Category: Music Education

Classical in Conversation | Clara Schumann

February 25th, 2021 by

The classical conversation is back in full swing for another week, and this time we’re shining the spotlight on one of the most distinguished pianists of the romantic era – Clara Schumann is our girl!

Piano Prodigy!

This lady managed a 61-year career (yes, you read that right!). How, you might ask? Well, being born into a family of musicians, Clara’s father – a professional pianist himself – was teaching her the ropes from the age of 4, using his own methods (his book was called “Wieck’s Piano Education for a Delicate Touch and Singing Sound”!). Turning out to be quite the child prodigy, Clara performed her first gig at 9 years old, to a full house in the Gewandhaus Concert Hall, Leipzig.

You might call her the T-Swift of the 1800s, as she continued to perform to sell-out crowds all over Europe, touring by the time she was 11 – and to an audience full of stars! Clara had the likes of Schubert, Chopin and Liszt attending her concerts, and giving fantastic reviews of them too. She became such a popular act in Vienna that she received the Königliche und Kaiserliche Österreichische Kammer-virtuosin (that’s the Royal and Imperial Austrian Chamber Virtuoso Award) – their highest honour!

Wise (and hilarious) Words

Clara first toured England in 1856, and we find her commentary on English society quite hilarious – she once voiced her displeasure in how little time was spent in rehearsals, stating that “they call it a rehearsal here if a piece is played through once”. Now who can still relate to that?!

Being a true freelance queen, Clara balanced her teaching career with her amazing performance schedule. She chose a position at Dr. Hoch’s Konservatorium because it allowed her the freedom to take four months of vacation to go on tour! Being the only woman on the department, and of course her European fame, students travelled from all over the world to study with her, and most of these were women! It is through this teaching position that Clara Schumann would truly contribute to the development of classical piano technique.

She composed a huge body of work in her lifetime, often saying that:

“There is nothing that surpasses the joy of creation, if only because through it one wins hours of self-forgetfulness, when one lives in a world of sound.”

We’re with you, Schaz. But unfortunately, despite her hundreds of piano creations, her music was rarely played by anyone else, and sadly they were largely forgotten – that is, until the 1970s happened, and there was a Clara Schumann revival! This renewed interest in her work has kept its momentum, and her compositions are still performed more and more each year. Woo!

The Cla-Revival

And you too can be a part of the Cla-revival, with RSL’s Classical Piano syllabus. As you might expect, considering her child genius and international performance career, you can find her in Grade 8, with her piece “Impromptu (Le Sabbat)”. A stunningly beautiful, and stunningly difficult piece of music to master, but channelling your inner prodigy seems like the only thing to do when Clara Schumann is involved!

If you’ve enjoyed learning a little more about one of the most successful women in classical music and want to get stuck in to some more, we’ve featured an incredible set of female composers on this blog, including Zenobia Powell Perry, Germaine Tailleferre, and Florence Price.

RSL Classical Piano Tutorial: Oscar Peterson

February 23rd, 2021 by

Looking for a whistle stop tour round an iconic jazz tune from our newly released RSL Classical Piano syllabus? Look no further!

You’ve come to the right place for a video walkthrough of ‘Jazz Exercise No. 2’ by Canadian jazz pianist and all-round musical legend, Oscar Peterson.

This piece can be found in our grade 6 Classical Piano book and is a fun but challenging piece that highlights Oscar Peterson’s status as an outstanding technical player.

Who was Oscar Peterson?

Oscar Peterson, known simply as ‘O.P.’ to his friends and fellow musicians, was a virtuoso in the industry. Throughout his career he shared the stage with the likes of Duke Ellington and was often described as “the king of inside swing”. His career lasted more than 60 years, during which he performed at thousands of concerts and released more than 200 records. Not only a performer and recording artist, Peterson also wrote more than 300 original jazz compositions, many of which are now commonly used in music education, including this piece.

Now that we’ve learnt a little bit about the man behind the music, let’s take a look at the music itself in this video tutorial. Have a watch, and by the end you’ll be swinging like Oscar in no time!

If you’ve enjoyed learning about Oscar Peterson, then be sure to check out our Classical in Conversation series! Read up on some other composers that may be new to you, especially our female counterparts! We’ve got Germaine Tailleferre, Nikki Iles and Florence Price all ready and waiting for you.

Artists in Focus | Sarah Vaughan

February 23rd, 2021 by

It’s no surprise that Sarah Vaughan earned her nickname, “The Divine One” when she had a talent that left the likes of Frank Sinatra quaking in his boots. This exceptional vocalist has certainly earned her place in jazz legend.

New to the Nightclub!

Often described as having one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century, Sarah Vaughan built a career singing with some of the biggest names in jazz. But the journey there was full of hard work and dedication.

Born to parents who were also musicians – her mother a singer and pianist in the church choir and her father who played guitar and piano – Sarah Vaughan developed an early love for pop music. Leading into her mid-teens, she bagged herself a whole host of performances as a singer and pianist in various Newark nightclubs. Of course, this was not entirely legal, but it was her passion for these underground performances that led Vaughan to drop out of high school to continue on this path to success (she just didn’t know it yet!).

Fast forward a few years to her frequent trips to New York. She always took along her friend Doris Robinson, and one day she managed to convince Doris to enter into the Apollo Theatre Amateur Night Contest, in which Doris landed a second-place prize. Feeling as though she might be able to get somewhere in this competition herself, Vaughan entered and unsurprisingly won! The prize? $10 – oh, and a week performing at the Apollo, opening for none other than Ella Fitzgerald, of course!

Mingling with the Masters!

And it was here that Vaughan’s career really began to take off. Through these performances at the Apollo, she was able to meet influential bandleader, Earl Hines, who offered her a job immediately. Touring with his big band was the next step for Vaughan, and the figures she would meet along the way were nothing short of jazz legends. Think Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon. She really was mingling with the right crew.

It was on this foundation that Vaughan decided to seek out her solo career – starting off in the clubs of 52nd street, frequently performing with firm colleagues, Gillespie and Parker. She was the first artist ever to record the jazz standard, “Tenderly”, which also became an unexpected chart sensation! Her version of “It’s Magic” for Doris Day’s film, Romance on the High Seas, was also a chart champion.

Black Coffee

With her record label Musicraft being on rocky territory financially, leaving Vaughan fighting for royalty payments, she moved on to working with Columbia Records, a label we’re all certainly familiar with! It was in these years that she recorded her version of “Black Coffee”, which did fantastically in the charts. It continues to be one of her most popular songs to date, garnering the largest number of streams on Spotify for her! Others to cover this legendary tune have been the likes of Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, The Pointer Sisters, and perhaps you next? That’s right, because we’ve included “Black Coffee” in our Grade 6 Vocals syllabus, so you too can make history with this one.

Moving on to Mercury Records, Vaughan released hits like “Misty” and “Broken Hearted Melody”, a song that she considered “corny”, but which inevitably became her first gold record!

With countless awards that followed in the years to come, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Sarah Vaughan’s career continued to blossom and thrive. She was frequently described as having a voice that happens once in a lifetime, or once in several lifetimes. An undeniable control of her huge vocal range, with exceptional capabilities in volume and texture, a perfect ear for pitch, and no interval too difficult, “The Divine One” truly deserves all the praise that comes her way.

To find out more about the Artists featured in our syllabi, do be sure to catch up on our previous blogs. We’ve got something for everyone with Jake Shimabukuro, Lady Gaga and Weather Report.

RSL Fellow: Sam Winwood

February 19th, 2021 by

The excitement is real at RSL HQ today, as we welcome our newest RSL Honorary Fellow to the ranks! This time it’s the hugely successful music business executive, Sam Winwood.

We are delighted to have Sam amongst us. With such an accomplished career, he is a brilliant example of how hard work, dedication and talent can help you achieve the job of your dreams.

Kobalt Career!

So, a little bit about Sam! He began his career around 25 years ago as a talent scout, working for both MCA and BMG records, before moving into a full time A&R role at Sony S2 – not a bad start, we’re sure you’ll agree! At Sony he worked with enormous acts like Reef and Toploader, and that would certainly not be the end of his work with some of the country’s biggest artists.

Next, he moved into artist management at a then fledgling publishing company called Kobalt Music. Heard of them? Yes, of course you have, because over his 16 years there, Kobalt grew into one of the largest independent publishers in the world, representing some of the most successful songwriters of all time. You’ll only need to scroll the roster for 0.5 seconds before spotting legends from all genres and decades – we’re talking Paul McCartney, Foo Fighters and Elvis Presley (yep, you read that right)! Sam has personally worked with the likes of Sam Fender, Jax Jones and Rudimental!

Biz Chat

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Sam Winwood (alongside a couple of familiar RSL Fellow faces!), to discuss all things music business. We talked about the importance of finding like-minded people, how UK radio has been so fundamental in shaping the music scene, and what sorts of qualities you’ll need to become a globally successful artist. It’s an absolute essential listen whether you’re looking for a career as a songwriter and artist, or a career in artist management and talent scouting.

Please join us in welcoming Sam to the fold, and be sure to have a listen to the interview on our YouTube channel. Leave us a comment and let us know what your career goals are!

Sam is joining an incredible line up of RSL Fellows, and you can find out more about them all here! We’ve got Richard Beadle, Matt Prime and Muyiwa Olarewaju to get you started.

Classical in Conversation | Johann Sebastian Bach

February 18th, 2021 by

So, the real question is, can we have a Classical in Conversation, an RSL Classical Piano syllabus, without including the influential figure that is Johann Sebastian Bach? We think the answer is probably no… yep, definitely not.

Baroque Boy

Bach feels like the great-great-grandfather of the western classical music tradition. Think back to the baroque days, think harpsichords and organs, oratorios and motets, and you’ll begin to set the scene for the world that raised this musical master.

Bach was born in Germany into a family of musicians – his father was the director of town musicians, a pretty cool job title if you ask us! In his younger years he learned keyboard instruments like the harpsichord, clavichord and organ, most likely under his father’s instruction. Being such an early figure in western art music, it’s hard to imagine that Bach had any influences to learn from, but he was certainly not the only person composing in his time. Bach was exposed to the sounds of Pachelbel (“Canon in D” we’re looking at you!), Handel, Telemann, and he loved the Italian flavour brought by composers like Vivaldi and Corelli.

Bach’s career took him from city to city and church to church across Germany, and with word of his talents spreading like wildfire, he was a musician in high demand! A job as organist in the New Church, Arnstadt, led to its renaming – it would be Bach Church forevermore!

Head of Harmony, King of Counterpoint

But it is without doubt that one of the things which earned Bach his legendary stripes in the classical world and his golden status as one of the greatest composers that ever lived, was his approach to harmony. Living during a time where modal music was the go-to – a system which many of us may now associate with jazz improvisation (how wacky is that?!) – Bach pushed the boundaries and favoured composing tonal music. Though Bach did not invent the tonal system, his compositions certainly cemented it in the minds of the western classical world as the superior scheme, and of course we still use it today. That’s right, you can thank Bach for making that G# minor scale so important in your piano lessons…

Sitting alongside his harmonic innovation is his characteristic counterpoint. Again, though he did not invent it, Bach was such a fundamental contributor to the style that he is king in the eyes of many!

The Well-Tempered Clavier is the baby produced from his mastery of the tonal and harmonic system combined with his competence in counterpoint. The collection consists of two volumes, each containing 24 preludes and fugues, one in each major and minor key – the first ever compilation of its kind. It has long since been regarded as one of the most important works for classical music that has ever been written.

Bach in the Books!

You’ll be pleased to know that, given how iconic Bach and his compositions are, we have included five pieces spread throughout the RSL Classical Piano syllabus, two of which have been pulled from the legendary The Well-Tempered Clavier. “Prelude in C” from Book 1 of the collection is instantly recognisable and quintessential Bach. Featured in Grade 4, it’s the perfect study of the many harmonic possibilities of C major. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a complete piano syllabus without the challenge of a prelude and fugue in the top grades, so for this reason, you’ll find “Prelude and Fugue in C Minor (BWV 847)” in the Grade 8 books. Your brain will be aching by the end of this one!

If you’re a classical beginner, you’ll be pleased to find “Minuet in G (BWV Anh. 114)” in the Grade 1 syllabus, a beautiful introduction to counterpoint and stunning ornamentation. And finally, we’ve included two of Bach’s Inventions, “Invention No.1 in C Major” is featured in Grade 5, and “Invention No.13 in A Minor” is ready and waiting for you in Grade 6.

Let it be known that learning a Bach tune brings with it a hefty test. It may demand a lot from your fingers and have intricacies that require the greatest concentration, but with this comes the knowledge that you are ticking off an extremely important box in your classical piano education. Bach’s pieces are truly the foundation of so much of the music that we enjoy in the modern world, and learning some of it for yourself brings an enormous amount of satisfaction!

There are many other incredible composers sat alongside Bach in our Classical Piano syllabus! We’ve got a Classical in Conversation blog about Alexis Ffrench, Zenobia Powell Perry and Ludovico Einaudi amongst many others.

Artists in Focus | Jake Shimabukuro

February 16th, 2021 by

Up on the Artists in Focus stage this week is champion of the ukulele, king of the four strings, Jake Shimabukuro.

An Instant Connection!

It’s true that nobody has mastered the art of ukulele playing quite like this man. After being handed his first uke at the age of four, on the luscious island of Oahu, Hawaii, Shimabukuro was connected to the instrument immediately, but little did he know that it would change his life forever!

Hours a day would be spent with his beloved uke, right up to 1998 when he began to gain attention on the island for his role in the three-piece band, Pure Heart. With uke, guitar, vocals and percussion, the group’s debut album won them four Na Hoku Hanohano Awards, an award that Shimabukuro would become very familiar with throughout his career!

But it was in 2002 that Shimabukuro decided to pursue his solo career. He became the first Hawaiian artist to sign with Epic Records International, an offshoot of recording giant, Sony. In the following years, he toured extensively in Japan, and released many albums in the country which were incredibly well received. But his desire to release albums elsewhere in the world was strong, and to do so Shimabukuro set up his own label, Hitchhike Records – certainly a good decision, as he preceded to release four US albums! The 2005 release, Dragon, made it into the Billboard Top World Music Albums chart, and went all the way to number 5.

While My Ukulele Gently Shreds!

And then 2006 happened – the year that changed Shimabukuro’s already successful career and made it MEGA, all because of one critical cover song. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles may as well have been renamed “While My Ukulele Gently Weeps”, after a video of Shimabukuro playing the song went viral and received over 17 million views! Jake wasn’t even aware that it was uploaded to YouTube, but it ultimately led to his international fame and success.

In the years following the video, Shimabukuro was able to tour worldwide for many months of the year, and received tonnes of interest from big stars interested in collaborating. He decided to go on tour with Jimmy Buffett!

Shimabukuro’s fifth US album rose to number 2 on the Billboard Top World Music Albums chart, but it would be the sixth, Peace Love Ukulele (2011), that would finally make it to the top spot! His later album, Grand Ukulele, features a 29 piece orchestra and rhythm section, with the ukulele soloing throughout – what an incredible stage for the humble ukulele!

In his 2010 TED performance of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Shimabukuro said that he felt the ukulele, was the “instrument of peace”, that “if everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a much better place”, and we couldn’t agree more! The art of this wonderful instrument is truly a skill worth mastering, and you too can be a part of this movement. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is available in our Grade 8 (yes, 8!) Ukulele syllabus, and is ready and waiting for your time and dedication.

If you’ve loved learning about Jake Shimabukuro this week, then do make sure you catch up on some of our recent additions to the Artists in Focus roster including Lady Gaga, Corinne Bailey Rae and Weather Report!

RSL Fellow: Matt Prime

February 10th, 2021 by

Matt Prime: sensational songwriter, proficient producer and, that’s right, RSL FELLOW! We are delighted to have him on board.

Career Champion!

It would be fair to say that Matt has built a career that so many of us aspire to, and with beginnings rooted in popular music education, we’re so excited to see the progression that Matt has achieved over the years. The opportunity to recognise his achievements by awarding Matt an RSL Honorary Fellowship was one that we just could not pass up, so, please join us in congratulating him today!

As we all know, the music industry has changed very quickly over the past decades. With the introduction of streaming and monthly subscriptions, music-making on the phones in our pockets, and playlisters essentially becoming the new radio DJs, the songwriters and producers of the world have had a lot of changes to contend with! Despite this, Matt’s discography presents the most incredible line up of collaborations, featuring artists like Kylie Minogue, Trey Songz, Sam Smith, Cee-Lo Green and Jason Derulo to name only a few – a truly wonderful CV!

Top Tips

We had the pleasure of sitting down (virtually!) with Matt where we discussed the new ways in which songwriters can get into writing sessions with artists, how to prepare for such a session, and what sort of qualities you will find in artists who are likely to go on to incredibly successful careers. We talked about how his music education turned his relatively small internal music bank into an extensive knowledge of genres which helped him to adapt to any situation when working in the industry. It really is a must watch if you’re an aspiring songwriter, producer, or artist for that matter!

Our favourite tip from Matt is to always be over-prepared. As a songwriter, have a million different melodies, hooks and lyrics up your sleeve, so that whatever situation is presented to you, you will have something brilliant to offer. Pretty sound advice if you ask us!

We are so thrilled to have Matt Prime as a member of the RSL Fellowship. Do make sure you check out the interview, and of course, Matt’s work on his website!

And before you go, why not get familiar with the other RSL Fellows? There are some truly inspiring career stories in the fields of vocal coaching (Shereece Storrod), Musical Theatre Directing (Richard Beadle) and radio broadcasting (Muyiwa Olarewaju).

Classical in Conversation | Zenobia Powell Perry

February 10th, 2021 by

We’re back for another week of Classical in Conversation and this time we’ve got the wonderful Zenobia Powell Perry on our minds! Inspiring a generation of young black musicians, showing us all it’s never too late to start, and putting her own stamp on the classical piano sound is just a fragment of the legacy she has left behind.

Never Too Late!

Zenobia was born in Oklahoma to parents of African-American and Creek Indian descent. Her grandfather, who had been a slave, would sing traditional spirituals to her, an oral tradition passing on Christian values and describing the grief of slavery. It would be with this background that Perry first heard Hazel Harrison perform, the first fully-American musician ever to appear with a European orchestra, and it was at this moment that Perry knew she needed to study music.

Though her father wasn’t supportive of her musical studies, Perry went ahead to the Cecil Berryman Conservatory, and later to study privately with black pianist and composer Robert Nathaniel Dett.

And it wasn’t until Zenobia Powell Perry reached her forties that she started seriously composing. After studying her Composition Masters at the University of Wyoming, Perry began leaving her lasting mark on the classical piano world, and what a mark this would be! She embodied a sound influenced both by the traditional classical styles and her grandfather’s songs, thrown together with the rising influence of jazz and folk styles in the 1940s and 1950s, all makes for a real cocktail of character.

An RSL Perry Story!

And when you begin your RSL Classical Piano journey, you’ll find Perry’s cocktail infused throughout, starting with her “Vignette No.1” in the Debut grade. Though simple, this piece is a beautiful introduction to counterpoint with two musical lines fighting for the attention of the listener’s ear. Short but sweet, “Vignette No.1” still has the distinctive Perry sound, slightly dissonant and jaunty and waiting for that perfect cadence to arrive.

In Classical Piano Grade 1 you’ll find another piece from Perry’s Piano Potpourri, this time “Orrin and Echo”. This piece presents to us a development on that contrapuntal feel with the additional challenge of a melody and accompaniment in the opening. The melody in “Orrin and Echo” should be beautifully sung out, and echoed with the same thoughtfulness in the left hand.

And the final instalment of the RSL Perry story is in our Grade 4 books, with “Round and Round”, No.11 in the Piano Potpourri series. With a much fuller harmony than the previous two pieces, you can really start to get a flavour of what Zenobia Powell Perry is about here: it’s a lot of fun to play with its swirling sequential patterns and glorious melodies!

We really hope that you can weave Perry into your own piano story, as she really deserves a place there. With so much to learn from every piece, your repertoire and technique will be all the better for her influence! Not forgetting that you’d be honouring a moment in American history, a moment where black American composers would begin to be recognised for their fantastic work and unique contributions to musical culture. Now THAT is worth celebrating!

If you’ve enjoyed learning a little more about Zenobia Powell Perry today, then be sure to read up on some other composers that may be new to you, especially our female counterparts! We’ve got Germaine Tailleferre, Nikki Iles and Florence Price all ready and waiting.

Artists in Focus | Lady Gaga

February 9th, 2021 by

Lady Gaga is a force to be reckoned with in almost everything she puts her mind to: boundless to any genre, a fashion rule-breaker, Golden Globe winning actress and a trailblazer in standing up for the LGBTQ+ community.

A big statement, we know! But one that is utterly deserved and true for the lady dubbed Queen of Pop.

Fame with The Fame!

It was back in 2008 that Lady Gaga soared to international success with her debut album The Fame, including a whole host of pop bangers like “Just Dance”, “Bad Romance” and “Alejandro”. Not forgetting of course, the iconic “Poker Face”. The song about Gaga’s bisexuality received critical acclaim for its almost robotic chorus! It went on to become the best-selling single of 2009, and one of the best-selling songs of all time. With the legacy that The Fame has left in its wake, we couldn’t possibly leave one of these tunes from our syllaus, so you can find “Poker Face” in our Vocals Grade 2 books. There’s no doubt that you’ll have fun with this one!

It’s true that Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta never let us believe she would be a one hit wonder! From very early on in her career it was clear that her talents extended far beyond a single genre. Across her six studio albums to date, Gaga has dipped her musical toe in some electronic dance influences, jazz inspired sounds, techno-pop, electronic-rock, and even some country vibes too. Her ability to reinvent her sound over and over again is truly spectacular to watch – it’s no wonder there are so many ‘Little Monsters’ in the world!

An Acting Sensation

Gaga would also turn her hand to some acting jobs, and in the true spirit of her career so far, she made an incredible success of this too. Winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress for her part in American Horror Story was not only an incredible feat on its own, but also meant that Lady Gaga was the first woman in history to win an Academy, Grammy, BAFTA and Golden Globe all in the SAME. YEAR.

Alongside Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga bagged a leading role in the fourth filmed version of the musical, A Star Is Born. The single “Shallow” from the soundtrack went on to be enormously popular, and is now Gaga’s most streamed track on Spotify, with OVER 1.3 billion streams. Yep, you read that right.


But despite all her musical success stories, the part of Gaga that is most beloved to so many is her dedication to her activism in the field of LGBTQ+ rights. Being a bisexual woman herself, she started the Born This Way Foundation in 2012 (named after her record breaking single “Born This Way”, of course!), a not-for-profit organisation with the simple goal to “make the world kinder and braver”. It goes without saying that the organisation has been influential in the lives of so many young people and their mental health. Go Gaga!

With so many more incredible career moments, we couldn’t possibly do Lady Gaga justice in one blog. We’ve had some outrageous fashion choices (who remembers the meat dress?!), involvement in countless campaigns, and music videos that can only be described as short films, and it’s clear that our Gaga’s legacy will continue to thrive for generations to come. All hail the Mother Monster!

Be sure to catch up on the previous entries into our Artists in Focus series, including the wonderful Weather Report and Corinne Bailey Rae.