So you start lessons on whatever instrument you want to play, pass a grade exam and you are done!! Maybe not so, but is working for exams a bad idea?

It got me thinking the other day after giving one of my students the certificate for her grade two, which she passed with a merit. Her face lit up and instantly she promptly made a strong point that we would be starting on grade three. I have always taught grades and I definitely think there are advantages of them.

The grade one Rockschool exam will take you through all the basics of drumming, including eighth and quarter beats with the right hand and basic patterns with your feet. It also offers various rudiments, ear test and a short sight reading test. I personally feel that most of these elements would give any potential drummer a good grounding for what would lay in store for the future.

The problem I have is with the teachers that don’t explore the reasons behind the exams. To most students learning the drums, once the basics of understanding the score have been achieved, you could effortlessly make your way through to grade three without much trouble. Some teachers will let their students do this, why? In my job I am often asked to cover lessons for holidays and I am amazed at how many students can’t play a double stroke roll or a simple fill. Playing to a click can sometimes feel like a guessing game. Playing to a click should have been sorted along time ago!

In the real world it is different. I know the first time I started playing reading gigs; I thought it was going to be a full score like my grades. I was so wrong, the chart I had been given foxed me for a while, but I soon made my way through it. If my teacher had been more thorough, I would have been more prepared. It is also about the feel of the music; learn to listen and here the bass player, guitarist etc. Bring in certain techniques for that level and the reasons behind it. Then maybe when a student says, “I’m a grade three” they really are!

So, is working for an exam a bad idea? Try playing to a song that is not in the exam syllabus and you will find out yourself. Just playing songs and being tested on how you play on the day, will not prepare you for music. Pick your teacher carefully!