The Certificate of Merit (CM) is a music study program that annually evaluates young students in California on their musical ability. Sponsored by the Music Teachers’ Association of California (MTAC), the evaluation typically takes place between mid-February and April. Students are tested on their music performance as they play from their repertoire of two to five pieces depending on their level, as well as their music theory knowledge in a written test.
For each instrument, there are approximately ten levels which grow in difficulty as one progresses, consisting of a specific set of requirements for students to meet on their performance and music theory. Although students can start from the first level and move up in corresponding order each year, since CM is only held annually, some skip one or multiple levels every year to eventually reach their end goal of passing the final level.
For the performance component, which is completed in front of an evaluator, students are also tested on technical elements such as playing scales, chords, and arpeggios which are at varying degrees of difficulty for every music level. Sight-reading, which is where students read a short piece of music that they have never performed before and proceed to play it to the best of their ability, is also part of the exam. The written theory section evaluates students on the technical aspects of music which includes rhythm, chords, scales, music vocabulary, intervals, ear training, and more.
However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the CM evaluation will be conducted online in 2021. Students will instead record and send in the performances of their pieces and technical elements from home. For sight-reading, students will presumably receive a piece of music that would have a certain time limit available for them to view the piece and then play. The theory test will also be conducted online with an allotted time period, unlike the in-person written theory exam where students usually have an unlimited amount of time to finish.
As someone who has taken the CM test numerous times and will attempt to pass Level 10 next year, I know firsthand that preparing for the performance and theory exam requires many months of dedication and hard work. Students must work diligently on their technical skills to master their pieces, as well as be knowledgeable in music theory to pass the actual exam, which takes between one to two hours to complete.
Although the coronavirus has prevented many from participating in any of the normal activities or tasks that they would usually take part in, the CM exam will continue to foster young students’ musical progression as it has in any previous years.