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How did PCSPPE get started?

This is how PCS Piano Proficiency Examinations got started and my mission to make it accessible for all students, young and old.

Having tested my students over the years with many different systems, I was becoming more and more disenchanted with their process. I was also becoming aware that other teachers were feeling the same. Wasn’t there something out there, that allowed a teacher to have a little more control, while still seeking high standards? I decided to go investigate.

After almost a year of probing and studying, I decided there wasn’t anything out there that met the needs of my students, so it was up to me to create something. I wanted to keep the best portions of some of the existing systems, but streamline and tweak. I wanted to target the most important elements that an AVERAGE student should be able to accomplish within a year-nothing more, nothing less. I decided that the most important aspects for all students was basic technique, sight-reading & transposition, vocabulary and repertoire, so this is what is included in the exam.

There are 2 phases: Technical & Repertoire

The technical phase is always addressed first. Because so many students don’t “enjoy” this aspect of lessons, if they know they must test in this area at the beginning of the exam (or as I like to tell my students-get it out of the way), they must be knowledgeable in 7 areas: scales, chords, cadences, arpeggios, sight-reading, transposition and vocabulary. Each level, has specific requirements (found in the Syllabus). Students are asked to play 2 each of scales, chords, cadences & arpeggios….HOWEVER…they are NOT from the same key! This ensures us as teachers that the student has a great understanding of key and can easily adapt. This cannot be learned in just a few month, it takes every lesson….so YOU (as their teacher) are able to get those elements into your lesson without issue. The next area, sight-reading and transposition are vital in my opinion. As we all know, pianists are often asked to sight-read, but what is usually most horrifying, is if we are asked to transpose on the spot. Students can generally transpose with practice, but to be able to think in a different key is challenging. The third portion of this phase is vocabulary. How can a student play without understanding the language? Each level has 25 words, that a student is asked to learn for the test. They are asked to define 4 words from that list. If there are language barriers, they are allowed to paraphrase or demonstrate.

The repertoire phase is just that…pieces that the student is asked to memorize. The test requires 4 pieces and in the upper levels, must include 1 piece from each musical era. Students are allowed the freedom of choice in selecting their pieces, but must adhere to required elements, which may be found in the Syllabus.

I then decided there should be a time limit for each level. I encourage students to choose shorter pieces that will exhibit their proficiency. This is not a contest, pieces should be limited to the number of pages.

So there you have it. PCSPPE in a nut-shell .  If you have questions, please ask!

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