GCSE and A Level Music – Only half the story about school music & qualifications.
For 60 years the mainstream music education establishment has been worrying why their version of music education has declined in popularity. During that time a new, contemporary and alternative approach to music education has been created in the UK. In schools and colleges this means more pupils and students are studying for music qualifications than ever before.
RSL Awards have analysed the data published by the regulators (Ofqual) available in the public domain. We are delighted to be able to show the positive impact that popular music qualifications have had in schools and colleges, fuelling the pipeline of the next generation of music industry professionals.
Norton York, RSL Awards Chairman and Founder, has compiled the analysed data and has published his findings in a statement that he hopes fills the information gap and enables policy makers, researchers and the music industry to celebrate the success of the formal pop music education institutions, qualifications and courses that have turned this contemporary approach to music education into a success.
Read Norton’s statement and findings by hitting the button below…
The history, background and context to this research will be set out in greater detail later this Autumn in a book published to coincide with RSL Awards’ 30th Anniversary by Norton York ‘Pop Music Education in the UK – 1960-2020’. To register interest in receiving news about the publication of this title, please email RSL at: NathalieGouverneur@rslawards.com
Classically-trained and killing the game, the Black Violin duo are everything you’d want from a strings-meets-hip-hop sound.
Snowball to Success
With Kev Marcus on the violin and Wil B on the viola, Black Violin got started by covering their favourite hip-hop tunes which quickly became popular in a club setting. After submitting a tape to Showtime at the Apollo, an American variety TV programme, they were selected to compete and went all the way to the finish line, winning the series!
The success of Black Violin snowballed from there. From performing at the Billboard Awards with Alicia Keys, to working with the likes of Lil Wayne and Kanye West, the work came flooding in. 200 shows a year demonstrates how popular they became! They even performed two very special sold out shows at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King.
Since then, we’ve seen some hugely successful albums come from Black Violin, including Classically Trained in 2012 and Stereotypes in 2015. More recently, their album Take The Stairs was nominated for the Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental album, but they were just pipped to the post by jazz fusion giants, Snarky Puppy.
Black Violin and RSL
One of our favourite Black Violin moments has to be the track “Stereotypes”, and its accompanying video. Not only is their talent on these string instruments incredible to watch, but the song’s message is all about crushing stereotypes, and never assuming who somebody is or what they are capable of based on the way they look. It’s a really powerful video and we’d implore you to give it a watch!
Now if you’ve been paying attention over the last few weeks, you may have noticed that the RSL Classical Violin syllabus is on the horizon, and if you’ve listened to any Black Violin recently (or ever!) you’ll understand the need to include these guys in the syllabus. You may or may not find our favourite Black Violin tune hidden in there somewhere… you heard it here first. (Also, get practising – it’s not an easy one!)
Black Violin started the Black Violin Foundation, co-directed by their wives, which works with schools and youth orchestras, giving over 100,000 students access to quality music programmes that encourage them to be creative. Truly inspiring stuff!
We love how Black Violin show that a classical training never means you should pigeon-hole yourself into that genre forever. They are the perfect example of how a classical training can set you up to be a fantastic, technical player and performer so that you can get out there and succeed in any genre that inspires you.
If you’ve enjoyed learning some more about Black Violin today, then stay tuned on the Classical in Conversation blog because there will be plenty more where that came from. Don’t forget, RSL Classical Violin is just around the corner!
Billie Eilish exploded onto the scene in 2015 and, it’s safe to say, has taken the music industry, eaten it up and spat it back out again.
Conquering the World
It’s hard to fathom that at the age of 13 – yep, 13 – Billie released “Ocean Eyes”. As would be the story for the next 6 years, this was with the help of her producer, co-writer and brother, Finneas. Billie and Finneas were both homeschooled by their parents, actress Maggie Baird and actor Patrick O’Connell. Maggie and Patrick chose to homeschool their children in order that they could pursue their interests, whatever they may be. Being musicians themselves, Maggie and Patrick taught them everything they knew about songwriting.
So, perhaps it’s no surprise that Billie Eilish was conquering the world by her mid-teens. Spotify clearly believed in her, as they featured “Ocean Eyes” on their most popular playlist, “Today’s Top Hits”. Being included on this playlist hugely expanded her reach and commercial success. “Ocean Eyes” was included on her EP Don’t Smile At Me which was released in 2017. Oh, and it’s also been included on the new Rockschool Vocals syllabus for 2021. More on that later…
By the time Billie released her debut album, When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, the world was already invested. It shot straight to the top spot of the Billboard 200, and reached number 1 in the UK too. The success was largely boosted by fan favourite track “Bad Guy”, which shot to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped the album to become one of the best-selling of 2019.
If you’re interested in the music business, you may enjoy learning that Spotify launched an enormous “multi-level campaign” behind this album. We’re talking a no-expense-spared effort in marketing this album to the public, a tactic which essentially worked! They created a multi-media playlist that created a “more meaningful and engaging context for fans”, they set up a “pop-up enhanced album experience” in LA, and a “multi-sensory experience” too. We’ll leave it to you to imagine the budget…
Billie Eilish became the first artist born in the 2000s to have a number 1 album in the US, and the youngest female EVER to have a number 1 album in the UK. Yes, don’t forget that she was still only 18!
And there were still many more career highlights coming her way. In 2020 she co-wrote and performed the theme song for the new James Bond film called “No Time To Die”, and had myriad top 10 tracks including “Everything I Wanted”, “My Future” and “Therefore I Am”.
Billie Eilish has received more awards and accolades than you or I could shake a stick at, including her ground-breaking night at the Grammys where she received all four of the general field categories (that’s the BIG FOUR), Best New Artist, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Album of the Year, all in the SAME. NIGHT. Billie is the youngest person, first woman, and second overall to have managed this. It’s quite spectacular.
We’ve included a track from this incredible album in the Rockschool Vocals syllabus for 2021 in Grade 1. Billie has such a distinctive style which has been described as many things including ethereal, whispery, husky and slurring, but we can’t wait to hear you put your own stamp on this track in the exam room.
Billie’s Happier Than Ever album was released in 2021 and, we don’t know about you, but we are loving it! We can’t wait to see what the future holds for this tremendously talented woman.
If you’ve enjoyed learning more about the superstar that is Billie Eilish, then you might be interested in taking a look at some more of our Artists in Focus blogs, including pieces on Florence + The Machine, Bob Dylan and Marvin Gaye.
With knowledge from industry experts, the Violin Starter Pack contains everything you need to get going, from how to hold the bow, getting started with fingering and fun facts about the instrument that you may not have known before.
Learning the violin can seem like a daunting task…
Where do I put my fingers?
Am I holding it right?
Is it supposed to sound like that?!
There are many questions to be asked, and rightly so! This is notoriously one of the most difficult instruments to learn, but we know you’re up for the challenge. In the Violin Starter Pack, we’ve gone right into detail to help violin beginners get their heads around this complex instrument, answering all of those questions that might stop you from picking up the violin and having a go.
To support what you’ll learn in our Violin Starter Pack, our team of experts, led by Dan Francis, will be hosting two webinars in September exploring the upcoming RSL Classical Violin syllabus. These sessions are designed for you to understand the academic rigour at each level of qualification, the rationale behind the syllabus and a breakdown of what students will need to do at each grade with sample repertoire included. There will also be a live Q&A and practical demonstrations of some of the repertoire from one of the lead consultants of the syllabus. Sign up via the form below!
It’s time for us to turn your heads towards a powerhouse of Baroque, Mr George Frideric Handel.
From Halle to London
Born in 1685 Halle, there must have been something in the water as two more future composers, Domenico Scarlatti and Johann Sebastian Bach, were born on the same day! Growing up, Handel’s father wasn’t too keen on his son pursuing a career in music. This meant that the little boy had to climb quietly into the attic to practise his clavichord that was hidden up there!
With strong influence from both the German polyphonic choral tradition and Italian baroque music, Handel set out on his life as a composer – and it was a fruitful one! Over the course of 30 years he wrote over 40 opera series (he became very well known for his operas), as well as various oratorios, anthems and more. After working for some time in Germany and Italy, it was time to set sail for the shores of England in 1712.
In order to satisfy the opera cravings of English nobility, Handel started three opera companies, that is, until he suffered a breakdown which changed his creative direction quite significantly towards English choral works instead. The hugely successful Messiah was the last Italian opera he ever wrote!
The support he received from England was notable! Queen Anne set him on an annual salary of £200 (that was a very generous sum back in the day!) and he was also made a naturalised British subject. He was also made Musical Director of the Royal Academy of Music!
The Test of Time
Compositions by Handel have really stood the test of time in a grand way. He wrote four coronation anthems, one called “Zadok the Priest” (Google it now, you’ll almost certainly know it!). This anthem has been performed at every British coronation since 1727 – wild!
Fun Fact: It’s almost a miracle that Handel lived for as long as he did – the odds were certainly not in his favour. First up, he got into a composer battle with Johann Mattheson. A fierce fight almost led to Mattheson killing Handel with his sword, if it wasn’t for a button on Handel’s chest which took the blow! Being the famous composer that he was, Handel was allowed to choose the leading lady in his operas which, one time, caused a fight between two sopranos who had a scrap ON STAGE. To top it all off, Handel suffered a stroke, survived a coach crash and an eye operation gone-wrong. Yep, his survival really is a miracle!
A blue plaque can now be found on Handel’s London home at 25 Brook Street, right next door to Jimi Hendrix! It has been carefully restored to how Handel would have kept it back in the day.
We’ve got a wonderful Handel tune in the new RSL Classical Violin Grade 6 syllabus. It’s the “Allegro” movement from his Violin Sonata in D Major, HWV 371. It’s quite an important piece for a couple of reasons, one being that it was written over a decade later than his other violin sonatas, and also because it was the last piece of chamber music he ever wrote! It’s a beautiful movement, filled with energy and sparkle. It’s also very demanding with many string crossing and position changing passages, so be sure to limber up before attempting this one!
If you’ve enjoyed taking a peek into this composers life, then there’s plenty more for you to see. Handel joins some incredible people on the Grade 6 syllabus, including Lili Boulanger and Florence Price.
From the odd small gig in London to the Pyramid stage, Florence + The Machine have brought fantastic indie rock and mesmerising vocals to the stage since 2007.
Florence Robot/Isa Machine
At first, it was Florence Welch and Isabella Summers who would jam together, gigging across London, showing off their unique sound. A little while later, a few more members joined the fold, including guitarist Rob Ackroyd and harpist Tom Monger. Amongst other musicians joining the group, finally a band was formed, but what would it be called? For years Isabella had been called Isabella “Machine” Summers, and Florence called Florence “Robot” by their peers. After flirting with the idea of Florence Robot/Isa Machine, they finally settled on the unforgettable, Florence + The Machine.
The collaboration of friends, Florence and Isabella, was certainly a fruitful one. Album number one, Lungs, was released in 2009 and what a journey it had! It first held the number 2 position in the UK Album chart, a position in which it stayed for its first five weeks in the world. By January 2010, after 28 weeks on the leader board, Lungs finally found itself in the top spot! But the journey wasn’t over there… by October of 2010, the album had stayed in the top 40 for 65 consecutive weeks – an incredible achievement. It became one of the best-selling albums of both 2009 and 2010, as well as earning the band the Brit Award for Best British Album.
For all aspiring bands out there, know that Florence + The Machine had to work their way up to this success. Their efforts ended up with them being promoted as part of BBC Introducing, a programme dedicated to discovering and supporting new music. BBC Introducing host an event each year in London with all kinds of resources, performances and talks to help you get your career on track. We’ve been there for the last few years and we’d 100% recommend attending! Anyway…
Lungs contains some real banging tunes. Two of the most notable are “Dog Days Are Over” which has garnered over 472 million Spotify streams, and “You’ve Got The Love”, a cover of Candi Staton’s classic tune. It was these two tracks which helped to soar Florence + The Machine to stardom.
Pardon the pun, but we all know that Florence Welch has got a set of lungs on her. This woman has an extraordinary and unique voice which is immediately recognisable and sets her apart from other vocalists in the industry. For this reason, we had to include fan favourite “You’ve Got The Love” in the Vocals syllabus, so you’ll find the track in the Grade 8 books!
Florence + The Machine released their second album in 2011 and went straight to the top of the Albums chart, as did their third album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. In 2015, the band graced the Pyramid stage, making Florence Welch the first British female to headline Glastonbury in the 21st century! The only other female headliner in the 2000s was Beyoncé in 2011.
Florence + The Machine have been nominated for six Grammy Awards over the years, which really highlights their amazing success as a band. We can only hope that they’ll continue creating beautiful music in the years to come.
We’ve loved learning more about this band, and Florence Welch is joined by some other incredible female vocalists on this syllabus, including the iconic Etta James and Alicia Keys. Check them out!
As your students’ Rockschool exams draw near, it’s important that as their teacher you have a sense of how they’re progressing. You may only see your students once a week or maybe even once a fortnight, so it’s crucial that any time spent with them is used as effectively as possible.
The preparation process is a little different for Rockschool digital exams but the majority of the principles remain the same, so read on to learn how you can track your students’ progress and keep them on the right track.
The feedback and insight that you provide in your lessons with students will provide them with the scaffolding to make progress in their own personal practice between lessons. You don’t have to go into exhaustive detail when filling out this box, just make sure you’re adding manageable goals in a concise way so that your students know exactly what they need to do, how to do it, and that they will be able to achieve it before your next lesson.
Be specific when setting goals
Vague feedback like “improve your sound” doesn’t help anyone: students feel confused, frustrated, and it’s likely you’ll find yourself repeating yourself in future lessons. Be specific in your advice in your lessons and watch both you and your students reap the rewards!
If you want your student to simply “sound better”, it’s unlikely that will happen without targeted advice and practical tips. How can they improve? Can they achieve a wider dynamic range? Should they focus on achieving more nuance in their articulation?
There’s a huge amount of information and almost infinite resources available online for music students, but time spent with an expert in their field (you!) is paramount when it comes to students progressing on their instruments. It’s likely that they’ll look up to you as a true guru on your instrument, so embrace that role in their musical development.
Get more advice on how your students can excel in their video exams from one of our examiners!
Having said all this, it is still key to your students’ development that you tell them what they’re doing right. As you’ll know from your own experience learning an instrument, if you have a teacher who is overly critical and constantly striving for an unattainable standard, your confidence will be worn down very quickly. Make sure to give your students clear goals, but also remind them of their strengths.
You can be specific when praising them too! Picking out a particular bar or passage which they performed well can help them see how they need to improve in the wider context of the piece.
Keep your students happy with our top tips!
It’s been a tough year for everyone, particularly those involved in the creative arts who haven’t been able to generate their income in their usual way. Students are no doubt feeling a sense of burnout too, so it’s important to keep their sense of motivation up so they can continue their musical development.
Point them in the direction of our Practice Advice and remind them of the importance of taking regular breaks, having a positive mindset, and simply listening to music of all kinds!
Lili Boulanger – the first woman to make history and win the famous Prix de Rome competition.
This Parisian born woman was a clear star in the making from an exceptionally young age. It was another famous composer, Gabriel Fauré, who discovered at only two years old that Boulanger had perfect pitch.
Lili Boulanger was from a family of musicians. We’re talking parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles in the Boulanger family who worked in the industry, so Lili herself was surrounded by supportive encouragement as she grew. In fact, you may or may know her father, Ernest Boulanger, who himself was a Paris Conservatoire teacher and won the Prix de Rome competition in 1835! Musical talent certainly ran in the family.
It was before long that another Boulanger sister, Nadia, was headed to the Paris Conservatoire aged 10, and little Lili (aged only 5!) would go along with her. Soaking up the environment around her, from music theory classes to organ lessons, Lili Boulanger began singing and learning a multitude of instruments!
By 1912, Lili was ready to take on the Prix de Rome, following in her fathers’ footsteps. Her ill health meant that she actually collapsed during her performance that year, but she was back raring to go in 1913. This was the year that she would become the first ever winner of the prize for her cantata “Faust et Hélène”, which would be performed for many more years.
After suffering a chronic illness for all her life, Lili Boulanger tragically died at the age of 24. However, her legacy will be remembered for years to come. Her works are beautiful and many feature themes of grief and loss after losing her father (he was 77 when she was born). Aspects of the work of Fauré and Debussy can be heard throughout her pieces too.
It’s impossible to think of how many more incredible works that Lili Boulanger may have composed had she lived to an older age. Most of her final years were dedicated to writing an opera called “La princesse Maleine”, which unfortunately she wasn’t able to finish before her death.
At RSL, we’re committed to keeping the Boulanger flame alive, and to continue celebrating this fantastic female composer. We’ve included a few of her pieces in the higher grades of the RSL Classical Violin syllabus, including:
In Grade 6, you will find her “Nocturne”, written in 1911 for violin and piano.
Grade 7 brings a 1914 piece, also for violin and piano, called “Cortège”, which is simply beautiful.
And at Grade 8, you can learn the one of the last pieces she managed to complete, the stunning “D’un Matin de Printemps”.
If you enjoyed learning about this wonderful composer, then you should definitely check out some of the others that you’ll find on the RSL Classical Violin syllabus. Lili Boulanger is in good company with the likes of Black Violin, Vivaldi, Sibelius and Clean Bandit.
Obtaining personal enrichment is the desire of many people, adults and children alike. One way to do this is through graded music exams. Graded music exams are an important way to enable people to get enrichment through music, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that is not over yet.
This post has been guest written by RSL’s Indonesian rep, Andy Jobs.
Indonesia, which is still struggling hard to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, is still able to provide opportunities for its students to succeed through music exams. One particular success is Nicholas Patrick Wiranata, an 11 year old student from Jakarta.
The achievements of Nicholas are extraordinary and inspiring for young people all over the world. At the age of 11, Nick completed his grade 8 RSL Classical Piano exam with flying colours. Indeed, all of his piano exams are achieved with Distinction results! Nick has also received a double Rockstar Awards for Piano Grade 5 (99 points out of 100 points – epic!) and Piano Grade 6. He also won the most popular piano award in the Online Piano Competition 2020 that was held by RS Events in Singapore. He is featured for his enchanting performances on the RSL Awards website. ()
Nick’s success cannot be separated from his piano teacher, Ms. Jelia Megawati Heru, M. Mus. Edu, a German graduate music educator. In Indonesia, Miss Jelia is a top music educator who has also produced musicians who have won many international awards. Jelia Heru is an Indonesian RSL keynote speaker and music writer who makes all the RSL Awards exam materials for Contemporary Piano, Classical Piano, and Keys in the form of YouTube videos, and has been used several times by Rockschool Asia as webinar material.
The success of a Nicholas Wiranata is a fusion between talent, perseverance, an extraordinary inspiring teacher, and of course the support of parents who are always motivating him. This fusion is the implementation of the education triangle – a relationship between students, parents and teachers. Of course there were many struggles, endless reps, and moments that accompanied Nick’s success. However when the education triangle is implemented, all will be resolved. Overall it was a very rewarding experience.
Certainly, at this moment, Ms. Jelia Heru and Nick’s parents deserve to be happy with this success. The video exam that is held by the RSL Awards was an extraordinary leap and solution that opens opportunities for everyone to be enriched even in the worsening COVID-19 pandemic situation. It seems that the entire world should appreciate and follow the efforts of the RSL Awards in organizing graded music exams through digital exams.