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Pre-Exam Checklist - Scales and Technical Exercises, Pieces, and Sight Reading

The exam season has started. Are you prepared or not? Here's our checklist to find out.

Scales and Technical Exercises:

  1. Can you play them at the correct tempo, without making any mistakes in intonation? If you can, you're prepared. If you aren't, follow our advice from the previous blog post on good practice.

  2. Is your rhythm correct? If your rhythm is consistent - all notes are played at their correct length - you're prepared. If you're speeding - or slowing down - you're not prepared. If you experience speeding, subdivide the beats of your metronome, to improve accuracy. Once you improve, remove the subdivisions, and eventually the metronome - you can't take it into the exam, after all. If you slow down - there are other problems at play. Check if your right arm is too tense, or whether your left-hand fingers lack the necessary muscle memory. In either case, follow the advice on good practice from the previous blog.

  3. Can you play them from memory? For some scales it is compulsory, for others it isn't. However, it is best practice to memorise all of them - this makes you look well-prepared. If you're struggling with memorisation - the only method is to practice extensively to develop the muscle memory. Unfortunately, there is no "quick" way.


  1. The first 2 points of Scales and Technical Exercises also applies here. Note though that some pieces may have flexible tempos - some may have sections requiring you to slow down or speed up. In any case, check all the instructions in the music, and be certain of their meaning.

  2. Are you using enough vibrato? If you're on 6th grade or above, vibrato should be second-nature for notes above a crotchet in length (and for crotchets, if the tempo is slow enough). If this isn't you, you're not prepared. If you're not using enough vibrato, this is indicative of either a lack of confidence with vibrato or poor intonation. In both cases, you should do additional exercises to address the deficiency.

  3. Do you understand the context of the piece? Do you know what mood the composer wanted to express? Do you know the story being told? Understanding this is important. The context will determine the type of vibrato you use (large and slow, or short and fast), the bow speed, the amount of bow-hair in contact with the strings and the amount of weight on the strings. To find out the context of a piece, consult your general knowledge book. Having said that, knowing the context is only part of the equation. You've got to translate that knowledge into the music, using the different techniques. Only after you can do this will you be prepared.

  4. Are you able to collaborate with the accompanist? You should always indicate to the accompanist whenever you start. If you require assistance in entries, ask the accompanist to do the same for you. You should also indicate any sections where you will be slowing or speeding up. Additionally, look over the accompanist's part in the score. If you see octaves, unisons, fourths or fifths between your part and the accompanist's - you cannot afford to make any intonation mistakes in those sections. It will be very obvious. If this is news to you, you are unprepared.

Sight Reading:

  1. Do you know what to do when presented with a sight-reading exercise? When presented with a sight-reading exercise, always check the time and key signature. You need to know the correct metre (which determines which beats you emphasise) and which notes are sharps or flats. Speaking of sharps or flats - check for accidentals as well. After the fundamentals are known, check for dynamics. As you ascend in your grades, the dynamics become more difficult - there are more changes, and they will become more nuanced (e.g. mezzo piano to mezzo forte). The tempo is one area for flexibility. Although it is preferable to play the exercise at the correct tempo, it is possible to play it at a slower tempo. Accuracy is more important. You should always do a run-through of the exercise in your head, with the correct notes, metre and dynamics. After you can run through the exercise twice in your head, start playing.

  2. Have you practiced all the exercises in the AMEB sight-reading book? Have you done them according to the first point? If you have, then you're prepared. You have had enough productive practice. If you haven't, you're unprepared.

Hopefully, this checklist will help you with your exam preparation.

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