Australian Music Examinations Board
Australian Music Examinations Board

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The Case for Recorded Accompaniments

AMEB will soon release recorded accompaniments for use in study and examinations. This release will include piano accompaniments for Flute Series 3 and Violin Series 9 from Preliminary to Grade 3, and Percussion Series 1 from Preliminary to Grade 4. Eventually all instruments with piano accompaniments will be released.

recorded accompaniments

 

AMEB will also release its first app, MyTempo, concurrently with the Recorded Accompaniments. MyTempo is a practice app that allows musicians to speed up, slow down and loop any recording without changing the pitch.

 

Leading up to the release of the Recorded Accompaniments, passionate teachers and musicians have been asking questions regarding the Recorded Accompaniment project and what it means for students, teachers, accompaniments and examiners both in the studio and in the exam room.

 

 


Bernard Depasquale, General Manager of AMEB, has responded to the most common questions to shed light on the project foundations and benefits as the AMEB sees them.

 


Will playing with a recording lead to unmusical playing?

Some students have access to fine accompanists and have the opportunity to rehearse and perform regularly with them. For most students, however, working with an accompanist is a rarity and they often have only one rehearsal before the exam. Recorded accompaniments will give students without regular access to accompanists the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the piano part so that they get much better value from the time spent with an accompanist.


Teachers and parents recognise that rehearsing with a professional accompanist is an additional cost as part of their child’s musical education and will try and use an accompanist’s time as efficiently as possible. Where there is limited time, the accompanist’s task is to ensure that the most basic requirements of ensemble playing are met. There is very rarely the opportunity to refine the more complex musical requirements of a piece. By giving students a chance to prepare with the piano part before the first rehearsal with the accompanist, rehearsal time can be spent on real music making and not just fulfilling the most basic musical requirements.

 

AMEB has engaged top performers and producers to ensure that the recordings are as suitable as they can be for the purpose. They have also been proof played by experienced teachers and examiners to make sure that they are as effective as possible for their purpose.

 

Isn’t AMEB discouraging professional accompanists?

AMEB highly values accompanists, the work they do and the role they play in ensemble playing. We hope that this new resource will benefit accompanists as well as teachers and students. Instead of students arriving for a first rehearsal unprepared, they can now arrive confident that they understand the piano part and how it fits in with their own part so that the accompanist and student can start making music from the very beginning. We hope that this resource leads to more students undertaking examinations, and thus more work for accompanists and a better experience for all parties.

 

Isn’t this just an example of AMEB creating resources to increase revenue?

It is important to understand that, first and foremost, AMEB is an examination organisation. We require students to do an exam in order for us to grade them and give them an indication of their standard compared with other students across Australia.

 

Currently, one is not able to do an AMEB examination on an orchestral instrument or voice without an accompanist. Many students are therefore excluded from taking an AMEB examination. We don't believe that this is in the best interests of the teacher, student, AMEB or music education in general.

 

How does this affect AMEB’s ‘standard of excellence’?

While we encourage, appreciate and reward excellence we also highly value access and inclusion. AMEB doesn’t only take the best students for examinations. We take all students: good, bad and indifferent. If a student fails, we don't discard them; we encourage them to try again! We believe that all students should have the opportunity to learn music as part of their education. Making examinations available only to people who can afford, or have access to, a professional accompanist is the antithesis of this belief.


Why only produce accompaniments for Preliminary to Grade 3 for most syllabuses?

The AMEB Board carefully considered the level to which a recorded accompaniment could be used without significantly diminishing the musical experience and Grade 3 was agreed to be the highest level at which this was generally possible.

 

Will this mean less work for accompanists?

We believe that this new resource will lead to more work for accompanists. We hope that the availability of recorded accompaniments will increase enrolments in the early grades, leading to more enrolments in the higher grades where professional accompanists are more commonly engaged.

 

Won’t this be less satisfying for accompanists?

We believe that this will lead to a more fulfilling experience for accompanists. Imagine first rehearsals in which each student is already familiar with the piano part! They can count their bars of rests, they know how to come in at the beginning, how to slow down before the ‘a tempo’ and so on. Imagine rehearsals that are about the real fun of music-making, concentrating on the musical opportunities offered by the pieces and the student’s own creativity rather than just fitting the melody line in with the accompaniment.


Can a recording adequately replicate the ‘live’ experience?

AMEB absolutely understands and endorses the benefits of working with 'live' musicians and encourages all young musicians to do so whenever possible. And we still actively encourage all candidates to use a professional accompanist in their examinations. However, where this is not possible, we’d still like to give students in the earlier stages of their musical development the opportunity to take an AMEB examination. We will continue to innovate and make music examinations, as part of the whole music education system, as affordable and accessible as possible.

  

Is it better to have poor quality accompanying or a good recording?

AMEB would be delighted if everyone had a professional accompanist as part of their examination experience. However, in many instances this is not the case. Particularly in the early grades, it is often a (non-pianist) teacher, relative, friend or sibling who is roped in to play for an exam. Advice from our examiners suggests that a poor-quality accompanist can be very off-putting for a candidate, who is already in a stressful and vulnerable situation, and that this can negatively affect their grading.

 

What are the benefits of using a professional accompanist?

There is a lot more flexibility available to a candidate when using a good accompanist. For practice purposes the recorded accompaniments can be used at any tempo. In the examination room, however, they must be played at the 100% or examination tempo. A candidate may want to make more (or less) of a particular tempo change and they cannot do this with the recorded accompaniment – they are limited to the predetermined changes that form part of the recording. An accompanist can move with the candidate and allow them to express their own musicality to its full extent.

 

Is using Recorded Accompaniments the perfect solution?

No, it is a compromise. AMEB believes that every child should have access to a quality music education. This would include access to high-quality instruments, practical lessons, theory lessons, aural lessons, accompanists and all the other things that go together to make a rounded music experience. Unfortunately, this is far from realistic for most music students, and some degree of compromise is necessary. AMEB believes that Recorded accompaniments represent a compromise that will benefit many students and make the AMEB stable of resources, including syllabuses and examinations, as widely accessible as possible. 

 

Recorded Accompaniments will be available as both hardcopy CDs from AMEB Preferred Retailers  ($16.95 RRP) and digital recordings from digital music outlets like iTunes or Google Play ($1.69 RRP).

 

MyTempo will be available from the iTunes and Google Play app stores ($3.79).

 

Have more questions? Feel free to contact AMEB Federal Office.