Are Music Skill Levels Important?

Piano Lessons / general / Are Music Skill Levels Important?

If you were a music student at one time or have a child studying music you might be familiar with the popular numerical grades for music students. In the past I’ve had parents from potential students contact me and reference the student’s grade level. What do these grade levels really mean and are they important for students and parents?

The truth is that on a whole these grades don’t really mean much. In certain contexts they can be beneficial but they aren’t some gold standard to adhere to when it comes to studying music. Grade levels can be arbitrary, they are not universal when it comes to institutions. For example, the MTAC (Music Teachers Association of California) provides grade levels for their teachers and students but these are not universal grades used by other institutions. In different countries they have different grading systems and even in different states within the USA there are different grading systems within different organizations.

So why do we even have these grading systems? They do provide a good use for competitions. Teachers are able to better place their students in competitions when they use the grading system because they will have a good idea of where they fit in and what level will give them the best chance to win. Grade levels can also help teachers identify repertoire for students quickly because they will have a good idea of their skill level when searching for a new piece. If you are part of a music teacher’s association they often publish lists of repertoire and the corresponding grade levels that go with them making the search for a new piece very easy.

Beyond grade levels, musical scores have such a deep and complex nature to them that a number can’t really justify whether it’s a good fit for a student or not. For example, have you ever heard a student play a slow Mozart movement well? It’s very unusual to have a student who can play with the poetry required to play one of these deceptively simple pieces correctly. Just because it’s easy to play the notes doesn’t make it easy to play the piece correctly. Grade levels really don’t take into account the individual characteristics of a student.

Different students excel in different skill sets and these grade levels are really only a rough guideline for a teacher to see how advanced a student is. Any good teacher will recognize the individual characteristics of their students and can probably help select a good piece for them by using both their knowledge of the student and their graded level.

This is a very important and deep topic and I’m sure everyone has their own opinion on it. We would love to hear your comments and suggestions for this video or any ideas you might have for future videos. Thanks again for joining us (949) 244-3729