When Will They Do Grade 1? No Worries for Kodály Piano Teachers

“When will they do their Grade 1?” 

I think we all recognise this question and we all dread it. 

But what happens when you’re a Kodály Piano Teacher?

In today’s podcast I’m going to talk about my experiences and observations getting my students to Graded exams and how parental expectations are managed.

You might be surprised! I certainly was.

Key Points:

  • Why parents ask about grades

  • What the parents really want to know

  • How the Doremi microsteps help students and parents

  • Taking the careful Doremi approach doesn’t take longer

  • Where we really benefit as a Kodály piano teacher


Many times when you get asked “When will they do Grade 1?” the student is miles away from Grade 1, and miles away from the pre-Grade 1 exams too. Whether that be Trinity Initial or ABRSM Prep Test or one of the LCM Step Exams.

It’s so hard when there’s always a friend or cousin who has done theirs already – possibly even on another instrument. We all know that the early piano grades are harder due to the coordination of the hands and reading from two staves simultaneously so it can be a long road. If I’m near a piano I like to demonstrate a few pieces at Grade 1 standard so they can see how far off it is.

At least, that’s what I used to do.

Why parents ask about grades, and what they REALLY want to know instead

Cos’ here’s the thing, and it’s something I hadn’t really noticed until someone asked in one of my Doremi Member Coaching Calls. One of my members asked how do I answer the “When will they do their Grade 1?” question and I pictured the most recent mum who had asked me at the school gates. And then I realised how long ago that was! It was before I developed Doremi Piano and started teaching with the Kodály Approach.

So since teaching this way, I haven’t had a single parent ask me about grades, at all. And sometimes I had up to 40 students so there were plenty of parents out there!

I started to reflect on why that is. And I’ve come to this conclusion.

In general, the average parent doesn’t have any way of measuring progress. They just send their kids each week for their lessons. The only thing they know about is that you can do exams. And Grade 1 seems like the starting point. A beginner exam. So they ask about it.

They’re not really saying “I want my child to do Grade 1”. They are saying “Help me understand how they are getting on.”

Those of us who teach using the Kodály-based Doremi Piano have a very clear path of progression. We know exactly what we’re teaching, and why, and what comes next. And of course we use the Kodály classic – preparation, presentation and practice.

Because of this carefully designed roadmap, and the Doremi microsteps, we not only know where our students are and how they’re progressing, but we are also able to communicate that clearly and effectively with our students.

Each time they achieve something, we can articulate what it is they’ve achieved and they feel great. They go home feeling successful and are able to articulate that progress to their parents. And of course succeed in their practice at home, due to the way we’ve carefully prepared and framed their homework.

And as an added bonus, I use digital lesson notes using the free app Evernote to communicate with parents. And if you’re a Doremi member there’s a course on how to set that up and use it inside the Member Dashboard. So even if their child doesn’t go home delighted with their achievement, we’ve got it covered by communicating effectively with the parents.

So why don’t they ask about Grade 1 anymore? I think it’s because they never cared about grades in the first place. They just cared about progression. And once you can demonstrate progression and earn their confidence in your process then they can relax.

They see their children loving their lessons, they see them coming home confident to practise their new piece, they see them conquering that piece in one week and they see them progressing.

And that’s all they really want.

Using the Kodály Approach DOESN'T take longer!

But out of interest, does using this Kodály Approach mean that getting to grades take longer?

I’ll admit, when I first started teaching in this way I thought it would. I made a decision that it was worth it, for a more comprehensive and thorough musical education and that I would reap the rewards in the long run.

But after I started getting my students up to exam level, I took a look at how long they’d been learning and compared it to the “old way” and my assumption was wrong.

In fact teaching in this careful, microstep way DIDN’T hold them back at all. They still got to their first exam grade at around the same time.

But something else had changed.

Where we really benefit as a Kodály Piano Teacher

My students start learning classical repertoire using my book Classical Kick-Off. This is a careful collection of pieces published by Doremi, that are the same level as Initial exams. In fact many of them have actually appeared on past syllabuses.

The thing that’s changed for my Kodály piano students is the way we can approach learning the pieces. Their reading skills are so confident that they can sight read many phrases and in some cases the entire melody. Depending on the piece, there may be small sections that need more attention, and of course the coordination of the two hands requires practice. But they have a deep understanding of what needs to be done, and have developed the independence to get started with little guidance in the lesson and then go home to confidently develop that muscle memory.

Is it because they understand the concept of pitch, beat and rhythm so securely? Is it because they have worked on memorisation and part work? Is it because they have a can-do attitude that’s been developed by their constant feeling of success? Is it because they can quickly add a melody to their aural memory so are able to identify unexpected sounds and troubleshoot?

Yes! All of those things.

So it’s about way more than how quickly they get to Grade 1!

And once there, when they can learn a piece in a couple of weeks. Instead of Grades being something painful, they are no big deal.

Are exams worth it?

Having said that, suddenly the traditional entry process for Graded exams becomes a hindrance to progress. You have to enter so long before the assessment date and the pieces will be mastered and moved on from while you wait for the assessment date!

This makes flexible, recorded exams like MTB so much more desirable so we can get on with progressing onto new, exciting and more challenging repertoire.

Or don’t bother at all. If you know you are playing increasingly more difficult pieces and you get regular opportunities to perform them to an audience, do exams become irrelevant?

They certainly become optional! You can decide with your student and their family on a case by case basis whether entering an exam is in their best interests. And that’s a topic for another day!

If you’re interested in teaching piano using the Kodály Approach, check out the rest of our site. We have resources and courses for getting started applying the Kodály Approach to your piano teaching, and also piano teachers who are Doremi Members can access my full detailed, step by step piano curriculum with downloadable resources, lesson plans and video walkthroughs. Plus of course the hugely valuable live Q&A Coaching calls and community forum.

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