Thousands of music students will now do their final practical exams online

For the 1st time in 134 years, the Royal Conservatory of Music will not test students in person.

For the 1st time in 134 years, the Royal Conservatory of Music will not test students in person

Teen Samuel Sené plays piano at home. (Daniel Janin/AFP via Getty Images)

For the first time in the 134-year history of the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM), students across Canada and the United States will do their final practical exams online, via video link, rather than in person.

According to information provided by the RCM, these new measures, which will affect 20,000 young musicians starting June 2, have been put in place due to social-distancing guidelines resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

"At the start of the pandemic, we were determined to find ways to keep people engaged," says Peter Simon, president and CEO of the RCM. "Our teams responded quickly to develop new methods and implement additional support to offer many of our programs digitally and to find unique approaches to reach our communities."

Students will perform at home and, using a smartphone, iPad or computer, will be connected via a Zoom video link with their examiner.

"Meeting students online in the Zoom platform has been a very positive experience," explains Janet Lopinski, the RCM's senior director of academic programs, and an examiner. "Overall, I've found that students are more relaxed and comfortable, playing on their own pianos, in the comfort of their homes. At the start of each exam, we take a few minutes to establish a connection with the student, just as we do when welcoming students at in-person exams. We do a short sound check, to ensure that the examiner can see and hear the student's instrument, and that the student can hear the examiner clearly. I've been amazed by how well things are working, and by the extent to which I can hear the students' playing clearly!"

Lopinksi points out that there are, nevertheless, variables relating to the speed of the internet connection, the quality and placement of the devices used by the student, and the instrument itself.

"But our examiners have had thorough training and extensive experience with evaluation methodology, and most are teaching online using Zoom or similar platforms. We base the evaluation on what we are able to hear — which in my experience has certainly been enough to reach an assessment of the performance and evaluate the examination with confidence."

"I was a little worried, but I did it and I feel proud of myself," says early adopter Willow McBride, a six-year-old who has already completed her practical exam under these new conditions. Watch her short testimonial:

The RCM also says that online exams will be "a new permanent offering."

Based in Toronto, the RCM is one of the largest music education institutions in the world, with more than five million alumni. Its program is used by over 30,000 teachers to support 500,000 students across North America.

The Royal Conservatory of Music School is located in downtown Toronto. (Supplied by the RCM)