Category: Graded Music Exams

Rockschool Acoustic Guitar: Cover Stars, Part 1

September 17th, 2019 by

To celebrate the release of the Rockschool Acoustic Guitar re-tune this September, each week we will break down the story behind every track from the cover-star that appears on every grade book in the series. This week’s Level 1 publications (Debut – Grade 3) includes The Lumineers, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Taylor Swift and David Bowie.

Debut: The Lumineers – Ho Hey

‘Ho Hey’ was the first single to be released from The Lumineers’ self-titled debut album in 2012. The song gave them their first hit, achieving chart success globally. On its release it charted at number 90 on the US Billboard Hot 100, which may have seemed disappointing at first – but with patience the band saw an excellent result for their first single. ‘Ho Hey’ became known as a ‘sleeper hit’ and slowly climbed the charts, starting at position 90 in June 2012 and finally breaking the top ten in November 2012 at number 8. Not stopping there, the song achieved top ten status in the UK, Canada, France, Australia and Switzerland to name but a few.

The Lumineers are an American folk-rock band, founded by frontman Wesley Schultz and drummer/percussionist Jeremiah Fraites. Starting out as a covers band in New York in 2005, the pair soon discovered their ability to write catchy hooks together and so began gigging their original material. During their early days gigging around Brooklyn, they became increasingly frustrated with disinterested crowds. In response to this, ‘Ho Hey’ was originally written to taunt those gig-goers who refused to listen to the live music. By adding in the shouts of ‘Ho’ and ‘Hey’ the songwriting duo felt sure they could demand the attention of their audience. Needless to say, it worked and the single brought them global recognition with two Grammy nominations in 2012, for Best Americana Album and Best New Artist.

This arrangement uses the partial/smaller chord shapes taught at this level, and so links well with the technical exercises, giving you twice the opportunity to practice these finger placements. Where the C chord is based around the A, D and G strings, we see how these chords can be expanded in the lower register – using notes from our C major scale. Interest is added in the rhythms through the use of dotted notes, eighth note rests and upbeat eighth notes. This is very common in modern songwriting and helps phrases to flow more naturally, so really mastering these will certainly transfer to other songs you are learning at this level.

Grade 1: Bob Marley & the Wailers – Redemption Song

‘Redemption Song’ features on Bob Marley & the Wailers’ ninth album, Uprising, released in 1980. The song’s original recording consists of a solo performance by Marley, accompanying himself on the guitar, and still feels like one of the most important moments of his career. In October 1980 a single version of the song was released and featured a full band version on its B-Side. The single was released in the UK and France and although it failed to chart, it has since become one of the most iconic compositions in the history of popular music.

‘Redemption Song’ was written while Marley battled with the cancer that eventually took his life. Having been diagnosed in 1977 with a rare form of malignant melanoma, Marley sadly passed away on 11th May 1981; being honoured with a state funeral at which the Jamaican Prime Minister gave the final eulogy before he was buried with his beloved guitar.

Both throughout his career and posthumously, Marley was awarded and honoured for both his music and humanitarian work. In 1981 Marley was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit for his renowned international distinction in the arts. His accolades and achievements are endless, with only a few including an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2001 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award the same year.

Early on, ‘Redemption Song’ puts your picking hand accuracy to the test. It is best practise to repeat these sections slowly to become familiar with which notes land on which strings. Dotted rhythms also feature here, so taking care not to rush the rhythms through these bars will ensure a stable and strong opening to the performance. An even strumming hand attack is important to establish and maintain continuity in your performance, and the strumming indications are a great help in developing a fluid arm motion through this piece.

Hailed as one of the most influential figures in bringing reggae to the mass market, Marley’s music remains hugely important to the music industry today. With countless musicians having covered his work, including Stone Roses, Stevie Wonder, Chris Cornell and Joe Strummer (to name but a few) it is evident that he continues to inspire musicians to this day.

Grade 2: Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ was the lead single release from Taylor Swift’s fourth studio album, Red. Written by Swift and the enigmatic duo, Martin and Shellback, the hit peaked at number 4 on the UK Singles Chart while topping the Billboard Hot 100 in the artist’s home country. The tracks digital downloads contributed the majority of sales that delivered the single to the top of the US chart (the original release debuting at 72). Despite the ‘bubblegum pop’ hit featuring a production style reliant on both synths and drum machines, the country radio edit – which why a key influence on our version – replaces this sound with an acoustic feel, using mandolins, banjos and percussion, shows Swift returning back to her country roots.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1989, by the age of fourteen Swift had already moved to Nashville chasing her dream of a career in music. Shortly after moving she signed to Big Machine Records and became the youngest artist in history to join the Sony/ATV Music Publishing House. At the age of just sixteen, Swift released her self-titled debut album and saw it reach number 5 on the US Billboard 200 chart. Her third single release, ‘Our Song’, saw the talented singer become the youngest ever artist to have written and performed a number 1 song on the Hot Country Songs chart.

Throughout her career Swift has been nominated for a staggering 32 Grammy Awards, winning an impressive ten. Her talents have been honoured by both the Nashville Songwriters Association and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2015 Rolling Stone ranked her in their 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time. With more than 50 million album sales and 150 million single downloads, Swift is one of the top five most downloaded artists worldwide. Since 2012, the singer’s three album releases have all topped the UK charts, and she has had 12 UK top 10’s so far. ‘Red’ performed incredibly, topping the charts in Australia, China, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. With enormous sales throughout the world, the album was certified 2 x Platinum in the UK and 7 x Platinum in the US.

There are multiple technical and musical challenges that need to be mastered before your performance will sound musically convincing. Suspended and Add chords combine with rests and more complex strumming patterns to really illustrate the progression to Grade 2. Pick hand muting will also be needed to accurately play the 16th note rests that immediately proceed 16th note open string passages. This sort of quick muting action is leading into more advanced techniques at later grades, and so mastering it here will save work at a later point as well as leading to a stronger performance.

Grade 3: David Bowie/Nirvana – The Man Who Sold the World

‘The Man Who Sold the World’ was the title track for David Bowie’s third studio album and was released in the US in 1970, and in the UK the following year. Although Bowie’s original version surprisingly failed to chart in the UK, the song did achieve UK chart success in 1974 with Lulu’s famous cover, which peaked at number 3. Between the years of 1995 and 1997 Bowie famously reworked his live version of the song, introducing atmospheric synthesisers, drum machinesand a new bassline, before returning to the original version in the 2000s.

Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews, the album failed to chart in the UK or the US on its initial release. However, on its rerelease in 1972 word of Bowie’s genius had begun to spread and it peaked at number 23 on the UK Album chart. With several artists having claimed the album as having had a huge influence on their own work, including The Cure, Gary Numan and Nirvana, the record has left behind a legacy. Not only this but the album is hailed by many as the launch of Glam Rock, along with the appearance of Marc Bolan on Top of the Pops in December 1970 – performing his first UK hit ‘Ride a White Swan’ in a glittery top.

David Bowie’s career spanned six decades and could be considered equal to none other. Known for his individuality, alter egos and musical entrepreneurship, the artist was loved across the globe and his list of accolades is endless. Not only a hugely talented songwriter and musician, Bowie was also an award-winning actor with some of his most memorable roles including Thomas Jerome in ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ (which won him Best Actor at the Saturn Awards) and Jareth in the 1986 hit ‘Labyrinth’. With a staggering 19 Grammy Nominations throughout his career, of which he won 5, four BRIT awards (including the Outstanding Contribution to Music award in 1996) and countless other recognitions it would be very difficult to try and summarise his success and influence. In 2000, Bowie was to be honoured with a CBE and knighthood, both of which he turned down, a perfect example of the humbleness that epitomised this incredible artist.

In terms of musicality and technical control, this Grade 3 piece combines already familiar ideas with new elements to create a challenging performance that reflects the transition from Grade 2 to Grade 3. The real challenge with the chords is to ensure that all notes ring out and that larger barre chords are kept even. Whilst it is important to isolate small sections during the practise, it can also prove beneficial to repeat larger sections as a way to highlight technical issues that need addressing.

In 2016, Bowie released his 25th studio album Blackstar on his 69th birthday. Sadly, the artist lost his quiet battle with liver cancer two days after and left his fans in mourning. With many looking back at the last album as a beautifully crafted goodbye, Bowie remained an inspired creator until the very end. It can only be assumed that he will continue to influence and inspire for future generations of music fans.

That’s it for our level 1 grades! Stay tuned for the level 2 breakdown hitting your screens soon!

Rockschool Acoustic Guitar ALL Grades


Do you, or your students, feel prepared to take on an exam this term?



Exam Self-Assessment – How Well Do You Think You Did?

August 2nd, 2019 by

Well done, you made it. All the weeks and months of preparation and the hours and hours you spent practising and grinding on your chosen topic has culminated in the exam. You survived. It wasn’t so bad was it? I’m sure you did pretty good!

Once the dust settles, you can ask yourself a simple question: How well did I do?

Or more specifically, how well do I think I did?

You might have realised you made a few minor slip ups in the exam but that’s ok, we’ve said all along that there is room for error. We can get away with little mistakes and I’m sure you didn’t have any moments where things really went bad.

So let’s think about how we can self-assess our performance and work out if we did as good as we hoped to. Firstly, think about the aspects of the exam and break them down into two categories, questions will cover anything that would’ve been asked, and performance will cover the playing side of things:


In your exam the examiner can ask you a range of questions such as theory-based questions or listening based questions. Think back to the exam and imagine how you think you handled these. Did you give prompt responses, or did you have to spend some time thinking over the answers?

Some of the questions, for certain instruments, can relate to playing something back. For instance, playing back a chord or a scale. Did these questions come up for you? How did you handle them? Did you reply promptly by playing the answer in a clear and concise manner? Did you make any mistakes while playing it?

Performance Pieces

As you know, the exam also contains a performance element containing pieces from the book or pre-prepared pieces to suit the grading level you are sitting. Now, I know you’ll have been super prepared for these and you would’ve spent a lot of time going over them, but how did they go on the day?

Were you able to give a comfortable and confident rendition of the notated piece you prepared?

Take some time to think about how you might have put the piece across, you want to come across to the examiner like you’re a seasoned pro and that you know what you’re doing. You don’t want to come across like you are fumbling for notes and uncertain. Did you portray yourself in a good light while performing?

When it comes to self-assessing your performance, you should make note of all these questions and write down answers on a sheet of paper. This will highlight to you any areas you feel you might have done badly, but on the other hand, you could also write down any areas you feel you may have excelled.

What if you did badly? So what? Don’t be so hard on yourself. Of course, no one wants to fail, we all want to pass our graded exams with flying colours and come out with fantastic results. If you are unfortunate enough to have a bad day then learn from it. Use the mistakes you made to push yourself and understand why you made those mistakes. Every mistake you make is a learning opportunity.

About the Author:

This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge, a professional guitarist, tutor and journalist from Wales in the UK. He has been working in the music industry for over 10 years as a touring and studio musician with various artists, guitar tutor and writer for many high profile guitar publications. Read more of Leigh’s pieces relating to Rockschool here…

Recovering from Mistakes During Exams

July 20th, 2019 by

So, you’re sitting in the exam room with your examiner ready to take on your graded exam. You’ve put in a lot of work up to this point, spent countless hours learning the material and practising…

You’re going to nail it, don’t worry!

If you make a mistake here and there, that’s ok. No one wants to make mistakes, especially when you’re being marked on it, here are a few things to consider to keep your performance rolling ahead even if you make a mistake.

As a musician, and a semi-perfectionist, I used to dwell on mistakes. If I made a mistake during a gig, I would get very annoyed at myself and it would put a dark cloud over the rest of my gig. I’ve played many gigs where I’ve noticed myself slipping up on something minor and regardless of how good the gig is, that would ruin it for me.

In recent years, I’ve learnt to let this go. I had a revelation in 2014 at Download Festival watching Aerosmith. Steven Tyler the bands frontman started the piano intro to the hit Dream On and low and behold in front of 85,000 screaming rock fans, he messed up. He played a chord that was a screamer of a wrong chord. What did he do next? He threw his head back, laughed out loud and carried on.

For me, this made me realise, maybe it’s not so bad to make a mistake occasionally. Here are some tips to help you recover when you make mistakes in times of pressure.

Don’t Panic, It Happens!

Mistakes happen. If you panic, you are more likely to follow that mistake with more mistakes. Let the mistake go, it’s a small moment. Don’t let that moment define the rest of your performance. Once you make a mistake, a good thing to practise is the art of simply forgetting that you made it. This will allow you to focus on the parts ahead.

Relax and Have Fun

If you go into the exam relaxed, you are less likely to make mistake. Even if mistakes do happen, maintain your relaxed mindset and see them for what they are. I always find that if I’m feeling stressed or worked up before playing, I don’t play to my full potential. Before you go into the exam, spend some time warming up and generally trying to keep yourself relaxed and keep your mindset positive. Try to get excited about the prospect of the exam rather than afraid of it.

Focus on What Comes Next

One of the most important things to think about when a mistake occurs is to consider where you can re-join the piece with minimal disruption. Try not to pause for too long, if you hit a wrong note or skip a beat then try to catch up with yourself by the next beat. You can blend mistakes into a performance very well just by considering what is going on around the mistake and how you can carry on unscathed.

Plan for Mistakes

You can almost expect it to happen. You’re going into an exam which will add a little pressure, but also, you’re human. There isn’t a musician in the world who doesn’t make mistakes, but we will all make them at some point. Consider the piece you’re performing as a whole, if you make one or two small mistakes, does it really detract from the overall performance.

About the Author:

This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge, a professional guitarist, tutor and journalist from Wales in the UK. He has been working in the music industry for over 10 years as a touring and studio musician with various artists, guitar tutor and writer for many high profile guitar publications. Read more of Leigh’s pieces relating to Rockschool here…

Rockschool Stories | David and James Pashley

July 16th, 2019 by

A pair of distinctions during any exam day is good going, but when it came from a father/son duo, we had to catch up with the Pashley’s to find out how their Rockschool journey began!

After achieving distinctions on their recent Rockschool Drums Debut graded exams, we caught up with David Pashley (94%) to see how learning to play the drums has brought him and his son, James (96%), closer than ever before.

rockschool stories the pashleys

What inspired you both to start learning music together?

We went to the latitude festival in 2017 and James said he would love to play drums. I had a set when I was a child but never learnt to play properly so we bought an electronic kit and looked for a local teacher.

How have you found it learning together at the same time?

It has been great fun. I knew James would stick at it better if I learnt as well and the set up at ALF Drum Studios makes it easy because Andy has 2 kits set up side by side. We make sure we pick the same pieces to learn as well so we can practice together at home.

Has this process brought you closer as a family?

Yes, for sure. I get to spend time with James doing something we both enjoy rather than just being a taxi service to a club or activity. When either of us is struggling with a piece we can help each other.

You’ve both achieved remarkable grades, is this just the start of your musical journeys?

I hope so. Each level brings challenges and always looks too hard but we are almost through grade 1 and ready to start looking at Grade 2 pieces. Andy is very patient with us and fine tunes our technique all the time. I would like us both to get to a level where we could play in a band.

What’s been your favourite Rockschool performance pieces to learn?

I like learning the classics in the newer books. James has loved learning Z from Grade Debut and is working on Yeah in Grade 1.

What musician(s) inspired you to start playing, and why?

I was always a fan of drumming as a child and loved watching various artists. Tristan Fry playing Toccata was amazing and I always thought Clem Burke and Stewart Copeland were brilliant. James was impressed with the drummer from Two Door Cinema Club.

If you’re interested in taking part in our Rockschool Stories series, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Simply drop us an email introducing yourself to with “Rockschool Stories” as the subject header!

Key Signatures – A Beginners Guide

July 12th, 2019 by

Key Signatures can be very daunting to learn, and often challenging to remember them all.

But, even if you are complete new to this, it doesn’t have to be that daunting to learn your key signatures if you break it down into smaller manageable steps. By learning your key signatures, you will also increase your knowledge and understanding of your major scales and their relative minor scales around your instrument.

The best key to learn is C Major. C Major is a key that has no sharps or flats. This is also true of its relative minor, A Minor. The relative minor of each key can easily be remembered as the 6th note in the Major scale. In the case of C Major, the relative minor is A. That means, if we shift the scale to an A root note and play the same notes, but with A now being the first note, this makes the series of notes fit into A Minor.

The key signature for C Major/A Minor will look like this:

To help us work out other key signatures we can use the circle of fifths. Each position you go clockwise from C adds one sharp to the key, each position anti-clockwise adds one flat:

Circle of Fifths

The note of G is a fifth above a C (it’s also the V note in the C Major scale). In the key of G Major, there is only one sharp note.

The key signature for G Major/E Minor will look like this:

I think one of the easiest ways to start learning the key signatures is to work with the circle of fifths and move clockwise/anticlockwise learning each key going up or down in fifths.

Let’s look at it going clockwise:


All Notes Sharp Keys

The same is true if we imagine this as anticlockwise, except instead of adding a sharp to each key, we are adding a flat:


All Notes Flat Keys

One thing you will notice about each of these patterns, clockwise or anticlockwise, is that for every fifth you go up or down, you add one sharp or flat. You’ll also notice that the pattern consistently changes one note at a time from having no sharps/flats to having 7 sharps/flats. For example, the notes of C Major and G Major are the same (Albeit in the new order for G Major – starting on the G root) with the addition of the F#. If you then look at the next fifth up, D Major, this has all the same notes as G major (Starting from the D root) with a C# added. This is also true for the flats going anticlockwise.

You may have noticed that we’ve referenced B#/Cb and E#/Fb a few. We are using them as hypotheticals to show which notes become sharp/flat. If you were sharpening a B you’d take it to a C, and likewise a Cb would be a B.

About the Author:

This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge, a professional guitarist, tutor and journalist from Wales in the UK. He has been working in the music industry for over 10 years as a touring and studio musician with various artists, guitar tutor and writer for many high profile guitar publications. Read more of Leigh’s pieces relating to Rockschool here…

Rockschool Stories | Jack Chapman – 9 Track Music

July 2nd, 2019 by

Whether you’re a student, teacher, or simply someone looking for something fun to do in their spare time; we love to hear from anyone who interacts with our material to grow, learn or inspire others.

What started as a simple questionnaire quickly became a really insightful exercise into the influence that the Rockschool brand has had in homes, schools and teaching hubs around the world.

What this has become is: Rockschool Stories.

Jack Chapman

For our first instalment, we spoke to 9 Track Music’s Jack Chapman. Based in Sheffield, Jack uses a myriad of Rockschool resources as a learning platform for each of the students who come to Jack to excel on the guitar.

How long have you been using Rockschool, and why has it worked for you?

I have been using Rockschool material since around 2010 – taking my first personal exam (Grade 6) in 2012. Since that time I have grown my tuition business, teaching many different students across a variety of ages and abilities, each at some point interacting with Rockschool material.

Usually this begins when myself or the student feels they are ready to benchmark their current progress and have a widely recognised achievement to their name. At other times RSL material has simply been a reference for playing recognisable songs that will kick-start tuition with a new student or bring them closer to eventually taking a grade exam. Overall it has provided me with a vital thread of continuous and consistent catalogue from which to shape the progression and development of my guitar students.

What’s your favourite performance piece to teach, and how does it improve your learners?

This has to be Sunshine of your Love from Grade 1. Most of my students have at some point played material from the Grade 1 & 2 books; this song in particular has a very recognisable riff and is often the first time a beginner student manages to string a complete (if brief) song together for the first time. This can be a turning point in their development and confidence. It also solidifies Rockschool material, and sheet music in a broader sense, as something not to be afraid of – but something fun, engaging and worth practising to improve their skills and understanding of guitar. Special mention also goes to the Let’s Rock book, which my 7-11 year olds in particular really love to work through.

What’s your favourite test to teach, and why is it important for your learners?

The Grades 6-8 Quick Study Pieces are, for my more experienced students, a bite-size opportunity to move outside of their comfort zone to discover different genres and new styles of playing that they may not have experienced much in the past. It is very interesting to hear how accomplished their playing with familiar genres can sound in comparison to lesser played styles. This can be a humbling moment for us both and a reminder that while the student may be in the intermediate stages of their playing, there is still much to learn. This usually opens new doors for us in terms of performance technique, and analysing particular famous guitarists with stylistic techniques in mind.

As an aside, these exercises also keep me on my toes, having to demonstrate such short snippets of very specific stylistic play and convey this fluidly can sometimes be a challenge!

Guitar Syllabus (1.3MB, .pdf)

What’s your favourite learner success story?

Several of my students have played their Rockschool favourites as GCSE performance pieces, with a couple of these achieving perfect marks in their assessments! It is thoroughly rewarding for both myself and my students when our work benefits their wider education too.


What musicians inspired you to start playing, and why?

Being from Sheffield, UK, I have the Sheffield music heritage to thank with bands like Arctic Monkeys first hitting the charts when I began playing and jamming around age 13, a historic band with a major influence on a generation of younger players.

My parents also introduced me to Country music at an early age, and I spent a great deal of time following the guitar playing of Keith Urban and writing my own music in the same vein. Blues and Rock too have always been at the core of my own style, eventually bringing me on to hearing John Mayer and finally seeing him in concert in 2017. Witnessing that sort of inspiration live after many years is the kind of moment you don’t forget!

Find out more about Jack here…

Find out more about 9 Track Music here…

Understanding Music Theory to Write Chord Progressions – A Beginners Guide

June 4th, 2019 by

Music theory holds the key to us understanding the notes we hear and play everyday, allowing us to unlock some areas of our song writing and compositional skills that we might not have previously tapped into.

One of those areas is the ease in which we can put together great sounding chord progressions.

Let’s start by looking at the A Major Scale as a reference point and the degrees of the scale. This will be useful for us creating chord progressions.

Please note: in these examples I have excluded a key signature and added chord repeats for ease of learning and as an extra visual aid. Watch out for the next lesson exploring Key Signatures!


We can play any major scale as a series of chords as follows:

In relation to our scale choice, the chords we now have available are:

Now, we can start putting together chord progressions in the key of A Major. Let’s start with a blues progression.

I, IV, V

Blues, typically moving in a 12-bar cycle, is created with the intervals I, IV and V (1, 4, 5). I, IV, V is an interval chord progression you will hear a lot in your learning journey:


We can also use these intervals/chord types to now create our own progressions which will work as they all sit in the same key. Let’s look at a III, V, I, VI progression which in this key will give us C# Minor, E Major, A Major, F# Minor:

II, V, I

If you dabble in the world of jazz, you might also be familiar with the II, V, I progression, which as you can probably guess, we can also create from this giving us B Minor, E Major, A Major:

While this concept is explained here in A Major, this is transposable to any key you want. All you need to do is start with your Major scale and create your progressions by applying the intervals of the scale to the chord types that sit with each interval as outlined at the start of this lesson.

Use this knowledge to build your own progressions. Even if you stick with A Major at first, you can try out a range of combinations of chords to see what interesting movements you can create. If you know of any songs in the key of A Major, or any other major key for that matter, once you know what key the song is it, you can analyse the chords to see how others use this theory to aid their composition.

The upcoming Rockschool Music Theory exam entry deadline is fast approaching. Get your entries in by 17th June!


About the Author:

This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge, a professional guitarist, tutor and journalist from Wales in the UK. He has been working in the music industry for over 10 years as a touring and studio musician with various artists, guitar tutor and writer for many high profile guitar publications. Read more of Leigh’s pieces relating to Rockschool here…

Why should I learn music theory?

May 24th, 2019 by

If you want to write better songs, be more expressive with your improvisations and master the most challenging musical techniques, a firm grasp of music theory is essential.

Rockschool have developed their Music Theory syllabus so the more you know about music theory, the better you can express yourself through your music.


Music Theory Secrets

From pitch, octaves, rhythm, chords, notes and scales to harmony, melody lines and form, a comprehensive understanding of how and why your favourite composers, musicians and performers create their legendary masterpieces is a necessary discipline you must acquire if you have a desire to pursue a career in the ever-evolving world of the competitive music industry.

Learning to Listen

Music students of all ages and from all over the world learn how to critique music in order to accurately identify what it is they are actually hearing. This is a key skill on the road to becoming an expert in the music industry. Rockschool have developed their Music Theory syllabus to provide you with all the necessary tools to help you achieve this.


Learning to Read Music

The Western music tradition is based on the written score, and one thing we are certain of – our Rockschool Music Theory syllabus will effectively teach you to sight read accurately and effortlessly. Of course, the mechanical element will only be achieved through hours of practice on your particular instrument, but the core of sight reading is being able to hear what you see, which will help you to grow as a musician.


How Writing Music Improves Playing

As the written language of music is universal, regular composition and performance exercises in music theory will improve your ability to accurately convey your composition to other musicians, whether in a recording scenario, a live performance, or a freewheeling jam session.

How Theory Improves Efficiency

Even if you can play music by ear, there is still a lot of trial and error that comes with it. Knowing the rules behind melody and harmony will make it a whole lot easier to find the notes that will work in a particular portion of a song.

When you can read music, you’re able to recognise fundamental aspects involved in composition, such as harmony, melody, and rhythm. Knowing these helps you to become a more efficient player by allowing you to avoid some of the uncertainty that can really slow down the writing process.

Whether you are in a studio to record some tracks or gathering for your latest band practise, improving your efficiency as a musician is a something you should always be striving for. One day, you may find yourself working under a tight budget and/or strict deadlines whilst recording an album, or nearing the date of a show, and you’ll be more than ready to handle it because you are technically prepared.

How Genre Defines Culture

Jazz, folk, blues, country, hip-hop, R’n’B, rock, pop and reggae – music very much narrates how man has evolved through the musical genres they composed. The styles in which musicians wrote throughout history tell us a lot about culture and society at large during those times. Set yourself a challenge: explore a particular genre of music that you’re not yet familiar with: do you recognise any rudiments and composition differences across genres or do they sound the same?

How to Appreciate Music

Exposing yourself to music you have never heard before provides an opportunity to familiarise yourself with new literature and practise unbiased listening. We don’t necessarily enjoy every style of music we hear, but with the knowledge of Music Theory you will be able to analyse and explore other music genres, which may in itself bring a new kind of enjoyment to something you previously disliked. Perhaps this will benefit you and open your eyes (and ears!) to new ideas in your own musical landscape!

How to Critique

It is important that you consider Music Theory as dynamic as any other subject associated with higher learning. Similar to mainstream topics of study like Science and Mathematics, the study of Music Theory, much like any of the other rigours in higher education, will enable you to continually improve your performance as a student and a musician. The Rockschool Music Theory syllabus prepares you for success in all areas of music.

Reach your Musical Potential

Being a confident sight reader will only assist you in reaching your full musical potential. It’s should be seen as an empowering, liberating skill, rather than something boring or constrictive. Some musicians worry that playing from sheet music results in robotic playing, producing a mechanical sound. You may even find that this is the case early on, but with dedicated practise sessions, your own unique playing style will come through.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”
Pablo Picasso

The upcoming Rockschool Music Theory exam entry deadline is fast approaching. Get your entries in by 17th June!


Rockschool’s Music Theory Guidebooks are the ideal introduction to music theory for musicians, composers, students and teachers at all levels and are designed to prepare you for Rockschool’s theory exams, as study and teaching aids, or as standalone guides. Rockschool’s Popular Music Theory Syllabus is fully accredited and offers UCAS points at Grades 6, 7 and 8.

Dealing with Nerves Before and During Your Exam

May 15th, 2019 by

Feeling nervous before or during your graded exam is never a nice feeling. But what should be of some comfort to all that experience performance anxiety is that it is both common and completely normal.

It can make you feel tense and uneasy which can then impede your ability to focus, costing you precious exam marks in the process.

Whether you feel a little nervous, or are suddenly overwhelmed, there are a few things you can do ahead of your exam and during the session itself to help you cope with the nerves that you might encounter. If you think you might be getting nervous or anxious, here are some symptoms to watch out for:

  • Shallow, rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shaking in your hands/body
  • Feeling emotional or tearful
  • Dry mouth or increased sweating

The natural reaction would be to feel like you want to avoid the situation, withdraw into yourself and go quiet (again, this is perfectly normal). To help yourself through these situations, here are some great exercises to use that negative energy to switch your mindset to a positive one:

7:11 Breathing – Inhale through your nose for 7 seconds and exhale through your mouth for 11. The counting part of this exercise will engage your brains logical pathway whilst the deep breathing will increase your bodies oxygen intake, having a calming effect.

Posture – If you sit or stand in a strong, confident position, you will feel more empowered.

Smile – When you smile, your brain releases Oxytocin which naturally makes you feel better.

Reframe – Tell yourself you’re excited not scared. You’re in control of your own feelings, use them to your advantage.

Rehearsal – It should be a given that before you enter for your exam that you feel totally prepared. If you cover the content of your exam in advance you will feel more prepared on the day. Go over everything that you might be asked to a point where you can’t possibly get it wrong. This feeling of self-certainty will give you a much-needed confidence boost. Practice your weaknesses, not your strengths.

If you’d like to read more on the topic, check out this article written by life coach and psychotherapist, James Banfield. The 5 tips above are explored further in his article, which will help you feel even more confident before your session.

These tips do not just apply to music exams, and be commandeered any time or place you find yourself under stress. Don’t let the nerves stop you from achieving your goals. You’re in control if you decide to be.

About the Author:

This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge, a professional guitarist, tutor and journalist from Wales in the UK. He has been working in the music industry for over 10 years as a touring and studio musician with various artists, guitar tutor and writer for many high profile guitar publications. Read more of Leigh’s pieces relating to Rockschool here…