Category: Graded Music Exams

The Rockschool Method: Unseen Tests

October 25th, 2019 by

The Rockschool Method: Unseen Tests. With a firm focus on cohesion and consistency at the forefront of any release, the Rockschool Method is a musical pedagogy that we hope contributes to the production of confident, self-sufficient musicians; empowered with the knowledge and ability to see their musical decisions blossom into authentic musical expression.

For our final instalment of the Rockschool Method series, we’re going to explore the Unseen Test, which can vary depending on instrument, grade and personal preference. The four different types of tests that can be taken are Ear Tests, Sight Reading, Improvisation & Interpretation and Quick Study Pieces. Below we will outline what each test entails, and when you would be expected to perform them in your exam.

EAR TESTS

Rockschool’s Ear Tests can be found in each grade for every instrument on offer, and are broken down into two equal parts; assessing playback/recognition and/or recall of rhythms, melody and/or harmony depending on the instrument and level.

We can see in the example below how the ear tests take place within the exam. This will differ per instrument/grade, however the exam will always consist of new and unseen material.

In a Rockschool Grade 3 drum exam for example, the test comprises of:

  • One bar of fill recognition/play back (all rhythms played on the snare)
  • Four bars of groove (a co-ordinated pattern orchestrated for an ever-increasing range of drum kit parts)

For the tuned instruments (guitar, bass, piano etc), the test comprises of:

  • Melodic recall (quite literally playing a melody back to the examiner)
  • Rhythmic and harmonic recall (e.g. the recognition of concepts like specific chords or progressions from a piece of audio played by the examiner)
  • In vocal exams, the harmonic test (commencing from Grade 4) comprises singing a harmony line to a pre-existing melody on a backing track

Rockschool’s range of musical outcomes can usually be broken down into these specific component parts. Each of these parts seek to develop every type of technical, stylistic and sensory skillset required to develop into a well-rounded musician, adaptable to many creative scenarios. Recognising the significance of these skills, each Rockschool exam awards 10% of the final mark to the completion of associated ear test.

In more practical terms, as a musician who can confidently identify intervals,
chords/progressions, scales, modes, rhythm and instrumental parts, you are ultimately opening the door to be able to transcribe melodies and chords progressions (songs!), build a firm foundation for fluid improvisation, and further develop rhythmic skills, intonation and the ability to deconstruct a variety of instrument tunings.

Forcing yourself to learn each of these skills may seem boring, but what you’ll be able to do with them musically definitely isn’t.

SIGHT READING

The Rockschool Sight Reading test takes place in each of the grade exams, across all instruments currently available, at Levels 1 and 2 only (up to Grade 5). In this portion of the exam, the examiner provides a printed test and confirms the key assigned to the music given. Candidates then have 90 seconds to practice the test music before being asked to perform what has been put before them.

At Piano Debut (example above) the musician would have to perform simple rhythms and intervals across both treble and bass clefs.

Sight Reading presents a fantastic opportunity for candidates to underpin their technical knowledge and extend the potential of their future performances by integrating the reading of written music into their routine.

Ultimately, this is the best way for you to both express your own musical ideas, but to also understand and process somebody else’s. Now, not everyone can sight read, but if you find yourself in a situation where you’re collaborating with musicians who can, the potential for idea-exchange can go in absolutely any direction, straight away. There’s no need for those frustrating verbal exchanges when it’s right there on the page. Given there is no need to be in person for this exchange to happen, you’re also in a better position to adequately prepare for a session or recording, edit or amend beforehand and correct after. Some people feel that it’s not a necessary skill for what they want to achieve, but if you’d prefer not to put a limit on your potential, sight reading is a must.

IMPROVISATION & INTERPRETATION

Improvisation & Interpretation is another test that features in each of our grade exams, across all instruments at Level 1 and Level 2 (up to Grade 5). While each of these tests are included for exploration, they are also optional and it is up to the candidate as to which test they would prefer to perform: Improvisation & Interpretation or Sight Reading.

Please note: although it is up to the candidate to decide which test is addressed in their exam, we strongly advise that all candidates will profit from including every test in their music studies in order to become the most well-rounded musician they can be.

The word ‘Improv’ will almost always conjure up the image of those romantic, free-flowing, virtuosic performances that have come to define the musical genius since the birth of popular music. What mustn’t be forgotten is that each of those performances – despite seeming unhindered by the mundanity of rules and rigid structures – are all based on the application of the same set of musical values. Every musician must first possess the same musical knowledge, understanding and appreciation of foundational techniques, music theory, melody, harmony and rhythmic disciplines before they can explore the possibilities of their instrument in an authentic, personal way. Ultimately, music and the decisions that can be made in a composition or performance can inspire up a variety of questions. In order to answer those questions, whether they’re based in genre, style, or theory, you must first understand all the options available to you.

At Drums Grade 5 (as above) the musician would have to make a creative decision on how to build upon the initial notated idea, to be performed in the develop section in bars 4-7.

In a real-life scenario a professional musician would naturally have to consider many options applicable to this opportunity. Primarily, they should consider what the other musicians/instruments are doing and how the improvised part with tonally interact within that sonic environment.

Continuing into the ‘develop’ section is the ‘solo’ in bars 8 and 9, the spotlight is turned on to the musician who is playing the solo. Consequently, the considerations change slightly. Solo sections are typically a moment for one musician to lead the performance and draw the focus to them in isolation, suitable supported by the other musicians, who would usually alter their approach in order to give the solo room to breathe.

QUICK STUDY PIECE

Rockschool Quick Study Pieces (QSP’s) are compulsory for all Level 3 grade exams (grades 6-8), except for Rockschool Piano, which has the option to continue the Sight Reading or Improvisation & Interpretation option (highlighted previously) right the way through the syllabus.

Note: despite QSP’s being non-compulsory for pianists, they are a great device that directly encourages cross over to contemporary playing from more classical-based, non-improvisational piano training.

Each candidate is given a lead sheet, which they are then allowed to study in order to develop a theme upon within a three-minute period. The examiner will use prompt the type of performance expected by using terms such as “solo”, “develop” or “adlib”, which all carry with them their own specific connotations. Once this time is up, then are then expected to perform this theme, or improvisation, in a way that suitably expresses a personalisation through a short, musical motif; evidencing the candidates’ ability to recognise specific stylistic devices included in their grade material.

Note: this performance is always performed to backing track.

The style indicator at the top of a score (see example above) can be considered as an initial cue for what stylistic devices to employ. Within this particular example – taken from Rockschool Bass, Grade 6 – the QSP is in a Funk style, and therefore offers the opportunity to the performer to incorporate the stylistic choices and associated techniques that are regularly employed within this genre.

What this test serves to measure is the players ability to create on the fly (practically) and make musical decisions under pressure. If you want to be considered an eloquent, professional musician at some point in the future, this is a skill that will most definitely set you apart (it also gets you out of a fair bit of trouble, whether on stage or during a recording session!).


We hope that this series has gone some way in aiding the development of a greater understanding of each section of a Rockschool exam. There are a diverse selection of directions we could’ve gone, with an equally distinct array of examples to support each of them, so we may return to this series at some point in the future to further extend the musical possibilities your Rockschool education can offer.

If you’d like to leave any comments regarding any of the articles in this series, then please contact us – we’d love to hear from you!

Rockschool Stories | Ed Black

October 21st, 2019 by

After using Rockschool to learn the guitar, Ed decided to pass on his expertise as a teacher at the tender age of 15! Ed kindly took a moment to answer some questions about how he manages his time as an educator, session musician and solo artist.

Why did you decide to start teaching music?

I started teaching at the age of around 15 to the children of my mums friends. At first, I found it quite daunting but it was also a really enjoyable challenge to have. I stuck with it and I quickly warmed to it once I started seeing results. Music has been my passion from a young age, so to get the opportunity to share that passion with people of all ages, children and adults alike, and hopefully inspire them to learn is now a great privilege.

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Why did you decide to teach using Rockschool?

I used Rockschool when I was growing up and thoroughly enjoyed the syllabus, so teaching it to others just seemed like an obvious step. All the pupils I teach want to learn everything about contemporary music, which Rockschool perfectly caters to, so it’s an ideal resource for what my students want to achieve. Prospective pupils have been able to find me online through the Rockschool Teacher Registry and start lessons straight away as well. It really helps that they’re aware of the material and why it’s the right choice for them before we even start.

How have your lessons changed over time?

I have learnt that all pupils are unique and that some take longer to learn certain things than others. I have also learnt that it takes time to get certain aspects of the Guitar sounding perfect, and thus that a lot of early guitar playing doesn’t need to sound perfect, it’s about getting that student to really focus on the technique itself. For me, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all teaching method, I approach each pupil’s syllabus differently and endeavour to steer lesson content towards the individual. The fundamental elements will always remain the same, but how people navigate those topics can vary a lot.

We saw on Instagram that you supported the Stereophonics! How did that come about?

I work as a session guitarist alongside my teaching business. Last year I was playing guitar for singer/songwriter ‘Ten Tonnes’ and one of the tours was supporting the Stereophonics! It was an incredible experience.


Ed (far right) on tour with Ten Tonnes

You also write and release your own original material – can you give us an overview of your work as an artist up to present day?

I have two solo projects. One as a folk/acoustic singer-songwriter, for which I have released two EPs (one live) and three singles. I have performed at a number of festivals across the UK and support slots in London, and have been played regularly on BBC Introducing Merseyside (I am from Chester originally). My second project is as a producer under the name ‘edbl’, which is more R&B/Hip-Hop orientated and features a number of guest vocals. I have released three singles all of which have been played on BBC Introducing London and one BBC Radio 1xtra. Teaching is a really good option to fit around personal projects like this. I’d advise any musician to take a look into taking on their own students as it’s a really fulfilling way to pass on your knowledge and earn some money in the process.

Last year must’ve been super-exiting given that you toured with George Ezra and Ten
Tonnes – how was the whole experience?

Last year was the most live shows I’ve done in a year – over 100 in total. It was incredible! With Ten Tonnes we did three support tours back to back at the beginning of the year, then UK festival circuit throughout the summer, which led into a bus tour supporting George Ezra in the UK and Europe. The whole year was amazing and it was such a great experience to do so many shows, to so many different crowds of music fans in the UK and abroad. Hopefully my students see that as something they call also achieve themselves if they put the hours in.

You’ve had some of your music played on BBC1 extra and BBC radio London. Could you give our followers an idea of the journey from recording a track to having it played on the radio?

I record everything in my home – I have a basic setup: monitors, interface, mic etc, and
I use Logic for mixing/producing. Once the tracks are ready I use AWAL – a distribution service – to get my songs onto streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music. I also upload each track to the BBC Introducing uploader, which actually led to playing at the BBC Introducing events in both London and Merseyside. The 1xtra play came about because I emailed my track directly to Jamz Supernova and she very kindly got back to me, said she liked my stuff and played it! A lot of the time with these things it’s about taking advantage of as much as you can, whether that’s networks supporting young artists or a radio producers email address someone has passed onto you.

How do you balance life as a musician and a music teacher?

I find that the two complement each other nicely. The teaching occupies my time on
weeknights for which I am usually free. If I am touring then I always have the flexibility to come back to teaching once the trip’s over. You’ve obviously got to be organised and respectful of your students’ time, but I’ve always found it works really well.

What advice would you give to any young musician now who might see this and think about teaching music themselves?

I would definitely say: get into teaching now! If you’re passionate about music and
proficient on your instrument (or instrument!) then there is no reason not to pass it on. It’s a great way to meet people who share your enthusiasm for creativity, and it also provides regular income which is really important when you’re starting out.

Would you like to give our readers an update of any upcoming projects?

I have one more single coming out under ‘edbl’, featuring a rapper called Kofi Stone. Other than that I would just say please feel free to check out either of my projects (Ed Black/edbl) and let me know what you think!


If you’d like to check out Ed’s music, or contact him about his teaching, you can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Spotify NOW.

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Rockschool Stories | Tony Stevenson – Tony’s Tuition

October 18th, 2019 by

With over 11 years teaching experience and over 20 years as a guitar player, 29 year old Tony Stevenson has been using Rockschool resources alongside his own teaching methods to inspire and educate music students throughout the East Midlands.


Tony sits down for a lesson with one of his students

What made you choose Rockschool’s resources for your music lessons?

I studied Rockschool as a child, teenager and still now as an adult. I’ve always had a keen interest in the tracks produced, the setup and structure of the syllabus and the exams process. I have experience using RGT and ABRSM as both a student and a teacher, but I find Rockschool’s syllabus and style much more appealing for what I’d like to achieve as a musician and an educator. I started teaching my first Rockschool grades to music students in 2016, and haven’t looked back!

Why did you start teaching music and what do you enjoy most about it?

My teaching journey began at a local primary school, shortly after graduating from university with my music degree. During this time, I joined up with a company that taught group guitar lessons as a way to earn some extra income and take on a new challenge. I really enjoyed it and quickly became quite a proficient tutor. Shortly after I started working at a music school in the Midlands area. This completely overtook my primary school career as I found it to be a much more enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Unfortunately, the owner decided to move south and take the business with him, which forced me to take on some of the clients myself, who I taught at my home on a 1-1 basis. After doing this for a little while, I realised this was the direction I wanted to take my career in 2015/16, and thus began my self-employed guitar teaching journey! I now host multiple student showcases, and have recently taken on my 40th student!

What I enjoy most about my career as a music teacher is working with students that have an enthusiasm to learn from the outset because of how passionate they are about the subject. Back in primary school most kids would enjoy the lessons, but, naturally there would always be groups of kids that had very little interest in what was being taught. It didn’t resonate with them personally, which is probably the same reason that drove me to specialise my own teaching. As a 1-1 tutor, I know the students coming to me come because they have a keen interest in music and want to emulate those they look up to. This makes my job much more enjoyable and its really rewarding every time I get to see these students succeed – regardless of age or skill level.

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What has been your most memorable teaching experience?

The most memorable situation for me was my first student showcase. Whilst very nerve racking, the turnout was great and it was a smashing success. Seeing my students up on stage in-front of 100 odd people for the first time was really special. Not only were they performing their own song choices and grade pieces publicly, they openly conversed about their own experiences and we all had a lot of fun afterwards. It was an experience I’ll never forget. This is something I now replicate every six months, and I’ve even begun collaborating with another music teacher, giving us even a larger show, with more attendees. It’s great to see this event grow and how it serves to unify the local community of music students and their teachers.

How do you think students can benefit from gaining Rockschool grade exams?

Over the years I have also devised my own curriculum that I use alongside the Rockschool syllabus. When speaking with a student about transferring over to Rockschool, one of the biggest points I always mention is that a Rockschool grade is an internationally recognised qualification that can help confirm their progress. If my student were to speak with another musician and say “I’m a moderate level 8 student with Tony’s Tuition”, it doesn’t tell them as much as “I’ve passed Grade 8 Rockschool Guitar”. The skills are more instantly recognisable and benchmarked, making them instantly more transferable. The Rockschool grades also look great on a students’ CV, with the added extra of credits towards university. This is why I push students to move on to the curriculum, if it matches their ambition.

How has the RSL’s Teacher Registry benefited your business?

Whilst being on multiple registries, the RSL registry is a direct route. This should hopefully mean they’ve also researched Rockschool in some detail, and thus know exactly what to expect. It’s such a simple, clean and easy platform to use. It’s very user friendly. I’d highly recommend it to other budding Rockschool teachers.

What advice would you give to someone using Rockschool material for the first time?

Research! Thoroughly research the grading material, use the Rockschool companion guides, and make sure you have some grades under your own belt so you know first-hand exactly what kind of advice to give your students as they prepare for an exam.

What advice would you give to new music teachers just starting out?

Scaffolding! Structure absolutely everything in bite-sized pieces. One of my mistakes when taking on my first student, was to glaze over everything I knew. I found that by rushing through each piece of material to ‘keep it fresh’, I actually had given myself less scope to teach after a few months. Realistically, the student could barely remember anything they’d been taught other than basics, because everything was too rushed. Take each piece slowly, and get them playing along to the backing tracks as soon as you can (even if it’s only a very small section like the introduction), this always helps build their confidence.


A big thanks to Tony for giving us his time. If you’d like to inquire into his music teaching services, you can find his RSL Teacher Registry profile here!

You can also visit Tony’s Tuition online by clicking on the logo below!


The Rockschool Method: General Musicianship Question’s

October 16th, 2019 by

With a firm focus on cohesion and consistency at the forefront of any release, the Rockschool Method is a musical pedagogy that we hope contributes to the production of confident, self-sufficient musicians; empowered with the knowledge and ability to see their musical decisions blossom into authentic musical expression.

The General Musicianship Question’s section of the exam gives each candidate the opportunity to dig deeper into aspects of music theory and appreciation, and then consider how to articulate the knowledge gained from each grade into coherent, aural statements. For some, this may seem a little daunting as first, but we promise that each candidate will get a huge amount out of this particular section. Analysis & reflection is an important part of learning in general, so we felt it applied to our exams as much as it should anything else.

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Learning Outcomes

Being able to analyse and reflect effectively also involves linking a current experience to previous learning experiences (a process psychologist refer to as ‘scaffolding’). The later grades may include information that is developed from an idea introduced earlier in the syllabus, which is why we encourage that students work through each grade sequentially. We wouldn’t expect a student to work backwards as far as gaining a grade, but engaging with the syllabus in its entirety will certainly aid the progression to a proceeding exam by negating against gaps of knowledge later on.

Rockschool GMQ’s were included to get students into the habit of linking and constructing meaning from their musical experiences, enhancing the significance of each topic learnt. Reflecting on these experiences also encourages insight and the ability to grasp the more complex methods that are included in later grades. Making this an integral part of our learning rituals also means it is easier to foster our own growth – taking control of our own learning – and breathe confidence into our ability to enter into discussion with others.

GMQ’s equate to 5% of the overall mark, which, despite seeming quite a small amount, could quite easily be the difference between one grade boundary and another. It’s important to remember that one of these questions could be the reason you earn a merit or a distinction, so it’s worth preparing for this section as best you can.

Presentation

The format presented in each grade book will come in the form of four questions on music theory, and another relating to the instrument itself. The detail expected in each answer will be based on particular topics consistent with the syllabus in question. Rockschool Piano, Keys and Ukulele for example, will include one question (per instrument, per grade) on harmony, melody, rhythm, technical application and genre.

Note: These questions have been specifically generated to align with Rockschool’s Performance Pieces, so be mindful when selecting a Free Choice Piece, which may be limited in scope.

Example 1: Rockschool Drums

In this exam, candidates could be asked to identify the notated drum voices that are present within any of the performance pieces chosen for their exam (these are all explained within each grade book). They would also be asked to identify the individual parts of their drum kit (snare, hi hat, ride cymbal etc.). Then, at the other end of the grades – Drums Grade 8, for example – candidates would be asked to identify and explain some of the more complex elements of the notation, which could be in the form of explaining the chosen stylistic approach towards a solo, or the development of a given section within the piece in question.

The knowledge base that Rockschool GMQ’s can engage could be technical, performance-based, aural or visual in nature. The list of topics in each grade book is deliberately broad to ensure that each students preparation includes a wider range of subjects that can feasibly be included in the exam itself. This may seem a bit cheeky once you get out of your exam, but it’s better for you in the long run (and that doesn’t mean that something you’ve learn may not come up later on!). Being in a position to evidence this knowledge when it’s applicable later on should provide a genuinely rewarding experience, hopefully going some way to further building your confidence as a musician.

Example 2: Rockschool Guitar

Having the musical knowledge to be undaunted by any of the potential GMQ’s will always relate to the student’s ability to fully understand each of their performance pieces on their own merits. Fortunately, the required level of detail of this musical knowledge will always be commensurate to what is included at each grade. For example, in ‘Carbon Footprint – Electric Guitar grade 4’ the solo backing only outlines a Gm7 chord with no additional harmony. Therefore, the scale options for soloing over it can remain relatively simple and reflective of the scales within the technical exercises. The backing for the guitar solo within Lead Sheet at Grade 8 outlines a F#m which could appear as a similar level of difficulty. However, to maximise marks at this grade candidates are expected to use more advanced modes and scales, such as the ones present in the grade 8 technical exercises – evidencing what has been digested, specifically at this grade.

Summary

In essence, Rockschool GMQ’s are another progressive platform that helps to develop a greater awareness of what is being played as students’ progress. As the music becomes more complicated, so do the concepts behind them, which in turn must be factored into the questions posed by Rockschool examiners.

At every stage of learning; in every part of a Rockschool syllabus; broadening a students’ musical vocabulary is paramount. We believe it’s beneficial to see each section of the exam – whether it’s in the performance, the technical exercises, sight reading, improvisation, ear tests or GMQ’s – not as isolated, unrelated events; but as a collection of chapters that belong to a whole story.

…and there we have it! We’ll be back next week with the final instalment in the series: Supporting Tests.


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Dealing with Performance Anxiety

October 10th, 2019 by

We want every musician to be in the most positive frame of mind when it comes to performing, especially during their Rockschool Graded Music Exam.

We recently caught up with life coach and psychotherapist, James Banfield, from The Liberated Mind to provide teachers and students the tools to understand, spot and overcome performance anxiety.

What is the difference between performance anxiety (stress), and an anxiety disorder?

The symptoms are very similar but performance anxiety will dissipate once the performance is over, anxiety disorder is an ongoing problem because it is constantly fed by a person’s fearful thoughts. Everyone gets nervous about performing and this is natural. But if someone is feeling constantly anxious, they should seek some professional help.

What are the physical symptoms of anxiety?

  • Shallow fast breathing or holding their breath.
  • Heart beating faster and harder.
  • The body may shake – especially hands.
  • Becoming tearful or overly emotional over little things.
  • Skin may turn pale – colour drains from their skin.
  • Increased sweating.
  • Dry mouth.

Coping mechanisms/reactions:

  • Becoming agitated or unable to be still.
  • Freezing or not being able to function.
  • Feeling the need to escape – Running out of the room.
  • Going quiet and shutting down.
  • Using cigarettes or other drugs.

If you suspect that one of your students is suffering from ongoing anxiety you can find out more by visiting the NHS website.

5 tips for managing performance anxiety:

By using these tips as part of the preparation for the exam your students should remain in control and perform at their best.

  • 7: 11 Breathing – When you feel nervous or anxious breath in through your nose for 7 and out through your mouth for 11. The counting engages the logical part of your brain, and deep breathing increases oxygen and signals the body to calm down.
  • Posture – Your physiology will influence your psychology. So, if you stand or sit in a strong confident posture that you will feel more confident.
  • Smile – it might seem forced but smiling releases oxytocin which makes you feel good.
  • Reframe – your feelings don’t know the difference between fear and excitement. So, tell yourself you are EXCITED rather than scared or nervous and it changes your experience.
  • Rehearsal – Mentally rehearse the performance going well (just like a runner imagining winning the race). Your mind doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality.

The good news is that anxiety disorders can be easily treated and completely cured with the right support. So, if you or a student are suffering you can get expert advice or treatment via The Liberated Mind.

What to do if you think that a student is suffering with depression

Depression can be difficult to spot especially in young people because the symptoms can be quite subtle and people are good at hiding how they really feel. There is also the possibility of mistaking grief or loss for depression as many of the symptoms are the same. There is also a big difference between someone feeling down or slightly depressed which is normal and a person that has clinical depression. So, it is important not to start diagnosing or making assumptions.

Here are some of the signs to look out for if you think that a student could be severely depressed:

  • Becoming quiet and withdrawn.
  • A loss of interest and enthusiasm in the things that they enjoy doing and talking about.
  • A lack of concentration and competence in what they are doing.
  • Looking tired, and moving or talking slower than usual.
  • Being tearful or emotional for little or no reason.
  • Neglecting their appearance or personal hygiene
  • Low confidence and self-esteem – constantly putting themselves down.
  • Having a hopeless attitude or being negative about the future.

For a more detailed description of the symptoms you can visit the NHS website.

If you are concerned about one of your students because their mood or behaviour is out of the ordinary you can do the following:

  • Keep an eye on them for a few weeks to see if they improve. It could just be a difficult week.
  • If things continue or get worse you could mention that they don’t seem like their usual self and ask if everything is ok? If they open up just listen and let them speak. They might tell you that a loved one has passed away or their parents are getting divorced, so they are responding how anyone would. This is why it is important to get the facts and not assume.
  • If you are still concerned that it might be depression you can either express your concerns to their parents if they are a minor, or if they are an adult recommend that they visit their GP.
  • They could also do an online self-assessment to see if they should seek professional support.
  • It is important that someone who is depressed gets support quickly. If you leave it the symptoms can get much worse and it can take longer to recover.

There are different levels of depression which will determine the kind of treatment needed:

  • Mild depression – has some impact on your daily life.
  • Moderate depression – has a significant impact on your daily life.
  • Severe depression – makes it almost impossible to get through daily life; a few people with severe depression may have psychotic symptoms.

Mild depression could be treated with some simple therapy (CBT, NLP, Hypnotherapy). Moderate depression can be treated with the same types of therapy but they may also need additional medication (anti-depressants). Severe depression will need a specialist mental health care team and treatment plan. Exercise is another great way to relieve the symptoms of depression as it produces natural chemicals that are in the anti-depressants (E.g. serotonin).

For further advice or treatment, head over to The Liberated Mind where you can contact hypnotherapist & psychotherapist James Banfield.

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Am I Ready to Take My Rockschool Exam?

October 9th, 2019 by

With the winter exam entry deadline rapidly approaching (23rd October!), how do you know if you or your students are ready to take the Rockschool Graded Music exam?

MGR Music’s Leigh Fuge explores…

Am I, or my students, ready to take my Rockschool exam? The golden question! What do we consider being ready for an exam? The exam will follow the same structure and contents that would have been covered in lessons using the Rockschool books. So, with that in mind, let’s break it down into a few simple areas:

Technical Knowledge

  • If you get asked to play a particular chord or scale, or variations of this, can you/your student do so without hesitation?
  • Is the chord played cleanly without any wrong notes and its pitching clean and concise?
  • Is the scale played correctly with all notes at an even tempo?

Performance

  • Are you using a performance piece from the book or do you have a pre-prepared one?
  • Can you perform this from memory or comfortably whilst reading from the book/sheet?
  • Can you deliver a confident performance that sounds as close to the original as possible?

Theory/Listening

  • Can you answer a range of listening based questions on time signatures, rhythm and melody without hesitation?
  • Can you replicate different rhythms and melodies from hearing them?

If you can answer yes to all or most of these questions, then chances are you, or your student, are ready to take the Rockschool exam.

For teachers, I would always recommend spending a few lessons running over the content in an exam format as a mock test with students to help them get used to only having one attempt at playing pieces or answering questions.

When preparing for exams, it’s important to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible. Here is a useful blog I wrote on Recovering from Mistakes During Exams. This will help you and your students prepare for mistakes. Remember, making mistakes does not ruin the exam. Keep calm and focused and you’ll nail it!

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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…

The Rockschool Method: Technical Exercises

October 3rd, 2019 by

With a firm focus on cohesion and consistency at the forefront of any release, the Rockschool Method is a musical pedagogy that we hope contributes to the production of confident, self-sufficient musicians; empowered with the knowledge and ability to see their musical decisions blossom into authentic musical expression.

Moving on from last weeks’ deep dive into Rockschool Performance Pieces, we’re going to follow up with a thorough look at the Technical Exercises for Rockschool’s graded music exams.

Depending on your instrument, grade and skill level, the demands on each burgeoning musician in this part of the performance will vary a fair bit, so we’re not going to focus on each discipline individually here. What this section seeks to develop can however be seen in more universal terms that every learner can relate to.

Whether you’re staying balanced across your drum voicings, managing airflow as a vocalist, or developing consistent string skipping on your guitar or bass; every technique requires the physical coordination that comes from – and only after – hour and hours of practise.

More specifically, we’re looking for the development of:

  • Good playing habits
  • Economy of movement
  • Effective playing mechanics
  • Consistency in delivery

Only when the brain can slow the whole process down can muscle memory take over, allowing your musical intuition to truly take hold. It may seem a tedious and somewhat banal activity at the time, but remember: every instance of your favourite musical moments contains within them a multitude of individual techniques that have been repeated, ad nauseum, until perfected. The time will eventually come when you can fluidly transfer from one technique to the next and you’ll realise that it was all worth it – we promise!

Example 1

Example 1 can be evidenced very clearly in the lower drum grades – so that’s what we’ll use for this exercise. This is where the technical exercises begin with simple and achievable drills, such as – in this instance – single strokes, double strokes and single paradiddles. These are specifically designed to provide a foundation that all music students can stack every new skill upon thereafter. Evidence of their practical worth are then deliberately included in the performance pieces included at that grade.

Practise. Perfect. Perform. Makes sense, right?

Now the platform is sturdy, we can start technique-loading grade-by-grade, with both fluency and range our primary concerns as these techniques progress.

1. Fluency

Whether it’s specifically targeting fretting, sticking patterns or intervallic vocal placement; we’re looking for the appropriate level of precision and fluidity assigned to the exercises included at your chosen grade.

2. Range

Whether it’s your vocal range, fretboard/keyboard geography or wider use of drum kit orchestration – being able to display the widest range of expression at each stage of your development puts you in the best position to make musical decisions later.

Example 2

Using the electric guitar this time, the Technical Exercises that progress throughout the grades will focus primarily on: fretboard navigation and harmonic difficulty. Debut includes very simple open string major scale shapes; and by Grade 6, the exercises are spanning multiple positions, furthering each players economy of movement and general fretboard knowledge.

More specifically, we’re looking for development in these core skills:

  • Increased sense of rhythm and time
  • Hand/finger placement
  • Stamina
  • Musical articulation
  • Performance speed

What we’re talking about here, is a gradual increase of expressive devices that collectively enable each player to attain a true sense of their musical agency. Whether that’s achieved in tone modification, ornamentation, or articulation; each technique can be applied to any specific style a player chooses to identify with.

Example 3

This example identifies the small articulations that unify the stylistic intentions within a performance. From grade 3 through to the higher grades, the technical devices learned are directly applied with creativity in mind, for example, Rockschool Guitar Bass and Drums contain an increasing number of bars left open for candidates to further develop a theme, ad lib, or solo as they see fit.

If all of the Technical Exercises introduced up to that point have been effectively explored, the practical application of rhythmic, harmonic and expressive devices/techniques should then be soundly presented by the learner. At this stage, you’ve begun developing your own sound by personalising each of your performances – whether building on existing themes or creating brand-new motifs – and becoming a confident, self-sufficient musician.

With each of our instrument specific exercises we’re looking to present:

  • A variety of musical contexts
  • A variety of tempos (graduating in complexity)
  • Backing tracks that target:
    • Time
    • Harmonics
    • Melody
    • Stylistic references

Example 4

Guitar, Bass and Drums begin by introducing simple riffs and fills to a backing track. By grades 6 to 8 (level 3), this has advanced to more genre-specific content. As you’ll see from the example, at Drums Grade 6 there are three Stylistic Studies to choose from. One of the three options is ‘Funk’, which at this grade focuses on snare drum ghost notes and quick open/closed hi-hats amongst other finer articulations.

Example 5

For our Piano and Keys grade (Debut – Grade 8) we explore this a little differently, by focusing on each learners’ ability to improvise and interpret material. This was developed as an alternative specialisation to the sight-reading test, for those who’d prefer to showcase that side of their musicianship instead.

How do we do this?

  • Stipulating a range of starting notes to suit individuals
  • Memory requirements for each instrument to enhance fluency and depth of insight
  • Measuring speed of response in the absence of given tempos
  • Recognising and crediting musicality shown within given opportunity

… And there we have it! We really hope this article provided some clarity for those of you looking to understand this section of the exam a little more. There’s certainly room to explore other examples within each grade and instrument, so watch this space for a further developed version soon!

Next week we’ll be back again! This time with Rockschool’s Tests – both ‘seen’ and ‘unseen’.


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#InternationalMusicDay with Rockschool

October 1st, 2019 by

To celebrate #InternationalMusicDay, we’ve picked three Rockschool tracks, from three different artists, from three different countries! We start off our trip in sunny Barbados; stopping off at the beaches of Brazil; before dancing the bal-musette in the streets of France.

The International Music Council was founded by UNESCO in 1949 and since 1975 it annually hosts International Music Day, a global event that features hundreds of performance hosed in various cities across the world. Roughly 150 countries worldwide organise free events where people can enjoy music and appreciate its importance in everyday life.

Robin Rihanna Fenty was born in 1988 in Barbados, West Indies. She grew up listening to reggae and started singing around the age of seven. In her early teens, Fenty formed a girl group with two classmates who caught the attention of holidaying songwriter/producer Evan Rogers (N Sync/Boyzone/Christina Aguilera) in 2004. The group was invited to audition for Rogers, who has been quoted saying: “The minute Rihanna walked into the room, it was like the other two girls didn’t exist.”

For a year, Fenty travelled back and forth between Barbados and Rogers’s home in Connecticut, USA, where the experienced hitmaker mentored the fledgling performer. When Fenty turned 16, she relocated to America and moved in with Rogers and his wife. By 2005, she had a four-song demo, which Rogers shopped to record companies, quickly landing Fenty a contract with Def Jam. By August, Def Jam had released her debut album, Music of The Sun, which propelled the start of a recording career that has made Rihanna one of the most successful female singer of her generation.

‘Stay’ was co-written by guest vocalist Mikky and Justin Parker. The duo has worked with a string of successful recording artists, including David Guetta, Lana Del Rey, Bat for Lashes and Ellie Goulding between them. Ekko says he was “freaked out” when he found out ‘Stay’ was going to be recorded by another artist, as it has such a personal meaning to him. However, he came ‘round to the idea after he met Rihanna in person and listened back to the vocal she had recorded for the first time. On the whole experience Ekko said, “The track had become so special to me as well, and knowing what the track means to me and what I think it means to her too, it really worked. It speaks to such an intimate side of her that is so rare and so far-removed from what people think of her.”

Having sold over 250 million records, Rihanna is one of the world’s best-selling music artists working today. She has earned 14 number-one singles and 31 top-ten singles in the US, and 30 top-ten entries in the UK. Her accolades include nine Grammy Awards, 13 American Music Awards, 12 Billboard Music Awards, and six Guinness World Records. Alongside a successful music career, Rihanna is well known for her involvement in humanitarian causes, entrepreneurial ventures and the fashion industry. She is the founder of non-profit organization Clara Lionel Foundation, cosmetics brand Fenty Beauty, and fashion house Fenty under LVMH. In 2018, the Government of Barbados appointed her as an ambassador with duties promoting education, tourism and investment.

Antônio Carlos Jobim was a Brazilian composer, pianist, songwriter, arranger and singer. Born in 1927, the musician started his musical journey at a young age and soon began playing in bars and music clubs as a means of supporting himself. Performing live soon led to composing his own material, which is where his career began to take off. In 1965, Jobim appeared on the album Getz/Gilberto. With many of the tracks composed by Jobim, he also featured as a pianist for much of the recording sessions. At the 1965 Grammy Awards ceremony, Getz/Gilberto became the first jazz album to win a Grammy, being awarded ‘Album of the Year’. Jobim is believed by many to have popularised the Bossa Nova genre, making him a key player in the jazz movement during the 1950s and 60’s.

The phrase bossa nova literally translates to “new trend” or “new wave. A lyrical fusion of samba and jazz, bossa nova acquired a large following in the 1960s, initially among young musicians and college students. Within the artistic beach culture of the late 1950s in Rio de Janeiro, the term “bossa” was used to refer to any new “trend” or “fashionable wave”. Bossa nova has at its core a rhythm based on samba, which combines the rhythmic patterns and feel originating in the former African slave communities in Brazil. Samba’s emphasis on the second beat carries through to bossa nova; however, unlike samba, bossa nova doesn’t have dance steps to accompany it. Overall, the rhythm produced has a swaying feel rather than the swing associated with jazz.

‘Desafinado’ – now considered a bossa nova standard – was written Jobim with original lyrics by Newton Mendonça. The title of the song translates to ‘Out of Tune’ or ‘Off Key’, and was composed in response to critics claims that bossa nova had been created for singers who can’t sing. Jobim decided to prove them wrong. Mendonça’s original lyrics were of course in his native language of Portuguese and featured on João Gilberto’s original recording. Jon Hendricks and Jessie Cavanaugh later wrote English lyrics for the piece; as did Gene Lees as few years later, whose version is said to be closer to the true translation.

Jobim’s original composition has been recorded and released several times every decade since the 1950s.The first artists to achieve success with the bossa nova were Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd, whose early November 1962 release peaked at number 11 on the UK singles chart. This was followed closely by Ella Fitzgerald’s version which was released just 2 weeks later and peaked at number 38.

Yann Tiersen – a native of Brest, France – has seen his musical career split between studios albums, collaborations and soundtracks for film. His compositions often include a rich and original combination of instruments, such as the melodica, xylophone, toy piano, harpsichord, accordian and the typewriter.

Tiersen’s music is influenced by the classical training he received when he was a child alongside the music he listened to as a teenager, including the American and British punk of the time. His musical style is deceptively simple to recognize but difficult to catalogue. It varies greatly from one album to the next and with the passage of time. His melancholic tone and compositional techniques combine elements of Classical and folk music with pop and rock. His delicate but deeply emotive style has been linked to Frédéric Chopin and the great masters of Romantic music. A lot of his sound also owes a lot to Erik Satie – the colourful figure of the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde – whose work was a precursor to later artistic movements such as minimalism, repetitive music, and the Theatre of the Absurd.

La Valse d’Amélie is taken from Yann Tiersen’s award winning soundtrack for the French romantic comedy, Amélie. Tiersen’s beautiful composition features on the soundtrack twice, both as an orchestral and a piano piece. The composer also included the orchestral version in his fourth studio album, L’Absente, shortly after the release of the soundtrack in 2001. Much like the film, the soundtrack to Amélie was well received worldwide, topping the charts in its home nation of France as well as the second spot in the US Billboard Top World Music Albums chart. The release was certified Gold in the UK with sales of over 100,000 and 3xPlatinum in France with sales over 900,000. Worldwide sales stand at just over 1.5 million, a number which reflects the regard in which this beautiful soundtrack is held.

The soundtrack went on to include some of Tiersen’s existing works, taken from his three previous studio albums, as well as pieces written especially for the film. These newly commissioned works include the piece ‘La Valse d’Amélie’. Tiersen won two awards for his soundtrack Amélie, in 2001 he took the award for Best Original Score of the Year at the World Soundtrack awards and in 2002 he was awarded Best Music Written for a Film at the César Award ceremony. The release also received nominations for BAFTA’s coveted award for Best Film Music in 2001, World Soundtrack’s 2001 award for Soundtrack Composer of the Year and Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Original Soundtrack of the Year.

The Rockschool Method: Performance Pieces

September 25th, 2019 by

With a firm focus on cohesion and consistency at the forefront of any release, the Rockschool Method is a musical pedagogy that we hope contributes to the production of confident, self-sufficient musicians; empowered with the knowledge and ability to see their musical decisions blossom into authentic musical expression.

It would be presumptuous of us to think we’re in the business of creating musicians, but here at RSL HQ we do feel confident that our Rockschool resources – paired with a lot of hard work and endeavour – can give any nascent musician a decent chance of achieving their personal goals, whether that’s playing their first gig; joining a band; working as a full-time session player; writing/recording their own material; or, just rockin’ out in their bedroom.

Performance Pieces

When we think of a musical performance, we could picture a variety of situations, such as: an audition, a concert, a recital, a gig or a street performance, busking for passers-by (just make sure you have the right permit first!). You could also take any musical performance you can think of and break it down into its component parts, for instance, its interpretation, level of improvisation, incorporated technique(s) and phrasing. Taking all of this into consideration, Rockschool’s performance pieces are developed to provide musicians of all ages and skill levels with the resources they need to one day navigate any musical scenario they see in their future (within reason!).

With each set of songs, it has always been a priority to present a sonic tapestry that reflects the incredible variety of popular music that has been produced over the last 100 years (give or take) – from the blues of the Mississippi Delta, to the Gypsy Jazz of Europe; to Rock and its unlimited list of sub-genres; to classic hip-hop, UK Grime and Electronic Dance Music (let’s not even start on the sub-genres here). As a collection of avid music fans ourselves, we always want to provide music students and their teachers with songs, genres and artists that they know and love, as well as those that they know little or nothing about. What we hope this goes some way to doing, is providing every single music student with the opportunity to widen their appreciation for music in all its forms, and in doing so, help them to grow into both confident players and people, receptive to new ideas and topics of discussion.

Requirements & Outcomes

Once we feel we have a repertoire list of potential tracks that will take you on a varied, colourful, musical journey; we then get to work ensuring each composition makes academic sense by suitably benchmarking each by grade and skill level. Once these compositions meet our rigorous list of requirements, we can then release them with confidence that learners at every level are getting all that they need before moving onto the next step. Here are some of those requirements, and the practical outcomes the serve to instil:

1. Techniques

  • Understanding your instrument
  • Developing a range of performance techniques
  • Exploring your instruments range, tone and wider possibilities
  • Expressing yourself musically

2. Rhythms, Pulse, Timing & Sync

  • Co-ordination
  • Interlocking with other instruments
  • Options for creativity

3. Notation Accuracy

  • Reading Music
  • Understanding musical terminology
  • Communicating with other musicians/instruments

4. Presentation

  • Confidence
  • Displaying stylistic awareness

5. Dynamics and Articulation

  • Adding your personality to the music
  • Creating individual touches
  • Adding interest for your audience

Free Choice Pieces

Before we leave you, it would be remiss of us not to briefly touch on the additional option of bringing your own piece in to the performance arena. You read it right! Yes, you also have to option to play absolutely any song whatsoever; the only caveat being it must meet our criteria laid out here. This is to ensure that the chosen composition it also benchmarked at the appropriate level, comparative to the performance pieces that you’ll find in any given Rockschool grade book. We’d advise going through the checklist with a teacher or an experienced musician to make sure that you’re not putting yourself at an unnecessary disadvantage during your performance.

If this is something you’re interested in, then you can also make it work to your advantage with some dedication to your craft. For those already writing their own music and/or reworking existing work, this is a wonderful opportunity for you to use this as a chance to further develop your compositional skills. A part of being professional songwriter and composer is being able to work to a brief, which is exactly what each grades criterion can be seen as. Take your time with it, seek guidance from those more experienced, and always feel free to send us your questions for our Academic Team to address.

Next week, we’ll be riffing on Technical Exercises!

We’ll catch you then.


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