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Piano Proficiency

All students in the School of Music must successfully complete a piano proficiency examination as a requirement for graduation; there are five components to the examination.

A. Proficiency Examinations for Non-Keyboard Majors

Proficiency examinations are administered near the end of the semester, usually on the next-to-last Friday of classes. Students must prepare all portions for their first exam attempt. A committee of no fewer than three individuals hears the examinations. Students take the examination on the advice of their teacher. The general goal is to take the examination by the end of the fourth semester, but it may be taken sooner if the teacher feels that the student is ready. Any portions not passed will be retaken in subsequent semesters. Passing the proficiency exam is a requirement for graduation, and students must remain registered for piano (class or individual lessons) until this requirement is completed.

The requirements for non-keyboard majors are as follows:

1. Be prepared to perform all major and harmonic minor scales, four octaves, hands together in parallel motion. Minimum tempo: 80 to the beat with two notes per beat.
2. Be prepared to perform all major and minor arpeggios, four octaves, hands together in parallel motion. Minimum tempo: 63 to the beat with two notes per beat.
3. Sight-read a keyboard work of upper elementary difficulty, with a basic chord and melody texture.
4. Prepare a work of advanced-elementary to lower-intermediate difficulty. The piece is to be learned independently within 48 hours and is distributed by the Coordinator of Keyboard Studies. Memorization is not required.
5. Perform a memorized work. Minimum requirement is Schumann’s Wild Horseman.

B. Proficiency Examinations for Keyboard Majors

Proficiency examinations for keyboard majors are administered near the end of each semester. It is suggested that students plan to take the proficiency exam by the end of the third semester. Completion of the proficiency exam is a requirement for graduation.

The requirements for keyboard majors are as follows:

1. Be prepared to perform all major and minor scales, four octaves, hands together in parallel motion. Minimum tempo: 100-112 to the beat with four notes per beat.
2. Be prepared to perform all major and minor arpeggios, four octaves, hands together in parallel motion. Minimum tempo: 84-92 to the beat with four notes per beat.
3. Sight-read a solo vocal line with the accompaniment. Melody must be accurate and all essential harmonies present. Minimum level: Fauré’s En prière.
4. Sight-read a solo keyboard work or instrumental accompaniment. Minimum level: Grieg’s Lyric Piece, Op. 12, No.2.
5. Perform a keyboard work prepared independently within 48 hours. The work is distributed by the Coordinator of Keyboard Studies and does not need to be memorized. Minimum level: Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words, Op. 19, No.4.

Piano Proficiency - Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do I have to have all the components ready for the first attempt at the proficiency?
A: Yes. All portions must be prepared for the first attempt.

Q: What happens if I don't pass all of the components?
A: Any portions not passed will be retaken in subsequent semesters. You do not have to retake any portions you did pass. For example, if a non-keyboard major passes arpeggios, the 48-hour piece, and the memorized piece, he or she is finished with those portions and will be tested on scales and sight-reading only at the next exam attempt.

Q: How long do I have to stay registered for piano?
A: You must stay registered for piano until you have completed the entire proficiency, regardless of what the rest of your schedule is like. It is in your best interest to complete the proficiency by the end of your fourth semester, in order to avoid extra fees for continued study of a secondary instrument and to free up your course load for other classes.

Q: What if I pass the entire proficiency exam in my first, second, or third semester? Do I still take piano?
A: You may elect to stay with piano or you may switch to a different instrument in order to complete your required credits in secondary instrument study.

Q: What is the committee listening for in the sight-reading component?
A: Tempo should be steady and observance of key signature is of utmost importance. (A slow and steady performance is highly preferable to a fast but erratic tempo.) Obviously, correct note-reading is hoped for, but it is possible to pass with a few note errors if the performance is otherwise solid in areas such as key signature, stable meter, articulation, etc.

Q: What is the committee listening for in the 48-hour piece component?
A: Your goal is to demonstrate your ability to self-teach a piece of music and to perform it sensitively. You should pay particular attention to all dynamic and articulation markings. Again, a slow and steady performance is preferable to a fast but erratic one.

Q: When am I allowed to retake components of the exam during the same semester?
A: Retakes occur at the piano juries, which usually fall one week after the initial proficiency date. Students who complete four components will automatically be allowed to retake the fifth (final) component. Students who complete three components will be allowed to retake the last two components upon the recommendation of their teacher and the agreement of the proficiency committee. Students who complete only one or two components will not be allowed to retake during that semester but will instead register for piano for the next term, at the end of which they will retake the remaining components.