The “Piah-No” (Or, Rockstar’s First ABRSM Exam – A Story About Music Lessons)

Cont'd from previous post's Guess Where The Miss...


Where in the world was Miss Wally?

Where in the world was Miss Wally?

Rockstar had a music exam

A: Where Rockstar had a music exam. Though...  that's not taken on the actual exam day, pictures not allowed then...

Rockstar took his first ABRSM (Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music) exam in grade 2 piano, recently. The exam venue was in a place with not a few tuition centres but we had actually never been here before exam season (so no, the Miss is not learning English at "Monkey Tree" tuition centre (or really, anywhere else other than at her ESF Kindy)

We don't know the results of Rockstar's exam yet, but were only hoping for a "pass" anyways <shrugs>. Just cos he'd been casually taking music* for awhile, we kinda figured may as well get a piece of paper along the way. Just because "playing the piano" can be anything from Child Protege (NOT... any child o'mine :D) to Circus Monkey and between.

Grade 2, not 1, only because the centre he's enrolled in changed teachers twice and everyone somehow missed the closing dates to enrol him. (I finally enrolled him as a private candidate outside the school.)

*Rockstar's not particularly musical; one reason I then planned on him doing some music when younger was because he was quite heavily "skewed" in one direction, in terms of interests. He generally didn't like to sing, dance or paint (instead being comfy with say, numbers), he went almost the entire 2 years of kindergarten not exploring the sandpit (texture is another issue - some days even the non-slip flooring of swimming pools can bother him), we used to drop by kindergarten only to find him quietly walking up and down the mostly-empty stairwells during open play while the other kids would be noisily playing outside. Used to be, one bump from some passing kid on the playground would have him retreating into himself. (So... taekwondo tournament!)

Like, if your kid has a problem with being bumped into, what do you do? Stick him in a fighting ring to get kicked about, of course! Parenting tip for the day. Dones.

Remember this? Like, if your kid has a problem with being bumped into, what do you do? Stick him in a fighting ring to get kicked about, of course! Parenting tip for the day. Dones. (Dusts off hands)

But back to music - it was at the back of my mind that Rockstar might miss growing a few erm, "music-related neurons" as he grew up.     

Anyway - two trial runs at the music exam centre because we don't have a real piano at home yet. About 10 years ago before the kids were born we got this ~HKD 5,000 electric keyboard "piano" so as not to totally lose Grade 8 piano muscle memory (I too, scraped through by the skin of my teeth with the most lowly of "pass"es! Yippee!) and the kids have just been using that for years.

Well if you have nothing to play on then... maybe get the piano? Just that I got my own Grade 8 growing up on a third-hand piano propped under one corner with bits of wood because the mutt dogs in my (then Penang) home who perpetually tore about the place chasing cicaks (house lizard) and the occasional sewer rat dug off one old rusty wheel going after either a stray chew toy or cicak one day. As my Grade 8 drew near, the F key nearest the middle C no longer worked. But we were all "Yah, not taking any more exam after this, already came so far with this piano..."

(I am aware re pianos this is really not how many parents with musically inclined kids who are more serious about music education will think. This is my Have Faith, And Faith Will Be Given Ye Fake It 'Til You Make It speech :P)

So, anyway. Didn't care about the nice piano very much, not for a first exam, maybe if we are still doing it in a couple more grades then we'll see... Do note however that I do have mum friends who rent really nice pianos on a monthly basis for first exams. We don't do that because those pianos require heaters, dehumidifers, and preferably also a lack of shedding dog and active kids - remember Never Have Cheap Glass Near The Kids? At the end of the day renting piano might mean ending up "buying" a wrecked rented piano. Even worse.

Rockstar didn't exactly want the extra pressure to keep at piano lessons either - which brings us to the bit I did care about: how Rockstar actually feels about piano/ music. He wouldn't play his exam pieces for the prerequisite few minutes a day (as in, less than 10 mins) - but would dabble with keyboard fingering in a similar way to his fidgeting with the mountain of Lego in his room to build mutant freak creations - and then on the day of his lesson he would rush through the stuff he was supposed to do with the teacher.

(Oh, you thought I have a kid who loooves homework and practice? <snort> Non-competitive kids who don't prize winning lack this otherwise powerful motivator - Rockstar has same-aged schoolmates who were at Grade 5 level last year, if I remember correctly. That's uh, seven years old. Rockstar doesn't have school music extra-curriculars (just regular school music) but we had a neighbour who had moved here not too long ago from the States whose daughter was, "Uh.... they're. Good, Mum. Over here, they're really, really good," when her mum asked if she was trying out.)

It's hard to rationalise regular practice with a non-competitive kid while they can still get away with super last minute work and Youtube the rest of their time away - so we have this particular "fight" every few weeks/months. The Can You Get Used To 10 Minutes Hard Work A Day Before You End Up A Homeless Bum Fight. Because we live in Exaggeration City. It's on the border of But-Mum-My-Math-Homework-Turns-Out-Just-Fine-When-I-Dangle-Upside-Down-Off-The-End-Of-The-Sofa-With-My-Feet-Up-Against-The-Wall Land. It's hard to balance between too difficult and too easy - on the one hand you don't want them to just give up, but then I really don't like it either, when kids get through something on very little effort because then they think they always only need very little effort.)

Then Rockstar had a music tutor who was on my back to get a "real" piano. After being nagged several times about the problem with keyboard touch, I went to the address she gave me and the cheapest piano in that store was around HKD 50,000. Most of 'em were more like HKD 80,000. For that kinda price you need caps and an uppity accent.

Issa Piah-No.

I was unconvinced about The Piah-No. But come exam time I listened, when she said "better let him try on the exam piano because it is a  real Piah-no." Why yes, that deserves the accent too. "Real Piah-no" at the exam centre rents for HKD 280 per 30 minutes. And I almost didn't get a slot because I sat on booking it weeks in advance. (Seriously. You have to book it several weeks in advance. I assume this is by the many mums in Hong Kong just like moi, who never buy Piah-No for their kids' first exam.)

One look at Rockstar's face when his 30 minutes are up, and I ask the bookings lady if there is anything left for him to have a second trial. (On the inside, I'm smugly thinking You See You See Never Practice Some More Lah. Now Scared Or Not? But by the time Rockstar reads this he would've sat for the exam ages ago so he can go on piano strike all he wants now.)

There is just one 30 minute slot left, late at the end of the day when everything else has closed, for the rest of exam season at this centre. I take it.

Minecraft Camp, Last Day

But I didn't move this. Minecraft III Final Day Challenge (And oh look, he has now grown perm teeth way too big for his head.)

Rockstar exits the exam room.

Rockstar: I think I'll pass. I was so, so lucky, the sight reading they gave me was easy.

Me: <starts - sight-reading is his weakest> Are you sure you didn't miss something, did you check the key signature?

Rockstar: <nods firmly> Yes I got it, I saw. 

Me: Umm... <still unsure> I was reading some of the (past) transcripts on the board - there's someone there with a strong merit - like, just a couple marks from distinction - and the examiner actually wrote that they got practically every single item in their aural test wrong. Still merit. You can fail something and still pass the whole thing anyways.

Rockstar: When are the results out? When are they when are they when are they - 

Me: You realise the only reason you'd want to know how you did is because you think you did well. Iimagine and remember how very different that would feel, if you weren't prepared and thought you might fail. Be dreading every day until the inevitable, when we get the results.

And here's more preachy stuff. (Be warned) On piano exam day you can say to yourself: A) "I don't have The Piah-No. I'm doomed." or B) "'Piah-No' is awe-sum. If I could do all that stuff on the lesser piano, think how much better I'm gonna be, when I get to use da good stuff!"

Friend of mine training on NTU varsity taekwondo team used to walk the several hundred meters from hostel to lecture theatre and go about his day with weights strapped to his ankles.

When you are used to training (or really, doing anything) with weights on, one day when the weights come off, you discover you can fly.  Your weights (sorry) in life are awesome that way. Have a good week ahead, dears...
pic of Michael Jordan in Spacejam from

"I believe I can flyyyyy..... I believe I can touch the skyyyyyy....." pic of Michael Jordan in Spacejam from


The day of his actual music exam was also his last day of Minecraft III camp. I was quite happy about this, because then he barely remembered he had the music exam (WE ONLY WANT A PASS. And to well, not end up in therapy) - he had to do a Redstone build of a "smart house," and it was a total blessing he won the challenge by a wide margin, thereby earning that particular limited-edition Minecraft Sheers keychain that apparently you can only get from the school, which he is holding up in the pic above.

(I. know. Like, what music exam? Who cares about the lady who flies halfway round the world to hear you play and in 10 minutes passes swift and lasting judgment over whether you are any good. Ish.)

Also, it wasn't a school day. Rockstar was in school uniform because during one of the trials they looked at his Nikes and said, "Remember not to let him wear those on exam day. He has to wear leather shoes, exams here are more formal so if he's not going to dress up <Rockstar shakes his head vigorously> at the very least put on full school uniform." So y-eah. He ended up winning Minecraft III Challenge in that too.

ps: Not planning to take ABRSM every year; otherwise this kid who isn't exactly performance-driven in music will learn ONLY exam pieces <roll eyes>

pps: Almost every day since, Rockstar comes home and..... plays his (now past) exam pieces. Because he's annoying.

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About Aileen

I blog about living and raising my son in Hong Kong - where toddlers have entrance interviews, parents keep test score spreadsheets, private school debentures can trade for more than half a million USD. Raising Rockstar's the most important thing I'll ever do. We show our true colors by the choices we make in bringing up our children. My blog is a message to my toddler son, about what the world and his parents are like today - for when he becomes a teenager and knows everything.
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  • Kingston Lai

    Would love to join one of his taekwando tournament… Looks so cool 🙂

    • Aileen

      So far only been that one no other news yet..

  • Pui Fung

    My kid’s piano Teacher thinks I’m taking the piss that I don’t want kid taking piano exams! According to my kids I don’t fall in the typical Asian parent category… the whole point of a music teacher in my view is to develop the young mind to appreciate music for what it is… kid scrapes through with a pass and that is all I ask for, if he is to be put through the exams…. ☺

    • Aileen

      Totally agree and while the kid mugs for exams for now, someday he/she may not be able to get far enough AWAY from a piano…!

  • mun

    Well, Rockstar is confident that he did well so it will definitely be more than a pass then. 🙂

    • Aileen

      Just curious la…