Child, 5, passes grade 8 violin before he can write

Child, 5, passes grade 8 violin before he can write


norman lebrecht

May 03, 2021

It is reported that Travis Wong Kai Xuan of Singapore, who is five years old, has passed the ABRSM Grade 8 exam in violin with distinction.

He can barely write his name.

What does that tell us about the present state of instrumental teaching? Or the value of exams?


  • Tom says:

    It doesn’t say anything about the value of exams.
    There is excellent teaching happening all over the world.
    Travis Wong Kai Xuan must be an extraordinary child, with at least one extremely dedicated parent. I wonder if he has ever practiced the violin alone.

    • Rob says:

      Have you heard him play? He has horrible sound and technique. His teacher should be ashamed that they allowed him to just continue without fixing his posture.

      His bow technique is the cause of his horrible sound quality….easily fixed… And yes even 5 year olds can have good bow technique and quality of sound.

      His left hand let’s down his intonation. If they fixed the violin into a position that was more appropriate for his body… Slightly higher on the collarbone.. Then they could raise the point of contact with the left hand higher and he would achieve clean shifting.

      Very simple matters and he has not got this. It shows you the the board is not to be trusted. The quality of the exam has deteriorated. There is no way he would have passed if he took an AMEB exam instead of ABRSM or TCL.

  • Ya what says:

    Wait how’s that possible. You can’t take a Grade 8 practical exam unless you pass your Grade 5 theory, which is an exam I believe requires a little more writing skill than just your name.

    • aje says:

      Not any more – it’s a multiple guess electronic online exam now, without any writing at all, music or words :-/

    • Nik says:

      During covid the ABRSM temporarily suspended the requirement to have passed theory.
      It’s also worth noting that this was a “performance grade” exam, which doesn’t involve playing live in front of an examiner. It is judged on the basis of a video one submits online.
      Obviously this child is a highly skilled violinist for his age, but it’s still worth understanding these distinctions.

    • V.Lind says:

      His mother, apparently. Sounds like a Tiger Mom.

      And apparently since October, they have evaluated performance by submitted video — and have had 100,000 entrants. Even if the medium is new, the interest in classical music sounds healthier than we all feared.

      Nonetheless, this kid must have something — a distinction, no less. Let’s see how he grows up.

  • Eusebius says:

    musical literacy should be mandatory like literary literacy and arithmetic in public schools.

  • anon says:

    There is some fine violin teaching going on in Singapore currently. Several recent Junior Menuhin competitors, for instance. I wonder who Travis’s teacher is?

    As far as ABRSM exams, Grade 8 is no small accomplishment for a 5 year old or even a 12 year old, but Grade 8 for entering conservatory at standard age is not the level of repertoire typical of US auditioners to places like Jiuilliard, NEC, CIM, Colburn, etc. (Noting that very few US music students take ABRSM, Trinity, RCM, etc exams)

    In my mind, the advantage the exam system has over typical US instruction is inclusion in exam testing of other aspects of music – aural and written theory, history, styles, etc – that are sometimes glossed over in the preparation of US young players.

    • aje says:

      Sadly also glossed over in the new “Performance” grades from ABRSM and other boards (also AB have significantly reduced scales requirements for most instruments including piano, and their theory is now multiple choice without any writing).

  • Well, it’s not like he has more important things to do.

    I’m still working on the Grade 2 repertoire but I also have to mow the lawn and fix the roof.

  • Bill says:

    And countless millions can write their names and much more, yet can’t play the violin.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    It only tells me that Asians have the discipline, talent and rigour needed to trounce just about every other ethnic cohort. And that classical music is in safe hands, in perpetuity.

  • Jonathon says:

    What does that tell us about the present state of instrumental teaching? Or the value of exams? Absolutely nothing. How can one evaluate the state of teaching, or the value of exams based upon the achievement of one extraordinary student?

  • CYM says:

    Can’t barely write his name, but he can speak so many languages already with his violin…

  • M2N2K says:

    It does not “tell us” much of anything until we can hear his playing. To be fair though, writing his name looks to me like a rather complicated task.

  • fierywoman says:

    Looks like child abuse to me.

  • Peter says:

    ABRSM exams do not include a written element so this is quite possible. Not really a problem.
    A good number of 5 year old kids can barely write their names, and most can barely play the violin.
    Good luck to him.

  • Matias says:

    And if he works really hard, he might be admitted to Oxford to study drill rap.

  • P Newton says:

    Why is a grade the yardstick of musicality ?

  • Enquiring Mind says:

    What are some typical grade 8 pieces?

  • John Borstlap says:

    Indeed, writing is more difficult.

  • Emarit says:

    Bellísimo logró esepcional, por experiencia propia, Cabe mensionar no se tocar ningún instrumento, sólo alguna vez instrucción en Ballet.. Logramos como bendición el año pasado en “Tiempos de Pandemia”regalo Violín a mi hija de 7años. Sin recibir ninguna instrucción maestro ni apoyo alguno, hoy nos deleita tocando varias partituras y esta sacando su repertorio. Sea destacado actividades académicas y solicitan presentaciones en el Colegio. “Dad al niño un instrumento o un simple lápiz y te maravillaras de la gracia de Dios.” amén
    Izza Montoya G. de Colombia para el mundo

  • Catherine Heather says:

    This sweet little boy obviously has an affinity for music and an appreciation for the violin. It is clear that he has great support. I assume it is positive support and do not think we as adults should troll his parents for unproven social stereotypes (“tiger mom”, really?) lets at least remember that this is a child who has sparked attention from all over the world and not someone you dislike at work. There is a line to these public comments that should not be crossed. If you must make a point, address the regulations and requirements of the exam in question (as others here have) and leave this child and his parents out of it. May we all wish this little one a wonderful future filled with creativity and love for the instrument.
    And for those wondering, yes I am a supporter of the SAA and Dr. S.