Tips for preparing for your music exam | John Packer Ltd

With exam season on the horizon, John Packer Ltd brings you handy hints on how to give the performance you want to give.


Practice makes perfect… Well, almost

There’s no magic formula when it comes to preparing for a music exam; practice is key. Dedicating some time each day to your instrument will be one of the best things you can do to ensure you are prepared and ready to succeed by exam day.

A word of caution, though – make sure you’re making the most of your practice time. Repetition can be very useful, but simply running through pieces from start to finish every time won’t necessarily be the best use of time, especially if you’re just reinforcing mistakes. Try splitting your practice time into chunks – ie slots for long notes, scales, lip flexibilities, studies, exam/solo repertoire and some band music. The time will fly by!


 Boxer in training


Muhammad Ali, perhaps the world’s greatest boxer, used a visualisation technique called Future History. He said: “The man with no imagination has no wings.”

Ali would picture himself at the end of the fight, his arms being lifted by the referee in victory. He would hear the crowds cheering and shouting his name, and would feel how amazing it felt to win. He was totally in the zone.

Don’t worry – there’s no need to get into the boxing ring! But prepare with a positive mindset. Imagine the scenario that lies ahead. Picture yourself going into the exam room, meeting the examiner or starting the recording. Think about what it looks like, feels like, smells like and so on. Picture yourself giving a wonderful performance, and direct all your energy to making it happen.


Test the system

Before the exam, perform your pieces to someone. A friend, family member, classmate – anyone who can be an audience. Getting a performance (or two) under your belt before the real thing is extremely beneficial, as you navigate the twists and turns of your programme. Afterwards, think about what worked well, and what could be tweaked or polished. That extra learning will feed into your final performance, and help give you the confidence needed to succeed.





Butterflies in your tummy? Hands a bit sweaty? It’s entirely natural to feel nervous in those moments just before an exam. In fact, it’s a good thing! Getting a bit nervous reminds us we care about what we’re doing – and how we channel that feeling can help take the performance to the next level.

Put yourself back in control. Slow, deep breaths are one of the best ways of doing this, as they help lower your heart rate. In and out, steadily, over several steady counts. If you’re playing a brass or woodwind instrument, breathing is key, so it’s really important to take a couple of minutes to do this. It’ll help keep you settled, grounded, and ultimately, give you the control you need to flourish.


Tune up

You’re in the room. An examiner is smiling at you. You’ve put your sheet music on the stand and blown your water out. Good to go, right? Wait! Before you launch into those carefully-practised solos, turn to your accompanist and take a moment to tune. Never miss this step – an out-of-tune performance could detract, which would be a great shame after so much work and effort.

Also, tuning up is an excellent opportunity to play a few notes in the actual exam room, getting a feel for the space, and is another step along the way in making yourself feel comfortable. It’s a win-win!

 Motivation quote

Be the best version of you

As exam day arrives, the work is done. It’s natural to feel apprehensive – but believe. If you have put in the practice time, you can take great confidence that you have given yourself every chance of being the best version of yourself. It’s not about doing anything differently on the day – just bringing to the examiner the same musical ideas you’ve been practising so diligently in the build-up.

If there’s a split note or something doesn’t quite speak as you intended, don’t worry. Leave it behind. Stay in the moment and let the music shine. Good luck!