Standard of Player within each of the sections

Discussion in 'Off-Topic Chat' started by brassmomma, Jan 13, 2014.

  1. brassmomma

    brassmomma New Member


    I am curious as to what the standard of player is within each of the sections.

    I know that ABRSM grades are not popular around here but for instance

    What grade equivalent (Grade 1 - 8 or one of the Diplomas) would you expect one of the "corner" players to be within each section

    (Principal Cornet, Solo Tenor, 1st Euphonium, 1st Trombone)

    I assume the standards may be slightly lower for back row cornets and lower seats - but I do know there are different skillsets for different positions so I may be completely wrong there.

    This is partly out of general curiosity as I see lots of adverts out there but no reference to standard. Also as my name suggests I do have a young brass playing child, so may be useful for future reference for him :)

    Thank is advance for any replies and discussions

    I did search for this but the only thread I found was many years old and didn't really answer my question. In that thread the OP asked if had to be Grade 5 or above to play in a top band - as Youth Bands tend to ask for minimum Grade 4 I know the answer to this is yes, way above grade 5 "standard".
  2. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    One problem with using ABRSM grades is that they mean different things to different people.

    Some, admittedly extreme cases, will take a 12 month practice run-up to a particular grade and scrape a pass having learned to play pieces they could barely touch initially by practicing until they can. On the other hand some will see that as "cheating" (no judgements here) and wait until they're at a standard which leaves them relatively comfortable with the pieces and take a couple of months (or less) to put it together.
    Are these two theoretical players equal? Of course not, the latter is likely to be a far more accomplished player - but on paper and without hearing them (or hearing those stories) you would be forgiven for expecting them to be similar standards.

    Another huge problem is simply that as you climb the sections you'll find these "corner players" are getting to be beyond grade 8 (or more comfortably able to pass it with less and less practice, if you prefer), naturally the higher you go the more likely you are to find them.
    Yet another is that (especially with lower section bands) good results and even promotions can be gained whilst huge gulfs in class exist between the different soloist seats within the band and it's not as simple as "they're all atleast this standard".

    You also have to bear in mind that the players already present (and "band politics", please don't get me started) will often determine where a new player sits - it's not wise to expect to walk in as the best player (even comfortably so) and simply take the top seats, it usually doesn't work that way.
    Some people reluctantly sit on top seats and will gladly step aside for a newcomer who is capable without even being asked... others simply will not budge.

    At the end of the day, to take a top seat there are two paths - one is to go to a band that's advertising for one, sit in and play and if they're happy to have you there then it's yours. The other is to go along, be committed, improve as an individual player and hope (never expect with bands, it ends in tears) that at some point either the seat opens up or you get moved there by the MD.

    In either case, it's the standard of the player (technique, tone quality, lyricism, stamina, etc) not the certificate they can wave as they walk in the door (however it's earned) that will decide where they get to play.
    As far as pitching yourself goes - don't get too pre-occupied with it, play where you enjoy playing and if challenge is important play where the music is challenging. Aiming at particular grades purely as a means to think of yourself as able to move to X-seat in Y-section is pointless.
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2014
  3. brassmomma

    brassmomma New Member


    Thanks for replying.

    I kind of knew I was going to get at least one answer like that. The trouble is how else do you judge? I do know exactly what you mean. My son is a fortunate one as his teacher believes in making sure they can play a lot of material at at least as high a grade as they will be taking before even looking at the exam pieces. Hopefully this works well - he hasn't actually taken a grade yet with this teacher! But I am sure it will.

    In fact on his previous grades he did REALLY well on his test pieces, sight reading and scales but struggled with the aural so he has been working on listening skills for the last year and a half - with both his cornet and piano teacher.

    So my question is really the standard of playing more than actual grades e.g. be able to sight read a piece and play it well of about x grade. I was thinking that at least for the championship we would be talking diplomas rather than grades 1-8 though.

    Still very interested in any replies and many thanks for this one and any others.

    (by the way, this is a theoretical question at the moment to fulfill my curiosity - my son is in an ambitious third section band and a good youth band so isn't looking for a position!)
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2014
  4. brassmomma

    brassmomma New Member


    ... band politics ... only been around brass banding for about 4 years and already know where you are coming from - nope let's not go there!
  5. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that he'd be looking for positions now or that you were being mercenary about it in any way.
    I was meaning more as a general outlook - if the music is enjoyable enough and/or challenging enough and the band provides encouragement and a good social scene, then you're more likely to find him wanting to practice and improve within that band without having to look at grades.

    It's good to hear your son has good bands to play with and it's good to hear that you've got (what sounds like) a great teacher who isn't simply interested in shoving kids through as many grades as possible.

    You asked "how else do you judge?". Well, wouldn't you judge exactly the same way you'd judge a player with a graded certificate - listen to them?
    Any judgement is likely to be personal (different people are biased towards different abilities), and whether you're "good enough" or not doesn't just depend on how good you are, it depends on whether there's a space, how desperate the band is to fill it, how ambitious the band is in the short term, whether you're competing with others for that spot...

    Ignoring how vague a grade is as a standard of judging a player...
    I would think anyone who's capable of judging a player and saying what rough standard they are by ABRSM-grade is going to be capable of judging them just fine on their merits without those standards to refer to.

    One of the nice things about banding is that youngsters are often encouraged and given opportunities - the lack of concrete boundaries as to when/where they get these is not something that will hold them back, in my honest opinion.
  6. Mello

    Mello Member

    One of the nice things about banding is that youngsters are often encouraged and given opportunities - the lack of concrete boundaries as to when/where they get these is not something that will hold them back, in my honest opinion.[/QUOTE]

    This is true IF you have an MD worth his salt.
    When I was 15, after an audition, I joined CWS Manchester under Alex Mortimer. I was on 2nd Hn, my 1st Contest the Area ( Severn Suite ) which we won. In less than a year , I was on Solo Hn and still 15 yrs old. That is due to Alex Mortimer seeing something , and giving a young lad the opportunity - age did not matter to him, nor qualifications or grades....he simply believed if you could do the job , that was qualification enough and so it should be.

    Regarding your sons teacher, sounds good to me . In my later years I was teaching at some of the major Music Colleges , and the first thing I asked the student was - " Do you want to be a good player or just pass exams ?" I then went on to explain the difference. I wish your son every success - and the breaks .
  7. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    Are grades of any consequence when it comes to playing in a band (on any seat)?

    A player can be Grade 8, all that proves is that they know their scales and can practice 3/4 pieces with a pianist to a pretty good level.

    What about:-
    playing in tune with other players?
    following a conductor?
    balancing with the rest of a section?
    matching the style and sound to suit the band?
    playing an accompanying line and not being the soloist?
    etc, etc

    Grades and not really that important INMO.

    p.s. Grade 5 Tenor Horn (just passed) is my only musical qualification
  8. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    I have to agree with everyone so far - the 'Grades' way of thinking really doesn't mesh very well with the brass band way of doing things, which emphasises the rather different skill of playing in a group over the skills selected for by grade exams (playing solo, formal scales and aural testing). It's all related, and a good player ought to be comfortable with both ways of doing things, but I'm sure we've all come across players whose soloistic accomplishments are impressive, but who are clueless within an ensemble, unable to keep time accurately, blend with others, or understand how their part relates to the whole - while on the other side of the coin are those players who know nothing except parping away in a band, who couldn't sell a solo, define a melodic minor scale, or sing a tune back to save their lives, but make valuable musical contributions suitable to their ensemble seat.

    Every band is so individual in its components that even leaving that large mismatch between band and grade concepts aside, it isn't helpful to try to create broad generalisations that might vaguely relate one to the other. A band is as much a social unit as it is a musical one, and there are diploma standard players out there plying their trade with 4th section and non-contesting bands, kept there by contentment with that musical role in that social context. Equally, one can find some pretty unstellar players in championship section bands if one looks; there's a great variability in standard on every seat - though less so on corner seats.

    I really can't think of a useful way to relate these two tangential things. I could write "If your son had Grade 6 distinction, then he could reasonably expect to be considered for a front row seat in a 2nd or 1st section band", but it's so dependent on what ensemble musical skills he has or doesn't have, his personal ambition, and on what the band in question is expecting of the player from that seat that the statement would be completely useless.
  9. Accidental

    Accidental Supporting Member

    Another 'I agree' post....
    I've known some terrible players with grade 8s! On the flip side, I know some absolutely awesome players who've never done a grade in their lives.

    And to add another complication, sometimes a 'poorer' player can be more value to a band than a superb one - being a good bander comes down to a lot more than being the best player.
  10. Glamorgan

    Glamorgan New Member

    I suppose another way of posing the question would be in reference to the solos for the section leaders - e.g. for a 4th section test piece, what grade/level solo would the principal cornet or the solo horn be expected to play? Obviously this supposes that there are solos available in the piece...
  11. Tom-King

    Tom-King Well-Known Member

    Let's turn that on its head for a second...

    If you and I were sat together listening to a band, and I pointed out a particular soloist and said "she just passed her grade 7", would that be the end of it?
    Would you simply accept "oh well she must be a decent standard to be sitting there then" or would you still form your own judgements whilst we listened (perhaps she's far better than your expectations, or far worse) - and which would be more important to you if you did?

    I can't help but think anyone capable of judging what grade a player is without the certificates is more than capable of judging without referencing them as a standard... And with so many brass band players not bothering to do them isn't it an odd standard to choose?
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2014
  12. whitewitch

    whitewitch Member

    I agree. I know a few teenagers at the moment that are hopeless with brass bands but have passed their grade 8's. My son has not passed his grade 8 at all but has been encouraged by several MD's. He has been in a Championship Band since he was 12 (now 14). He deps for quite a few other bands and has been on quite a few CD's. He isn't challenged by any piece and is looking forward to playing St Magnus. He runs his section (percussion), so I feel it is about the disposition of the musician and the understanding of brass band music and not about passing an exam.
  13. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Active Member

    One of my past students is currently going through the fun of applying to universities and music colleges.
    She is an amazing player (National Wind Orchestra, principal horn of a few local ensembles) but hasn't got round to doing her Grade 8 yet - she has been too busy learning how to play the instrument.
    She has received offers from all the music colleges (scholarship offers from most and even the accelerated course at one - basically starting as a second year).
    One university has rejected her purely on the grounds that she hasn't done Grade 8 - that gave me a much greater insight into that university than it did about her playing (and will therefore never be recommending that university to anyone).
    She has no intention of wasting her time with Grade 8 - apparently quite a few people think she can play without it.

    Grades are (in my opinion) the most overhyped and pointless aspect of learning an instrument - they are bits of paper for parents (and universities/schools that don't really understand music).

    If someone comes to be (to join one of the ensembles I run or assist with) and comes brandishing their exam result I am immediately very suspicious and wonder whether they can actually play or whether they have just done the pieces for the exam. Auditions can often be very interesting.
  14. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    grades to get in to musical education is a completely different thing.
    how else can they start to see what standard and dedication a player has, they can't interview and audition everyone.

    I'm an engineer with 30 years experience but when I changed job just over a year ago I had to prove my professional qualifications.
  15. Glamorgan

    Glamorgan New Member

    I think you've misunderstood my point, I was thinking of it more from a player's point of view. If, for example, X is a grade 5 standard tenor horn player (standard being the operative word there, maybe not necessarily having sat the grade 5 exam but being able to cope with a certain range, speed of piece, difficulty of technique etc.), would X go and join a 2nd section band or would the difficulty of music be too high? Assuming of course that the band in question is playing pieces to the standard of the 2nd section.
    I'd like to think that I'm capable of judging the quality of a player based on hearing them play, rather than what someone tells me about them. That's not the question I was trying to ask.
  16. tromboneyone

    tromboneyone Member

    Hello, newbie here!

    I think the only likely way of answering the original question is to look at the standard of test pieces put out for major contests and judging them against the standards required for ABRSM grades. But...

    1. As people have said before ABRSM grades are not about ensemble playing.
    2. The standard expected on the concert stage will vary considerably between bands within the same section.
    3. Who are you replacing? A band/MD that is used to a very experienced and accomplished principal in your position is likely to expect more of you as you come into the band.

    The fact is that it simply isn't a linear progress of 'betterness' as you go up the sections as players chose to play with bands for a whole host of reasons. There are lots of very talented musicians in the lower sections occupying principal seats because they have chosen to play in those bands. Of course in the higher sections the music is more demanding and may give more opportunity to demonstrate a higher level of musicianship so players may seem to be better (and of course at the very highest level we have the great privilege of having some excellent virtuosi occupying the corner seats of our top bands, who clearly are the best at what they do).

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