Category: Music Education

Rockschool Online Music Festival

August 4th, 2020 by

We’re running an Online Music Festival on 25th and 26th August!

For the first time in our history, we’ll be running a Rockschool Music Festival on 25th and 26th August, and we want YOU to get involved! Read on to learn more about this amazing opportunity to take centre stage from the comfort of your own home by sending us videos of you performing your favourite Rockschool tracks.

So what’s the deal? I thought music festivals were cancelled this year?

Our Online Music Festival will run for two days on Tuesday 25th and Wednesday 26th August across our website and social media. It will be free to attend and will not require a sign up. Simply head to our Facebook and Instagram for two days of great entertainment!

Who’s performing?

You are! We want to display just how talented all of the students and teachers who use Rockschool materials are, so we’ll be uploading your performances of Rockschool tunes on our social media over the course of the festival. We just need you to send us your performances, and the fun can begin!

Sounds good! I’m interested in performing. What sort of thing should I send in?

That’s really up to you! Ideally a performance of several songs that’s over 15 minutes in length but no longer than 40 minutes would be great. Think of it as a mini concert with a setlist of songs that are united in some way, whether that’s through the genre of music, the Rockschool grade, or a more general overall theme. If you want to play five Rockschool love songs, that’s perfect! Or maybe you want to cover songs by R&B artists, or 90s popstars, or songs that all begin with the same letter. As long as your performance is killin’ and your recording is decent quality, we’d love to hear from you.

Okay, I’m sold. But how will I record my performance?

High quality audio and visual recordings are fantastic, but don’t stress too much about this. Take a read of the tips on our Video Exams page to optimise your footage.

Once you’re happy with your performance, please email it to!

If the file is too big to send as an attachment, you can upload your file to and send us a download link so we can easily download your performance. Simples.

Send us your performance and you could star alongside Harry Churchill on our social media!

I’ve sent you my performance. Now what?

Now wait! We’ll sift through the submissions and decide which performances will suit our festival. Once we’ve decided on the running order, we’ll be in touch to hand out artists’ passes which can be shared across your own social media to get your friends and family involved.

What if I haven’t heard from you?

We’ll do our best to get back to you, but due to the high volume of applicants it may not be possible to share all performances across our social media this time around. However, we always keep videos on record for future occasions, so it’s likely we’ll use your performance at a later date in some capacity.

Anything else I should know?

We’ll be running our Virtual RSL On Tour webinars on one stage so you can catch up on anything you’ve missed from the series so far. You can sign up for the remaining few sessions here.

We’ll also be holding a competition with a VERY exciting prize. More on that soon…

Get in touch and send us your performance today!


Artists in Focus | Prince

August 4th, 2020 by

This week we turn our attention to the one and only Prince.

Many of the artist featured on this series so far have had successful and lengthy careers because of their ability to foresee and lead paradigm shifts in popular music. David Bowie, who we recently featured, never stood still artistically and was forward-thinking in everything from his song structure to his presentation onstage. Likewise, Beyoncé has managed to dine at pop’s top table for the last twenty years thanks to a peerless back catalogue of music that’s been supported by flawless live performances.

Prince is certainly in the same category as these wonderful musicians. Someone who was the vanguard of the music industry for so long, Prince tragically passed away in 2016. his music shapes so much of what is created today, and in this blog we’ll reflect on his unique blending of pop, rock, funk, jazz, R&B to create a distinct sound that is uniquely his.

Creative output

Prince Rogers Nelson was born in 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and wrote his first song by the age of seven. So began a lifetime of serious creative output. When Prince died, dozens of fully produced albums were found in his vault, along with music videos and other media that had been unreleased. Combine this with the 39 albums that he did release when he was alive, and you start to get an idea of just how prolific he was.

He was constantly creating music. Sound engineer, Susan Rogers, who helped Prince record a number of his biggest hits, including ‘When Doves Cry’, tells of her experience working with him:

“I didn’t get a chance to form memories because I didn’t sleep long enough to form them…People remind me of the wildest stuff and I say: are you sure I was there?”

We’re big fans of BBC Radio 6 Music at RSL HQ, and we’ve been loving their recent celebration of his seminal album ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’. The station’s DJs have been reflecting on Prince’s unrivalled work ethic and how it helped him create such an era-defining album.

Susan appears alongside Lizzo, Janelle Monáe, Trevor Nelson, and others in this 6 minute compilation where stars discuss the significance of the album to them personally. The haunting qualities of ‘The Ballad of Dorothy Parker’ is discussed in an interesting insight into how Prince went about his work in the recording studio.

The original cover star

Cover star on our grade 6 Electric Guitar book, we’ve chosen “I Wanna Be Your Lover” to feature on the Rockschool syllabus. Released in 1979, this was the lead single from his eponymously titled second album, and placed just outside the Billboard Top 10, holding the number 11 for two weeks.

The song has a super-catchy riff that is sure to stay in your head for weeks on end, with Prince’s perfect falsetto providing the finishing touches. You can hear how it sounds in the video below, which includes a brief overview of our interactive practice tool, Replay.

Like David Bowie, Prince kept creating music right up until he died. Here he is in 2004 performing the fiercely groovy ‘Musicology’ on the eve of his 45th birthday with just as much swagger, stage presence, and musicality as when he first burst onto the scene aged 19. A one of a kind artist who has such a special place in so many people’s hearts, it is unlikely we’ll see someone so deeply talented across so many disciplines for a long time.

If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to share it and check out last week’s blog on the amazing Alicia Keys, while you can learn more about the Rockschool repertoire here.

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Looking for an alternative to university?

July 29th, 2020 by

If you’re looking for an alternative to university but still want to achieve a university-level qualification without the prospect of full-time study, RSL Awards’ Level 4 qualifications are your perfect solution…

The recent Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in many reviewing the way they work and study. Whether you’re looking for an alternative to university, considering a gap year, or you’re an education partner reviewing study options for your students, RSL Awards has a plethora of study solutions for your consideration.

Looking to the new academic year ahead, we’d like to introduce you to two university-level qualifications which can be studied alongside other qualifications, a professional working life, or as part of a Gap Year. Both qualifications provide excellent routes into the £11bn Creative Industries, covering options such as branding, marketing, performing, teaching, and developing your specialist skills in a range of roles on and off the stage.

At RQF Level 4, these courses are the same academic level as the first year of a degree programme but are self-study qualifications assessed via submission of an online portfolio and with flexible options to enable you to gain a tailor-made qualification focused on your own area of expertise.

RSL Awards Professional Diplomas

The RSL Awards Professional Diplomas at Level 4 are an excellent vehicle for you to gain a qualification either through independent study; or as part of a student leadership or extended learning programme at school or college. There are three pathways across Teaching, Performing or Creative Enterprise which enable you to engage in a range of industry-relevant activities and gather evidence of your skills and research which is then submitted as an online evidence portfolio.

The RSL Awards Professional Diplomas allow you to focus on establishing yourself as a creative professional in your chosen area of the Creative Industry. Each pathway includes an optional unit, allowing you to customise your specialist learning, and have been designed to develop and recognise excellence in the creative arts.

Rockschool Professional Diplomas

With just 40 guided learning hours, the RSL Awards Professional Diplomas can be completed in under a year and offer a flexible route to an accredited qualification benchmarked at foundation degree level (RQF Level 4). On passing the course at Pass, Merit or Distinction, you are given the letters DipRSL to put after your name. We believe this is the perfect solution for those considering home-learning, or an excellent addition to a school or college’s extended post-16 offer.

For those of you looking for a more advanced qualification, you can also opt for the RSL Awards Professional Diploma at Level 6.

Musician and educator, Alex Forryan, takes a dive into our Level 4 Professional Diploma. In these videos, Alex will explain who the Professional Diplomas are for, the pathways available, and explore the core/optional units included in the syllabus.

Creative Industries Practitioners from DIME ONLINE

DIME ONLINE have created a unique, flexible, remote learning study option built around the RSL Awards Creative Industries Practitioners qualifications for students who are driven to make their mark in today’s music industry.

Comprised of different course modules, you can choose your own combination and number of modules to create the length and size of course you want. You can study in your own time, at your own pace and from wherever you feel most comfortable, earning an RSL Creative Industries Practitioners qualification at Level 4 and Level 5, with the Extended Diploma – the biggest combination of modules – equal to the first and second year of a BA(Hons) degree.

Whether you are a songwriter, in a band, manage an artist or teach private lessons, these qualifications will give you the tools needed to further your career and increase your income. Delivered completely online, you will have 24-hour access to course materials via DIME ONLINE’s virtual learning environment, Canvas.



Artists in Focus | Alicia Keys

July 28th, 2020 by

Next up on the Artists in Focus radar is Alicia Keys.

Alicia Keys has been one of the top vocalists in the world for over two decades now, and has used her platform to elevate a number of causes in society. We take a look back at her early days in the music industry, when she signed her first record deal at 15, to her more recent involvement as a humanitarian ambassador.

Growing up in New York

An only child born to an African-American father and an Italian-American mother, Alicia has possessed maturity beyond her years from a young age. Growing up in the Hell’s Kitchen area of New York was not without its problems, with many friends of Alicia becoming embroiled in social issues. She often credits her mother with instilling a strong work ethic in her, as well as the ability to steer clear of trouble through her extracurricular activities, however she is a proud New Yorker, often celebrating the city’s unique culture and people in her music.

Indeed, it was in music that Alicia so often found solace. She began learning the piano aged six and, much like Herbie Hancock and Nina Simone who we’ve previously featured in this series, became keenly interested in classical music. However, she gradually veered towards jazz-inspired music via the darker, bluer tones of Chopin and other Romantic composers.


Alicia Keys is the cover start of our grade 8 Vocals grade book.

Her passion for singing took form thanks to Sunday mornings when her mother would play records by jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holliday, and she nurtured her singing talent when she went to high school before signing a record deal aged only 15.

Her debut album, ‘Songs in A Minor’, was released to huge critical and commercial success. It won an incredible five Grammys and spawned her first number one hit on the US Billboard charts: Fallin’. Not bad for a twenty year old.

Building on Success

Keys became a household name after her debut album, and she cemented her position as one of the biggest names in R & B with her following albums which contained several huge hits. The notoriously tricky second album was navigated with aplomb by Keys. Released at the end of 2003, its two lead singles were ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ and ‘If I Ain’t Got You’, which features on our grade 6 Electric Guitar syllabus and has become a hugely popular song to cover.

The success didn’t stop there. Fresh off the back of three NAACP Image Awards, Keys released her third album in November 2007. The album’s first single ‘No One’ was another number one smash in the US, and spearheaded the success of her third studio album, ‘As I Am’. Because of the technical demands of Keys’ songs, which show off her impressive range and vocal control, we think they’re essential learning for vocalists as they hone their craft and develop their voice. Students are free to include Free Choice Pieces in their Rockschool exams, and we’ve offered some suggestions in the Wider Repertoire section of our website for you to peruse should you want to get the Alicia Keys magic going in your exam!

At the end of the decade, Alicia shared one of her biggest hits with Jay-Z. A homage to their hometown of New York, ‘Empire State of Mind’ became an instant classic with its catchy chorus and swaggering piano riffs. Though this was Jay-Z’s song which featured Keys, she released her own version without his rap. Cascading piano lines demonstrate her virtuosity on piano, with rewritten verses providing the perfect platform for her to convey her emotions about growing up in such a remarkable city.

Alicia’s stripped back version of ‘Empire State of Mind’ features on our grade 8 Vocals syllabus, and you can check out this amazing version by RSL’s very own Becky Woods to get your inspiration flowing!

The past ten years has seen Keys become increasingly involved in humanitarian issues, though she has still found time to record three studio albums, with her most recent release, the eponymous ‘Alicia’ released this year. She has turned her to focus to her organisation, Keep A Child Alive, which aims to provide children and families in Africa and India with support in the face of HIV and AIDS. Her organisation’s annual fundraiser ‘The Black Ball’ has seen memorable performances from the likes of Annie Lennox, Justin Timberlake, and of course Keys herself.

Aged 39, she shows no signs of slowing down just yet. In fact, it seems that Alicia Keys’ mission to change the world is just getting started.

If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to share it and check out last week’s blog on the inimitable Herbie Hancock, while you can learn more about the Rockschool repertoire here.

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Motivating your students | Guest blog

July 24th, 2020 by

In this guest blog, drummer and educator Michael Hutchinson explores the topic of motivation, and how to effectively motivate your students.

How do you keep your students motivated?

Motivating your students is one of the hardest things to do as a teacher. We take motivation as a by-product of loving what we do, but we can lose the momentum and we can fall out of love with music and our instrument and we can become demotivated which shows in our playing and our attitude. To understand how to motivate we first need to know a little about motivation itself.

What is motivation?

To understand how to motivate we first need to know a little about motivation.
According to self-determination theory (SDT), a theory devised by Edward L Deci and Richard M Ryan’s work on motivation in the 1970’s and 1980’s (Ackerman, 2020).

There are two types of motivation: Intrinsic and Extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is defined as completing an activity for inherent satisfaction and extrinsic motivation is completing an activity which you felt compelled to do (Ryan and Deci, 2000). Extrinsic motivation is interesting to understand, due to the many similarities we, as teachers use to motivate students. Ryan and Deci explained these similarities as a drive to behave in certain ways based on external sources and it results in external rewards” (Deci and Ryan, 1985). Those sources can be anything from grading systems, to gaining the respect of others (2020).

SDT also differentiates between autonomous motivation and controlled motivation, with autonomous motivation being self-directed and can come from extrinsic sources, yet with an understanding of the activity’s significance. Controlled motivation comes from external sources acted out of external rewards or fear of punishment (Ackerman, 2020).


A learner’s psychological needs

According to Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier & Ryan, every human has 3 psychological needs (1991):

• To feel competent: achieve the things you want to achieve

• The need for relatedness: develop meaningful relationships

• Autonomy: take initiatives and self-regulate

If we as instrumental teachers can satisfy these basic human needs then we can encourage motivation.

Instrument teachers can support this by:

• Helping the learners build competence through increased understanding

• Engaging the learners while attending to their socio-economic needs

• Helping the learners build upon and exercise autonomy by displaying the same behaviours.

• Asking what the students wants – guided lesson, not mastery

• Providing rationale to the lesson

• Praising effort and not achievement

• Encouraging parental support and involvement.

• Being involved yourself – turn up to exam centre and make your learners feel at ease.

• Encouraging self-initiated tasks and praise them for this.

• Feedback should be positive and support autonomy

• Giving the learner a choice on what to learn – especially for lessons you know the learner will not engage in.

• Never offer monetary or other prizes for achievement.

Tip: Teaching a drummer theory can sometimes be quite a difficult task. What I like to do is give them a choice of which note value they want to learn about, and we work on the identification of this and the different patterns you can use within that value. At this point, I take a song I know the student likes to play along with and have some fun trying to get the note value into the song. Then I move this knowledge into the RSL grade songs. At this point the student knows the value and is comfortable identifying and playing it, so will be intrinsically motivated to learn the grade song.

Rockschool Ukulele Method

As an instrumental teacher, you are pushing your students to pass an exam. You are ensuring that they get the best results possible by teaching them at the highest level, using RSL to guide them. This is standard practice across most instrument teachers within the UK, but by understanding extrinsic motivation causalities we can turn this to be intrinsic for the student. Parents or carers play an important part in motivation too. Using phrases like “if you pass this RSL grade 4 exam at merit or above I’ll buy you a new drum kit” may seem like a win-win for the student, but what if the student falls short? They will instantly feel demotivated and not good enough. Use the above list on how we can support students and we can make a start on keeping our students motivated the correct way.

The science behind motivation is thorough and there is a lot of information for teachers to help guide the learner, so I would recommend reading some of the articles presented in the bibliography to get a deeper understanding of SDT and how this can aid in understanding the needs of your learners.

Rockschool VIdeo Exams


Michael is a drummer, educator, and music psychologist from the North East of England. He runs Triple-T Drumming school of drums and has been teaching privately for 12 years.
He is currently researching drumming from a psychological point of view studying with Sheffield University, music psychology in education performance and wellbeing and his main interest is drumming and its effects on working memory.


Instagram: @tripletdrumming

Twitter: @tripletdrumming


Ackerman, C. (2020). Self-Determination Theory of Motivation: Why Intrinsic Motivation Matters. Retrieved 25 June 2020, from

Deci, Edward L., and Ryan, Richard M. (1985) Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior. 1st ed. New York: Springer Science Business Media, LLC, 1985. Perspectives in Social Psychology. Web.

Edward L. Deci, Robert J. Vallerand, Luc G. Pelletier & Richard M. Ryan (1991) Motivation and Education: The Self-Determination Perspective, Educational Psychologist, 26:3-4, 325-346, DOI: 10.1080/00461520.1991.9653137

Ryan, R. M. and Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25:54–67

Artists in Focus | Herbie Hancock

July 20th, 2020 by

An undisputed jazz legend, Herbie Hancock has evolved to stay current in every project he approaches.

From his early days playing in the Miles Davis Quintet in a trad jazz set up alongside jazz titans Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter, to his jazz-funk albums of the ‘70s with Headhunters, there’s little jazz music that isn’t influenced in some way by Herbie’s playing.

Herbie can play. Herbie can compose. And, at the age of 80, he remains as relevant as ever. His next album is set to be produced by Terrace Martin and feature a host of stars at the peak of their powers, including Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Flying Lotus, and Snoop Dogg to name but a few. In this blog, we take a look at how Herbie has moved with the times to consistently stay ahead of the curve and develop such a dedicated following.

piano grade 6 book cover

Herbie Hancock is the cover star of our grade 6 piano book.

Blue Note

Long before he pioneered electro funk and jazz fusion with his seminal 1973 album, ‘Headhunters’, Herbie started his career as a jazz pianist who, much like Nina Simone, emerged from a classical education to become a figurehead of the contemporary music scene. His debut album spawned the jazz standard ‘Watmermelon Man’, a 16 bar blues that has recently been covered by Poppy Ajudha for the Blue Note: Reimagined series, and gained the attention of Miles Davis.

It was with the Miles Davis Quintet that Hancock’s star truly began to rise. He was not only an integral member of one of the sharpest jazz groups of the time, but also a versatile and imaginative sideman who appeared on a number of records with different artists on the Blue Note label.

In 1964 he penned perhaps his most famous composition, ‘Cantaloupe Island’, which can be found on our grade 6 piano syllabus. It’s a fairly simple tune that pivots around three chords in a 16 bar structure. The melody is straightforward enough but it’s distinctly memorable, oozing cool and nonchalance. However, this doesn’t mean this tune falls into the category of ‘background’ or ‘lounge music’. The solo that Herbie takes, and that we’ve transcribed for our grade book, combines blues ornamentation with bebop phrasing to illuminate all the different shades of colour evident in the harmony, meaning the piece’s simple melody is explored and reimagined in a number of ways.

As is so often the case with jazz music, a simple melody and chord sequence is only the starting point. The “head” or main melody is a springboard for the musicians to leap off from, prompting and encouraging them to improvise, express themselves, and, ultimately, have fun!

Just take a look at this breathtaking performance from Liver Under the Sky in 1991. There are only four musicians onstage: Wayne Shorter of Weather Report fame, Omar Hakim, who played with everyone from David Bowie to Madonna, Stanley Clarke, and, of course, Herbie himself. Yet, they give a performance that is so full of energy, verve, and creativity there is no need for an impressive lights show, back up dancers, or moshing. Herbie teases the crowd as he plays around with the main riff before settling into a groove that will stay rock solid for the rest of the performance. The technical ability on show combined with these four musicians’ incredible nous for improvisation makes it an unforgettable watch.

Fun, right? The energy that the four are creating onstage can be traced through Herbie’s outlook years later. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Herbie discussed what the “spirit of jazz” means to him:

You know, the most important thing is the spirit of jazz — which is about freedom, about improvisation, about courage. I mean the courage to play something that you haven’t played before, to create something on the spot. And it’s also about sharing, because onstage we don’t compete with each other. Each of us expresses ourselves from our own being, and no two people are alike, so the idea of being judgmental is not on the table.

Jazz today

Jazz heavily influences a lot of hip hop, and over the past 10 years or so it seems that many rappers are acknowledging how so much of the music created today has its roots in jazz. Kendrick Lamar’s seminal album ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, released in 2015, featured jazz musicians such as Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus, and Robert Glasper, and included a huge amount of jazz idiom. This wasn’t simply in the form of the occasional sample or throwback to an old Blue Note record – jazz was very much front and centre, with Herbie’s influence permeating every corner of Lamar’s almost revolutionary sound.

Although he’s working on his first solo album for a while, Herbie is a mentor and incredibly well-respected figure in the music community at the moment. One musician he’s taken under his wing is the virtuosic Jacob Collier, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of harmony marks him out as one of the most exciting artists in generations. Definitely check out his music if you get a chance! In the meantime, check out this interesting discussion of music theory explain over five different levels of difficulty featuring both Jacob and Herbie.

If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to share it and check out last week’s blog on the revolutionary David Bowie, while you can learn more about the Rockschool repertoire here.

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Artists in Focus | David Bowie

July 14th, 2020 by

Our Artists in Focus series continues with appreciating both the musical and social contributions made by a number of artists on our repertoire.

This week’s blog focuses on David Bowie’s ever-changing artistic output and his unique performance style.

As a musician who shaped the world of pop music as we know it today, Bowie’s influence is only rivalled by Michael Jackson, The Beatles, James Brown and Madonna. He refused to stand still, constantly upping his game to reinvent not only his music, but also his stagecraft and the visual art that made him far more than ‘just’ a singer. His music, whether it be recorded at the height of his 1970s creativity or in his final years as he mused on his own mortality, sounds as relevant and fresh as ever, and marks him out as arguably the great musician of the twentieth century.

Brixton born

Born in Brixton, South London, just down the road from our Head Office in Teddington, it wasn’t until the age of 15 that Bowie formed his first band. At this point he was living in Bromley and began listening to Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Elvis Presley, all of whom would help to foster his distinctive style of showmanship.


The David Bowie that sits just on Tunstall Road, just round the corner from Brixton station and near to where Bowie grew up.

It was also while living in Bromley that Bowie acquired one of his most striking physical attributes: his iris which appeared to change colour. Bowie got this injury in a fight at school when a boy punched him in the eye. After months of hospitalisation, he was left with impaired depth perception and an iris that seemed to change colour.

His fascination with performing continued when studying at the London Dance Centre, which he enrolled at in 1967. There, under the tutelage of Lindsay Kemp, Bowie’s interest in commedia dell’arte, mime, and avant-garde theatre all helped to fuel his creativity when later creating the various personas such as Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust that would become synonymous with his music.

From Ziggy to ‘Blackstar’

Indeed, the guise of Ziggy Stardust helped the so-called “Cult of Bowie” to gather pace. After albums such as the eponymous ‘David Bowie’, ‘Hunky Dory’, and ‘The Man Who Sold the World’, whose title track features on our grade 3 Acoustic syllabus, he emerged with the Ziggy Stardust persona. Created as a melding of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed to be a “plastic rock and roller”, in Bowie’s own words, he would prove to be one of his greatest artistic achievements, and helped to spearhead the success of his album ‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’.

In an extract from an interview with Rolling Stone, Bowie discusses Ziggy’s purpose:

“Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a starman … this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the Earth. [He] starts to believe in all this himself and thinks himself a prophet of the future starmen. He takes himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make themselves real, because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist on our world. And they tear him to pieces onstage during the song ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.’”

Ziggy-mania began to take hold as fans across the globe grew enchanted by Bowie and his band. There began to be a blurring of lines between David and Ziggy for both the public and Bowie himself, yet he admitted that after an initial identity crisis he “woke up pretty quickly”.


‘The Man Who Sold The World’ features on the Rockschool Grade 3 acoustic syllabus.

This metatheatrical edge to Bowie’s creative output was neatly tied together in his final studio album, ‘Blackstar’, which was released a mere two days before his death from liver cancer. The lead single, ‘Lazarus’, opens with the lyrics:

Look up here, I’m in heaven

I’ve got scars that can’t be seen

This is a hugely poignant start to the song given Bowie’s illness, which was kept concealed from the world as his health deteriorated. The album enjoyed huge popular and critical acclaim and was considered a parting gift from Bowie before he passed away.

Glasto 2000

Like Beyoncé, as discussed in last week’s Artists in Focus blog, Bowie is a natural born performer who sought to provide his audience with a live spectacle that encompassed a number of styles and art forms beyond purely singing.

Bowie’s creative output was constant throughout his life, but he did spend less time in the public eye as he grew older. This didn’t diminish his star power, though, as proved by his headline set at Glastonbury 2000. Just as rapturous crowds followed his early days as he toured across the UK, America, and beyond, his later performances were met with a similar sense of awe and enrapture.

If the frock coat in this clip isn’t enough effortless cool for you, then the eerie reimagining of the introduction to one of his biggest hits, ‘Let’s Dance’, might just be enough to convince you of Bowie’s star power. Available on BBC iPlayer at the time of writing, it’s definitely one of the all-time classic Glasto performances. ‘Let’s Dance’ can be found on our grade 4 drums syllabus with the iconic hits and big snare sound making it a hugely fun piece to play for drummers of all ages!

If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to share it and check out last week’s blog on the peerless Beyoncé, while you can learn more about the Rockschool repertoire here.

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Download your free Exam Pack today!

July 9th, 2020 by

Download your free exam pack today to make the most out of your Rockschool graded music exam preparation and achieve your goals this summer!

Face to face exam packs

Face to Face Grade Exam Pack Face to Face Performance Certificate Exam Pack

Video exam packs

Video Grade Exam Pack Video Performance Certificate Exam Pack

At RSL Awards we want our students to enjoy their exam experience as much as possible. We understand that the exam day itself is simply the tip of a very big iceberg which consists of days, weeks, and months of practice in the hope of securing the next grade.

Making progress on your instrument isn’t always straightforward, and with such uncertainty at the moment you may find it difficult to motivate yourself ahead of your Rockschool graded music exam. Perhaps it feels too far away to feel real yet, you feel you have so much time you can always practise tomorrow, or maybe you just don’t want to play that scale for the zillionth time.

It’s completely normal to feel like this, but we believe that everyone can find the time and energy to motivate themselves to make progress on their instrument. Your Rockschool grade is so much more than half an hour in an exam room or a recorded video submission: it’s the culmination of your musical journey so far!

That’s where our brand-spanking new Exam Packs come in. Hot off the press, these downloadable PDFs will help you to stay on track during your practice sessions and identify your strengths and weaknesses while giving you useful tips from our allstar cast on how to master your nerves and smash your next exam! Split into video exam packs and face to face exam packs, we’ve got exam-specific tips and tricks to help you optimise your preparation.


We spoke to our team of Senior Examiners, all of whom are experts in their field, and managed to grab some of their secret top tips for calming nerves ahead of, and during, your exam. These guys know what they’re talking about and are at the top of their game when it comes to assessing Rockschool graded music exams, so take heed of what they say!

We also had a good old chinwag with our friend, James Banfield. A life coach and psychotherapist, James has plenty of experience when it comes to making the body feel calm and assured when nerves strike. Learn about the 7:11 breathing technique, posture, and more inside the Exam Pack.

And as for practising? Sure, it may feel good every time you sit down at the piano to play that chord progression you know inside out. Or maybe you’re a vocalist who has nailed their intervals in a tricky Beyoncé song and loves performing that one run time and again. This is all great stuff – it really is – but is it helping you improve as a musician in your practice?

It’s always important to challenge yourself in every practice session you do, so use our ten point system to chart your progress as you go from sightreading your performance piece to mastering it. We’ve got LOADS of blogs about practising from our much-loved Practise with Purpose series in the News section on our website, so go and check that out once you’ve downloaded your Exam Pack.

We know you wanted to learn more about some of your favourite artists too, so we’ve included a handful of profiles for some of our biggest cover stars discussing their stories to inspire and motivate you.

But that’s enough from us! Hit download today and find out how you can carefully track your progress ahead of your exam. It all starts with that first note!

Face to face exam packs

Face to Face Grade Exam Pack Face to Face Performance Certificate Exam Pack

Video exam packs

Video Grade Exam Pack Video Performance Certificate Exam Pack

Your safety is paramount in our upcoming UK & Ireland exam period. You can download our safety protocols to learn more about how we’re keeping you safe this summer.


The Rockschool summer exam period runs from 1st August to 17th September. Ready to take the plunge? Enter now!

Artists in Focus | Beyoncé

July 7th, 2020 by

Our Artists in Focus series continues with appreciating both the musical and social contributions made by a number of artists on our repertoire.

This week’s blog focuses on the remarkable career and achievements of Beyoncé Knowles.

I’m going to let you finish reading this blog but Beyoncé is one of the most iconic musicians of all time. It’s easy to take her incredible success for granted, but many of her contemporaries have faded away in the highly-competitive music industry. As the landscape of music has shifted, Beyoncé’s star has continued to shine bright. Her musical style has evolved to not only encompass new musical trends, but to lead the way when it comes to changing the musical paradigm.

Over the course of her career she has sold over 100 million records worldwide. To put that incomprehensible number into context, that’s more than the combined populations of the UK, Belgium, Sweden, and Denmark. In fact, you’d even have to throw in the population of Los Angeles on top of that to just about reach 100 million.

But before this blog starts sounding too much like a GCSE maths question, let’s delve into Queen Bey’s early career to find out how she became such an enduring cultural phenomenon.

Crazy In Love

Beyoncé was catapaulted to fame in 1997 as part of Destiny’s Child, but it was as a solo artist that she began to claim her seat at the top table of R & B and pop. Her first smash hit came in the form of ‘Crazy In Love’, a swaggering number with an infectious horns line that featured her future husband Jay-Z. Beyoncé won the Grammy for Best R & B Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2003 for ‘Crazy In Love’, and it appeared on multiple lists of the best songs of the decade. Rolling Stone even placed it 118 on their list of Top 500 Songs of All Time.


I Am…Sasha Fierce and Rockschool

Smash hits like ‘Irreplaceable’ propelled Beyoncé further to pop superstardom, and in 2008 she released her seminal album ‘I Am…Sasha Fierce’, simultaneously unleashing her alter-ego, Sasha Fierce, on the world. The album was met with varied critical response but spawned a number of monster hits, including the album’s lead single, ‘If I Were A Boy’; an upbeat US Number One, ‘Single Ladies’; and ‘Halo’, which became her most streamed song of all time on Spotify and features on our grade 6 female vocals syllabus.

Her creative output has been constant, with her albums ‘B’Day’, ‘4’, and the eponymous ‘Beyoncé’ receiving major critical acclaim while satisfying fans across the globe. One of her most adored songs from this era of her recording career, ‘Love On Top’, features on our grade 5 Electric Guitar syllabus. With acrobatic vocals and an abundance of key changes to keep instrumentalists scrambling for the next chords, this catchy pop tune about love is far from your average, straightforward 4 chord ditty!

Queen Bey continued to reinvent what it meant to be a popstar with her album ‘Lemonade’. Released in 2016, her sixth studio album was accompanied by a 65 minute long film on HBO and featured guest appearances from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Jack White, James Blake, and The Weeknd. Nominated for nine Grammys and generally considered to be one of the best albums of the twenty-first century, the album covers a wide number of themes and flits effortlessly between musical influences, all while retaining the Beyoncé hallmark of rich vocals, infectious melodies, and razor sharp lyrics.

Live Performances

Part of what distinguishes Beyoncé as a once in a generation artist is her versatility and strengths in a number of fields. She is a fabulous singer, of course, but she is an impressive performer and dancer, while she has also captured the imagination of many through her acting roles in ‘Dream Girls’ and the ‘Lion King’ to name a few.

Perhaps the pinnacle of her performing career was her 2018 headline set at Coachella. She was alleged to rehearse for a whopping 11 hours a day in the lead up to the event, and it was this preparation that was the subject of the Grammy award winning documentary, ‘Homecoming’ which is available to stream on Netflix.


Beyoncé has just accepted an award for her humanitarian services at the recent BET Awards, joining an illustrious line of recipients: Muhammad Ali, Rev. Al Sharpton and Quincy Jones, who you can read more about in our music production blog series, have all won the award previously.

Not one to shout about her own significant philanthropy, she has more recently used her sizeable platform and audience to call out systemic racism in the US and encourage people to vote in the upcoming presidential elections, as demonstrated by her acceptance speech at the BET Awards.

“You’re proving to our ancestors that their struggles were not in vain.”

“I’m encouraging you to continue to take action, continue to change and dismantle a racist and unequal system.”

“We have to vote like our life depends on it, because it does.”

The night saw performances from Alicia Keys, Roddy Ricch, and a stirring rendition of Nina Simone’s ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ by Jennifer Hudson.

If you’ve been inspired to listen to more of Beyoncé’s music, you can listen to a Spotify playlist of some of her best songs below.

If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to share it and check out last week’s blog on the inimitable Nina Simone, while you can learn more about the Rockschool repertoire here.

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