Category: Music Education

Claiming Expenses for Music Teachers | Guest Blog

February 25th, 2020 by

You may have heard that self-employed people get to claim expenses back against their tax bill. Now, this can be a daunting prospect, especially when you take this task on for the first time, but let’s take a look at a few things you can claim for and the overall logic behind this methodology.

This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge

There is a piece of legislation known as the Tax Act and this act states that self-employed individuals are entitled to claim back expenses that are incurred “wholly and exclusively for the purpose of trade”. There is an important factor in this: the term wholly and exclusively for the purpose of trade says in black and white that these are things you CANNOT trade without. Let’s read this another way – they are things you NEED for your business to function.

As a self-employed musician or a music teacher, it just so happens that a lot of things we will come across from a spending point of view tend to fall into this category. There is no cap on what you can claim, but these claims must be demonstrated to the tax authorities to prove that the expenditure was directly resulting from your work as a musician or music teacher.


You can claim expenses for things you need for your business to function.

Your expenses are submitted each year as part of your annual tax return. We will be covering this in a forthcoming blog post along with many other teacher business topics so keep checking back. In the meantime, let’s look at some key expense categories.


If you use your car for your business, you can claim a percentage of its usage costs as an expense. This can be split into two main categories: mileage relief or overall expenses.

Overall Motoring Expenses

This is all your consumables including road tax, tyres, oil, insurance, petrol, servicing, repairs, cleaning, breakdown cover and any other costs that might be incurred from owning a car. To work out the amount you are allowed to claim you must first look at your total usage costs for the year.

Let’s say in a year you do 10,000 miles and altogether on fuel and everything else you spend £2000, to get your expense figure you need to work out how many miles are business miles.

To make this easy, let’s go with 2000 business miles and 8000 personal miles. So that means 20% of your car use was business related. Take your total spend and divide it by 100 to get 1% then multiply by the percentage you used:

£2000 / 100 = £20

£20 x 20 = £400

Your total business motoring expense for the year would be £400.


Claiming Mileage

Mileage can be claimed are a flat rate as set out by HMRC:

45p per mile (Up to 10,000 miles)

25p per mile (All additional miles post 10,000)

If you choose to claim mileage allowance in this way you are unable to claim any other motoring expenses against the business. You cannot move between the two claim types – you must pick one and stick with it for the year. If you choose to claim mileage you must keep a mileage log.

Home Office

If you use a part of your home as a dedicated work area (i.e., the room is ONLY used for business reasons and not personal reasons) then a percentage of the running costs can be deducted. This includes home insurance, heating and lighting bills, water costs and rental costs.

If the room is used for personal or leisure use as well as business, then no deductions are allowed.

There are two methods you can use to work this out. Firstly, find your total cost for everything in the house (Rent/mortgage, insurance, utility bills) and write this down, then use one of the following:
1. Total cost / total number of rooms in the house = Single room deduction

2. Total square foot area of upstairs + total square footage of downstairs = total house size
Work out the square footage of the office space and then work out how much of a percentage this is of the total house size. This percentage is the amount you can deduct as an expense.

There are also other office-based expenses that you can claim providing they are solely for business use including:

Business percentage of phone line rental and usage

Advertising – leaflets, adverts, posters, online promotional costs

Website costs

Publicity Materials – giveaway items such as picks, badges, stickers, promotional photos

Consumables – sheet music, guitar strings, drumsticks

Stationery – paper, printing costs, business cards, pens, books etc.

Instruments and Other Expenses

As teachers, our instruments are our tools of the trade. There are a range of expenses that we can claim based on our instruments such as:

Instrument insurance

Instrument repair costs

Cleaning materials for instruments

Instrument hire when needed

Music and instrument stands

You are also eligible to claim professional membership costs such as Musicians Union memberships or any professional membership that enables you to perform your business role accordingly.

This is just a short overview of some items that are eligible for expensing as a self-employed music teacher. Check the HMRC website for full guidance on business expenses and speak to an accountant if you are unsure about anything that you may or may not be able to claim.

Remember the golden rule: if you cannot trade without the item/service, it counts as a business expense.

About the Author:

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

Teaching Rockschool – Drums Debut | Guest Blog

January 31st, 2020 by

With the start of a new decade, we’re excited to invite a whole host of new Rockschool teachers to give their tips, tricks guides and advice for our Guest Blog series. This week, we’re introducing drummer, educator and music psychologist, Michael Hutchinson from Triple-T Drumming based in the North-East of England.

Ready to roll! Michael poses for a picture with one of his drum students

Teaching Rockschool – Drums Debut

Welcome to a quick walkthrough on how to teach drums, starting with with early learners at the very start of their music education. As an instrumental teacher, many of you may not have formal training, and without structural influence teacher training can provide, building a lesson plan can be tough going when you have very little practical experience. We make mistakes and eventually loose students before we discover the right approach for them. Wrong or untrained techniques can lead to a demotivated student and your job – as a teacher is to motivate and inspire – can quickly seem jading and unfulfilling.

SIGN UP FOR FREE! RSL’s Teacher Registry advertises your services to music students in your area

In this article, I am going to take you through a couple of steps that could help you best serve the first students that come to you for help. Hopefully, these ideas will seem like common sense, but at the same time spark some new ideas, and if they do, allow you to implement them into your lessons and see how well they work. Debut grade is the longest and hardest grade to teach for the majority of students, young and old, because it is your learners’ first example of music tuition – so really concentrate on making it fun and exciting, and you’ll always be improving naturally over time.

Duncan Lee performs ‘Z’ from Rockschool Drums Debut on the XYZ Drum Channel

Things to Cover in This Grade

  • Holding the sticks – German, French, Traditional
  • Drum kit layout – Using terminology like ‘drum voice’
  • Counting – Why we count, how we count, understanding industry-standard counting techniques
  • Tempo – Can we keep time naturally, playing to metronome
  • Crotchets/Quarter Notes – both UK and US variants of this value
  • Quavers/Eighth Notes – both UK and US variants of this value
  • Drum Beat in 4/4, using eighth note and quarter note high hat patterns – Let’s play it, let’s count it
  • Moving the bass drum around that basic groove – 1 and 3 to start, then all quarter notes, then all 8th notes, then doubles
  • Rudiments – What are rudiments? Why is this knowledge useful?
  • Single Strokes in Quavers
  • Double Strokes in Quavers
  • Paradiddles in Quavers

“You can encourage reading music by standing next to the music stand and with a pencil point to the notes as they play. Younger students will take longer to master this skill, where you’re older students and adults may get this quicker.”

Reading Music

Reading music is possibly the hardest thing to teach, especially early on. In my experience, a student at this level will find it really challenging to look at the music and play the drums at the same time. Do not rush into reading music before you have both explored the drum kit first; got the grooves going; and have some fun! When you feel the student is ready, then introduce the scripted music bit by bit, recording their successes as you go.

Tip: You can encourage reading music by standing next to the music stand and with a pencil point to the notes as they play. Younger students will take longer to master this skill, where you’re older students and adults may get this quicker.

Hi! Stephan Seiler Drums plays through the Rockschool Drums Debut track “My Name Is” from Eminem

Passing the Exam

To successfully pass this grade, the student needs to be familiar with all of the above (see ‘Things to Cover in This Grade’), and more importantly, feel comfortable with all of the technical aspects before they can even think about entering an exam room. Using RSL books in conjunction with the above will help the student achieve a solid pass; however, they must feel comfortable, and that is your job as the teacher to get them to that level. Judging their ability to feel calm enough to perform whilst being watched by someone new is something that shouldn’t be ignored. Remember, this doesn’t, and shouldn’t, be something to fear. But, that means ensuring that every box is ticked, including mental prep before the big day.

The student must enjoy the song to play it well, and as a teacher, you should actively encourage your students to listen to the grade songs and choose four songs (3 for the exam and 1 spare) which they can identify with in some way. Never force a song onto a student if they don’t connect with it of any level.

Encouraging Personal Discovery

I’ll ask a question. Are you sure your way, is the right way? All students will have their quirks; and all players and educators will have them too! If you are teaching a technique, ensure that you’ve done your research on that specific technique, and identify any potential gaps in your approach. As educators, we must remember to expand our own knowledge over time. There is always something you don’t know that could improve you as a teacher, and in turn, the experiences of your students.

REPLAY! RSL’s interactive sheet music player gives you the ability to jam along with your favourite Rockschool performance pieces

Take stick grip, for example. Let’s take the ‘German Grip’: I have seen so many different variants of this grip, and I know I have changed my own approach over time to match my ergonomic style. Thanks to training from guys like Paul Elliott (Rockschool composer, educator and session player) and Gabor Dornyei, I have learned how to hold the sticks correctly, while adjusting to my own bodies specific dynamics. I do not teach my German Grip technique; I teach my guided version of the method, or more importantly, the correct technique, which should provide the best platform for a young player to grow and learn effectively.

Slow-Mo: Drummer, Stephen Taylor‘s ‘German Grip’ video breaks the technique down

Good advice and correct technique training should explain to the student the right way of completing the technique, but that it’s also ok to change certain aspects of it to match their body style. Never teach an idiosyncrasy specific to you, but create an open forum where they can decide what works for them over time.

About the Author:

Michael Hutchinson 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.

RSL’s Top 10 Ukulele Songs

January 22nd, 2020 by

Check out RSL’s top 10 performances that are here to argue the case for the often much-maligned (wrongly!) four-stringed instrument, the Ukulele.

The ukulele originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian adaptation of the Portuguese machete, a small guitar-like instrument, which was introduced to the Hawaiians by Portuguese immigrants, primarily from Madeira and the Azores. It gained great popularity elsewhere in the United States during the early 20th century and spread internationally from there. The tone and volume of the instrument vary with size and construction, with the Ukulele commonly coming in four sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone.

Rockschool Ukulele: You can currently study Rockschool Ukulele up to grade 3

The ukulele has since become a largely mass-produced, plastic instrument, manufactured by the millions throughout the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, which has since led to the ukulele receiving a fair share of scorn from musicians ever since. As far as we’re concerned, this criticism is wholly unfair. So, in defence of the ukulele, RSL HQ have put their collective minds together to present our 10 top performances that highlight the versatility and unique expression of the diminutive, but effective, Ukulele.

Paul McCartney, George Harrison & Ringo Starr — Ain’t She Sweet

Taken from the 1995 Anthology documentary series, the surviving Beatles get together on a summer day in George’s garden. Harrison, who was a big fan of the ukulele, leads this casual sing-along of “Ain’t She Sweet,” a call-back to a song the gang used to perform in their early years. We’re sure you’ll agree, it’s lovely to see them all gathered around a uke for a cup of tea and a sing-song. In Hawaii, where Harrison owned a retreat (and where he was known as ‘Keoki’), it’s said he bought ukuleles in batches and gave them away. The story may be legend, but it’s a nice image to remember him by all the same.

Queen – Good Company

While Brian May is best-known for his electric guitar acrobatics, he also played the ukulele on some of Queen’s material, one being “Good Company” from the band’s breakthrough LP, ‘A Night at the Opera’. May first began the song during his early school years when he first learned to play the uke. One of the main features of the song is that it contains a recreation of a jazz band in Dixieland style which was provided by May’s Red Special guitar played through a Deacy Amp. This is also one of the few Queen songs without Freddie Mercury participating at all!

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole – Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World (Medley)

It would be extremely remiss of us not to include this track in our list of top Uke-moments. Israel Kamakawiwoʻole. Known to his fans as ‘Iz’, the Hawaiian musician passed away in 1997, but his medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World” has become ingrained in Hawaiian culture. It’s become so popular, it is now the most requested version of the song by far, according to EMI publishing. That’s quite remarkable for a rendition with one voice, accompanied only by ukulele!

Eddie Vedder — Sleeping by Myself

The Pearl Jam front-man, Eddie Vedder, has always had a huge soft spot for the uke. ‘Soon Forget’, which featured on the bands ‘Binaural’ album released in 2000, contained a solo track accompanied by a uke, which served as a preview to Vedder’s solo project, ‘Ukulele Songs’ (2011), which comprised of his unmistakable vocals over a Ukulele only. ‘Sleeping by Myself’ is one of the album’s most popular tracks; a beautiful, forlorn and folky composition that highlights Vedder as an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right.

Taimane Gardner — Beethoven, System of a Down, Led and ACDC Medley

Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso Taimane Gardner, has been playing since she was knee-high to Don Ho. She was quite literally discovered by the Hawaiian music icon before going on to study under another in Jake Shimabukuro (who also appears on this list) even before he himself rode his ukulele magic to world stardom. You can check her out here as she tears through compositions from Beethoven, System of a Down, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC is one of her many, super-impressive uke-medleys.

Jake Shimabukuro — While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Racking up almost 17 million views on YouTube, the YouTube uke classic is one of the site’s first viral videos! This clip introduced modern day ukulele virtuoso and Honolulu native, Jake Shimabukuro, to the world. Since then, Jake has become a living legend of the instrument, and this is the video that started it all. For those who’d like to dig a little deeper, an award-winning documentary was released in 2012 tracking his life, career, and music, titled ‘Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings.’ Go check it out!

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain – Psycho Killer (Talking Heads Cover)

The Orchestra was formed in 1985 as a bit of fun, but after the first gig was an instant sell-out, they have been performing ever since. By 1988 they had released an LP, appeared on BBC TV, played at WOMAD and recorded a BBC Radio 1 session. The current ensemble has been playing together for over 20 years, and has become something of a national institution. Below, you can revel in their endearing version of Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’, which was performed at the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms in 2009. You can watch this, and all the other performances from the night on their DVD “Prom Night”.

Honoka & Azita — Bodysurfing

Honoka Katayama and Azita Ganjali were 15 and 13, respectively, when this jaw-dropping display of ukulele ingenuity appeared on YouTube of the pair performing a killer cover of Ohta-San’s “Bodysurfing” on a gorgeous beach in their native Hawaii. The duo were named MVPs of the 2013 International Ukulele Contest in Honolulu and — as you’ll be able to see from the video below — it’s easy to see why from their playing. After the contest, they opened for the popular music festival in Okinawa, Japan, and regularly performed at the Hard Rock Cafe in Honolulu.

James Hill — Billie Jean

James Hill, an award-winning ukulele player and songwriter hailing from Canada, has been called a “ukulele wunderkind,” and an artist who “gives the ukulele its dignity back without ever taking himself too seriously.” Performing live for a crowd in California, Hill and his “imaginary band” illustrate these comments perfectly during an enchanting version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” With just a uke, Hill plays the bass line, percussion, and piano parts. Put it all together, and you have a fascinating one-man ukulele performance.

Noah & The Whale – 5 Years’ Time (Sun, Sun, Sun)

No, this isn’t a trailer for the latest Wes Anderson film – it’s the ultra-catchy, top 10 hit from 2007 by Noah & the Whale! Since it was uploaded to YouTube on 13 June 2008, and as of January, 2020, it has been viewed almost 12 million times. The singer-songwriter sensation, Laura Marling, provides backing vocals on this track. Only a teenager at the time, Laura used to often perform with Noah and the Whale before striking out on her own. She also went out with frontman Charlie Fink for a time with the bands second album, ‘First Days of Spring’ being a concept record based on Fink’s emotional meltdown after their eventual split.

As some of you may already be aware, Rockschool’s second instalment of their Method Book series will focus on the Ukulele in 2020, with plans to extend the grade exams all the way up to grade 8 already in the development phase. Keep your eyes peeled for updates on our social channels very soon!

Quick Tips: Choosing a Free Choice Piece | Guest Blog

January 15th, 2020 by

A really fun and engaging part of Rockschool’s grade exams is the option to perform a track you love that does not appear on the current syllabus material.

A ‘Free Choice Piece’, or ‘FCP’, is an additional performance piece that can be chosen to showcase your skill level at the particular grade instead of one of the tracks already assigned by Rockschool. But, how do you decide if what you’ve chosen is the right track?

This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge

You’ve worked really hard towards your final performance, so it would be a massive shame if your FCP was the thing that brought your marks down. So, with this in mind, I thought it would be really beneficial for many teachers and their candidates if I took the time to concentrate on how to look at Rockschool’s criteria for choosing your FCP’s, and how to ensure that you pick the right track before your grade performance.

How Many Free Choice Pieces Can I Play?

All candidates of Graded Music Exams can perform a maximum of two free choice pieces in addition to one performance piece from the Rockschool grade book for each level. If you are taking a Performance Certification Exam however, you are allowed to perform a maximum of three free choice pieces alongside two Rockschool grade book pieces. The criteria for choosing a piece is that is must be a popular genre such as pop, rock, blues, country, metal (and, of course, any other that you can think of!) and should contain enough content that displays the technical and musical competence for the specific grade you are working on. Original compositions are also acceptable, again, providing they meet the criteria for that grade, as stated in the official Rockschool guidelines.

Quick Tip: if a student approaches you with a piece they’d like to consider, but it doesn’t tick all the boxes, as a teacher you could work with the student to find a similar piece by the same artist that they may feel comfortable using in its place.

Positive Prep: a student and teacher at The Rhythm Studio break down a Rockschool Drums piece

Rockschool Criteria

If you are looking for a starting place, check out this great resource on Free Choice Pieces which provides a downloadable list for each instrument type. This instrument based guide will break down the criteria that a piece of each level should contain. It goes into a lot of detail that you can then use to aptly cross-reference with your chosen track(s) to determine if it’s suitable for the grade in question.

Each entry will list the skills and techniques that must be included, as well as any other techniques that has been specifically included within the compositions produced by Rockschool in each book. Finally, it will also give an indication of the theoretical understanding required. For example, the grade 8 electric guitar criteria states that the candidate should have “complete mastery of the fretboard”. Although this could seem quite a broad statement, it is something you must consider when asking yourself “does my track do a good job in demonstrating this?”.


Backing Tracks

All free choice pieces must be played with a backing track with the part you are performing removed so that the examiner can hear your playing clearly. The feasible availability of a good backing track must also be a part of the consideration process, and can often be overlooked when choosing.

Do not start practising a FCP for your upcoming exam until you have secured the backing track first. It may all be a waste of time, and cause you unnecessary stress, in a time when you should be enjoying your playing and looking forward to the challenge presented by the exam. As a seasoned Rockschool teacher, you should be able to check the piece against the assessment criteria to make sure that it ticks all the relevant boxes; but if you have any concerns at all, contact RSL straight away and the Academic Team will be more than happy to help you assess your progress.

About the Author:

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

Practise with Purpose | Get Exam Ready and Enter Now!

January 9th, 2020 by

The big day is almost here! The deadline for Rockschool exam entries is next Friday, 17th January, so this week let’s think about nailing your exam technique.

girl practising drums
Ready or Not? Don’t practise until you get it right, but until you can’t get it wrong!

Learn Your Material

Your first priority when preparing for an exam should be to ensure that the material you’re playing is secure. Don’t just practise until you get it right, practise until you can’t get it wrong!

It’s important to have as much control as you can over your prepared material. Whether you’re aiming for a pass, merit, or distinction, you should make your performance secure overall, even in the face of exam day nerves.

There is plenty of existing material in the News section of our website on dealing with pre-performance nerves, while our Rockschool Method series focuses more intently on the individual components of exams. Check out our specific articles dedicated to looking at Performance Pieces, Technical Exercises, and more!

Use Nerves to Your Advantage

Nerves and exams come hand in hand, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing! For a start, if you’re nervous it means you’re conscientious and want to do well, which is a good sign. You might be anxious because you’re performing in front of an examiner you’ve never met, but don’t worry! Examiners will do their best to put you at ease, and remember that they only want to see you do well. They’ve all been in your shoes when they were first starting out!

The adrenaline of an exam can be quite exhilarating too. You may not get the opportunity to show off your skills that often, so make the most of it and do your best. That’s all anyone can ask!

We spoke to psychotherapist and life coach, James Banfield, about dealing with exam nerves. You can find his tips for dealing with performance anxiety in the video below:

Liberate Your Mind! Check out 3 Top Tips for tackling performance anxiety

Get Used to the Exam Format

It’s one thing to be able to play all your pieces and technical exercises well at home, but just as crucial to your success is the ability to do this in an exam situation. To prepare for playing your material in this scenario, try doing a mock exam with your teacher.

In your exam you’ll have the option of starting with either your technical exercises or performance pieces. Try doing two mock exams, playing technical exercises followed by performance pieces the first time and then swap round the second time, seeing which one you prefer. You might opt to use the technical exercises as a chance to warm up, or you may want to dive straight into your pieces; see which one you feel more at ease starting with!

A complete breakdown of marks from your teacher isn’t necessary for the mock exam to be worthwhile. The exercise is worth it simply for the opportunity to walk through the pieces and technical exercises all in one session, giving your stamina a boost. Exams are rewarding, but they can be mentally and physically draining, so it’s best to get some experience of playing for extended periods of time beforehand.


Mistakes Happen

There’s a reason everyone says mistakes are a completely normal part of music-making. The sooner you embrace the fact that errors are inevitable when you’re playing, the more content you’ll be. A distinction grade, reserved for exceptional players, is attained at 90%. This means there’s still room for 10 marks to be lost with no repercussions on your overall grade.

Don’t dwell on mistakes. Instead, focus on what you’ve got left to perform and do it to the best of your ability. What might seem like a catastrophic, glaring error from your perspective will most likely be a very minor slip to the examiner and definitely not the end of the world!

Check out our senior examiners’ advice in the clip below. We think you’ll find they agree with us!

Take Control! Some of our Senior Examiners explain how to stay calm during your exam

That brings us to the end of our Practise with Purpose blogs – we hope you enjoyed them and that you’ll continue to use our FREE Practise with Purpose Diary to make the most of your preparation. Best of luck to all of you who are already registered for exams taking place in February and March. If you haven’t registered and think you’re ready to take the plunge, then sign up below and start your Rockschool journey today!


RSL 2019: A Year in Review

December 20th, 2019 by

With another year (almost) added to the RSL history books, the month of December presents an opportunity for us to think back on all of the things we, and our partners – both domestically and abroad – have achieved together supporting contemporary arts education worldwide.


A new year often means new recruits her at RSL HQ! Before we break down all the wonderful things that have happened over the last 12 months, we’re going to take a moment to introduce all of the staff members that joined the team in 2019.

Name: Johan Droskie

Title: Head of IT

Artists: Queen, Simon and Garfunkel, Linkin Park

Bio: Previously Director of R&D at HoistGroup Development, Johan was responsible for the development life cycle of HotSoft, a Hotel Property Management Software used in 2000 hotels and various other sets of software related to hotel management. With more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry, he has also worked with Point of Sale systems, Private Medical care, Insurance and hardware automation.

Name: Ray Matthews

Title: Technical Analyst

Artists: Earth Wind & Fire, Pat Metheny Group & Brian Eno

Bio: Ray has been working within the IT sector for nearly 20 years with experience in both the educational and private sectors. Previous to starting a career in IT he was a musician, producer and studio engineer, working on many different and varied projects in the jazz, pop, classical & world music genres. He has also released two albums of ambient music on iTunes & Google Play under the name of Nominal Silence.

Name: Sam Coade

Title: Marketing Executive

Artists: Noname, FKJ, Land of Rubber Men

Bio: Recently dubbed 2019’s “most promising young influencer” by GQ, Sam is pleased to have joined RSL’s marketing team towards the end of this year, if only to distract him from the chaos unfurling under the Kroenke regime over in North London. Sam cannot wait for 2020 and the chance for a third crack at the Europa League knockout stages as Matteo Guendouzi continues to blossom. He also dabbles in jazz, playing the sax and piano in funk-salsa-rave ‘90s covers band Nipples of Venus, who have been tipped for next year’s Mercury Prize at the time of writing. #welcomeArteta

Name: Laura Hall

Title: Examiner Panel Coordinator

Artists: Muse, Stevie Wonder, The 1975

Bio: Laura coordinates the recruitment, training and standardisation of our examiners. She studied a BA and MA in Music at Oxford Brookes. She plays the flute mostly – you can find her on Spotify somewhere. She will be starting drum lessons with fellow new starter Tom Moore soon! Before coming to RSL Laura worked in admin and marketing at ABRSM. She also likes cats.

Name: Alice Slaven

Title: Vocational Qualifications Officer

Artists: Tom Petty, Leonard Cohen, Mark Knopfler

Bio: With an international background, having lived in 6 countries and territories across 4 continents, Alice has built a career in the education sector both in the UK and internationally. This has given experience as a school administrator and international student advisor in higher education, as well as organising events for international HE professionals. With a lifelong love of music, Alice has enjoyed sound editing and mixing for a number of years, and collects vintage audio equipment.

Name: Alex Wilson

Title: Exams Officer

Artists: Kit Downes, Esperanza Spalding, Buena Vista Social Club

Bio: Exams Officer Alex Wilson recently graduated from Oxford University with a degree in music and is widely engaged as a pianist and musician. In recent years, Alex has performed at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, La Petite Halle, Paris, and at the London Jazz Festival with his own group. Away from jazz, Alex has participated in masterclasses with Yo Yo Ma and the Villiers Quartet along with other classical performances. Lately, Alex has enjoyed writing the music for a production at the Tristan Bates Theatre in December and teaching several piano pupils in his free time.

Name: Liam Jackson

Title: Senior Graphic Designer

Artists: The Prodigy, Aphex Twin, Cypress Hill

Bio: Liam’s Graphic Design career has seen him previously work in-house, agency side and freelance with clients and experience including NHS, Sainsbury’s, Canon, Argos, M&C Saatchi, Fabric, V Recordings and more. With a passion for music, music production and dj-ing alongside design he is happy that he is able to mix his love for both design and music through his role at RSL.

Name: Tom Moore

Title: Administrator

Artists: Nipples of Venus, Belle MT and Caroline Ross (Harpist)

Bio: I’ve been playing drums, recording, touring and teaching for almost 2 decades – this has incredibly opened up many doors for me within the industry; one most notable was meeting my fellow 2019 starter Sam_Coade_Official (v) and together becoming the founders of the esteemed Tall Person’s Club. It’s with this establishment that has lead us to being featured in such favourable publications as Tall Magazine, 7 Feet and Beyond and Handsome Weekly.

Name: Nathalie Gouverneur

Title: Director of Marketing and Communications

Artists: “Favourite artist? Too many to mention! But high-level I would have to say Madonna, (that is until I saw her performance at the recent Eurovision Song Contest…). I admire her more as a brand: I think she has been an undeniable genius, having a chameleon-like ability to re-invent herself ahead of any prevailing cultural wind, whilst remaining true to her brand attributes over the last 3 decades.”

Name: Fern-Chantele Carter

Title: Head of Compliance and Responsible Officer

Artists: David Bowie, The Beatles, The B Sharps

Bio: Fern joins RSL as Head of Compliance and Repsonsible Officer in September this year. She is an experienced Head with a history of working in the staffing and recruiting industry in a number of different roles based around South West London. She is enjoying the experience of working in such an exciting and creative company, and looks forward to the opportunities 2020 will bring!


Operating out of more than 45 countries now means that our international team have been busier than ever!

There have been too many trips to mention them all, but we’d like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of our international teams, reps, teachers and hardworking members from every RSL network around the world! Here’s a few stories from the team:

Helena Pieroulli, International Business Development Manager

RSL in Brazil! Helena in Rio

“As always, Brazil is a highlight for me. This year I had the opportunity of visiting new towns and cities and spent some time with our new representative Laurindo and our new partner Rafael from In Concert. Driving over 1000km from Rio de Janeiro to Blumenau was a specific highlight for me as I got to see some amazing views of Brazil. Aside from that, I always enjoy my time in Portugal, Cyprus, Greece and Italy which feels like a home away from home. Many thanks to our hard-w
orking reps who always do a fantastic job. See you in 2020!”

Tim Bennett-Hart, Director of Academic

RSL China: Tim with reps from around the country at the RSL China Reps Conference

“It was a great pleasure to speak at the China Reps conference in X’ian in May and to hold a 2 day training session on teaching contemporary music. Thanks to Lillian and the whole team in China for such an enjoyable trip and to opening my eyes to musical learning in China. Over the week I met with over 200 colleagues who all used and enjoy the Rockschool Material.”

Bonjourno! Tim speaks to teachers in Italy

“In October I delivered three seminars in Milan, Rome and Naples for music teachers with our country reps Luca (North and Central) and Adriano and Genni (South). It was a great privilege to understand the similarities and differences between teaching in Italy and the UK. Over the week I met with over 120 engaging teachers who work in contemporary music.”

Henriette Madsen, International Business Development Manager

RSL India: Henri during her visit to Vatsal School of Music, conducting their first ever exams!

“This year has been our second full year of operating our Indian subsidiary company in Delhi and much of my focus was once again on making sure we did everything we could to share the RSL word across India. This meant no less than 4 trips by the RSL UK team to India this year of which I did two. It was as always such a pleasure to meet with all of the passionate and dedicated teachers and students across India and I managed to get to no less than 12 cities: Delhi, Lucknow, Guwahati, Darjeeling, Raipur, Bhilai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Bhubaneshwar, Dimapur, Ranchi and Shillong. Not to mention a stop in Kathmandu, Nepal where we did our first exams through our Indian business this year.”

RSL in Germany: Matthias (Director of Operations) talks in Rellingen, Germany

“As a team we also found time for a few European visits and I particularly enjoyed spending time with the Yamaha Europe team as well as all of the German Yamaha Music School owners in Rellingen, Germany last month. When 2020 kicks off, I will be straight off to Prague to meet with new centres there followed by visits to our new representatives in Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary. I would like to say a big thank you to all of our business partners, representatives and teachers for making 2019 so exceptional. I can’t wait for 2020 to be an even bigger success!”

Conor Burns, International Business Development Manager

RSL Asia: Conor has travelled extensively around the region this year

“It’s been a highly exciting year of travel for me, starting with a tour of the Philippines to launch our new partnership with Magnus Creative Music, covering six cities and roughly 1500 miles. I even got to eat some Filipino delicacies that were certainly eye opening! In September, along with the wonderful RS Center team in Singapore we launched the Piano Method books. From there Rockie Siew and I spoke with International Schools in Malaysia and Brunei about our world class VQ courses before I flew onto to Hong Kong to meet RSL’s fantastic new Representatives Kelly Chan and Anson Tang. I was also spoilt rotten with Frank Lee treating me to a prime rib dinner at the famous Hugo’s restaurant!”

Thanks to Rockie! Conor (far left) and Rockie (right) have worked intimately throughout 2019

“You may notice that my year in review, much like myself, is heavily food focussed but I would like to end with a special recognition of one of RSL’s most highly respected and experienced International Representatives, Rockie Siew. Rockie has celebrated a milestone birthday recently and has been working for RSL while I was still in nappies! Happy Birthday Rockie and thank you for your tireless hard work and for making RSL the success it is today in Malaysia, Brunei and beyond.”


Below you’ll find a month-by-month breakdown featuring some of our favourite highlights from over the last 12 months. From studio sessions and brand-new books to insightful interviews and international events – here is 2019’s Year in Review!


The Abbey Roads Studios Sessions

We love nothing more than when we get to include our tutors and their students in one of our projects. In this instance, we were fortunate to include both!

In December 2018 we announced that one lucky competition winner had the chance to tour the world-famous Abbey Road Studios AND take part in an RSL recording sessions based on our latest piano arrangement of John Lennon’s iconic track ‘Imagine’.

Proud day: Piano teach, Adam, points to Charlie’s parents in the booth above

Our winner was 9-year-old Charlie Connell from Essex, who was joined by his piano teacher, Adam Moore and his parents for the day. Charlie was an absolute star! So much so, that Charlie’s performance actually featured on the official Rockschool Piano 2019 syllabus!

Looking on: Charlie’s parents look on as their son plays the piano in Abbey Road Studios

“It was a fantastic prize and to be surrounded by all that history was an overwhelming experience!” Doug Connell (Charlie’s father)

All in the family: Charlie is embraced by mum and dad after his part is recorded


Rockschool Piano and Keys (2019 Edition)

OUT NOW! The Piano and Keys trailer features professional pianist Rob Stanley

In February, RSL completely overhauled its combined Piano & Keys offering from 2016 to provide a contemporary upgrade for today’s musician, with two separate editions for each instrument.

For each grade we included we included our most varied collection of specifically arranged tracks from both contemporary (Ariana Grande, Pharrell Williams, Chvrches) and classic (Ray Charles, Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin) artists from over the past seven decades. Each collection also contains compositions from iconic films and musicals, such as: Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Pirates of the Caribbean, E.T. and Schindler’s List, which we feel is an important genre of instrument-specific music, perfectly suited for both editions.

Whilst the piano release was engineered to educate the modern pianist, and validate the instrument as an essential tool for the ever-evolving world of popular music; the Keys collection was focused on providing keyboard-specific arrangements, that utilise varied levels of sound manipulation, patch switching, layers and splits. We hope both syllabuses serve to complement each other in their desire to take each style of piano as a important, expressive instrument in their own right.


In-Tune Video Series

We felt it was important RSL celebrated ‘International Women’s Day‘ with the rest of the world on the 8th March this year. With many wonderful women working in music education, arts charity and the music industry, we decided to release our first long-form interview with female figures that could inspire the next generation of young performers. For episode 1, we talked to Estella Adeyeri: bassist of black, female, punk trio, Big Joanie.

Big Talk: Estella talked creative influences, Girls Rock London, the #MeToo movement

The aim of the interview was to kick-start a conversation around the topic of ‘women in the music industry’, and openly discuss a variety of issues surrounding music, in both education and the commercial world.

If you’d like to watch the interview in-full (2 parts) click here >>

Big Talk II: Nadia talked creative influences, school bullying, the pros and cons of self-releasing

For episode 2, we caught up with the passionate, pop-punk front-woman, Nadia Javed: guitarist/lead vocals for The Tuts. We talked creative influences, school bullying, the pros and cons of self-releasing, cultural heritage, performance anxiety, advice for the next generation of female artists, and much more!

For Nadia’s fun-filled two-part interview just click here >>

We absolutely loved catching up with both of these inspiring, young, figures (thank you both!) and we looked forward to adding more faces to the series next year!


1, 2, 3, 4: Count-Ins!

Now, this is, of course, not the only thing that happened this April; but we thought it important to include, and here’s why! After listening to feedback on our latest Guitar, Bass and Drums syllabuses, we decided to update the count-ins for each of the 162 performance pieces in each of the grade books. We tried something new in 2018 – with good intention – but only after theses audio packages reach our audiences did we find out that the original method was ideal and didn’t need changing. If it ain’t broke, right?

Rockschool Electric Guitar: Click on the books above to visit the RSL Store to re-download your audio

With this proverb in mind, we decided to revert all of Guitar, Bass and Drum count-ins back to the original style with all future releases doing the same.

Rockschool Bass Guitar: Click on the books above to visit the RSL Store to re-download your audio

For those of you who still have older versions that you would like updated, you can now download the latest files by logging into your Rockschool account and re-using the same download links as before. It’s as simple as that!

Rockschool Drums: Click on the books above to visit the RSL Store to re-download your audio


Vocational Qualifications 2019

May is not only the start of our summer exam period – the busiest time of the year for us here at RSL UK – but it is also the month where 5400+ learners from the 240+ schools and colleges across the UK will all be receiving their RSL VQ results.

Whether a centre delivers Music Performance, Live Sound, Composition & Production, Music Business, Musical Theatre or Acting & Dance Performance (for example) it is our pleasure to have the opportunity to assess such an overwhelming variety of work from so many ambitious, talented learners, looking to make their mark in their chosen creative fields.

Kidderminster College: Hannah and Imogen sit down to talk about their goals in the summer

To the thousands of learners that achieved the results that they wanted – well done and congratulations! We know how much goes into these courses and it’s great that all of their efforts have been rewarded. Unfortunately, there will also be other learners who will not have achieved the grades they wanted. The first thing to remember here is: this is not the end, and we’re always here to help! These results do not have to affect any learners’ future goals, and we’re always onboard to get people back on track!

Mas Records: Jack and Olly talk through their experience on the Mas Records Artist Development course

Next year, we’ll be releasing our first video series that aims to give you an insight into the world of RSL Vocational Qualifications, starting off with the wonderful project run out of Kidderminster College – including an on-site record company, Mas Records! Keep your eyes peeled in 2020 for updates.

Coming Soon! A new series focusing on the wonderful work VQ centres do starts with Kidderminster College in 2020

Thank you to everyone working to provide the best education possible for these learners. Here’s to an even better year in 2020!


New RSL Honorary Fellowships!

RSL was honoured to present an Honorary Fellowship to multiple Grammy award winning pioneers: Billy Cobham and Randy Brecker, to a packed-house at the legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club this June.

A fellowship of RSL is currently the highest honour that RSL can bestow. Fellowships are presented to acknowledge practitioners who have contributed to the development of their art form and inspired the students of RSL qualifications to achieve their best, whilst promoting good practice within the music education sector itself.

Billy Cobham: The innovative drummer receives his award from RSL’s John Simpson (CEO) and Norton York (Founder)

A huge fan of both influential artists, our CEO, John Simpson, was in attendance to present the fellowships in person, stating: “To be able to welcome not one, but two incredibly influential musical figures into the RSL family is very exciting. To do so in front of a packed house at the legendary Ronnie Scott’s – incredible! Huge thanks to both Billy and Randy for making it an evening to remember, and for continuing to inspire the next generation of musicians around the world.

Randy Brecker: John and Norton at the legendary Ronnie Scott’s with the legendary, jazz-man

We look forward to adding more inspirational, influential figures to the list of RSL Honorary Fellows – from both the music and education worlds – next year.

Until then, thank you to all everyone who continues to improve the lives of young artists and musicians in alignment with the RSL network.

RSL Spain: Records Breakers!

When we received news from our Spanish team about Crazy Drummers Day, we just had to get involved. The event was held in Quintanar de la Orden, (Toledo, Spain) with only goal in mind: beating the Guinness World Record for the ‘Biggest Battery Crescendo’.

All the participating drummers, many of them from Rockschool centres all over Spain, played the Rockschool track ‘Munky Fusic’ during the attempt – a classic from our Drums Grade 1 material. How did they do? Of course, they broke the record! A massive felicidades to all participants and to everyone that helped to make the event such a success!

You can watch the video below!

If you’d like to read one of our recent features on one the venues currently in the RSL Spain, click on the image below to read about how lead guitar teacher and owner of Rock School Coruña, Miguel Thomas Marfany, has used Rockschool materials to teach one-on-one and group lessons to hundreds of students across the Galician region.

Rockschool Stories: This instalment focuses on one of our favourite Spanish music schools


RSL Presents: Replay!

July saw RSL continue to develop resources that empower teachers and students alike, with a brand-interactive sheet music player in partnership with Music Gurus.

Replay is an interactive sheet music player that syncs notes with an audio backing track. While you’re playing along, you can adjust tempos, loop bars and switch between backing and performance tracks, making it a perfect addition to any Rockschool practise session. For those of you who remember the initial launch back in July, you’ll know that it included all Rockschool performance material for drums, guitar and piano. But in case you didn’t already know, all Rockschool Acoustic Guitar and Rockschool Keys fans can now take advantage of Replay since each performance element was added to the platform this November!

Replay: We caught up with drummer, Andy Franklin, to see how Replay helps him and his students make the most of their lessons

Replay is powered by Rockschool’s digital partner, Music Gurus, who have been making flipped-classroom video content with professional musicians and educators utilising Rockschool’s material since 2017. When you purchase a Replay product directly from RSL, you will automatically be given a link to access the product, which is hosted on the Music Gurus website. Login details will remain the same for customers who have already been taking advantage of Music Gurus Rockschool video lessons, whilst customers making their first Music Gurus purchase will automatically have their account details created when purchasing their Replay products.

“Since 2017, Music Gurus and RSL have sought to innovative the music education sector together. Now delivering online-exams in over 20 countries globally, an interactive sheet music tool to support quality student practice via the Rockschool range is something we’re both really excited to introduce for 2019.” Tom Rogers, Co-Founder (Music Gurus)


Teacher Registry Revamp

August saw the RSL Teacher Registry receive a big update, helping more music teachers reach potential students than ever before – not just in the UK, but all over the world!

To celebrate RSL’s Teacher Registry refresh, we also asked our customer to nominate their favourite music teacher to appear on our social channels. For our first round of #FeatureMyTeacher, our most popular Rockschool tutors were drummer-tutor, Matt Furness, Rebecca Tunnicliffe (RJ Music Tuition) and Anuj Lewis from Macky’s Guitar Classes.

#FeatureMyTeacher: The campaign asked students to nominate their favourite music teachers on the RSL Teacher Registry

It was really inspiring to see how their lessons have helped to motivate and instil confidence in their students and we plan to feature many more of our wonderful registered music teachers throughout 2020.

If you would like to sign up to RSL’s Teacher Registry, simply click on the image below for details!

International Teacher Nominations

Finalists: Our three RSL International teachers

We were so overwhelmed with entries, we actually filtered out our favourite entries from outside of the UK and used them in our feature for #WorldTeachersDay a couple of months later in October.

International Teachers’ Day is a chance for us to recognise all of our music teachers worldwide. Despite being a British-based company, it’s really important that we take the time to recognise all of the hard-work, patience and devotion that goes into teaching music to a range of ages and skill levels all over the world.

To read about how Luca (Italy), Marko (Serbia) and Firdaus (Singapore) have helped influence young musicians in their regions, click on the link here!


Rockschool Acoustic Guitar: Re-tuned for 2019!

To say September was busy would be a huge understatement! Probably our most anticipated update in our history, Rockschool set September as the month for our complete re-tuned of the acoustic guitar syllabus!

‘Rockschool Acoustic’ set a new tone, with a complete set of upgrades this September. With 6 new arrangements from some of music’s most iconic figures to perform in the last 8 decades; each instalment navigating an array of era-defining styles and techniques – from the 1930’s all the way up to the present-day.

Rockschool to Rockstar: Max Helyer talks about his experiences as music student to international rock star

For the very first time, we decided to add vocal parts to 4 songs of the 6 recordings found at each grade. These ‘Session-Style’ tracks give each player the opportunity to replicate a recording session, or live performance, each time they sit down to practise. This not only allows students to develop a better sense of time and rhythm; it also presents the perfect habitat for each session to encourage the evolution of each players’ interpretation of tone and stylistic choices.

The remaining 2 tracks per grade take the spotlight and aim it front and centre, with a pair of instrument-specific, solo-guitar arrangements that more intensely navigate the acoustic guitars’ range of melodic expression. This is your opportunity to learn from generational genius such as Django Reinhardt, Tommy Emmanuel and Kaki King, expanding your instrumental techniques in the process (including how to use the guitar as a percussive instrument!)

Giorgio Serci: Educator and Acoustic specialist, Giorgio, talks through his own involvement in our most ambitious acoustic syllabus yet

Rockschool’s Very First Piano Method Books

After our new-and-improved second instalment of Rockschool Acoustic Guitar hit music shops, we found just about had enough time to include another first for the very same month. September also saw us release our premier Rockschool Piano Method books that sought to bring a contemporary approach to a student’s first steps on the piano.

Piano Method Book 1
Rockschool Piano Method: Book 1

No matter how a beginner learns, the books used to kick-start their journey can be really important. When it came to developing a book for such a well-trodden path, RSL reached out to the most important people in any of their new projects: music teachers and their students. What they found was that the best piano books for beginners are those that reinforce the fundamentals while also keeping the student engaged throughout.

You can find a slew of method books online today, but many of them seem to lack a contemporary feel that can truly captivate a new generation of music students; potentially motivated to play by a wider variety of musical influences than ever before. With this in mind, the Rockschool Piano Method books should give a new player time to ease into the craft of playing the piano, whilst providing an in-depth understanding into the fundamental techniques that the greatest pianists still rely on today.

Piano Method Book 2
Rockschool Piano Method: Book 2

Book 1 takes readers from the initial approaches to playing piano through to performing their first pieces with both left and right hands. Book 2 then acts to advance these skills so that by the middle of the book readers are prepared to tackle Rockschool Debut Piano, and by the end, Grade 1.

To find out more about both releases, you can read about them, in-full here >>


Professional Diplomas

After September took us pre-Rockschool with our first ever Piano Method Book, October saw us go post-Rockschool with a redesign of our Professional Diplomas for three distinct pathways: Teaching, Performance and Creative Enterprise.

Devised as a natural progression from the Rockschool grade system; the Teaching, Performance and Creative Enterprise Diplomas have been uniquely designed to accredit all aspiring professionals working towards a career in today’s creative industries. These self-study Professional Diplomas are university-level qualifications ideally suited for those looking for a unique alternative to undergraduate degree courses.

With only four units to cover at both Level 4 and 6, the flexibility of these Diplomas allows each applicant to easily integrate the work into their current commitments, whilst matching the level of expertise they’re aiming to attain. Upon sign-up, every candidate will have up to one year to complete and submit the necessary tasks via RSL’s brand-new online submission service.

Each specialist pathway – whether you’re a teacher, performer or creative professional – is ideal for those who’d like to evidence their skills through employed work, practical training or alongside other academic study. RSL’s guided learning hours have been set at 40 hours per diploma, with online submissions for units open at all times. Each unit is also supported by exemplar material with all progress measured against key milestones.

“We wanted to create a diploma qualification that reflected the portfolio nature of employment for creative professionals. This flexibility was important to us, as we knew they had to be freely integrated into people’s current schedules – whether they’re currently employed, studying, or preparing to take another academic step up.” Tim Bennett-Hart, Director of Academic


The Rockschool Method

With the final exam period of the year beginning in November, we decided to look at our Graded Music Exams in greater details, and really think about why they work for so many music students.

Each section has its own specific, and equally important, reason for being included in the performance. But why is it that why? What does each section of the exam seek to develop? To explore all of these questions, we came up with a series of articles to truly define ‘The Rockschool Method’.

The Rockschool Method:
With a firm focus on cohesion and consistency at the forefront of any release, the Rockschool Method is a musical pedagogy that we hope contributes to the production of confident, self-sufficient musicians; empowered with the knowledge and ability to see their musical decisions blossom into authentic musical expression.

To read our in-depth breakdown for each section, simply click on each of the titles below:


Rockschool Stories

December already?? In that case, Seasons Greetings to you all!

For our December entry were going to focus on a blog-series introduced for the first time this year. Its purpose was to focus on the most important people to our business: the Teachers. Regardless of age or nationality, we’ve come to realise that the reasons

An individual who chooses to teach are rarely ever about money or status (at least exclusively!). The reasons for passing on a creative craft can often stem from a more personal place, and while that can usually be expressed in a myriad of ways, each of these educators are almost all united by the desire to impact peoples’ lives positively.

Rockschool Stories: Click the image above to read about Ed Black, one of our younger teachers

From Rockschool to Stage: Emma Henderson is also one of our AMEB/Rockschool Ambassadors

Rockschool Stories has featured 9 different teachers with completely different backgrounds and approaches to music teaching. You can read about every single one of them by hopping over to our NEWS page here >>

Despite having a wonderful 2019, we’re set to have an even better year in 2020, with some very exciting announcements on their way. To make the wait a little more bearable – and to celebrate the festive period – we’ve decided to put an RSL twist to Christmas this year.

RSL Christmas Playlist

This year we sat down to try and put together the greatest Christmas playlist of all time!

Now, we’re not quite sure that what we’ve achieved, but with each track chosen by a different Little Helper from RSL head office, we’re still happy that all of you can follow it and get into the festive spirit along with us.

Read the Staff Picks article in-full NOW!


RSL Advent Calendar

If you’re one of our Instagram followers, you would’ve noticed that all month we’ve been posting a different video to celebrate each and every one of the Rockschoolers who sent a video into RSL HQ this December. If you’d like to take a look at all 25 entries featuring 2019’s Christmas superstars, you can follow us here:

Woah! That’s a lot more than we thought. It’s definitely time to let you go, but not without saying first ‘here’s to 2020!’

Happy New Year,

The RSL Team


Practise with Purpose | Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Musicians in 2020

December 18th, 2019 by

Happy New Year from everyone at RSL and welcome back to our Practise with Purpose blog! The start of the year brings with it the opportunity for New Year’s Resolutions and a fresh way of looking at things, so where better to start in 2020 than by thinking about how you can improve your practice sessions?

We’ve compiled our Top 10 Tips to make sure you give your playing a boost and hit the ground running this year!

“Learning a new instrument can help your understanding of music as a whole!”

1. A Regular Practice Routine

Prioritise improvement on your instrument or voice this year by making practice sessions part of your daily routine. Find a time of day that suits you and schedule regular sessions so that your practice quickly becomes a habit (link to prev article).

2. Stick to It!

This is the hard part! New Year’s Resolutions are always fuelled by good intentions and a desire to turn over a new leaf, but this can often prompt sweeping changes that aren’t sustainable. Start slow to begin with and don’t overwhelm yourself or you’ll lose interest and motivation quickly. You’re more likely to persevere if you set yourself small, achievable challenges and gradually increase your workload over time.


3. Jam Sessions

You can learn a lot by playing alone, but you can learn even more by playing with other people. Performing with others exposes you to musicians who will have different strengths and weaknesses to you. Don’t just sit there and admire other people’s talents – ask them questions, try to replicate their ideas. Think of yourself as a musical magpie on the lookout for different skills you can add to your arsenal. Music is about collaboration after all!

Video Lessons: Check out some of our Rockschool video lessons on YouTube now!

4. Listen to Some New Music

Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’ is a great way to check out new music (other streaming services are available!), and there are plenty of websites that compile lists of new releases on a regular basis for your listening pleasure. Don’t neglect the countless ways that you can broaden your horizons! Ask your friends what they’re listening to, stick the radio on, and support your local music scene by going to gigs near you. You never know which exciting genres you might discover!

new year's resolutions

Play the Bass? Why not try out the drums to widen your knowledge of the rhythm section?

5. Play a Second Instrument

You’ll want to focus on mastering what you’re currently playing first, but thinking about music with a different instrument can be crucial in developing a deeper understanding of music and improving your all-round musicianship. If you’re a drummer, learning the piano, for example, can develop your understanding of melody and harmony. If you’re a vocalist, maybe take up the bass to compound your rhythmic solidity? Keep experimenting!

Using Rests For Better Basslines: A Rockschool Bass lesson

6. Warm Up!

Essential for vocalists and highly recommended for instrumentalists, the benefits of warming up are crucial to maximising your progress. It might add a bit of time on to your sessions, but going over your scales and focusing on improving your tone at the start of each session will produce results quickly.

7. Look After Your Instrument(s)

Your instrument, or your voice, are your musical tools, so be sure to keep them in tip-top condition! Warming up properly and staying healthy will contribute to this for vocalists, but replacing strings, tuning your instrument, and keeping it clean is just as important for instrumentalists.

8. Expand Your Repertoire

Conquering a piece of music so that you can perform it confidently and accurately is a great achievement, but it’s easy to rest on your laurels and go straight to the same pieces and ideas every time you pick up your instrument. Start 2020 by choosing some new songs, riffs, fills, or licks to add to your musical vocabulary. Transcribing is another fantastic way to improve your musical know-how and is totally worth the time and effort it takes.

Inspire Others! … and you may just learn some important lessons along the way.

9. Teach!

You don’t have to know everything about your instrument to start teaching! Don’t be dissuaded because you think you’re too young, or too old, or too inexperienced, or not good enough on your instrument (of course, you have a certain level of proficiency). Teaching others is a sure-fire way to fill in any existing gaps in your knowledge and revise the basics. Sign up to our teacher registry now to start advertising your services to potential students today!

10. Perform Whenever and Wherever

If you make a mistake in a practice session and no one hears it, do you really learn from it? If you make a mistake when performing in front of an audience then chances are you will remember it and try to avoid that mistake happening when you next perform that piece. Mistakes are a completely normal part of music – sometimes, no matter how carefully we practise, we make a slip in a performance. Performing more regularly will help you reduce and eventually overcome nerves or anxieties you might have ahead of an exam, while also giving you plenty of motivation to get to grips with that pesky semiquaver run or mind-boggling polyrhythm!

Those are our suggestions – try them out or put your own ideas to the test. Either way, be sure to keep a note of how you get on using our Practise with Progress Diary, and join us next week when we’ll be putting exam technique under the microscope!


RSL Christmas Playlist | Staff Picks!

December 16th, 2019 by

The Holiday season: a time for endless lists of sugary songs about snow, fire places and red-nosed reindeers (unless you’re a miserable Scrooge – Bah Humbug to you!).

To celebrate the festive period this year, we’ve decided to put an RSL Christmas Playlist together with each track chosen by a different Little Helper from RSL head office. Ho-Ho-Hope you like it as much as we do!

John Legend – Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Feat. Kelly Clarkson)

”Because it’s what Santa Claus listens to when he puts his sleigh into first gear and takes off!” Bernie Cook

“The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping”

Josh (left) and Dan (right)

“This tune is brilliant. None of the fake Christmas nonsense and ‘joy’, just a song about a hard working individual who wants to take it easy and eat some turkey. My choice may have also been influenced by the wicked bassline.” Daniel Latham

“As basslines go, this is an absolute belter. Throw some juicy horns into the mix and you’ve got yourself a track that’s impossibly catchy. A long-winding search for love also concludes successfully after a last gasp purchase of cranberries. Merry Christmas.” Josh Morton

Shakin’ Stevens – Merry Christmas Everyone

“It’s happy, but not sickeningly so. It’s got a sax solo. It’s got the classic key change at the end. It’s 80s as hell. At the end it’s got some great “shoobedoowahs”. Mix that altogether and you’ve got yourself one of the best Christmas tunes of all time.” Laura Hall

The Beach Boys – Little Saint Nick

“The idea of The Beach Boys, the ultimate summertime band, making a classic Christmas song seems unlikely (and a little odd), but ‘Little Saint Nick’ delivers the same exuberance and joyful spirit of their best surfing songs. The song follows the tradition of taking an existing song and ‘Christmas-ifying’ it’, so this is essentially ‘Little Deuce Coupe’ with sleigh bells. What’s not to like?” Lewis Morgan

Frank Sinatra – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

“I’d usually use an opportunity to like this to flex my music-nerd muscles and nominate something like “absolutely anything from the Low Christmas album, released on ‘Kranky’ in ‘99” (my money’s on Patrick!) – but the first dance at my wedding was to ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ and it’s not worth the risk in the off-chance my wife reads this. There are countless versions of this track (including this absurdly wonderful take from Twisted Sister) by our favourite is the Frank Sinatra version from 1957. The lush string arrangements from Gordon Jenkins alone should bring out the romantic in even the most garrulous of Grinches.” Chris Moody

Low – Just like Christmas

“I’ve got go with this track because 1: I am pretentious, and 2: the whole LP is incredibly sweet without being sickly like a lot of Christmas records.” Patrick Healy

Jose Feliciano – Feliz Navidad

It was very close between this and ‘O Holy Night’ by Adolphe Adam, but I’ve gone with Jose Feliciano’s classic ‘Feliz Navidad’ for our Spanish speaking colleagues (and to sum up the joyful cheese-filter-turned-to-off ambience that is, very much, Christmas). Dan Francis

Juice, S.O.A.P. & Christina – Let Love Be Love (Feat. Remee)

“A 1998 original Christmas banger. This cheesy pop record is played extensively across the Scandinavian region every December. The perfect feel-good song for when you’re in the kitchen over the Christmas break preparing your Danish Fried Twists and “Vaniljekranse” or decorating your Nordmann fir with pleated Christmas hearts and tinsel. Add some candles and Glögg to the mix and you have the epitome of Danish “hygge”. Glædelig jul!” Henriette Madsen

Vulfpeck – Christmas in L.A.

“This is tricky! I saw The Darkness perform ‘Christmas Time’ live a few years ago from the front row. They had the full fake snow effect going on, which was great. Frankie Poullain (bass player) threw a pick at me to catch and I missed it. Over the course of the song it escalated to where he would throw things at me to catch and I would drop every single one of them. My friend walked out with a drum stick and 3 bass picks. If I go on a road trip with friends in summer, I always sneak ‘December’ by Earth, Wind & Fire onto the playlist and see if anyone notices that it is not the original ‘September’. They both run it close, but I have to go with ‘Christmas in L.A.’ because I repeatedly sing this song all year round to annoy my girlfriend, who refuses to listen to Christmas songs until December. Now we can both sing it.” Calum Harrison

Tom Petty – Christmas All Over Again

“It’s a great original Christmas track produced by one of my favourite artists Jeff Lynne. It’s also featured in one of my favourite Christmas films ‘Home Alone 2: Lost In New York’.” Josh Chelms

Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas is You

“In my opinion, this is one of the most underrated Christmas songs. Hiding behind the vocal acrobatics is a really cleverly constructed Pop arrangement consisting of well-placed non-diatonic/substitute chords that use tension and release to play with the listener effectively. And who hasn’t cried at the end of Love Actually? I haven’t, that’s for sure.” Ben Worsley

Chuck Berry – Run, Run Rudolph | Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials – I’m Your Santa

“It’s hard to choose between either: ‘Run, Run Rudolph’ by Chuck Berry, or ‘I’m your Santa’ – by Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials. Both provide such great memories of Christmas past.” John Simpson

Chris Rea – Driving Home for Christmas

“I’ll always remember listening to this in the car whilst driving on Christmas Eve with snow on the ground. Great track.” Ray Matthews

NSYNC – Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays

“The undisputed biggest and baddest boyband of the ‘90s, this was the song that truly catapulted *NSYNC to superstardom. No stone is left unturned lyrically: JT and co’s observation that “It’s a wonderful feeling (hey, yeah, yeah)” when Christmas rolls around really hits the nail on the head when it comes to capturing the feel-good spirit of the holidays. Throw in some festive bells on every beat and an awesome music video to boot and you have a Christmas track tailor-made for a party, a long Christmas drive to see family, or simply a cosy winter evening in front of the fire.” Sam Coade

Michael Bublé – The Christmas Song

“This song fills my heart with pure joy and comfort. And let’s face it, it’s the Bublé! How can you not enjoy his Christmas (Deluxe Special Edition) album? It’s the only choice for me when decorating the tree, whilst eating mince pies. It doesn’t get better than that!” Becky Woods

Jona Lewie – Stop the Cavalry

“Mine has to be ‘Stop the Cavalry’! Reason being that brass bands at Christmas make my heart feel FULL! I enjoy the juxtaposition of how the story behind the song is really terrible, but the overall feeling of the music is pretty jolly and uplifting. Such a poignant and beautiful message!” Rosie Howard

Stevie Wonder – What Christmas Means To Me

“Out of the 36 covers of this song, this it is by far the best. Honourable mentions go to Mary-Kate and Ashley, Jessica Simpson and the University of Winconsin Madhatters Kirsten Cowan

Hillsong Worship – O Holy Night

Nathalie (left) and Jane (right)

Lovely worship song from an equally lovely album. This perfectly encompasses the true panoptic of the season, without commercialising it. Nathalie Gouverneur

Bruce Springsteen – Santa Clause is Comin’ to Town

“Reason: Bruce Springsteen in a Santa hat.” Jane Proffitt

Brenda Lee – Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

“Deck the halls with boughs of holly! Double whammy for me this one. Not only is it a classic that gets people rockin’, it also features in my favourite Christmas film, Home Alone. You’ll find this track playing when Kevin stages a fake Christmas party to fool the burglars who plan to rob his house. Lots of great memories around this song :D” Liam Jackson

Well, we’ve been playing this all day long and it’s yet to get old. If you’d like to enjoy our list, in-full, then you can find it on the RSL Spotify profile right now!


Seasons Greetings and a Happy New Year,

The RSL Team

Practise with Purpose | How to Practise Effectively Using Replay

December 13th, 2019 by

In this week’s ‘Practise with Purpose’ post we’ll be thinking about how to get the most out of Replay, Rockschool’s interactive sheet music player…

Replay syncs notation to an audio backing track that accompanies you as you play, allowing you to adjust tempos, loop bars, and switch between backing and performance tracks with ease. These features make it an indispensable tool for nailing those tricky passages and making your performance pieces as secure as possible before you go into your exam!

Zoom in!

It is always important to have a holistic view of a piece when practising. Thinking about the musical history that surrounds a piece and its composer can help you to contextualise what you’re playing, and exploring all of the cultural influences associated with each composition can help you to gain a wider understanding of the repertoire you’re performing. In your grade book you’ll find fact-files that we’ve carefully crafted here at RSL HQ to accompany whatever arrangement you’ve decided to start playing, giving you a grasp of that all-important musical context. Definitely recommended reading!

As vital as it is to consider this wider setting of the music you’re playing, it is just as important to zoom in on the finer details – this is where Replay comes in.

There is always a temptation when practising a performance piece to play the bits you know you can play well and gloss over the trickier bits that trip you up – it’s human nature to want to sound good when you practise! However, those mistakes won’t fix themselves, and unproductive, passive playing will lead to a false sense of progress. The whole point of practice is to focus on your weaknesses – if you consistently sound good in these sessions then you might want to change your approach.


Slow it up!

A common mistake is to try and play everything at performance tempo immediately. This may work for some passages, but you are sure to encounter some sections that need a more thorough approach. Replay allows you to slow down the backing track in these trickier sections, so that you can practise difficult passages at a more manageable tempo, before gradually increasing them to performance speed.

It’s likely that you will improve more quickly if you spend your time honing in on the more difficult passages, and trying to perfect those instead of going back over material you’ve already made sound secure.

“Replay is making me look at things from a different angle, changing the way I teach in a good way”

Andy Franklin has been teaching our drums syllabus since passing his RSL Diploma back in 2015. We caught up with him recently to see how Replay has helped his students, and you can hear his thoughts in the video below:

Write it down!

Our free Practise with Purpose Diary is the perfect companion to Replay as you get ready for your next Rockschool exam. There is space for you to jot down what you’ve practised, reminders about entry deadlines, and room to write your targets for next week. Take advantage of this and use it as an opportunity for you to consider the finer details of your practice to really perfect your preparation!

Rather than putting down general targets, such as “improve this piece” or “go over that scale”, make your targets as specific as possible in order to get your tunes sounding as tight as you can. You could take one section of a piece and make sure you’re articulating it as precisely as possible; or maybe improve the ease with which you play a particular rhythmic or melodic idea? Why not try and match the tone of one of your favourite artists? The best thing about this, is that it’s completely up to you to decide what’s going to be most profitable for you and your playing.

Replay is currently available for all grades on our drums, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, and keys syllabuses.

Start using Replay in your practice today!