Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to prepare for a piano exam?

Useful tips to get ready for any piano exam

In this video, Robert gives you the best, most practical tips to be well-prepared for any piano exam.

Released on June 19, 2013

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin here at and We've heard several questions, "How to prepare for a piano exam?"

I certainly remember in my days in the conservatory, preparing for piano exams in preparation for recitals. You'd go into a jury, and they spot check your music. So you might have an hour's worth of music or more, but they'll say, "Let's hear a little bit of the second movement of the Beethoven now," or abruptly stop you right in the middle which can be very disconcerting. So you have to really be prepared.

Well how do you prepare for a piano exam? Is it different from preparing for a recital? That's what we are going to discuss today. Well, of course when you're preparing for a piano exam, you want to prepare just as you would for a recital. Even if you're only playing for five or ten minutes, as part of the little excerpts of your program. So you want to do all the type of practice you normally do. Secure your memory. Go through practice without pedals so you can make sure your fingers are really connecting well. Practice with the metronome.

More than that though, you want to live with the music and play mentally. One of the best types of practice is playing through your memorized music away from the piano. Why is this so important? Well, if you can conceptualize your music with all the sound, and the fingering, and everything, without even moving your fingers and not even looking at a keyboard, you really know your scores. It's so reassuring when you have your music mastered to that level. Because no matter who you are and how well you're prepared, mishaps can happen to the best concert pianists. And when they do, being able to recover is very important. It's vital that you be able to keep the music moving. If you have your music learned so well that you can play it even away from the piano, you'll know which keys to play.

Often times when you practice a piece many, many times, you can play it without even thinking about it. Your fingers have a certain tactile memory all their own. Of course, we all depend upon that to one extent or another, but it's dangerous to depend upon it too much. Which is why you want to be able to think of your music, and have it all up here, and know really what you're doing, not just in automatic pilot. So, that's one thing you can do.

Another very important thing, and I say it's vital, is before you even have your exam or recital, be sure to play through your music for friends or relatives in a setting that is comfortable, but make it formal. For example, if you have colleagues and you're going to school, have them test you just like a jury would do, sitting there stone-faced, asking you to play starting here, ending there, being rude. Because sometimes, hey, auditions are not always warm and fuzzy experiences.

These people, they might have 20 or 30 people to get through. And they're busy, and they're hungry. They want to get to lunch, and they want to hammer through everybody and find out as quickly as possible if somebody is prepared or not prepared. So they're not doing it to make you feel good. They're trying to get a job done. So don't take it personally if they treat you that way. It doesn't mean that you're doing badly. There's a psychology to all of this, and you have to be able to rise above it, and realize the purpose that they are there for is not the same as what you are there for. It's not the same kind of experience of sharing music, and passion, and love, and making a wonderful experience for them. It is just a test. So prepare the best you can, and prepare mock auditions, and you should do great in your piano exam.

Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin, at
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Nadia Bishai (Egyptian) on June 21, 2013 @12:11 pm PST
Many thanks for your guidance. I am an emeritus prof. of English lit. and had to make my choice between choosing a scholarship for Santa Cecilia or another for lit. in the Uni of London. I chose the latter because I could study music in London, but not English lit. in Rome! I hae done part-time piano teaching at the Academy of Arts and the Alexandria private conservatoire. I have also given local recitals and still suffer from stagefright. One great cellist I once accompanied in Alexandria, Egypt, was the late Charles Wendt of the Uni of Iowa. He recommended hot tea just before a recital. Didn't help. Any ideas? Nadia Z. Bishai, Alexandria, Egy[t. (Egyptian).
Robert - host, on June 21, 2013 @10:34 pm PST
I will be making a video on this subject. Stay tuned!
Toya Harvey on June 19, 2013 @6:32 am PST
very encouraging for piano majors!
Jean-Marc Fabri on June 19, 2013 @5:09 am PST
Thanks Robert!
Chaim on June 19, 2013 @5:05 am PST
Robert is one of the best music instructors online. Aside the fact that his advice is invaluable, he presents it in such a passionate and entertaining manner. I always look out for his videos.
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