Going for gold!
Group teaching is increasingly becoming a key part of a music teacher’s role. But finding the right assessment can be difficult. Here, Helen Lane, a Teacher-Assessor with Worcestershire Music Service, talks to Katherine Smith about why she turned to Music Medals and how they have benefited her pupils. Helen Lane has been using Music Medals for the past five years. ‘They’re just so easy to use,’ she reveals. ‘I was very interested in Music Medals when they first became available in 2005 and since then I have been using them successfully. I have had all my examinees achieve passes and I currently have five students working for their Platinum Medal having previously completed their Copper, Bronze, Silver and Gold Medals successfully. They must have enjoyed working through them or else they wouldn’t want to take this one!’ Helen has been teaching brass with Worcestershire Music Service for the past ten years and is involved in a wide range of group teaching activities including Wider Opportunities and Play 2 Learn schemes. She finds Music Medals a great way of rewarding progress at an early stage of learning in group teaching, as well as being a ‘good and gentle introduction to ABRSM exams.’ Helen also comments on the benefits of the assessment taking place during lessons: ‘It lets the student remain relaxed in familiar surroundings, while still experiencing a sense of nerves as soon as the video camera is turned on.’ Performances at all levels are filmed by the teacher and then sent off to ABRSM to be moderated. But don’t worry about reaching professional recording standards: allowances are made for unavoidable school noises, whether it is bells going off, staff inadvertently walking in, or the low hum of a photocopier! Music Medals assess three skill areas: ensemble playing, solo playing and musicianship, and can be taken at five incremental levels from Copper to Platinum. For Helen’s students the ensemble aspect is the most enjoyable: ‘Whether they are in a duet or quartet, they relish the challenge of playing together,’ she explains. Some of her students’ favourite pieces from the Trumpet, Cornet and Flugelhorn repertoire lists include: Leap Frog at Copper, Elephant’s March at Bronze and Mission Improbable at Silver. Ensemble playing provides invaluable experience in leading, counting, interacting, listening and blending with others. Helen adds that it is great that the parts are ‘set in score’ in ABRSM’s publications as it means all the players can watch, as well as listen, to the others playing in the group. The musicianship options section features a range of four tests, from which you choose one. Helen’s students tend to enjoy the improvisation aspect of Call and Response most, but her favourite is Make a Tune. Many of her students also choose the Sight-Reading option, as it is good preparation for when they move on to graded music exams. ‘These options are very well thought out,’ Helen comments, ‘as they challenge and push the young musicians further.’ The fourth option is Question and Answer which requires two bars of sight-reading followed by a two bar answer, all done by the pupil. Individual tests for the assessment are downloaded from the Music Medals website for each candidate. Helen is also director of a successful youth marching band and belongs to the British Youth Band Association, an umbrella body for marching bands in the country. She has worked hard to introduce Music Medals into the world of marching bands and has had successes already with two students taking their Copper and Bronze Medals and hoping to take their Silver in the near future. So, if you are a teacher working in schools or for Music Services in the UK and are thinking about using Music Medals, don’t be frightened of trying them. As Helen will testify: ‘They’re easier to use than you think!’
This article was originally featured in the September 2010 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.