Category: Graded Music Exams

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.

Period C Rockschool Deadline

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 Questions

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 Questions 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.

Period C Rockschool Deadline

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.


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.


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.

Rockschool graded music exams

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.

Rockschool graded music exams


Am I Ready to Take My Rockschool Exam?

October 9th, 2019 by

With summer just around the corner, we’re looking ahead to the next session of Rockschool exams in the UK and Ireland.

We have a wide range of assessment options available to accommodate all learners, so whether you’re keen to do a face to face exam, a video exam, or include classical pieces as part of our Free Choice Piece expansion, we have you covered!

For some, it’s hard to know when you or your students are truly ready to apply. This is why we’ve asked guest blogger, guitarist and educator, Leigh Fuge, to explore ‘Am I Ready to Take My Rockschool 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?


  • 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?


  • 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!

**Updated: Monday, 6th January, 2020 and again on Thursday, 4th June, 2020.


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’.

Rockschool graded music exams


#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.

Rockschool 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…