Category: Music Education

Artists In Focus | Rihanna

October 27th, 2020 by

Unless you’ve been asleep for the past 20 years, it’s almost certain that you will have heard about Rihanna. Born in 1988 and raised in Barbados, she has become an international superstar singer, actress and businesswoman.

Rihanna was initially discovered by Evan Rogers whilst still at school in Barbados, and recorded “Pon de Replay” as a demo to deliver to record label Def Jam. It would actually be rapper Jay-Z who would listen to “Pon de Replay” for the first time, being President and CEO of Def Jam back in the early 00’s. Needless to say, Rihanna was signed before she could leave the building – nice work!

Instant Success

“Pon de Replay” unsurprisingly went on to be a massive club hit. It peaked at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and in the UK Singles chart too – and yet this was just the beginning of a booming career for Rihanna. Her first two Caribbean-inspired albums reached the top 10 in US Billboard album charts, and Good Girl Gone Bad (2007) was also a colossal turning point for Rihanna, moving towards a more pop/dance/R&B sound and a mature look. That album included BIG tracks like “Umbrella” and “Don’t Stop The Music”.

Since then, Rihanna has some incredible stats to her name: 250 million record sales worldwide, 14 number 1s, 9 Grammy Awards, 13 AMAs, 12 Billboard Music Awards and 6 Guinness World Records. It’s been nothing but success after success for Robyn Rihanna Fenty.

Unapologetic Vocals

In our Grade 5 Vocals books you will find a huge song by Rihanna called “Stay”. From the 2012 Unapologetic album, the song was released as the second single. It was written by, and features, Mikky Ekko, and the lyrics talk of temptation and the struggle to resist true love. The song is honest, confrontational and powerful, and this is something that the vocalist must focus on during performance.

“Stay” was regarded as a stand out track on an album which was an enormous success. Unapologetic debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and turned out to be Rihanna’s best-selling debut week of her entire career. It sold 4 million copies worldwide! “Stay” was Rihanna’s 24th song to enter the top 10 on the chart, which took her past Whitney Houston’s 23 top 10s. It’s safe to say that the world is in love with Rihanna’s music.

The Fenty Empire

Rihanna’s empire doesn’t end after 8 albums though – she is a staunch and savvy businesswoman. It’s estimated that Rihanna is currently the wealthiest female musician in the world, with a comfortable net worth of $600 million. WOAH. She has founded many business endeavours under the “Fenty” brand that have been hugely popular and lucrative.

Rihanna also started the Clara Lionel Foundation (named in memory of her grandparents, Clara and Lionel!) in 2012 which funds projects in education and emergency response programs all over the world. It would be impossible to sum up all the excellent work that has been done by this foundation (we’d urge you to Google it!), but you should know that Rihanna was named Harvard University’s “Humanitarian of the Year” for her efforts.

It’s time to GET INSPIRED by Rihanna’s incredible music career. Listen to some of her best tracks below.

In case you’ve missed it, you can also read our other blogs celebrating some of our favourite black artists; Stevie Wonder, Billy Cobham and Aretha Franklin.

Artists In Focus | Billy Cobham

October 20th, 2020 by

He’s got the CV, the kit, and the talent that drummers all over the world wish for. Billy Cobham is the embodiment of percussive-genius, and we are honoured to have him within our fellowship ranks.

If you pay attention to the world of jazz, you will most likely have come across the wonderful Billy Cobham before. If you pay attention to the world of drums, it is without a doubt that you will already know him, love him, and probably wish to be able to play like him too (his skills are unmatched!).

Often dubbed as “fusion’s greatest drummer of all time”, Billy has played with the most unbelievable array of musicians throughout his career, including but not limited to: Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, George Benson, James Brown, Peter Gabriel and Quincy Jones. A line-up of legends, to say the least.

Billy has been playing since the tender age of 4, but things started to take off when he left after three years of playing with the U.S. Army band, and joined forces with Horace Silver in his quintet. He also landed a great gig being the house drummer for none other than Atlantic Records! Arguably, Cobham really became a prominent figure in the jazz-fusion world when he toured with Miles Davis in the late 60’s and early 70’s, recording two albums during this time; Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson. Another key to Cobham’s success in those days was his band Mahavishnu Orchestra, who were a huge success.

Kit, Kit and More Kit!

Perhaps it was his experimentation with drum equipment that first drew your attention to Billy Cobham. It was in 1974 on the Crosswinds album that Cobham used a custom-built fiberglass-shell snare alongside Al Duffy’s chain-drive kick drum pedal. But it was really in the mid 70’s where his kit-configuration was taken to new heights…

Brace yourselves (drum nerds, we’re looking at you!), for this set-up was absolutely massive. We’ve got: two Fibes kick drums, a custom Duffy/Ocheltree snare, two flared-shell rack toms, four Fibes rack toms, two Fibes floor toms, two Duffy/Ocheltree gong drums, a hi-hat, five Zildjian cymbals and one hanging, 36-inch gong! Not your average kit for not your average player.

Billy Cobham & Nippy Noya“Billy Cobham & Nippy Noya” by Yarin Asanth is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Drum Technique Mastery

And that brings us onto his technique, and why he deserves a spot in our Grade 8 Drums syllabus. Cobham was able to perfectly marry the high energy complexities of jazz with the power of rock & roll. His debut album Spectrum was a place for Billy to completely set free his creativity, letting the drums take centre stage and lead the album to success – which he did, by the way. The album surprised everyone when it hit the number one spot in the Billboard Jazz Album chart.

We’ve chosen the track “Red Baron” to feature in our Drums Grade 8 syllabus and you’ll only need to listen through once to understand why. Whilst the overall feel of the track is somewhat laid back and chilled, the technique required to play it is extremely high level. There are some key moments throughout the piece that really showcase what can be done with the kit, so this is one to get stuck into and enjoy.

We are BEYOND privileged that the incredible Billy Cobham accepted our Honourary Fellowship back in June 2019. Billy has spent time working with us here at RSL, as an advisor with the aim of inspiring drummers around the world to develop their talents and pursue education. We are so proud to have worked with such an icon.

We hope you enjoyed this week’s Artists in Focus blog. Be sure to come back next Tuesday for the next instalment, and in the meantime, catch up on our previous posts about Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.

How Musicians Can Use Social Media Effectively

October 15th, 2020 by

Social media can be a fantastic tool for musicians, allowing them to connect, be inspired, and share their work like never before.

On the flip side, it can also be a huge distraction and erode people’s feelings of self worth.

We think there’s a happy balance to using social media, so we’ve compiled a list of do’s and don’ts to ensure you use your time online constructively.

DO Follow the musicians and artists who inspire you.

Social media can be a great tool for opening your eyes to all that is possible. At the click of a button, you can find thousands of incredible instrumentalists doing some awe-inspiring work. If you were ever uncertain about pursuing music as a career, joining a band or songwriting, you will not have to look far online to find some inspirational examples. You can find plenty of inspiration from the musicians who took part in our Online Music Festival over on our Facebook page!

DON’T Compare your playing with others.

We all know that the realities of life are very different to what gets portrayed on social media, however, that still doesn’t stop us from comparing our skills to others every now and then. Whilst this is an incredibly normal response, it is a very unnatural scenario that we are able to see what everyone is doing all the time. Take a step back sometimes, and remember that social media is just the highlight reel of life!

DO Set boundaries.

We all know how time spent on social media can quickly run away from us. It’s all too easy to pick up your phone and before you know it, an hour has passed! Making sure we have set appropriate boundaries is very helpful when preparing for an exam, however, this does require a level of discipline to make sure this is put into practice. If you are well rehearsed in social media self-control then you should be fine, but if not, get into those phone settings and make sure your phone will tell you when to switch off (you’ll thank yourself later!). It can be especially easy to slip into procrastination if you’re already using a digital device to use a practice tool like Replay, so make sure you’re on your best behaviour when using a phone or tablet.

DON’T Engage with bullies.

Unfortunately, as in the real world, there are also people online who seek to spread negativity. Our advice with this one is simple – do not engage. The “block” feature is there for a reason!

Rockschool Professional Diplomas

DO Support other musicians’ work.

Whether these are famous musicians or friends of your own, there is room for us all to be successful when we lift each other up. You may have heard the phrase that “all ships rise in high tide”, and this is certainly true in this case. Like, comment, share and support the work of others and you will undoubtedly see this reciprocated. You can even make new connections online which may benefit you in the future!

Share your little wins with us. We would love to see your progress as you prepare for your next graded music exam! Check out our socials below.

Facebook: RSL Awards

Instagram: @RSLAwards

Twitter: @RSLAwards

TikTok: @RSLAwards

And don’t forget – if you haven’t entered already, you only have until the 30th October, so get in there quick!


Artists in Focus | Aretha Franklin

October 13th, 2020 by

From local gospel to global feminist icon: Aretha Franklin was always destined for stardom.

Early Days

With a famous minister and civil rights activist for a father, and accomplished piano player and vocalist for a mother, Aretha Franklin already had pretty big (and very talented!) shoes to fill. As it turns out, she would be the perfect combination of them both, going on to conquer the music industry and help to make the world a better place.

Aretha was already signed with Columbia Records as a secular music artist until her contract ended and she decided to move to Atlantic Records in 1966. This is where her career really began to flourish. First it was 1967’s “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)”, which shot to number 9 in the Billboard chart and number 1 in the R&B chart (despite the fight that broke out between others present at the recording session!). Franklin would then score two more top 10 hits with “Baby I Love You” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” in the same year!

Sock It to Us!

It will come as no surprise to hear that Aretha’s signature-smash-hit song has been featured in our Drums Grade 4 syllabus. Yes, “Respect” was originally released by Otis Redding in 1965, but it was Miss Aretha Franklin who managed to make it a huge success two years later – and this was no ordinary success. Rolling Stone placed the song on their “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list at number 5, just after Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, John Lennon and Marvin Gaye! Aretha’s version has different lyrics and meaning to the Otis Redding version, which meant that it was (and continues to be!) a landmark tune for the feminist movement. It earned Franklin 2 Grammy Awards and a spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame to go with that, so calling the song successful feels something of an understatement.

You may notice that the cover star of our grade 4 Drums book is not actually Aretha Franklin. This is because we thought it would be fitting to include the sensational drummer Bernard Purdie, known for the legendary “Purdie Shuffle”. For the non-drummers of the world, triplets against a half-time backbeat is what came to be known as the “Purdie Shuffle”, so we couldn’t turn down the opportunity to plaster this R&B, funk, soul fantastic drum-figure across the cover of our books. Bernard started working with Aretha as a musical director back in 1970, a position which he held for 5 years. He clearly enjoyed working with her as he said that “backing her was like floating in seventh heaven”. If we didn’t already wish we could work with Aretha Franklin then we do now!

Fun fact: Purdie is also credited on the James Brown album Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud! He really works with the best of the best.

Feminist Franklin

As you can imagine, being around her father who was an extremely prominent preacher figure, Aretha was both exposed and immersed into the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights. Throughout her career she frequently performed at protests, and provided money that sometimes even went towards covering payroll for civil rights groups.

At the age of 16, she went on tour with Martin Luther King and even sang at his funeral in 1968.

Aretha Franklin“Aretha Franklin” by austinmini1275 is licensed under CC0 1.0

More recently, Franklin declined the invitation to perform at Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony, along with other huge stars, in a large-scale protest against the new president.

Legend Forever

Though she has sold an enormous 75 million records worldwide, it still feels impossible to sum up Franklin’s career and achievements in such a short article, but there is perhaps one phrase that comes close to it – “Queen of Soul”. We’d encourage everyone to get online and read more about her impressive story (if you don’t already know it!), and of course, turn up the volume and blast out her music to capture her true essence.

This Black History Month we’ll be celebrating our black heroes in the music industry. Stay tuned for more this month, and be sure to check out last week’s entry featuring the wonderful Stevie Wonder.

4 Tips for Your Music Exam Day

October 9th, 2020 by

You’ve practised your scales, got your pieces sounding slick, and done a practise exam with your teacher. But what actually happens on a Rocschool graded music exam day? Let’s find out!

We’ve put together a handy list of tips so you can know what to expect at your music exam centre. Different centres may run things slightly differently, but they should all follow these rules to make sure your music exam day experience is as enjoyable and safe as possible.

1. Arrive punctually

In order to control numbers of people in venues, you should aim to arrive at your exam venue no more than 10 minutes before the exam start time. This way centres can make sure there’s minimal congestion and overcrowding.
Try to avoid public transport when traveling to and from the venue if you can, but there will be hand sanitiser provided on arrival. You can be accompanied to the venue by a parent or teacher, but please ensure that you leave the venue immediately after you’ve rocked your exam. Besides, then it’s time to celebrate!


Rock your exam safely and securely with Rockschool!

2. Stay socially distant

We’ve done our homework when it comes to ensuring your safety when you walk into your exam centre so all you need to do is focus on smashing your exam. There will be cleaning during the day (using disinfectant spray/wipes) of frequently touched surfaces in the exam room, warm-up room, toilets, and other public areas, but bear in mind the government’s guidance on social distancing.

Make sure you observe 2 metre distancing between all persons outside of your own household. To encourage spacing, there will be no waiting area inside the venue. A friendly member of staff will admit you to the warm-up room or examination room once they’re available.

You can download our full exam guidance below!

Exam Guidance

3. Keep smiling!

Don’t be put off if the examiner asks you if you have any coronavirus symptoms. This is just routine stuff that they have to ask! Give them a big smile and show them you’re confident and ready to get your exam underway.

The examiner will be wearing a protective visor too, so don’t be alarmed if you’ve not seen one before! The examiner can still assess you in the same way as a normal exam.

Remember to bring photocopy of ID if you’re a Grade 6-8 candidate! You need this as our Level 3 graded music exams count for UCAS points.

Your teacher should have prepped you on exactly what you’re playing in your exam, but we recommend doing a practice exam with them too so you become a bit more familiar with timings and make sure your stamina is at a good level.

Rockschool Professional Diplomas

4.Master your nerves nerves

Everyone gets nervous in an exam! Nerves can actually be very helpful in concentrating your mind and body on the task at hand. And definitely don’t be embarrassed about appearing nervous in front of the examiner. Chances are they’ve seen it all before and won’t even notice. Just concentrate on doing your best!

And there you have it! Things will obviously be a little for video exams, so be sure to read up on those here.

If you haven’t already, download our free Six Steps to Success guide for more tips like this, to get you ready for your winter exam.

Six Steps to Exam Success

And don’t forget – if you haven’t entered already, you only have until the 30th October, so get in there quick!


Artists In Focus | Stevie Wonder

October 6th, 2020 by

Even from an exceptionally young age, there was no doubt that Wonder would truly be a wonder.

At age 11, he’d already achieved what so many musicians dream of – a signed deal with Motown superstar label, Tamla. With Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers, and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles also on the client list, Stevie would be in great company. Stevie’s 1963 single “Fingertips” shot to the Billboard Hot 100 number 1 spot when he was at the tender age of 13, the youngest ever artist to top this chart. Yes, as he had only just hit his teen years, Stevie Wonder was already building the foundations for the outstanding career that lay ahead of him.

Most of Stevie’s critical success happened during the 70’s, which saw the release of the still-HUGE tunes like “You Are The Sunshine of My Life”, “Sir Duke”, “Isn’t She Lovely” and “Superstition”. His albums Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974) and Songs in the Key of Life (1976) all won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year – yep, that’s three consecutive albums with a Grammy. He is the only artist to have ever achieved this, breaking records left right and centre.

Superstition IS the way!

Speaking of 70’s success, we couldn’t leave this iconic era of Stevie’s career from our syllabus songlists, and we certainly didn’t hold back. “Superstition” is arguably his biggest ever track (just a mere 385,277,293 Spotify streams on that one!), and you can find it featured on our Drums Grade 6 syllabus. Whilst this is an enormous accolade (humour us, please!), the song also ranked number 74 on the Rolling Stone “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list, and was of course number 1 in the Billboard Hot 100 too. Stevie worked with Jeff Beck on this track. Jeff came up with the unmistakeable opening drum beat, which Stevie then improvised over. This would be the birth of “Superstition” and it really shows what a key, structural role the drums play in the tune.

Funky Keys Activism

Stevie has and always will be highly praised for his funky style of playing the keyboard, and if you thought we’d miss out on the chance to feature this within our grades then you’d be wrong! We’ve included the 1973 track from the Innervisions album, “Living For The City”, on the Grade 6 Keys songlist. Another tune that’s ranked in the Rolling Stone “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list (number 105 this time!), this song opens with an iconic syncopated keys riff, played by Wonder himself, of course. Fun fact: Stevie actually played all instruments that you can hear on this track!

However, above all, Stevie is delivering an important message to his audio-audience in “Living For The City”. The song is about a young black man who experiences racial discrimination in New York, where he is then arrested for a crime he did not commit. You can actually hear the dialogue taking place within the track, amongst other sounds of the city. By shining a light on racial discrimination within his music, Stevie could spread the word to his gigantic audience. The song won a Grammy in 1974 for Best R&B Song and for Best Male Vocal Performance.

This would not be the only time that Stevie would use his music to bring attention to his activism. He helped to campaign for Martin Luther King Day, a public holiday in the USA to celebrate the life and achievements of this great man (it would be on the third Monday of January – close to the birthday of MLK!). Wonder released his famous version of “Happy Birthday” to popularize the campaign and it worked. They ended up collecting over 6 million signatures on the petition which would be taken to Congress and passed as law – the largest petition in favour of an issue in US history!

100 million records, 25 Grammy’s and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame later, Stevie is still a living legend. To sum up the enormity of his career in one blog is frankly impossible, but celebrating his fantastic achievements is not! Now get your speakers on and blast your favourite Wonder tune… Ooooooh very superstitious…

Have you read last weeks blog yet? It’s featuring the wonderful Emeli Sandé.

RSL Awards Appoints Suzanne Harlow As New CEO

October 6th, 2020 by

RSL Awards appoints Suzanne Harlow as new CEO, John Simpson to step down.

RSL Awards Ltd (Rockschool), the leading global provider of contemporary music and arts vocational and graded music qualifications, today announced that Suzanne Harlow has been named as the new CEO, effective 4 January 2021.


John Simpson has led the RSL Awards business since 2013, and has repositioned RSL from a niche UK awarding body to a global leader in contemporary music and arts. During his tenure, the business has grown exponentially and has delivered consistent top and bottom-line growth in all of its markets. RSL recently launched a pioneering new digital examining model during the Covid-19 pandemic, revolutionising the options available to candidates so that they are still able to take their exams during these difficult times.

“Our company is in great shape and has a very solid base on which to continue developing our growing product portfolio. The leadership team now in place boasts capabilities in digital, data, design, academically benchmarked materials, marketing, and global operations. These broader capabilities are essential for solving the increasingly complex challenges facing students, teachers and parents and will ensure the business continues to move forward,” says Simpson.

Suzanne Harlow will take over as CEO on 4 January 2021. John will support the transition process in the first quarter of 2021 and will then embark on a 5 year sailing circumnavigation. He will remain a non-executive board member and shareholder of RSL Awards.

Suzanne brings to the position a wealth of knowledge and an array of experiences in the private equity and the global retail sector, previously being a Main Board Director for Debenhams and most recently CEO of clothing retailer Jack Wills. Coupled with the existing RSL senior team, her leadership skills will be instrumental in taking RSL forward to the next stage of development. New syllabi, the digitisation of the whole learning, teaching and exams process and ongoing international delivery, especially in the Americas and south east Asia, will ensure the continued growth of RSL across the globe.

This executive leadership appointment forms part of RSL Awards’ long term strategy to manage our expanding digital portfolio and continuing to change the face of music and arts education across the world.

RSL Awards Founder, Mr Norton York said, “John’s vision and drive, combined with his commitment to serving the best long-term interests of our company and our people, have materially strengthened RSL Awards. He leaves a company well placed to win in this fast-changing, dynamic industry. I’d like to thank him personally, and on behalf of the Board, for his contribution to RSL Awards. We are delighted to have Suzanne joining us and provide the leadership to ensure our continued upward trajectory”.

RSL Awards CEO, Mr John Simpson said, “This change of executive leadership offers an exciting opportunity that will strengthen and expand our geographical presence to provide graded solutions and learning opportunities for all our customers, within the education sector as a whole, not just contemporary” explains Simpson. “With our existing range of high quality qualifications, the onboarding of a new CEO supports our strategy to lead the market and meet the future requirements in this demanding market”.

RSL Awards incoming CEO, Suzanne Harlow said, “I am delighted to be joining RSL at this exciting time. The business is well positioned to develop further in the UK and across the world in both graded exams and the vocational qualifications and to be joining the leading Awarding Organisation in the digitisation of the market is a great privilege”.


About RSL Awards Ltd

In 1991, under the direction of founder Norton York, Rockschool created a unique set of products for a brand-new marketplace: recognised, graded qualifications for contemporary musicians. The traditional instruments performing in a rock band were included in the original graded examinations, Electric guitar, Bass guitar and Drums. After the initial success with these instruments, the company has developed syllabi in Acoustic Guitar, Vocals, Piano and Keyboards, Ukulele, Contemporary Music Theory and the world’s first Music Production syllabus.

Over recent years the company, based in West London, has developed a full suite of Vocational Qualifications for the creative industries, which are delivered in over 500 schools and colleges, principally in the UK. These sit alongside a program of contemporary dance qualifications, covering three distinct disciplines: musical theatre, jazz and street dance and a new suite of first to market CQ qualifications in Vlogging and Podcasting.

A head office team of 50, and a team of over 150 highly trained and certified global examiners, assessors and moderators help deliver the qualifications across the globe. Rockschool qualifications are recognised and regulated at the highest level by Ofqual, SFA, CCEA, Qualifications Wales and the Department for Education, with all successful level 3 (Grades 6–8) exams being awarded UCAS points, bolstering university applications.

WIN: A Samsung Galaxy 32GB Tablet and more with Rockschool

September 29th, 2020 by

In these ever-changing times, we believe that it’s important that no child should miss out on the opportunity to continue their musical education, regardless of their circumstance. Covid-19 has changed so much of our everyday landscape, but our commitment to world-leading education remains unmoved.

That’s why we’ve decided to further children’s musical education by giving away Rockschool goodies once a week for 5 weeks to those who otherwise may not have the opportunity to continue their musical education.

We will randomly select one lucky nominee every Friday for 5 weeks to win a Samsung Galaxy tablet and full set of Rockschool digibooks for an instrument of their choice.

Best of all, the winners are in your hands! We want to give back to our community by awarding the prize to someone you think deserves it. If you have a friend who’s always talked about getting into music but hasn’t had the opportunity to, or a student who you know would benefit from this fantastic prize – get tagging them in the comments!

How do I enter?

In order to nominate a future rockstar, enter for your graded music exam, and then you can simply tag your chosen future rockstar on the competition post on Facebook or Instagram for the relevant week of entry.

Please ensure that you have entered for a UK or Ireland graded music exam for the upcoming exam period – if you haven’t, you won’t be eligible to nominate a future rockstar. We will verify that you have booked your exam before we randomly select a nominee.

We’ll be running this competition every week until the UK & Ireland Rockschool exam entry deadline on 30th October, so don’t worry if you miss out on your first entry. There will be five opportunities to win this amazing prize!

Good luck!

If you haven’t already, you can enter for your Rockschool graded music exam HERE.

Artists In Focus | Snarky Puppy

September 22nd, 2020 by

The New York instrumental ensemble that really needs no introduction. Snarky Puppy has a roster of incredible talent that leaves you pulling the same bass-face as Michael League on the cover of our grade 7 Bass books.

Lingus (We VERY MUCH Like It Here!)

There isn’t much that one can say about this song that will do it full justice. The 2014 We Like It Here track is catchy, complex, groovy and fun – you only have to see the faces of the musicians who are a part of it to see that. But before we go any further, the video of the live recording is a MUST watch. Totally essential viewing.

Cory & The Keys

Do you have goosebumps yet? We do. The talent amongst this group of musicians is completely jaw-dropping. We could write an entire blog about Cory Henry and THAT SOLO alone. At the raw age of 5, Cory was already dubbed “Master Henry” by those who knew him, for his sheer ability to accompany any song, in any key, on the Hammond organ. This solo truly solidified his rightful position in the jazz-fusion world and his career really took off after being a member of Snarky Puppy. Sadly, he no longer plays with the band, but has started a hugely successful project – Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles.

Let it be known that Snarky Puppy tunes are highly complex, thus, it should come as no surprise that “Lingus” is included in our grade 8 Keys syllabus. The challenge in this track is to really feel secure in that 5/4 time signature. The piece will demand control, rhythmic mastery, a strong sense of groove and an understanding of intricate harmony, but hey, you didn’t think this would be easy, did you?!

A League of His Own

It was actually bassist, Michael League, who founded the band back in 2004 whilst he was studying at the University of North Texas. League said that his reason for starting the band was “because I was so bad… Snarky Puppy was my way of getting to play” (though we find that hard to believe!). Ever since, the band have almost been a “collective”, rotating through a roster of performers but still keeping a tight, familial unit feel amongst them. The current roster boasts 19 members, but has seen around 40 unbelievable talents join them over their 15 years and 14 albums!

League is arguably one of the best band leaders of his generation. He is also a producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist that has collected 3 Grammy awards. For this reason, it would be a crime not to include “Lingus” in our grade 7 Bass syllabus too, which also poses its challenges for the player. You will need to develop a deep understanding of the groove, not only in the bass part. How does the keyboard comping pattern contribute to the overall feel of the piece? The first section of the song is played in half time, and when combined with an odd time signature, this almost creates the illusion of 4/4. You really have to keep your wits about you in this one!

We can all take some inspiration from the Snarky Puppy crew – Larnell Lewis, Shaun Martin, Robert “Sput” Searight, Justin Stanton. We could write a book on their individual brilliance, but I think we can all agree that the magic that happens when these musicians come together is nothing short of genius.

If this doesn’t inspire you to pick up that bass, or practise those modes a few more times, then maybe you just need to listen to a few more Snarky Puppy albums. Check out their Spotify catalogue below!

Failing that, perhaps you’d be inspired by artists like Kaki King, Queen, Bill Withers or Taylor Swift? Have a read of some of our previous Artists in Focus blog posts.