the way – as a guitarist, musician and human being (I don’t mean to sound all “far out”, but you really do learn a lot about yourself on this kind of journey). And I think whenever you take an exam, or commit to something of a similar nature, the journey has to feature largely in your motivation or at least be significant for you in some way – think about how long an exam may be (anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour tops) and how long you’re preparing for it. You’ve got to make the most of that journey!

So, I’m in no hurry to take the examination (plus I’ve got to sit the theory component of it too before the practical, recital type exam). Realistically I’ll probably not look to take the exam earlier than the next 18-24 months. That sounds like a long time to some I’d probably guess, but I’m more than happy to allow myself the time to really get to know the pieces, technically and musically. To let the pieces take on a life of their own.

I’m more than happy to give myself time, once I’ve got to know a few pieces reasonably well, to pick out which are my favourite or have the greatest connection with, winnow out those which I’m less connected with. Then allow that final selection of pieces to seep into my very being so they’re indelibly etched into my musical memory, my aural memory, my visual memory, my kinesthetic memory, my finger and hand muscle memory. I’ll play them to various people, various audiences at various stages of development, so playing them for living, breathing, warm to the touch audiences is a standard occurrence.

The first piece I’ve selected to work on (and I officially started working on it on Sunday) is La Maja de Goya by Enrique Granados. An absolute favourite of mine and a classic piece in the classical guitar repertoire. If you’re not familiar with it head over to YouTube and check out Julian Bream playing it – it’s just beautiful!

Over the next few weeks and months, I’d love to share this journey with you – my ups, my downs, my thoughts, quandaries, decisions, concerts, approaches to learning, practice, how pieces are developing and so on. I may even share with you snippets (or more) of pieces as they develop. And hopefully it helps some of you, dear readers, which is always my key aim.


* Which reminds me, it’s high time I complete the series of posts I started late last year on preparing for an exam. Watch this space!


Classical Guitar Exam Preparation Part Three: Working on the Technical Elements

Today’s post is the third in ten part series on preparing for an exam on the classical guitar. If you missed parts one and two, or want to recap, here are the links:

* Classical Guitar Exam Preparation Part One – Deciding When The Time Is Right

* Classical Guitar Exam Preparation Part Two – Picking Your Repertoire

Now the technical elements of your exam should most definitely not be overlooked nor underestimated. The technical exercises, including the various scales and arpeggios, relevant to your particular grade, should not be underestimated both in terms of the weighting placed on them in the exam and also, importantly, how vital this kind of work is to your development as a guitarist overall.

So one cannot really get by just giving these elements a rudimentary look over. Firstly, talking purely from a “passing the exam” point of view, the security and confidence required to execute your technical work to the satisfaction of the examiner will most definitely require more than a quick look over or a secondary consideration to your repertoire pieces. If you flunk the technical work part of the exam, let me tell things won’t look too good for your overall score!

By looking into the technical elements a few weeks before your exam, or just by looking at them once or twice a week, it’s unlikely you’ll develop the required level of execution to satisfy the examiner. Technical exercises require time and consistent, highly regular practice. This also requires patience and perseverance on behalf of yourself as the student, as you’ll need to maintain your consistent practice over a long period of time – perhaps the space of 12 months or even 24 months from one grade to the next.

Gosh, that makes it sound so tedious doesn’t it?! Don’t forget you’re a musician and you’re doing this to help your development as a musician – so play your technical exercises in a musical way! Do you find them boring? Well, you’re the one playing them, so there’s only one way to make them less boring – play them less boringly!! Have fun with them!! The examiner will thank you too, I’m sure, for making them sound like you enjoy them in the exam room too. Remember, they’ve heard countless examples of what you’re about to play them – give them something beautiful!

Get to work ASAP

Once you know you want to sit for a particular grade exam (or even before if you have half an inkling that you might), I highly recommend you get stuck into the technical work as one of the first things you do. And work on your technical elements daily – you don’t have to drive yourself loopy with it; a little and often is what will see you progress. Depending on what grade you’re aiming to take will dictate how much time you need to spend just in terms of volume of material to get through, but 10-15mins every day is so much better time spent than 30 mins twice a week. You don’t have to do everything on the list every day either, you could write yourself a little schedule of technical work practice to ensure that you’re covering everything off in the space of a week. It’s possible then to see more clearly what may need more work more frequently, and what could be scheduled in less frequently as you progress through the weeks.

It may also be the case, depending on whether the exam you intend on taking is following on from the previous grade exam, or you’ve not taken an exam for a while, or this is your first grade exam (whatever level you’re entering in at), that you need to build up to the technical requirements of the grade you’d like to sit for by preparing with some exercises from lower grades or some supplementary material.

Secondly, and now talking from a general technical development point of view (which applies equally to those not sitting for exams), I can’t stress enough the importance of technical work. Yes, you may find yourself getting by and playing pieces of reasonable difficulty. There will come a time, however, when you will hit a brick wall in your playing and your progress will become limited.

One of the beauties of sitting for a grade exam on the classical guitar is that it forces you somewhat to address the technical work head on – there ain’t no getting around it!

The consistent and concerted study of technique on the guitar, I promise you, will make your guitar-playing life a whole lot easier. The study of scales, arpeggios, and left and right hand exercises of varying types will facilitate ease of playing on the guitar so the execution becomes less of a consideration than the music itself. Technical work is not an end in itself, it’s all there to help you make the most beautiful sound and create the most expressive music possible with the least effort (particularly when the pressure may be on in a situation such as an exam).