Well you made it – you’re in the Exam room!
First things first – introduce yourself to the Examiner (and smile – they are human like us!). Try to relax and just take a few moments to get yourself organised. Remember the Exam day is a very busy day for the Examiner (so he or she is under a lot of time pressure to keep things moving along).
A good tip: to double check that you have understood an Examiner’s question – quickly re-state the question. Misunderstandings do happen.
The first section is typically Scales & Arpeggios: take a second or two to get yourself in place on the fingerboard and take a deep breath before you start. Even if you make a slight slip – try to keep going. If you make a real hash of it ask the Examiner if you can repeat it. Stay calm and don’t over focus on a small slip or mistake.
The next section is usually Chords – again take your time and if need be say aloud the name of the chord or arpeggio you have been asked to play (it will help trigger your long term memory – after all you already know all the chords it will be just stress that makes you forget; stay relaxed!).
If you have a set piece to play (for say a Specialism section) remember to take your music with you and if it’s not one suggested by the exam board take a spare copy for the Examiner. Take your time getting started and always try to start & finish well – first & last impressions are important. Again if you make a mistake – keep going!
For a Rhythm Test always take 20 or 30 seconds to scan through the chord chart and make sure you take in what’s required – note the time signature and plan what rhythm patterns you will use, the format (repeats etc), playing descriptor (With a Blues Feel, Lively etc) plus the dynamics. Don’t worry about the actual chords as you should know these from the hours of practice you have put in!
Lead playing – the main point is to identify which scale (or scales) and arpeggios to use for your improvised solo over the presented chord chart. The first chord is the “key chord” and will tell you which scale (or scales) to use. Remember – “like goes with like”. So if the first chord is an Am then you can use an A minor scale of some kind – for example, A natural minor or A pentatonic minor, or both. Use phrases you have pre learned and keep it simple. Try to leave some “space” and don’t just go all out for “pace” – let your solo “breathe” and make it sound musical (not just a series of scale based runs).
Very often there is a Spoken Test which involves knowledge of the fingerboard. As a musicican it’s important to know what notes you are playing so you can effectively communicate with other non guitar playing musicians – a key board player will not know that the 3rd fret on the 3rd string is a Bb. This section is usually straight forward – just read the book and learn the facts (simples!).
The final section is normally the Aural Test and is often looked upon with anxiety by Candidates. The best advice here is to relax and go with your 1st answer – once you start dithering as to what you think the rhythm or interval is you will more than likley get it wrong. Also, remember even if you if do badly in the Aural section as long you have done well with all the other sections you will still Pass – which is after all the basic aim; getting a Distinction or a Merit is fantastic but a Pass is still a Pass.
So stay calm, keep focussed and do your best!