The Violin Channel recently discussed the new Violin Series, 2021 Edition of the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) with Kim Gardiner, Vice President of Marketing at RCM.
The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada was founded 130 years ago. Can you tell us about its long history, the organization’s mission, and some of its acclaimed alumni?
The Royal Conservatory of Music is one of the largest and most respected music education institutions in the world, providing the definitive standard of excellence in curriculum design, assessment, performance training, teacher certification, and arts-based social programs since 1886. The mission of The Royal Conservatory — to develop human potential through leadership in music and the arts — is based on the conviction that the arts are humanity’s greatest means to achieve personal growth and social cohesion.
More than five million alumni of The Royal Conservatory have carried the benefits of music study into subsequent careers in a wide range of fields, including medicine, business, politics, education, science, and sports. Alumni Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, Diana Krall, Teresa Stratas, Sir Roger Norrington, and Jon Vickers have achieved international musical acclaim. Violinists Martin Beaver, James Ehnes, and Timothy Chooi also have strong ties to The RCM.
Tell us about the RCM Certificate Program, which your organization has developed for instrumental teachers to use all around the world. What are its main aspects and goals?
The RCM Certificate Program is a comprehensive and effectively sequenced program of music study and assessment that provides recognized standards of success from beginner to advanced levels in over 24 disciplines — including string instruments. The program provides a clear leveled path for well-rounded music training with accompanying publications that incorporate repertoire, sight reading, ear training, technique, and theory at each level. Performance is recognized through accredited examinations and awards that allow students to celebrate accomplishments and track their progress. With high-quality and innovative resources all in one place, teachers spend less time sourcing material and more time focused on teaching and growing their practice.
How does the RCM Certificate Program differ from other teaching programs such as the Suzuki and Trinity College methods?
The RCM Certificate Program provides a standardized and guided path for holistic music study. Sequenced from Elementary to Advanced levels, we offer 11 progressive certificates (Preparatory to Level 10). At the culmination of the program, candidates can earn diplomas such as the Associate Diploma (ARCT) in Violin, Performer, Associate Diploma (ARCT) in Violin, Pedagogy, and the Licentiate Diploma (LRCM) in Violin, Performer.
Examinations for the program are conducted by members of the RCM College of Examiners, which includes over 350 distinguished teachers, musicians, and experts from across North America. RCM Examiners participate in a rigorous Adjudicator Certification Program and maintain their role through ongoing quality control and professional development.
The program takes a comprehensive approach to developing well-rounded musicians right from the start. At each level, students are presented with a curriculum that embraces not only repertoire, but also technique, musicianship, and theory.
For repertoire, students can choose from a variety of genres, styles, eras, and composers. Unlike other anthologies, the Violin Series draws from a multitude of sources including public-domain compositions, newly-commissioned works, and pieces licensed from other publishers. Students can choose from approximately 20 selections in each of the nine repertoire volumes of the Violin Series published by The RCM, along with other resources in the corresponding Syllabus to build their program of study.
Fundamentally, the violin program is not unlike Suzuki in that it is systematically based on finger patterns. Technical requirements and etudes are designed to support the demands of the repertoire for each level. Students are progressively introduced to new challenges through etudes, and explore fingerboard patterns based on scales, chords, arpeggios, and later, double stops.
A progressive approach to developing aural and reading skills provides a solid foundation for independent, creative musical exploration. Musicianship skills are aligned with both the performance of repertoire and understanding of theoretical concepts. The theory concepts recommended for concurrent study at Elementary levels, and co-requisite theory examinations at Intermediate and Advanced levels provide students with theoretical and historical knowledge in support of music literacy.
Starting in Level 7, violin students are required to prepare standard excerpts from orchestral literature and select chamber works.
While examinations and certificates are a large part of the Certificate program, students are also set up for success in recitals, festivals, competitions, and auditions.
This year, you’ve launched a new 2021 edition of the violin program. Tell us about the new additions and changes you have made and the process you went about to reshape the curriculum?
We’ve made several changes to the Violin Series, 2021 Edition and the corresponding Violin Syllabus, 2021 Edition to improve the learning experience. For the series, we have included repertoire and etudes that were commissioned by The RCM with a focus on diverse styles and composers: almost 50% of the content is new compared to the 2013 edition. Another notable addition is the introduction of duets throughout the Violin Series to promote musicianship, ensemble growth, and a love of music-making in younger students. Customers who purchase any Violin Series, 2021 Edition Repertoire book will also receive free access to the RCM Online Community, which houses performance and accompaniment recordings for each selection, performed by renowned violinists and pianists.
Revising a series of this size took several years. We began by surveying teachers in our violin community for their feedback on the 2013 edition and reviewing statistics from students who completed violin examinations through the Certificate Program to determine which pieces were favorites and which should be retired. Our series compiler, Kelly Parkins-Lindstrom, then worked with a number of violin pedagogues to comb through thousands of scores and decide which selections to retain, which new pieces to introduce to the series, and which older classics to bring back.
The selected pieces were carefully sequenced to ensure a logical pedagogical progression from book to book. Pieces were selected to achieve a balance of keys, meters, tempos, technical challenges, styles, and eras. Where pieces could not be found to fulfill particular objectives, we commissioned new works and arrangements. Each piece was researched to confirm its provenance and ensure that we were using the best-available score as our starting point. While remaining respectful of the composer’s intentions, each piece was edited to suit pedagogical needs of the student to add bowing, fingering, and other indications to facilitate a successful performance.
The Violin Syllabus is the core guide to the curriculum — and an invaluable resource for teachers preparing students for examinations for the RCM Certificate Program. Each syllabus includes detailed exam requirements for each level of study and offers a list of materials for exam preparation and lesson planning.
Revising the syllabus for 2021 involved a thorough review of all publications to ensure titles were accurate and available; refining examination requirements to ensure greater alignment with other disciplines within the Certificate Program (for example, introducing sight-reading from the Preparatory level); and expanding flexibility with substitution options such as Teacher’s Choice. For the first time, the violin curriculum includes two new diplomas: a three-level pedagogy program culminating in the Associate Diploma (ARCT) in Violin, Pedagogy, and the Licentiate Diploma (LRCM) in Violin, Performer, intended for candidates who wish to further refine their artistry and seek additional performance and evaluation opportunities beyond the Associate Diploma (ARCT) in Violin, Performer.
The Violin Series also has a dedicated website that includes a free Sampler, video clips, and links to download a free copy of the Violin Syllabus. Visit rcmusic.com/violin to learn more.
What additional technology learning tools have you included with your 2021 update?
With the Violin Series, 2021 Edition, we are excited to introduce a new Online Violin Community, a digital hub where teachers, students, and parents can stream recordings (both audio and video) of every repertoire piece in the series. Students can watch leading soloists, concertmasters of major orchestras, and other award-winning violinists and pianists perform the pieces in their book as inspiration. They can also perform along with the piano-only track during practice and for recital and exam preparation. Teachers can use the videos to point out aspects such as form, posture, and bowing techniques.
With revisions to the ear-training component of the curriculum, violin students can now take advantage of the RCM Online Ear Training program to practice their musicianship skills at home. Available via subscription, the online tool includes activities with feedback and tips to help students develop aural skills. It also includes acoustic musical examples for a high-quality listening experience and an onscreen keyboard for additional support.
Teachers will find a wealth of engaging material in our Teacher Portal, including videos, slideshows and downloadable resources on violin pedagogy. Master performers and pedagogues address individual works, instrument care, techniques, lesson planning, studio management, and more. For a limited time, teachers may access the Teacher Portal free of charge at rcmusic.com/teacherportal.
Another new venture for The RCM is the offering of Remote Exams. Although a plan to offer online exams was in the works for several years, the pandemic hastened that initiative and we’re pleased to have conducted over 50,000 remote exams since March 2020 for all practical and theory subjects. Remote exams can be scheduled at any time throughout the year and can be completed from any location within North America. Visit rcmusic.com/remoteexams to learn more.
Tell us about some of the feedback you’ve received so far.
During the development of the series, we sent copies of the books and syllabus to notable violinists and violin pedagogues to get their feedback. We were thrilled to have many of them review the series and even record some pieces for us!
"This Royal Conservatory series has been an invaluable asset to my teaching and for my students. It is filled with treasure after treasure of pieces that are coming from many different styles. The many different styles are crucially important for the education of young people – that they [get] experience with early [classical] pieces to contemporary pieces and everything in between. I am indebted to the people who have put this series together and I hope that it finds great success in the world of violin teaching and violin players."
– Mimi Zweig, Director of the Indiana University String Academy (Jacobs School of Music)
"So many in my generation grew up with the RCM system. I remember waiting to see what pieces would be next in the books. This is a system of well-rounded training for any serious violinist."
– James Ehnes, International Concert Violinist and Artistic Director of the Seattle Chamber Music Society
"The new edition of the RCM Violin Repertoire and Technique books offers a vast array of repertoire with step-by-step progression incorporating alignment and linkage between technique, etudes and repertoire selection. The addition of videos to recordings of this repertoire gives a fresh viewpoint for teachers, and offers another layer of learning for your students. I’m excited to incorporate this new set of books into my own teaching, and can’t wait to discover more hidden gems as I explore everything the RCM books have to offer!"
– Jonathan Crow, Concertmaster, Toronto Symphony Orchestra
"I find many works in the RCM’s extensive [collection] of repertoire are right in the sweet spot, where the student’s ability and the desire for expression can meet."
– Kurt Sassmannshaus, Dorothy Richard Starling Chair for Classical Violin at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM)
What would you say are the long-term benefits for a child learning an instrument via your RCM Certificate Program?
The RCM Certificate Program provides a wonderful avenue to help children develop confidence and boost their creativity through studying music. The RCM has a research center dedicated to exploring the link between music education, development, and cognition. Our studies show that music students are more likely to reach their full academic potential. Cognitive benefits include better memory and attention skills, enhanced language skills, improved brain function, and higher IQ scores.
Learn more about our research on the wide-ranging benefits of music education.
Do you have a teacher’s certification program? How can a teacher who is not based in Toronto go about gaining their certification?
We do! By becoming an RCM Certified Teacher, teachers receive exclusive online access to valuable professional development resources to help build their teaching practice. By joining a private online community of like-minded peers, certified teachers can share their teaching challenges and celebrate successes. Becoming an RCM Certified Teacher also raises a teacher’s profile through specialty accreditation and top-tier positioning in our National Music Teacher Directory. Learn more about the exclusive benefits of being an RCM Certified Teacher.
Teachers from all over the world can become RCM Certified Teachers as long as they meet the qualifications. Teachers who qualify can apply on our website!
What role do the parents play in their child’s RCM program education?
Parents play an important support role in their child’s music study. By communicating regularly with their child and the teacher about goal-setting, creating time for consistent, dedicated practice, and encouraging improvisation and student-driven exploration, parents can create a healthy environment for their child to enjoy and improve their music education and celebrate their accomplishments!
Why would you suggest a studio instrumental teacher, currently using a different method, consider switching to the RCM Certificate Program?
Teachers can find ways to embrace and integrate the RCM Certificate Program into their studios by introducing students to the curriculum at any point in their music study. For many students coming from a Suzuki background, the transition can be fairly smooth. Teachers will observe many parallels between the Violin curriculum of the Certificate Program and the chronology of the Suzuki method. By reviewing the syllabus, teachers can look for familiar pieces to gauge how the levels compare to their current methods. For example, a possible Preparatory exam program might include “Long, Long Ago” and “O Come, Little Children” from Suzuki Book 1 and “Cripple Creek” from the Violin Series, 2021 Edition: Technique, Etudes, and Musicianship Preparatory – 2. Overall, teachers may find that it’s not necessary to abandon their existing method to adopt the Certificate Program, rather they can explore ways to comfortably dovetail into the system.