There are 9 violin grade exams in the UK, one of which is the Initial Grade.

Each violin grade exam in the UK will require more or less technical knowledge of the violin, and will have several elements designed to test you on your ability to perform with the instrument.

There are also Music Theory grade exams which go alongside the practical ones, and provide key theoretical knowledge to compliment the performance element.

It is possible to skip grades, but there are some exceptions and other things you should know before you consider doing so.

Violin on wooden surface
There’s a number of reasons why you might consider skipping violin grades.

Everything You Need to Know About Skipping Grades

There are many reasons why you might want to skip a violin grade, but by far the most common, and appropriate, is that you feel like you have already surpassed the level of a lower grade.

There is a common understanding of skipping being seen as something to be ashamed of, as if you’re missing out on something. However, in the case of violin grades and music grades in general, there are some times when it makes sense to do so.

When You Should Skip

There are definitely some instances in which you should strongly consider skipping a grade for the violin.

  • Your Playing Level is High

It’s very possible that you have been playing the violin ever since you were a child, and you have gotten to a high level without ever taking a single grade.

It’s also possible that you picked up the violin later in life and have only recently discovered that such grades exist, and you’d like to enter at a suitable level to match your ability.

Whatever the case, if you know that you can play the violin to a high standard, then it’s definitely worth considering skipping a grade or two.

There are no consequences for skipping grades.

All you’ll miss out on is the elements practised in the grade exam.

On the other hand, if you go ahead and start from Grade 1 or the Initial Grade, you could be wasting your time.

Due to the financial expense of the exams, it’s also worth taking this into account. Why spend money on the lower grades if it isn’t absolutely essential?

  • Your Tutor Recommends It

If you work with a music teacher or tutor, then they will have a strong idea of what grade you should be at just by working with you.

This is especially true if you have personalised one on one classes with a tutor. SuperProf can be a great platform to find such a tutor, and one who can tailor the lessons to your personal needs and goals.

If your teacher, provided that they have heard you play before, recommends that you skip a certain grade then you should heed their advice.

After all, if you doubt your own ability to assess your level, who else can you turn to for advice on which grade to take?

Take violin lessons on Superprof.

Lady playing violin in the street
If your confidence in your abilities is high, you might want to skip a grade or two.

What’s more, your tutor can also help you prepare for a particular grade too, having likely had to do it themselves at one point.

When You Shouldn’t Skip

There are also a few scenarios in which you shouldn’t skip grades, as you could stand to lose a lot.

  • You Want a Higher Grade

You should never base the decision on whether to skip a grade based on what you want in an ideal world.

While you might want a grade 5 instead of a grade 4, you might have to accept that you haven’t reached that level yet.

Even if your friends or peers are a few grades ahead of where you’re at right now, you shouldn’t skip if you aren’t ready yet.

If you’re impatient and you skip a grade just to try out the next highest one, you could end up losing not only time, but also money, and perhaps more importantly, confidence.

If you try out for a particular grade and you fail, then you’ll likely take a knock to your confidence. Sometimes it can be hard to come back from this, and it could signal the end of your motivation to persevere with the violin.

Obviously this isn’t true in all cases, and you certainly can bounce back from failing a grade exam, but it really isn’t worth the risk to skip over a grade just because you don’t want to do it.

  • You Lack The Motivation

Another situation in which you shouldn’t skip a grade is a lack of motivation.

Even if you can’t seem to get motivated for a particular grade, maybe because you feel like the pieces are tricky for example, you have to do it regardless.

If you are taking a certain grade, it is because you need to know certain technical elements of playing the violin in order to progress.

While the grades themselves don’t make you a great violinist, they can help you build strong foundations as a musician and provide you with a sound knowledge of what it takes to give a solid performance.

As a result, you should look at each grade as a significant milestone which can provide you with a lot of value.

While you may think that it’s best to skip grades to climb the ladder to violin mastery, you will probably harm your chances of becoming great in the long run.

Be humble, and focus on the goal in front of you rather than what’s ahead.

When You Can’t Skip

There is a single situation in which you can’t skip a violin grade exam. It will prevent you from taking grades 6-8, and takes the form of an obligatory exam you will need to pass to get there.

  • You Haven’t Passed Grade 5 Music Theory

While you can skip grades for whatever reason, there is an exception in the form of the grade 5 Music Theory exam.

This exam cannot be skipped and is compulsory for everyone learning to play an instrument.

This means that even if you are very experienced and play at a high level, you won’t be able to skip to grade 6 or higher until you have passed the grade 5 Music Theory exam.

This Music Theory exam tackles the non-performance side of music. It will test you on your ability to read music, recognise notes, and your general knowledge of written music.

The good news is that once you’ve passed this exam, there are no other obligatory exams for you to do. That means you are free to take either grade 6, 7, or 8 on the practical side, based on your ability and how confident you feel.

How to Ensure You Pass a Grade

Resting in a hammock
Proper rest is an important part of the learning process.

If you make the decision to skip a grade or two, you want to feel vindicated by your decision. The best way to feel confident about the decision is to make absolutely sure that you pass the grade you skipped to.

Set your sights high and aim for a Merit, or even a Distinction grade. That way you’ll give yourself more motivation to stick with it and do your best on the day of the exam.

Prepare Effectively

Here are some tips to help you prepare for the violin grade exam you’ve chosen:

  • Prioritise

As with any important exam, it’s important to prioritise. Make this violin grade exam your number one priority, possibly even at the expense of social events and leisure.

While practising the violin shouldn’t take up all of your time, you should be spending a lot of time on it each day.

It’s generally more effective to play in short bursts with a high level of concentration than it is to play for several hours at a time with a lower level of focus.

Each session you should decide what you want to focus on in advance. One time you might practise a certain section of a piece, another time it could be scales or arpeggios.

  • Know the Exam

Get to know the 4 sections of the exam well. Familiarise yourself with the content of each portion well.

Practise your chosen pieces a lot, but also remember to dedicate time to reading and listening practise.

You don’t need to pass each section to pass overall, but it’s worth picking up points in every area if you want a good mark.

You should also take a look at the marking criteria, which can be found on the website of ABRSM. This will let you know what technical elements to pay special attention to.

  • Rest Up

The night before the exam make sure you get a good night’s sleep, but also ensure you are eating well and fuelling your brain efficiently.

Try eating foods high in omega 3 fatty acids, like salmon and avocados, since they can aid your ability to remember.

Make sure you exercise regularly in the week or so leading up to the exam, and take regular breaks from practise. You will be better able to perform or absorb information if you feel well-rested.

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Sam is an English teaching assistant and freelance writer based in southern Spain. He enjoys exploring new places and cultures, and picking up languages along the way.