In 2012 we at Jazz Workshop Australia started offering formal examinations in jazz performance for our students.
Now, after a few terms of hard work, the first students are now starting to sit for their exams. The very first to sit an exam was trumpet student Paddy Nicols. We are delighted to report that Paddy rose to the occasion and passed with flying colours. In fact, he achieved an A (high Distinction) grade in his Preliminary Level 2 exam last week. Paddy’s proud teacher is Paul Murchison.
The exams are available only to JWA students at the moment. They are designed to provide formal recognition of a student’s level of performance in jazz, which can be a rather nebulous, hard-to-define thing. The syllabus has been designed to take students through the fundamental skills typically needed in the initial stages of becoming a jazz performer. At the higher levels it offers a clear program of study equivalent to tertiary level.
As well as performance, The syllabus includes general knowledge, sight reading, transposition, aural training, improvisation, ensemble leading, and more. The Preliminary levels are similar to traditional music exams that many of you will be familiar with: scales, set pieces, etc. The difference is that the “requirements” are based entirely on the skills needed to play typical beginner jazz repertoire. that means there are a lot of scales to learn (and not forget after the exam is over) and some less familiar keys to play in. Of course improvisation also plays a central role in the exams, as it does in jazz. Clear skills, techniques and criteria are taught and tested.
There are four higher levels in the JWA exam system, Intermediate 1, Intermediate 2, Advanced 1 and Advanced 2. Each of these starts with a list of skills that characterise a student musician at that level. These skills simply describe the many things a student should be able to do. Some are reasonably simple, others difficult. By the highest level (Advanced Level 2), some of them are very testing. Very testing indeed.
There are no set pieces in the high level exams. It is up to each student and their teacher to work through music that interests them and suits their developing style and approach. Of course, there are criteria to be met and specific skills to demonstrate. The Advanced levels involve a recital, and exam and a written paper.
Of course, none of our students have to do any exams at all, that is important to us here at JWA. But for those who do, we are proud to be able to offer a serious and rigorous syllabus for them to work through.