Category: Music Teacher

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!

I HAVE A ROCKSCHOOL STORY

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 Tracks

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.

DOWNLOAD YOUR PRACTISE WITH PURPOSE DIARY NOW!

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!

ENTER NOW!

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.



GET YOUR ROCKSCHOOL MUSIC THEORY SAMPLE PAPERS


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!

I HAVE A ROCKSCHOOL STORY

Rockschool Stories | Ritesh Khokhar

December 17th, 2019 by

Ritesh and the team at Bridge Music Academy have been using Rockschool resources to teach contemporary, western music to students in Delhi, Gurgaon and Chandigarh since 2009.

We caught up with Ritesh to talk about his experience influencing music education across northern India for our latest ‘Rockschool Stories’.

Credit: Rohit Lal Photography

“We want to bring quality music education to as many musically starved people in India as we can.”

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

Bridge Music Academy has been offering music tuition in ‘Western Classical’ and contemporary music since 2009, with four branches in Delhi, Gurgaon and Chandigarh. We have over 500 students studying across our four branches of the Academy, supported by over fifty highly qualified music educators. Subjects taught include Piano, Keyboards, Drums, Vocals, Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Bass and Ukulele.


Out Now! Rockschool’s Piano and Keyboard syllabuses were completely separated and rewritten for 2019

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

We have been using Rockschool since 2005. We discovered Rockschool books on musicroom.com and ordered these our of curiosity. Students loved the material as it is the music they listen to and gives them the skills of perform and even make music of their choice. The teachers love the syllabus as it caters to every aspect of their teaching through a comprehensive examination structure covering elements like technical work, ear tests, general musicianship questions, sight reading and improvisation, along with allowing students to learn and perform the music of their choice.

Credit: Rohit Lal Photography

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

I have too many favourites, but if I have to pick one: I am currently teaching “He’s A Pirate” from the Pirates of the Caribbean Theme. It’s a great new composition for our Piano students to add to their repertoire. The piece is beautifully arranged and is perfectly benchmarked for this level. Students build their own composing skills along with their understanding of octaves and syncopation. The middle section features left hand arpeggios that stretch over and octave, which is an ideal accompaniment pattern to know at this level. A lot of the students already know the theme by ear too, so they enjoy learning it from the start.


Piano Play-Thru: Nick Maw takes his viewers through “He’s a Pirate” on his YouTube channel

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

My favourite is getting to teach improvisation on a swing rhythm with my grade 3 piano students. Generally improvisation is very important because it makes students think about the building blocks of music. They see the importance of music theory as it becomes increasingly important here, so it’s nice to see them connecting the theory to the practical application from this stage. You still need to put the work in order to be creative!

Credit: Rohit Lal Photography

What’s your favourite success story?

One of my students, Ruhani, started to prepare for a grade 4 classical piano exam last year. Getting her to practice outside of the lessons became increasingly difficult. Her parents also found it difficult as they could not relate to the music she was playing. This year I introduced her to Rockschool Grade 5 Piano and she was immediately excited to see some of her favourite songs listed in the book. In under 2 weeks she had mastered her first exam piece. I remember her being so surprised by this she said to me “Do you remember how long it took me to learn a performance piece last year! It was close to 2 months!”. The reasons why she picked up this music much quicker was not because the music is not demanding, or interesting enough – it’s actually more demanding than comparable classical grade – but because she couldn’t stop herself from practising! She loved the music, which inspired a consistent routine and therefore: more learning, more enjoyment and more satisfaction. Even her parents enjoyed listening to her practise!

Credit: Rohit Lal Photography

What musician(s) inspired you to start playing?

My friends in school introduced me to artists like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, MLTR, Red Hot Chili Peppers, AC/DC, and many other fantastic rock bands. I actually played in bands for years completely by ear before getting into formal training. As I started learning, my taste in music grew, and I got into some amazing artists like Parliament Funkadelic, Joe Zawinul, Trilok Gurtu, Steve Gadd, James Brown, Chick Corea and Rush. That’s the thing that some people miss about studying music formally, it can really help you to appreciate music in a way you never thought about before.


Enter Sandman! You can play Metallica’s classic track on the Rockschool Grade 2 Guitar syllabus

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

We want to bring quality music education to as many musically starved people in India as we can. In practical terms, our future plans are to expand the business to include an online academy, and to build new franchises to help quality music education find its way into places that have never had to opportunity to take advantage of it before.


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


A big thank you to Ritesh for taking the time to speak to us. If you’d like to inquire into how you can learn with Rockschool in India, you click on the image below to get started now!


RSL India: Ritesh attends the Rockschool Guitar, Bass & Drums Launch event in 2018

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!

I HAVE A ROCKSCHOOL STORY

Music Teaching & The Portfolio Career

November 19th, 2019 by

Creative people are likely to have spent a huge amount of their time mastering a selection of creative pursuits that served as ideal conduits for their need to express themselves. Once those skills are developed, it’s natural to then find work in the creative spaces where those skills are most appreciated, and new ones are developed.

A ‘portfolio career’ allows creative people to continue to think creatively when it comes to their career. By applying their talents to a range of job opportunities rather than one, they can develop new skill and earn money from a diverse pool of revenue streams in the process. Portfolio careers, or those a part of the “gig economy,” have grown in recent times due to a variety of factors. It would be irresponsible to state one reason that applies to everyone, but within creative communities at least, a common reason for choosing this career path is down to the autonomy it can provide.

WORK/LIFE HARMONY

Whether it’s seen as a better way to address work/life balance, or the best opportunity to develop multiple skill sets in a professional environment – for many creatives, often with divergent passions and interests, it serves as a great platform for personal and career growth to co-exist together. Whatever the reason, the portfolio career has become a more viable option through the boom of freelance, remote work opportunities, made infinitely more viable by the advancements in portable technologies.


Drummer and music educator, Alex Forryan, explores how music teaching fits into a portfolio career

WHERE TO START?

Entrepreneurship; networking; time management; decision making. If you’re someone who is better suited to working for themselves, it’s important you get into the mindset that any advancement in your career is going to be up to your willingness to motivate yourself, and ability seek out the people who can be a positive influence. Look for classes, seminars, workshops, tutorials and qualifications that will pro-actively keep your skills up to date and bolster your C.V. for potential employers. Most of these are offered as extracurricular pathways that, with a little bit of time management, can be successfully factored into your current schedule. Remember; you’re the boss!

“Adding different skills to your portfolio as you go on through your career helps you gain employment, keep employment, and generate new revenue streams.”

TECH SKILLS v SOFT SKILLS

The top two skills in demand are tech skills and soft skills. People who know how to work with the latest technologies in their industry, yet also display the emotional intelligence to work well with others, navigate complex social systems and problem-solve in a variety of situations will always be seen as attractive propositions. In roles that demands more hands-on, practical application, employers are more likely to care less about where you gained your degree, and more about the tangible skills you can offer; and the work experience that will allow them to believe in your ability to get the job done from the outset.

KEEP LEARNING

If you’re in secondary school or college, now is a good time to take advantage of any online and self-study courses that enable you to understanding the fundamental skills associated with your preferred career path. Taking our own Professional Diplomas as an example, with only 40 guided learning hours assigned to each pathway, the effort required to complete the tasks at hand, measured against the potential value accrued later on in life, should make them even more of an attractive proposition.


Rockschool Pro Diplomas: Help you navigate a truly satisfying career path, knowing that you’ve made a difference in many lives along the way

KEEP EXPERIMENTING

As a creative, passionate person, you’re probably comfortable with the idea of experimentation. One of the consequences of the portfolio career is a higher turnover of opportunities. This is due to multiple individuals traversing a variety of roles as they seek to diversify their list of experiences. Additionally, portfolio employees don’t have to settle for the same monotonous work if they can find attractive options elsewhere, forcing employers to provide opportunities for role experimentation outside of more traditional vertical trajectories.

As a result of this, easier pathways for internal job moves allow employees to take advantage of their changing skills and interests, without having to undergo the risk of changing companies. Chances are, you will be working multiple roles within a range of industries over the next few years. Take advantage of each experience and use it to further diversify your skillset.

BRAND: YOU

It’s a type of statement that may make some feel uncomfortable, but the reality is: personal branding matters. As working environments become more automated and universally integrated, personal branding will become dramatically more important. A professional, well written C.V. is a great start, but a lot of employers will want to review your online presence to get an understanding of who you are: if you’re self-motivated, pro-active and able to promote yourself in an effective way.


Online/Offline: employers will often check your online presence before approaching you

LinkedIn is the most common channel that recruiters use to ask a person for an interview and review online portfolios, but be aware that they will also seek you out on other social networks where your profile may be publicly accessible. Think about the optics on each of your social accounts – is this someone you’d want to work with? Students are in the best position here because they start from scratch. Start thinking about the ‘package’ you present to potential employers, and how you can align your future opportunities with a common direction in your professional life. If it’s easy to recognise where you’re going before you get there, chances are that opportunities will find you, before you find them.


Adapt: The skills learnt in one sector can be adapted to fit into another once you identify your goals

CONCLUSIONS

Portfolio careers are symptoms of the macro trends happening all over the job market. While they don’t suit everyone, they certainly provide those with creative pursuits in their personal life a chance to take those passions and further optimise their professional opportunities at the same time. If you’re at the start of your career, now is the time to sit down and brainstorm what your future of work might look like; the type of skills you’ll need; and the professional environments that best serve their development.

NOTE: As a freelancer you will need to make sure that you keep detailed records of your invoices and expenses. Working for yourself means you effectively operate as a business unto yourself, and this means you will need to be responsible for your taxes. It’s strongly advisable that you have a thorough read through the UK government’s ‘Work for Yourself’ guide, which has lot of really helpful information available on this subject. Don’t let this put you off – it’s just another skill in a long-line of skills you’ll continue to collect as your career continues.


For more information about Rockschool’s brand-new Professional Diplomas for Teaching, Performance & Creative Enterprise click here for syllabus guides, prices and FAQ’s.