Category: Graded Music Exams

Rockschool Stories | David and James Pashley

July 16th, 2019 by

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

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

rockschool stories the pashleys

What inspired you both to start learning music together?

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

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

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

Has this process brought you closer as a family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Signatures – A Beginners Guide

July 12th, 2019 by

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

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

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

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

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

Circle of Fifths

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

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

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

Let’s look at it going clockwise:


All Notes Sharp Keys

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


All Notes Flat Keys

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

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

About the Author:

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

Rockschool Stories | Jack Chapman – 9 Track Music

July 2nd, 2019 by

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

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

What this has become is: Rockschool Stories.

Jack Chapman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guitar Syllabus (1.3MB, .pdf)

What’s your favourite learner success story?

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


What musicians inspired you to start playing, and why?

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

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

Find out more about Jack here…

Find out more about 9 Track Music here…

Understanding Chord Progressions: A Beginners Guide

June 4th, 2019 by

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

I, IV, V

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


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

II, V, I

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

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

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

The upcoming Rockschool Music Theory exam entry deadline is fast approaching. Get your entries in by 17 Feb, 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…

Why should I learn music theory?

May 24th, 2019 by

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

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


Music Theory Secrets

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

Learning to Listen

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


Learning to Read Music

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


How Writing Music Improves Playing

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

How Theory Improves Efficiency

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

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

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

How Genre Defines Culture

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

How to Appreciate Music

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

How to Critique

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

Reach your Musical Potential

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

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

The upcoming Rockschool Music Theory exam entry deadline is fast approaching. Get your entries in by 17 Feb, 2020!


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

Dealing with Nerves Before and During Your Exam

May 15th, 2019 by

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author:

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

RSL Alumnus Ed Sheeran drops ‘I Don’t Care’ with Justin Bieber

May 10th, 2019 by

Watch out! Ed Sheeran’s latest track comes with a severe “it’ll get stuck in your head all weekend long” warning.

Hard work, dedication and a talent for songwriting has seen Ed Sheeran’s rise to pop stardom since completing his RSL Level 4 Creative Practitioners Vocational Qualification at Access Creative College Norwich.

This is the first time that Sheeran and Bieber have actually released a track together having collaborated multiple times in the past – Ed wrote the smash hit ‘Love Yourself’ with Justin on the latter’s 2015 album, ‘Purpose’.

For the eagle eyed amongst you, you will have seen ‘Love yourself’ features on the brand new Piano Debut graded syllabus.

Piano Debut book cover

Ed Sheeran features seven times across our whole suite of Graded Music syllabuses and is our Cover Star on the Acoustic Guitar Grade 2, Piano Grade 2 and Vocals Grade 3 (Male) books. His tracks inside the syllabuses include; ‘Thinking out Loud’, ‘Shape of You’, ‘The A Team’, ‘Lego House’ and ‘I See Fire’.

Fun Fact: ‘Shape of You’ and ‘Thinking Out Loud’ have accumulated 3,477,306,691 streams on Spotify alone!



Pre-Exam Technique Focus

April 30th, 2019 by

One aspect of every exam a student takes will involve their technical abilities on their chosen instrument being assessed.

By the time you get to the stage of entering for the exam, the student’s technique levels should be sufficient, or close to the level expected for that grade. So, how do we focus some of the lessons and practise sessions to ensure that this technique keeps consistent under pressure?

There is no blanket answer for this as each grade and each instrument will throw up various different techniques and challenges but as teachers, we can view these in some smaller subsets to help the student deal with this:

The Technique as a Technique

Focus on the technique simply as it is intended. Whatever the technique is, focus on it. Spend time looking at how the student applies this technique. Are they approaching this in the right way with the correct form to cleanly apply it? If this is a pitch-based technique, spend time looking at how the student is targeting the desired pitch and how they get there. Technique can appear in many ways. For a stringed instrument, this could be something as simple as correct pressure applied on any notes pressed down. Perhaps this is a vocal technique, you need to assess if the student is straining or moving into the technique correctly.

The Technique in a Familiar Context

Find a song that the student is very familiar with which deploys the technique in question. This will allow the student to practise this technique in a setting which they are familiar with and they may already know. I personally find that using technique in this way is a great way to introduce a concept to a student. They will know the song or musical piece well, which makes the context of the technique easier to take onboard.

The Technique in an Unfamiliar Context

During the exam the student may be tasked with playing a piece they may have only just been introduced to. This piece may contain one of the techniques that we are focusing on. If this is the case, it’s wise to practise this scenario in lessons by working on unfamiliar pieces which contain the technique. This will allow you to assess how well the student is able to perform that technique in a setting which might be less than familiar.

Overall, there is no definitive way to resolve all technique questions and worries but providing focus into the mechanics and context of these techniques can make a huge difference to how students perceive them in exams. We want to be sure the students are entirely confident and sure of how to approach the technique-based aspects of the exam. Even if this takes the form of unfamiliar pieces of music, the student will have a clear and concise understanding of how they should approach it to the best of their abilities.

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…

Effective Pre-Exam Preparation Routines

April 16th, 2019 by

As a teacher, I regularly deal with pre-exam anxieties from students.

When it comes to sitting exams, there is a lot to take in so you can understand where students might feel worried or concerned. I find that some regular sessions focusing on the exam and what it entails really helps students settle into the routine of what the exam will bring. Before you continue on, I advise watching the video below featuring some experienced Rockschool examiners giving their thoughts on how to best prepare before your performance.

Really helpful right? Following on from this, here are some additional things you can integrate into your pre-exam preparation routines to ensure that you and your students feel at ease before the big day:

Running Over the Grade Book Cover to Cover

This might seem obvious, but perhaps spending a few lessons covering all the content in the grade book from front to back will put the student at ease when it comes to dealing with everything in the book in one session. In the early days teaching music, I got caught out myself by not throughly processing every bit of information available to me. Every single syllabus also comes with its own step-by-step guide. If you haven’t read this cover-to-cover – do it now! It will go a long way to ensuring you feel as comfortable as possible about what is expected by Rockschool examiners.

Focusing on Memory and Aural Based Sections

Spend a lesson preparing your student for the sections of the graded exam which do not allow for use of the book. There will be sections where the examiner will ask specific knowledge-based questions about the instrument or some theory associated with the grade level, spend some time ensuring this information is easy for the student to recall. I often find that incorporating short bursts of this in lessons helps. The same principle applies to any listening tests that might involve questions on rhythm or melody, ask your student these questions regularly to engage their brain and get them digesting tracks.

If you or your students suffer from general performance anxiety, James Banfield from The Liberated Mind has some really useful tips to consider in the video below. These really simple exercises can go a very long way to settling nerves and dissolving pre-exam tension. Watch below!

Focusing on Performance Sections

Spend a lesson using the book to focus on the performance-based elements of the exam. This could involve focusing on specific techniques these pieces might involve or the ability to sight read rhythms and think on the spot. You want your student to be comfortable looking at something and playing it. If there is a piece that must be learnt note perfect, I often encourage students to try to learn this from memory but use the book as support for any times they might be unsure.

Mock Tests

When you feel you have prepared the student on each section and you have run over the book, you should assume the role of the examiner and run through in an exam format. Ask the student questions while running over the book, if there are sections where use of the book is not allowed, then run over those without the book. Likewise, sections that can use the book, use it. If there is a section where the student only gets one opportunity to answer, treat the mock test in the same way. This will allow you to see how your student handles all the content of the book in an exam type situation. It will also show you any areas that might need work.

That’s it for this week! Remember, you can always go to RSL directly for any queries you may have before an upcoming exam. It’s always best to be absolutely sure, so don’t be shy and contact them asap with absolutely anything you’re still having trouble with.

Best of luck,


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…