Music Assessment


Our primary goal at RCSM is to help every student that comes to us to maximize their musical talent. We’ve always believed that tracking each student’s musical progress in a comprehensive manner is essential in reaching that goal. For that very reason we’ve spent the past 4 years developing a Comprehensive Musician Assessment (CMA) that we are implementing this academic year and beginning this fall.

Now before you slip into full freak out mode, yes we do understand that for many people the term “assessment” can be perceived as a dirty word and can bring about countless negative connotations including: anxiety, self-esteem challenges, unwanted burdens, stress about being prepared, etc. Much of that is due to the brutal ways in which some educators have abused “assessments;” oftentimes using them as blunt objects to bludgeon students with overly complex questions that seem far removed from practical use. You all know the type of questions we’re talking about, “If Tommy lives 0.73mi from school and it takes him 15mins to walk to school, what color are Eva’s shoes and what year was her pet skunk born?” Okay maybe that’s a little exaggerated because we too have been traumatized by terrible assessments, but that’s why we’ve gone to great lengths to make our assessment an effective and well used tool. 

Just as with the innovative approach to our overall program, we set out to craft an assessment that will function the way an assessment is meant to. To do this, there are certain philosophical points that we’ve aimed to maintain throughout the development process.

  1. ASSESS FUNCTIONAL MUSICIANSHIP ONLY: Anything that is a part of our CMA pertains to pure musicianship from foundational elements to mastery. Simply playing notes off of a page demonstrates certain musical skills, but it doesn’t equate to functional musicianship and is often one of the LEAST effective ways to assess someones true musicianship. 
  2. EVERYONE IS EQUAL: Proficiency of musicianship skills are evident based on an individual’s performance regardless of the instrument that they play or how long they’ve been playing said instrument. At first this approach can sound odd; however, an often occurrence is that an individual who has been playing their instrument for a short period of time can display greater proficiency than an individual who has been playing their instrument for a significantly longer time. For that reason musicianship skills are assessed the same with beginners and "master musicians” alike.
  3. THE GRADING SCALE MUST BE A CONTINUUM: Most gradings systems that we encounter use a series of numeric scales that accumulative based on "right or wrong” answers. After a satisfactory score is achieved these grading systems use a series of “levels” we are placed on. Our CMA differs sharply in that it assesses each student’s knowledge learned and skills gained on a continuous scale from beginner to mastery. Instead of grading “right & wrong” we grade proficiency and track each student’s progress over a period of time. Since in music it is very possibly for individuals to master some skills before they are even proficient at others, there are no actual “levels” that one can achieve. Instead, as each student continuously increases their musical proficiency, so increases their score on the CMA.
  4. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A "SCHEDULE OF LEVELS”: In most education systems there is always a 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade, etc. In those systems students "fall behind" or "get ahead.” For many reasons, that’s simply NOT the way music works, so neither should any "musicianship assessment." Your journey in music is just that, YOUR journey. It’s not about staying at “grade level,” "falling behind," or “staying on track with" your peers; it’s about enjoying every step of the process while you refine your abilities and growing the enjoyment of that process into passion. Yes, some people may display “advanced skills” earlier than others and yes you do want and need goals that you’re working to achieve, but your “schedule" should have no bearing on where someone else's and vice-versa.
  5. AS STRESS-FREE AND VARIABLE-NEUTRAL AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE: An assessment is nothing more than a collection of specific raw data. In order for us to get an accurate assessment we actually want students to have limited preparation time for the CMA. This way we can observe their raw abilities and not something that has been rehearse countless times. While there’s value in assessing prepared repertoire, we gain the most insight when we observe students displaying their musical abilities in an environment that is creative and spontaneous.