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Advice to Licentiate Performance Exam Candidates

David Lockett

Advice to Licentiate Performance Exam Candidates from Emeritus Professor David Lockett AM, Chief Examiner (Practical)

Candidates undertaking the Licentiate performance diploma have already devoted a great deal of time and energy to their musical studies. They have demonstrated a special level of commitment and have already made significant progress along their musical journey. Attempting a Licentiate examination represents a significant challenge and it is hoped that the comments that follow will help candidates and teachers to better understand the nature of this challenge. They incorporate feedback from members of the AMEB’s panel of federal practical examiners based upon performances presented in the 2019 cycle of examinations.

General expectations

The Licentiate examination is assessed as a concert performance. This means that, in addition to a high level of fluency and accuracy, the candidate is expected to show a strong personal engagement with the expressive element together with the ability to develop and maintain a convincing musical narrative.

The objectives that form the basis of assessment at this level can be found in the 2020 Manual of Syllabuses and are set out for each specialisation as part of the Level 3 syllabus requirements. A key expectation is that candidates will demonstrate an advanced and consistent level of technical accomplishment, a mature musical understanding and the ability to feel and project the changing mood and character of the works that are performed. Put another way, the emphasis is upon the ability to communicate musical and expressive content without technical impediments. Technical accomplishment, therefore, needs to extend beyond mere accuracy and fluency (essential though they are) to support a mature level of musicianship and demonstrate a personal expressive engagement with the repertoire.

What is meant by a “mature musical understanding”?

  • It has nothing to do with age.
  • It has everything to do with demonstrating a personal connection to the expressive elements of music and the ability to engage with mood and emotion: in other words, to take personal ownership of the music.
  • It requires a level of technical accomplishment that results in a confident and fluent performance and which maintains consistency and continuity.
  • It is about lifting one’s sights above the purely mechanical aspects of performance to engage with higher expressive aims.
  • It involves making interpretive choices that stem from a personal view of the music.
  • It involves the development of both physical stamina and mental concentration.
  • It requires the playing to be informed by a broader musical awareness – a knowledge of other repertoire, of historical and stylistic context, of other approaches to interpretation etc.

It is of paramount importance that the syllabus objectives are studied carefully, and that all other syllabus requirements are fully understood. This includes those relating to program structure, program duration and performance from memory. These are all set out in detail in the 2020 Manual of Syllabuses.

Program construction

The syllabus sets out specific expectations for the construction of programs and these should be strictly adhered to. In particular, candidates should ensure that their programs:

  • Conform to the requirements of the repertoire lists
  • Cover the required range of styles and/or historical periods
  • Meet the specified timing requirements (allowing for appropriate breaks between items and movements but avoiding unduly long gaps)
  • Take account of the memory requirement.

The matter of maximum and minimum timings is of special importance. If a program falls short of the minimum, one or more additional works must be performed to bring it up to the required length. It is equally important not to allow the program to exceed the maximum duration, otherwise examiners will be obliged to curtail the performance so that the total examination length is not exceeded. Precise timings made at an early stage of preparation will ensure that such problems do not occur.

Within the broad parameters of program construction, the candidate has the opportunity to select repertoire that suits their own technical and interpretive capacity. Programs should be chosen wisely in terms of duration and level of difficulty. Filling every possible minute with material is neither necessary nor desirable. Candidates are also discouraged from choosing programs that are too ambitious. As long as all program requirements are met, assessment is based solely upon the quality of what is presented. The syllabus objectives require the candidate to demonstrate “musicality, maturity, confidence and conviction” and that is not possible if the chosen repertoire does not fall within the player’s current level of technical ability and musical understanding.

The performance

The examination is treated as a performance, and standard performance conventions should be observed. There will not normally be any conversation between works. Apart from small breaks, the candidate should preserve their demeanour throughout the program. Frequent sips of water should be avoided.

At the Licentiate level, it is assumed that the candidate will demonstrate a level of accuracy, fluency, tonal control and overall musical continuity that will allow the expressive content of the program to be communicated with confidence. Technical ability alone is insufficient to ensure a successful outcome. Listening widely to other works and to a range of different expert performances will assist in building a strong, authentic and well-founded personal conviction concerning style and interpretive possibilities.

One point of noticeable difference between successful and unsuccessful candidates is often in the area of physical and mental endurance. Candidates have the option of setting a program order that enables them to pace their energy and to move easily (technically and mentally) from one work to the next. Pianists may benefit from hiring the venue in advance of the examination to check out the instrument and the acoustics.

Examiners made the following specific comments about 2019 examinations:

  • Many of the unsuccessful candidates revealed textual inaccuracy in addition to technical shortcomings. Thorough and accurate learning at an early stage is an indispensable part of preparation.
  • Some were unable to engage successfully with the expressive aspects of the music or to deliver the repertoire with the expected level of accuracy, confidence and fluency.
  • Others achieved a satisfactory level of fluency and accuracy but lacked the necessary musical maturity or interpretive and stylistic insight.
  • Some candidates appeared not to grasp the elements of musical grammar, having difficulty understanding, shaping and sustaining a musical line and maintaining a clear musical focus throughout the performance.
  • It is important to maintain rhythmic precision and stability of tempo.
  • The memorisation requirement proved problematic for some players. There were instances of candidates presenting from memory one movement only of a multi-movement work. The syllabus clearly states that at least one complete work needs to be performed from memory, so any problems in this regard were the result of careless reading of syllabus requirements.
  • It should be noted that performance from memory beyond the specified requirement is entirely optional. While performing from memory is always encouraged, there is no advantage in doing so if it results in other aspects of the performance being compromised.
  • Those candidates working with associate artists are reminded of the importance of scheduling plenty of rehearsal time. The ensemble component forms an important ingredient of the overall artistic impression.
  • Candidates are advised to rehearse their program with an audience before their examination recital (many times if possible), in order to develop confidence and to build the sense of overall structure and continuity in the performance.
  • Part of developing a mature and personal voice as a performer comes from listening widely to repertoire and to different interpretations. This can result in greater depth of knowledge in matters of style and a better understanding of the subtleties of musical expression.
  • For pianists, a full exploration of the capacity of the pedal, with all its subtlety of colours, can greatly enhance the performance.

Candidates are reminded to offer clean copies of the original music for use by the examiners. This assists the examiners in constructing reports that are relevant and helpful. The complete score, and not just a single instrumental line, should be provided.

General knowledge

General Knowledge is an integral part of the diploma assessment with its own set of objectives which are clearly set out in the manual. The Licentiate examination is assessed holistically, with both the performance and the General Knowledge taken into account when determining the overall result. The way a candidate responds to General Knowledge questions is one indicator of their level of musical insight and maturity. Well prepared general knowledge will also enhance the quality of the performance itself.

The overall requirement of the General Knowledge section is for the candidate to demonstrate a mature understanding of the repertoire from the viewpoint of:

  • structure
  • style
  • historical background

Examiners assess this by asking questions from the full score concerning:

  • Terminology, including the significance of titles and the meaning of all markings contained in the score
  • Composers: relevant biographical information, sources of influence, impact upon later generations of composers and repertoire output (both in the discipline being examined and more broadly)
  • Historical and stylistic context: how each work relates to the period from which it arises, considering both its compositional style and the performance conventions of the time
  • Structure: formal layout, keys, melodic/harmonic language and the identification of climax points
  • For instrumentalists, the construction and development of the instrument, with special consideration given to any implications this may have upon the repertoire that is performed.

All general knowledge questions relating to the performed repertoire will be asked from the complete score, not from the instrumental part. It is therefore important that the candidate is familiar with the piano part and can navigate the score with ease.


Emeritus Professor David Lockett AM, Chief Examiner (Practical), March 2020
Advice to Licentiate Performance Exam Candidates

Advice to Licentiate Performance Exam Candidates from Emeritus Professor David Lockett AM, Chief Examiner (Practical).

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