Grade 1 Challenge

So today I have completed the Grade 1 Challenge and I would just like to take a moment to talk a little bit about it with you.

The Lent Term concert in school is usually known as the leaver’s concert because it is the final official concert in which the U6 (second A-Level year pupils) will take part in before they leave school. Theoretically the music clubs continue but there are few opportunities in which to perform. As a result in the first meeting we had back after the concert, one of my friends had the idea of doing the Grade 1 Challenge. This is usually undertaken by pupils who have completed grade 8 on an instrument and they have to learn another instrument in which they have never taken an exam to take the grade 1 exam in one term. The exam broad then contributes money to donate to a chosen charity, which for us was Jessi’s fund.

Although few of us had grade 8 under their belt, a lot of people wanted to learn a new instrument including teachers. Personally, I have played the clarinet for 8 years and have grade 6 and continue to play it in the school orchestra, and previously wind band and the clarinet ensemble. I decided to take up the flute as although there was an opportunity to give it a try at my old primary school (we could pick the clarinet or flute or violin), for some unknown reason I had my sights set on the clarinet and refused to even consider the flute.

Although initially I couldn’t get a sound out of the clarinet, I was still given an opportunity to play and so here I am today. However now I regret not trying the flute and have been thinking about picking it up for the last two years, so when the opportunity came to have a goal to work towards I wasted no time in saying that I would learn the flute.

I was very fortunate in having a few friends to help me get to grips with it and I got off to a better start by actually managing to make a sound. Reading music was also no trouble because of the clarinet playing and thankfully many of the fingerings were the same, just holding the instrument sideways not down.

The aspect I had the most trouble with was knowing how to change octaves. The fingerings were the same for the note, but you had to change your mouth and the air flow to get a higher or lower octave of a given note. This was very different from the clarinet where the mouth position stayed constant while you pressed a different key.

However this whole idea took place during Trinity term, i.e. exam term (our school still takes the AS exams). This meant that clearly I had to prioritize exam revision and preparation but on the other hand I couldn’t let the flute sit by the side untouched because practice makes perfect-especially with an instrument I’m just starting to play. Time management was essential and as crazy as this sounds, I practised the flute after I had an exam. I found it was a little reward for sitting in the exam hall for one hour and a half and I looked forward to it. Using the flute as a reward really kept my motivation up rather than just playing it as a chore.

In the end I came out with a fairly high merit-something which I’m really pleased about! (And apparently too much practice isn’t good either because I warmed up so much that my mouth ‘went’, i.e. felt quite weak, something that happens to me when I play for a while because of the unnatural mouth position, and so the sound was rather ‘breathy’ and the examiner, as kind as he was, did his job and picked up on it.)

flute and clarinet
Fig. 1 My two music friends (clarinet and flute).

Overall it was a wonderful experience to have and I’m very glad we decided to do it as a school. Having enjoyed the challenge, I am looking to keep up flute playing alongside the clarinet as playing really takes my mind of the daily tasks and exercises me in a completely different way. I would really recommend trying to learn an instrument or giving anything new a go because you never know until you do it whether you will enjoy it and you may even get something out of it more than just pleasure, although that in itself is enough of an excuse!



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