Category: Music Teacher

How to Teach Music Online | What are the benefits and where are the pitfalls?

March 19th, 2020 by

How to Teach Music Online. What are the benefits and where are the pitfalls?

As the effects of the Coronavirus spread around the world we all face an extended period where meeting face to face could be off the table. However, this doesn’t have to mean the end for your teaching, but it does mean we all might have to think differently about how we teach, or more importantly how students learn.

This blog seeks to set out a few key strategies for online teaching and learning, referencing some good practice and highlighting some of the pitfalls. We interviewed Rockschool Examiner Georg Voros, DIME Online Head of Education Mike Sturgis, and Rockschool Drum Syllabus contributor Pete Riley for their views in using online platforms.

Using the right technology

Skype, Zoom, Whatsapp and the like all provide great services for video calls, however, we are at the mercy of our connection speeds and those of our students.

Rockshool Drum Syllabus contributor Pete Riley has invested in a fully mic’d teaching studio for his online lessons, but even with great technology in his studio he still finds that the student’s environment can create challenges as they may be working with internal microphones built into laptops and phones.

Video conferencing is useful, but not the only technology to rely on. Virtual Learning Environments (also called Learning Management Systems) are an excellent way to set interactive tasks that your students can respond to and most have video conferencing built in.

Click here to find some of the best free tools…

Mike Sturgis, Head of Education from DIME Online uses Canvas for his faculty who teach RSL Awards Vocational Qualifications online. DIME have built a bespoke environment for learners built around tasks that are submitted for assessment online – giving students an individual learning experience.

It doesn’t have to be the same!

For centuries teachers have utilised a mentor/apprentice style of 1-2-1 teaching in music lesson. The challenges regarding online learning mean that it is often not possible to hear the nuances of a performance over video conference, so referencing great recordings and curating well recorded video tutorials is going to really help. For example, RSL Fellow and drum legend Steve White’s YouTube channel has some amazing rudiments that you can set for your students to watch.

Building your lessons around material that learners have already watch/listened to is often referred to as ‘flipped’ learning, making the engagement with students much more valuable. Imagine if you were teaching how to play a song, if the student already knows the song before you start it makes the whole process much easier.

Our good friends and Rockschool public exam centre, Roar Music Academy, moved their teaching services online due to current circumstances. Click here to find their learnings so far…

Time is flexible

The traditional model of 1-2-1 teaching often requires strict lesson times. Online learning can be much more flexible. A 30-minute lesson in person might only contain 6 minutes of talking with the student and lots of demonstrating. In an online model you might stretch the lesson out with several bursts over a few days. Setting a task and asking the student to record themselves for you to review saves both students and teachers time.

Mike Sturgis points out the main advantages to online study are the 24-7 access to the content and the complete flexibility to study your lessons when you want to.

Find the right resources

Part of all teaching is to help guide the learners, and the job of curation is even more implicit when thinking about online learning. We recently helped Music Gurus out with their seminar on Online delivery at the Music and Drama Education Expo. The number one comment from teachers was that it was hard to find resources they could trust.

We spend a lot of our time at RSL creating material that is suitable for different levels of learners. If you haven’t already got the Rockschool books, sign up for our Teach Today, Shape Tomorrow programme that includes books and teaching resources free to teachers.

Replay - interactive sheet music tool

The Replay interactive sheet music tool can be a great way for students to explore the Rockschool repertoire and allows them to loop, slow down, or even change key of the pieces.

The student sets the pace

In other areas of education there has been a long-established movement to place the pace of learning in the hands of the learners. A movement from traditional cognitive models into constructivist models can help learners engage in topics for longer and in more detail. Setting goals and benchmarks with individual learners will give positive reinforcement.

For example, the overall goal for the learner might be to complete their Grade 2 Electric Guitar exam with Rockschool – but to get to that end goal the student will need smaller objectives such as learning part of a piece or technical exercise broken down into tasks. Every time a task is completed there is an opportunity for encouragement.

Online communities

Along with constructivism, social constructivism encourages the idea of learners supporting each other. Learners sharing their progress is a great way to create an environment where all your students support each other. This will help retain the students and support your teaching business. Social media groups are an excellent way to connect all your students together.

Mike Sturgis sees many benefits to working in this way…

“some of our tutorials are allocated for the entire group, so this functions like any conference call that you might have experienced in Zoom or Microsoft Teams. However, it’s the forums where students upload examples of their work where we see a lot of discussion between students and staff.”

Finding Students

Recruiting new students is always tricky, but using platforms like Rockschool’s Teacher Registry can build and online profile. Promoting this through social media is a good way of boosting a profile, and with online learning there is a whole world of students who might be looking for your services.

What do you miss out on?

Pete Riley highlights that the physicality of teaching instruments is challenged when we use online methods, as well as the ability to move around the students to really observe technique from different angles. Of course, extreme situations call for extreme measures and whilst we may never be able to recreate all the features of an in-person lesson, for the time being we may just have to adapt. Currently having a live ensemble jam together is a big challenge for the technology, but perhaps not for long.


When delivering online lessons, remember that safeguarding and child protection remain paramount and you need to ensure that you have considered this carefully to ensure that you can provide a safe and secure online learning environment for both you and your students. The professional bodies at the MU, ISM and Music Mark have both created some very useful guidance, so we recommend that you check it out:

DIME Online Head of Education, Mike Sturgis’ top 5 tips for online teaching

  • Tip 1: Ensure that the platform you’re using to deliver the course will meet the needs of the student learning experience.
  • Tip 2: Communication surrounding assessments must absolutely clear. This includes how the assessment will take place, what is required from the student, how they need to submit their work and the deadline for this.
  • Tip 3: Opportunities for developmental assessment at key points in the term.
  • Tip 4: Prompt, regular and incisive feedback for students on their work, including 1-2-1 contact time with a tutor at key points in the term.
  • Tip 5: Course content must be of a high standard, preferably with a combination of text, notation, graphics, video, images and audio as appropriate. Also, the presentation of the content needs to be done in a way that is easily navigable and considers diverse learning styles.

Rockschool Examiner Georg Voros’ 5 Tips for teaching Online

  • Tip 1: Connectivity. Without good connectivity you’re dead in the water and this will never work. You may have fantastic connectivity your side, but if the person on the other side hasn’t then this won’t work. So aside from making sure you’re well set up your side, make sure your student has good connectivity before you get started.
  • Tip 2: Audio quality. Very challenging for drum lessons if all that’s being used is a laptop microphone or similar. The result is not always great. As the teacher make sure that YOUR sound is clear and audible. Maybe test this with a friend before starting to teach online. Give suggestions to your student on how to best improve sound quality their side in the most affordable manner.
  • Tip 3: Camera angle. If you’re a guitar teacher or similar, then this is easier as you don’t need a hugely wide shot. If you’re teaching drums or keyboard then you need to angle your camera or cameras to make sure that everything is visible.
  • Tip 4: Lesson content. Be selective in what you can teach. Not everything transfers well online. If part of your lesson is very interactive and works well in a room with a student in front of you, eg. teaching technique and helping to physically implement this somehow, you may want to rethink how you can get this across.
  • Tip 5: Lesson scheduling. It’s all very well wanting to teach someone in a different time zone, but you will need to take into account when they are able to have a lesson. Will 3 am in the morning suit you?

Tell us about your teaching

We’d love to hear more about your experiences teaching online. Head over to our social channels and send us a message! Facebook // Instagram // Twitter // YouTube

Teaching Rockschool Drums – Grade 1 | Guest Blog

March 5th, 2020 by

Welcome to the second instalment from drum tutor and guest blogger, Michael Hutchinson, on how to teach Rockschool Grade 1 Drums.

Your student has moved forward from Rockschool Drums Debut to Rockschool Drums Grade 1… let us celebrate! Grade 1 is a significant achievement for them and you. They can successfully read music and play their instrument, and as their teacher you now need to focus attention onto the more delicate movements and technicality of playing the drums.

What to teach in Grade 1?

Grade 1 is about building speed and acquiring the skills to move around the drum kit.

It would be best if you were focusing teaching technique on:

  • Hi-hat openings – open the hi-hat on all the quarter notes, and then on all the eighth notes and then freely when improvising
  • Bass drum independence – placing the bass drum on all the quarter notes, all eighth
    notes, and then doubles in eighth notes, once comfortable then freely while improvising
  • Cymbal crashes – with the lead hand and non-lead hand
  • Ride cymbal – including ride line embellishments and playing on the bell of the ride in quarter notes
  • Drum fills – eighth note fills, and sixteenth note fills in single strokes, double strokes and paradiddles, using the full drum kit and make use of exploring drum sounds. The student will be able to identify musical notation from debut grade, so allow them to navigate through the chosen piece by themselves, with guidance from you, if needed, however, there is some new notation within grade 1 you need to explain.
  • Repeat signs within the piece
  • Ride cymbal
  • Bell of the ride notation
  • Hi-hat opening and closing
  • Crash cymbal
  • Ties – e.g. allowing a cymbal to ring on

Music theory to reiterate

  • Time signature – what does the top number mean (Numerator – Beats per bar) and what does the bottom number mean (Denominator – Note value)?
  • BPM – beats per minute

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

Practice plan

It’s now an excellent time to start getting that practice plan in place, starting with time management. How long should a student practise? Intrinsic practice is what you aim for, and the student needs to want to practise rather than forced to practise.

Fifteen minutes is a good start, starting with a warmup and ending with a cool down, preferably playing a song that they want to play, with the middle section focusing on lesson content, a section of the piece, or a technique the student struggles on which was identified in the lesson. Practice should be aimed at feeling comfortable with the rehearsal set out and not aimed at speed, unless this is what is lacking.

A good practice plan should involve some or all of the below:

  • Listening to the piece that the student is learning – familiarising the student with listening to the piece they are learning allows them to prepare mental strategies and performance cues when they play the song live
  • Repetition practice – going over the bar or exercises including rudiments over and over to place into long term memory will allow them to access this information in performance using implicit (unconscious) memory
  • Counting out loud – note value, the rhythm of the piece, allows the student to hear what they are trying to play, which allows the processing of this information to sit within auditory memory and can be used as a performance cue
  • Reading music – This allows the student to become aware of reading notes and identifying patterns but also allows visual memory of the piece they are playing which, again, can be used in mental strategies to prepare for performance
  • Implicit practice – I would say that this is the most important variant of any practice. The student needs to want to practise, without feeling that it is “homework” or a chore.

  • 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.

Rockschool Stories | Phil Harris

February 12th, 2020 by

With decades of experience in guitar teaching and working within the wider creative industries, Phil Harris is an impressive musical entrepreneur. Phil has also qualified with a distinction as Licentiate Teacher of Music, LRSL in 2009, before gaining a First Class BA (Hons) in Creative Music Performance in 2019.

Dip-in: Rockschool’s brand-new Diplomas for Teaching were released in 2019

During his time managing a music department, Phil became an assessor for the government’s ‘New Deal for Musicians’. At this time, Phil successfully obtained funding from Youth Music London, which offered music opportunities to young people in deprived communities across South Wales (where he is based).

Made-the-grade: Some of Phil’s students celebrate passing their latest Rockschool exams

Can you give us a brief explanation of your teaching business?

I have been teaching electric and acoustic guitar for over thirty years. Alongside this, I have worked within the creative industries in a variety of ways: I was an assessor/verifier for the governments ‘New Deal for Musicians’ programme. I’ve worked as a guitar teacher for Sony records. I have secured funding from Youth Music UK for under privileged areas in Wales. I have written guitar units for the CQFW and QCF; and I have qualified – with a distinction – as Licentiate Teacher of Music in 2009 and a First-Class BA (Hons) in Creative Music Performance, as recently as 2019.

RSL Teacher Registry: Advertise your own teaching business for FREE with RSL

[on the Song Records role] Was this for any artists/bands we may have heard of?

I was contracted to assist a Sony recording artist. Unfortunately, that’s all I can say due to a signed agreement!

How did the funding from Youth Music help and how do you feel about the future of music teaching in your region?

The funding was a fantastic opportunity for many underprivileged learners and their families to gain access to music education for the first time. It also facilitated many freelance teachers to increase their academic levels and professionalism in the region, whereby there was less means to do so previously.

James Banfield: We spoke to the psychotherapist and life coach in March ’19

As the years have passed, I see many more students, the young and the older generation, suffering from performance anxiety and its adverse effects. This maybe just down to the demands on society in general, but I think this area needs further research and attention. I think it will become increasingly more important that teachers should study this area in greater detail to assist their students; whether it be by studying mindfulness or relaxation techniques, or maybe just talking about anxiety more regularly.

How long have you been using Rockschool, and why has it worked for you?

Since the late 90s I do believe. It’s worked for me because of its large selection of arrangements and types of music, as well as its professional processes.

Rockschool Electric Guitar: The update to Debut – Grade 8 was released in 2018

What’s your favourite performance piece to teach, and how does it improve your learners?

From the early Debut grade book, ‘Another Dime’. This tune helps develop a students’ confidence in applying basic rhythms and rests in a great rock-styled genre. Also, I’m really fond of the grade 8 tune ‘Freightshaker’, which allows me to assist the students uderstanding of fretboards visualisation and the dominant chords in the EDCAG system, with the appropriate scales and stylistic riffs.

Freightshaker! Guitarist, Ian Devlin, plays an awesome version of the classic Rockschool track

What’s your favourite test to teach, and how does it benefit your learners?

Definitely the Improv and QSP tests. These help the student become creative, by allowing them to employ the scales they have practiced in order to develop chord harmony, rhythmical understanding, and the ability to create variations in different genres.

Improve Your Improv! Phil shows off his own improv skills here

What’s your favourite learner success story?

A parent had emailed me about their 9 year old son. He had been receiving lessons from a different teacher, who had told both the parent and student that he (the student) would never have the ability to play the guitar. I was so taken aback by this teachers comments, that I made it my aim then and there to help the student reach their goal. This student has just successfully passed his first grade, which has instilled pride and confidence in the student, as well as his parents.

What musician(s) inspired you to start playing?

I was first introduced to the guitar by a neighbour at a young age and instantly found inspiration from my older brothers’ record collections. Inspired by all the great iconic riffs from musicians such as, Jimmy Page, Rory Gallagher, Stevie Ray Vaughan and of course the great melodic phrasing of Joe Satriani, I started to play myself, and never looked back!

Communication Breakdown: Guitar-hero, Jimmy Page, plays the classic track with his band, Led Zeppelin

Do you have any favourite personal experiences as a musician?

I really enjoy attending masterclasses with well-known guitarists. I have been fortunate enough to do so with Alex Hutching, Tom Quayle, Martin Goulding and Prog Rock guitarist, Plini. And last but not least, interviewing Shaun Baxter!

Do you have any goals for the future of your teaching business?

To complete my Masters in June with AMS and UWL, and hopefully progressing on to a PhD. I believe by continually developing my learning process, it will help me deliver the best quality and most up-to-date information to my students, helping them to reach their potential, whilst making sure the journey as musical and enjoyable as possible.

What reasons would you give to encourage young musicians to teach others?

The answer to this question is an easy one. To have a key influence on someone who has a dream to become a confident, expressive musician is a unique and important experience that will only change your life for the better.

A big thank you to Phil for taking the time to speak to us. If you’d like to enquire into how you can learn Rockschool Guitar in South Wales, you can click on the image below to get started now!

If you’d like to nominate yourself, a music teacher you know, or even an entire school for a new chapter of Rockschool Stories, click on the button below and drop us a message!


How Can Teachers Attract New Music Students? | Guest Blog

February 4th, 2020 by

As a teacher, if you are self employed or working for an agency, one of the biggest challenges that you will face in your professional career is attracting new music students…

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

There are going to be many times of the year where you will notice business tail off slightly, especially if you teach a lot of younger students or adult students with families.

These quieter spells are often centred around school holidays and Christmas. In these times it can be quite a noticeable drop in how busy you are as many students may prefer to keep these time periods open for other activities.

The challenge we all face as teachers is to attract students to fill open slots to keep our diaries booked up through the year, so the quiet times are less impactful on us. But, how do you attract students?

This could be your first or your thousandth student, you still need to put yourself out there and attract people to use your service. Let’s look at a few ways’ we teachers can be more business minded in how we fill our diaries.

1. Social Media

Social media is the biggest advertising platform in the world, and it doesn’t have to cost you a penny. Create informative and interesting posts based around your teaching and share them to your friends and family and ask them to share these even further.

Paid ads on social media can go a long way. You can target specific age groups and demographics within a set radius of your working area. Even for as little as £30 you could be putting your advert in thousands of local newsfeeds, all of whom are potential students.

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

2. Local Advertising

Get out there and advertise in your local community. There will be loads of local shops, community centres and notice boards around your area. You should use these as a platform to put up some flyers and posters to catch people’s attention. Many people use notice boards in stores to advertise services, check with your local convenience store and see if you can advertise your business there.

Does your area have a local newsletter or a community newspaper? If the answer is yes, find out who runs it and see if you can run some ads. This usually costs a small amount, but you are putting your business name and service through the letterboxes of potentially thousands.

3. Word of Mouth

If you have some students who are pleased with the service you are providing, ask them to share the word. Word of mouth is one of the strongest advertising mediums there is. If people tell other people about a good service, this goes a long way. You could even offer a small incentive to a student like a free lesson if someone they refer to you converts to a student.

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!

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!


Quick Tips: How to Practise and Improve your Sight Reading | Guest Blog

December 20th, 2019 by

The term “sight reading” is enough to send chills down any musician’s back. The ability to just look at a sheet of paper and play the piece is a skill that many of us assume is reserved for the absolute elite of musicians.

The truth is, sight reading doesn’t have to be such a mountain to climb. Anyone can learn to sight read by starting simple and working up.

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

Let’s consider some key points that would help you learn sight reading:

Rhythmic Awareness

Are you familiar with how to read your note lengths on both staves and rhythm charts? Having the ability to spot your note lengths will make a huge difference when sight reading. Being able to read note length without thinking means you can look at the note and focus on the pitch and not the length.

Whole Note

Half Note

Quarter Note

Eighth Note

Sixteenth Note

Key Signature, Chord and Scale Knowledge

Often, when it comes to sight reading you may be given a quick opportunity to scan the page first. This is a good time to take in the key signature of the song. This will immediately give you an insight into what scales and chords you should expect to see in the piece.

I would recommend learning your Major and Minor scales as chords, understanding intervals and relative major/minor keys. If you look at a piece and you can identify the key right away, that will give you all the information you need providing you know what scales and chords fit into that key.

Check out this other resource I wrote for Rockschool called Key Signatures: A Beginners Guide. This has all the information you need to get started with understanding key signatures.


Start Small and Grow

Don’t expect to be able to sight read at the highest level after just a week of learning the basics. Sight reading is a skill that takes time, practise and patience to develop to a high standard. A great way to start sight reading is to take a melody that you are familiar with and find the sheet music for it. Study the key signature of the piece and try to follow it along with the sheet music. You can use your scale knowledge to help guide you and your familiarity with how the piece should sound will help you piece together the notes.

By doing this, you are associating the notes on the stage with the pitches on your instrument. Don’t go for a piece that’s too complex right away, take it easy with a piece that you know well.

Study Before Starting

Before you dive into a sight-reading exercise, spend that little bit of extra time looking at it and making notes (either in your mind or by writing them on the charts) about what you’re looking at. Look for any key areas where you might run into difficulty or something that might not look like it belongs in that key family.

You should also pay attention to any dynamic changes or repeated sections. I often do a lot of live gigs that involve showing up and playing off chord charts with no prior rehearsals. I rely on my understanding of these charts to get me through the gig. In these situations, the first thing I always do is study the arrangements and look for any key points where I need to repeat something or change the overall feel or dynamic.

Learn to Think Ahead of Yourself

When you start to progress with sight reading, you’ll realise that you need to think ahead of your current playing position. Many accomplished sight readers will learn to take in an entire bar in one go, or even a few beats at a time. This means that you can be playing something while your brain locks into the part coming next.

This might sound quite intense, and at first, it will be. It’s essentially splitting the brain into two halves, one to play and one to read.

Like all sight reading, start slowly with this. This is something else that using a familiar melody or piece could benefit from as you will be familiar enough to play a section while allowing your mind to move ahead to study the part that is coming up next.

Are You Getting Better?

Let’s imagine you’ve now been trying to learn sight reading for a few weeks, how do we know if you’re getting better. Firstly, you will feel more comfortable with the idea. You’ll feel more at ease when you look at a piece of music and you’ll feel more confident in your ability to just dig in. You’ll also feel that you’re spending less time “working it out” and more time just playing it.

A good measure of this is to once again call up the notation for a piece of music you are familiar with but make sure it’s a piece you can’t already play from memory. Try to sight read it, if it sounds as you expect then that’s a positive indicator that your sight reading is moving in the right direction.

Don’t give up! It’s a long road but the results are worth it. You’ll get into the swing of it very quickly but don’t forget to keep working at it and keep pushing yourself.

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…

Rockschool Stories | Michael McGregor

December 18th, 2019 by

MM Piano Tuition has been using Rockschool Piano to inspire students for over 5 years. Based in Banff, Aberdeenshire, Michael lists his favourite keyboardists as Tuomas Holopainen (Nightwish) and Jordan Rudess from the Prog-Metal masters, Dream Theater.

“I’ve found that teaching has made me a better musician overall. I have many students who enjoy music from a range of different genres, and embracing their own influences not only helps to keep your students interested, but it also improves your own playing by forcing you to explore music that you may not have found otherwise.”

How long have you been using Rockschool, and why has it worked for you?

I’ve been using Rockschool for about 5 years now. Rockschool’s selection of popular styles of music makes it very appealing for myself and my students – particularly the most recent syllabus. Having both solo and accompaniment performance pieces mean that students get a more complete experience of what it is to be a well-rounded piano player, which is all you can really ask for.

Rockschool Piano 2019: featuring popular hit tunes from pop, rock, electronica, soul/r&b, funk, musicals and film scores

What’s your favourite performance piece to teach, and how does it improve your learners?

From the 2019 syllabus, I particularly enjoy ‘All Of Me’ by John Legend from grade 4. It’s a beautifully arranged solo performance piece, which is great for building hand and finger independence. It has a challenging, yet satisfying pre-chorus which is followed by the flowing arpeggios of the chorus itself. Great stuff!

Please Note: this is not the composition found in Rockschool Piano (Credit: Rousseau)

What’s your favourite test to teach, and why is it important for your learners?

I enjoy teaching the improvisation component as it helps students find confidence in playing music without relying on sheet music. It allows them to be creative and explore the different sounds they can make. It’s also a great way to reinforce their knowledge of scales, chords and key signatures and how to use them.

Made the Grade! All smiles from a selection of students after receiving their Rockschool results

What’s your favourite learner success story?

A young teenage student of mine had been given piano tuition previously but hadn’t enjoyed it as they expected. They transferred to me and we took a new approach that I hoped might suit them better. we focussed on building their confidence by introducing new ways of learning and playing pop music that they currently enjoyed listening to. Fast forward a few years and they’ve now passed several Rockschool exams, performed at school events and enjoys regularly playing and singing with friends!

Inspiration: Keyboardist, Tuomas Holopainen, plays ‘Ghost Love Score’ with Nightwish

What musician(s) inspired you to start playing, and why?

I’ve always had a keen interest in music, but I can’t say I was inspired to start playing by any particular musician. However, I’ve continuously been inspired by keyboardists such as Tuomas Holopainen (Nightwish) and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater). Their ability to use a wide range of sounds from a single instrument to create such a huge variety of music shows how versatile the keyboard can be as an instrument. From using simple combinations of piano and strings for a ballad to using heavy, gritty lead sounds for those heavier tracks is really inspiring.

Jordan Rudess: The Dream Theater keyboardist takes you through his incredible live set-up

If you had to choose a track or album from one of your favourite players what would it be?

For Tuomas I would probably choose the Nightwish album ‘Once’. A great album which contains one of my favourite tracks “Ghost Love Score”. When it comes to Jordan, I would choose the Dream Theater album ‘Octavarium’ as it’s the first DT album I owned and the one that got me hooked. Also, the track ‘Octavarium’ for the same reasons.

RSL Teacher Reg: Sign-up to our teacher registry like Michael and advertise your own music teaching services

How would you encourage other musicians to use their talents to teach, like you have done?

I’ve found that teaching has made me a better musician overall. I have many students who enjoy music from a range of different genres, and embracing their own influences not only helps to keep your students interested, but it also improves your own playing by forcing you to explore music that you may not have found otherwise. Music can be a powerful form of expression whether you’re listening, playing or writing. To be able to introduce this to your students and help them express themselves through music they really enjoy makes teaching a very rewarding experience!

ENTER NOW! UK & Ire students can enter for their next exam anytime before the 17th Jan 2020

A big thank you to Michael for taking the time to speak to us. If you’d like to enquire into how you can learn Rockschool Piano at MM Piano Tuition in Aberdeenshire, you can click on the image below to get started now!

If you’d like to nominate yourself, a music teacher you know, or even an entire school for a new chapter of Rockschool Stories, click on the button below and drop us a message!