Category: Music Teacher

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.

Rockschool Stories | Miguel Thomas Marfany

November 13th, 2019 by

Lead guitar teacher and owner of Rock School Coruña, Miguel Thomas Marfany has used Rockschool materials to teach one-on-one and group lessons to hundreds of students across the Galician region.

In our latest instalment of Rockschool Stories, we discuss successes, favourite performance pieces and the legendary ‘Guitar Legends’ concert in Sevilla from the early 90’s.

“One of my students was 7 years old when he started to learn guitar with me. He wasn’t especially motivated or naturally talented, but we began studying ‘Let’s Rock’, then Debut, then Grade 1, and he stuck with it… now he plays everyday and is the lead guitarist in his own rock band.”


Miguel plays the bass; backing up his guitar students at a school concert

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

I am the owner as well as one of the senior guitar teachers at Rock School Coruña. I teach electric guitar from Rockschool Debut all the way up to Performance Diploma level. I currently deliver 30 hours of individual and group lessons per week alone with many more staff doing the same of a variety of instruments. It’s infectious to see how proud each of our teachers are every time we see a student reach a new benchmark. Around 90% of our students are retained right the way through our course, which is a big achievement for me and the staff.


Come Together! Footage from the latest school concert (March ’19)

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

This is going to be my seventh year teaching Rockschool. I can’t believe how fast it’s gone. This all started when I began working alone with my first small academy, teaching guitar to local kids. Right now, I have 14 music teachers on staff working with me and I’d happily take on more given the amount of students we’re taking on ever year. From such a tiny operation, it’s hard to believe we have over 10 teaching rooms, across two floors, in operation every single day. People have always loved the Rockschool books and the exams really focus the mind at each stage of their development.


All Smiles! A young Ukulele student, encouraged by Miguel, performs with friends

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

From the level 1 grades [Debut – Grade 3] I love to teach ‘Get Off’. Students love this tune, and as a tutor it’s a perfect example to introduce riffing, chord changes and early soloing. From level 2 [Grade 4 – 5] my favourite has to be ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ because it introduces a fast tempo’d swing with seventh chords, modal interchange and an interesting rhythm to test your reading skills, all in one track. Plus, it’s just one of those classic-rock tracks that everyone loves to play. Finally, from Level 3 [Grade 6 – 8] ‘Mind the Gaps’ is a beautiful composition full of interesting and advanced teaching points. Whether it’s Guitar, Bass or Drums being learnt, this is a great track to measure yourself against.


Dan from XYZ Drum Academy raises his sticks for a run-through of ‘Mind the Gaps’

What’s your favourite test (sight reading, improv etc) to teach, and why is it important for your learners?

I love the improvisation tests from Grades 4 and 5. It’s a very dynamic way to instil this vital skills into music students. If your goal is to get young players to gradually understand their role in a band, or even in a recording session, this is an ideal exercise to learn how to play with other musicians.


Thank you Coruña! A budding drums student takes centre stage for a round of applause

What’s your favourite learner success story?

There are so many great stories from over the years, but I do have one student who comes to mind. He was only 7 years old when he begun to learn guitar with me. He wasn’t especially motivated or naturally talented, but we began studying ‘Let’s Rock’, then Debut, then Grade 1. He stuck with it and became more determined as his playing improved. Last year he passed grade 5 with a mark of 86, and now he plays everyday, and is the lead guitar player in his own rock band. He can’t wait to begin studying grade 6!

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

I was inspired by the classic rock guitar players like Jeff Beck, Richie Blackmore, Brian May, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai etc. I must have watched the Guitar Legends Concert over a hundred times! I still remember how mesmerised I was by the different techniques and styles each guitarist had. From then on I knew that I wanted to learn how to do that. I wanted to find my own style of playing.


Steve Vai is joined by Brian May at the legendary Expo ’92 concert in Seville

FACT: You can find the Steve Vai classic ‘Die to Live’ in the latest Rockschool Grade 8 Electric Guitar book.

Finally, do you have any goals for the future of your teaching business?

I always want to improve the quality of lesson that I’m giving to each of my students. The information, the delivery, the analysis – all of these things can be improved – you’re never a perfect teacher. Every student is different too, so it’s important to change your approach for the type of person you have in front of you. I also want to embrace new technologies. Of course the next generation are going to more receptive to interactive digital tools, but there are also many ways to improve your effectiveness as a teacher with tech support. Just because you teach, doesn’t mean you should stop learning!


We’d like to thank Miguel and the Rock School Coruña team for taking the time to help us put this together. Hopefully, you’ve found this a really inspiring insight into how teaching can have such a huge effect on a local area, anywhere in the world.

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

Quick Tips: Networking For Music Teachers | Guest Blog

October 28th, 2019 by

A major challenge for the self-employed music teacher is growing a network of relevant contacts.

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

In many industries, networking is the key to success. If you’re a session musician, your sessions come from your contacts. The network of other musicians and agents around you that will vouch for you and put your name forward for various jobs.

In the teaching world, these networks don’t often exist in the same way, but we can still network to help levy our business. Here are my quick tips…

Chances are, you probably know other people in your area that teach the same instrument as you. You may even already be friends with some of them. This is where networking becomes a useful commodity. Speak to other tutors in your area and come to an agreement that you will refer them students you can’t take in return for them doing the same for you.

This give-and-take relationship is a fantastic way to build networks around your local area. Sure, other teachers in the area are your “competition” but there is no reason you can’t recommend them to students who can’t take lessons with you.

Music shops are also a fantastic way to network. If you have music shops close by, visit them and get to know the staff. These are the people dealing with many new players every week. Some shops will gladly recommend teachers or stock advertising materials. You may even be able to speak with the staff at your local shop and arrange to offer a free lesson to anyone who buys a new instrument in return for you recommending their store to all your students.

You would be surprised how much you can achieve with networking. Many people are in the same situation as you. Working for themselves, trying to better their business and improve their visibility. If we can all work together in this crazy music world, we can make it a better place for all of us.


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…

Am I Ready to Take My Rockschool Exam?

October 9th, 2019 by

With summer just around the corner, we’re looking ahead to the next session of Rockschool exams in the UK and Ireland.

We have a wide range of assessment options available to accommodate all learners, so whether you’re keen to do a face to face exam, a video exam, or include classical pieces as part of our Free Choice Piece expansion, we have you covered!

For some, it’s hard to know when you or your students are truly ready to apply. This is why we’ve asked guest blogger, guitarist and educator, Leigh Fuge, to explore ‘Am I Ready to Take My Rockschool Exam?’

MGR Music’s Leigh Fuge explores…

Am I, or my students, ready to take my Rockschool exam? The golden question! What do we consider being ready for an exam? The exam will follow the same structure and contents that would have been covered in lessons using the Rockschool books. So, with that in mind, let’s break it down into a few simple areas:

Technical Knowledge

  • If you get asked to play a particular chord or scale, or variations of this, can you/your student do so without hesitation?
  • Is the chord played cleanly without any wrong notes and its pitching clean and concise?
  • Is the scale played correctly with all notes at an even tempo?

Performance

  • Are you using a performance piece from the book or do you have a pre-prepared one?
  • Can you perform this from memory or comfortably whilst reading from the book/sheet?
  • Can you deliver a confident performance that sounds as close to the original as possible?

Theory/Listening

  • Can you answer a range of listening based questions on time signatures, rhythm and melody without hesitation?
  • Can you replicate different rhythms and melodies from hearing them?

If you can answer yes to all or most of these questions, then chances are you, or your student, are ready to take the Rockschool exam.

For teachers, I would always recommend spending a few lessons running over the content in an exam format as a mock test with students to help them get used to only having one attempt at playing pieces or answering questions.

When preparing for exams, it’s important to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible. Here is a useful blog I wrote on Recovering from Mistakes During Exams. This will help you and your students prepare for mistakes. Remember, making mistakes does not ruin the exam. Keep calm and focused and you’ll nail it!

**Updated: Monday, 6th January, 2020 and again on Thursday, 4th June, 2020.

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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 | Daniel Lickard – DSL Music

September 30th, 2019 by

As a professional drummer with a huge passion for music, Daniel is a versatile player with an equally versatile catalogue of work. Daniel has worked with bands and artists from the worlds of rock, reggae, pop, country and jazz; and has experience playing on TV, Radio, and a variety of live shows throughout the UK and Europe.

A keen educator, Daniel currently offer home visits in and around the Salisbury area, at JNX Productions Music School in Tisbury and various academic schools in both Wiltshire and Dorset. Approximately four years after he first started teaching Rockschool Drums, we caught up with Daniel to ask him a few questions…

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

I have been using the Rockschool syllabus for around four years. I feel the books take a very musical approach to the drum set and the design of the syllabus is very easy to follow. I think having sections dedicated to songs, sight reading, questions etc. is a very useful way of breaking things down in a way that is easy to teach and learn.

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

It’s very hard to pick one specific piece, as arguably they all include important techniques, but I really enjoy Dark Matter. I love the intricacy of this piece; the ghost notes; the syncopated rhythms; it always keeps students on their toes. It also has a great open section when it comes to the solo too, which gives the student enough space to breath and really experiment.

What’s your favourite test (sight reading, improv etc) to teach, and why is it important for your learners?

The Sight Reading aspect is by far my favourite. I find that around 90% of my students are worried or nervous about learning to read notation because it’s difficult or scary, but once they start to understand the notation it’s amazing to see their confidence grow. It also allows them to work through the book in between lessons and make progress even without me there to guide them, which I feel is a very important part of the learning process.

What’s your favourite learner success story?

My favourite learner success story is when my first Grade 8 student went in for an exam and came out with a Distinction. When they came to me for drum lessons they were around grade 5/6 standard, so it’s been amazing to see their playing grow over the years and to come out of their final Rockschool drum exam with a top mark.

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

I love almost all styles of music so I have a lot of different drumming influences, including Mark Guiliana, Jeff Porcaro, Benny Greb, Anika Nilles, Gene Krupa – the list is endless – but it was Travis Barker who initially inspired me to pick up my first pair of sticks. I remember watching Blink 182 live and the energy he gave off when he played was just incredible. I was a bass player initially but was always jumping on the drums at band rehearsals. I would spend hours on YouTube watching live videos of Travis and trying to replicate what he was playing, which is initially how I first started learning.


If you want to find out more about Daniel, as well as many other Rockschool teachers throughout the world, head over to our Teacher Registry for more info! If you’re interested in booking Drum lessons with Daniel, you can click on the image below to go straight to his website for details.


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Rockschool Stories | Simon Arbuthnot – AAA Music

September 23rd, 2019 by

Inspired by Alex Lifeson from Canadian prog-rockers, Rush, Simon kindly gave up his time to help us better understand how he uses a variety of Rockschool resources to help inspire students of all ages throughout his home-city of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Simon Arbuthnot was first introduced to Rockschool over 12 years ago! As a music teacher specialising in Guitar and Bass, Simon has taken students through every grade available for over a decade; and with a Level 6 Rockschool Diploma under his belt, Simon is as experienced as they come with the Rockschool method for music teaching.

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

For nearly 12 years now. I started my teaching career with Yamaha music schools & so was introduced to Rockschool exams as part of the Yamaha exam syllabus, and was lucky enough to sit a level 6 RSL teaching diploma through that time.

It works for me because of the gradation of difficulty between grades & levels. I feel that the song choices are appropriate for each grade in the main, and it gives students a way to learn songs in a simplified manner, so their progress is not solely focused on technique but mainly driven by the songs.

By examining and analysing most RSL songs, students can be shown many techniques in songwriting & playing. The pieces offer plenty of scope for developing fundamental techniques as well as their own creativity, soloing and development/variation sections.

The backing tracks are excellent quality and give students a chance to play along with a musical backing, focusing them on rhythmic security & musicality in a way that merely following TAB will never do.

BUY YOUR NEW ROCKSCHOOL ACOUSTIC GRADE BOOKS

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

Hard to answer, but at a push I think that “Circus Experience” in grade 4 guitar is an excellent example. It improves learners by offering a chance to use new chord inversions (hence learning new chord shapes & ways to move them around the neck) and add embellishments to chords, rather than just strumming patterns. It also offers a great musical way to describe and experience a simple chord progression (C – G – F – Em) in several different inversions, which can then be extrapolated to show how a student can create their own interesting chord progressions and variations using inversions.

The solo section also offers a chance for grade 4 students to progress from simple grade 3 pentatonic soloing into using some natural minor scale notes to enhance the breadth of note choices, and to better match the chord progression.

What’s your favourite test (sight reading, improv etc) to teach, and why is it important for your learners?

Improvisation is by far the most common choice for my students, and it is pretty nerve-wracking for them having to improvise on the spot, even with me in a lesson, let alone in an exam.

At the early levels the chord improvisation is the most accessible, and definitely works well to focus them on creating strumming patterns to match a backing rhythm, but again is very difficult for most students.

Later grades tend towards melodic improvisation, given that they are now soloing In songs by this stage. It becomes easier for them, but it is challenging getting students confident with identifying key signatures and scale choices. But, these things are vital for Improving musicians, and so even with the difficulty I am always able to progress with students using these tests, even if it’s a painful process sometimes!

What’s your favourite learner success story?

I have many, but one that sticks out is a student who I have had since age 8, who struggled very much for the first few years. He mostly only listened to pop music on the radio, but always loved the RSL song choices. It was simply his desire to learn to play the song choices in each grade that kept him going, but because of what he has learnt during this process he is now a keen rock music fan. We’ve just started Grade 6, so it’s been fantastic to see him make it all the way to level 3 standard.

What musician(s) inspired you to start playing?

Alex Lifeson from Rush!


If you want to find out more about Simon, as well as many other Rockschool teachers throughout the world, head over to our Teacher Registry for more info! You can also contact Simon directly via AAA Music, who offer one-to-one and group guitar lessons for all.


If you’re interested in taking part in our Rockschool Stories series, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Simply drop us an email introducing yourself to marketing@rslawards.com with “Rockschool Stories” as the subject header!

Rockschool Stories | Vicki Stavrinos – VS Music

September 11th, 2019 by

Off the back of the release of Rockschool’s new Piano Method books, it only seemed fair to feature a Piano teacher in the latest instalment of Rockschool Stories. Introducing, Vicki Stavrinos.

Inspired by the likes of Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Chopin, Vicki is utilising the wealth of repertoire found in the Rockschool Piano and Keys grade books to inspire the next generation of musicians. We sat down with Vicki to find out more…

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

“I have been using Rockschool for 4 years and the kids love this syllabus because of the repertoire and freedom to include optional material. I’ve found that it’s great for rhythm development due to the use of backing tracks, and I’m always thrilled with the sense of achievement they feel after they pass each grade.”

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

“I simply cannot choose one piece! These books contain a fabulous array of all genres and styles, which provide me with a fun, but challenging canvas of material to engage my students with.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT ROCKSCHOOL PIANO

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

“Sight reading, without a doubt! I feel it is very important for children to read sheet music. Whilst I do appreciate that improvising melodic lines to chords is fun and creative – and certainly has its own educational relevance – I’ve always appreciated how Rockschool’s material ensures that fundamental skills, like sight reading, remain a vital component throughout.”

What’s your favourite student success story?

“I will always remember one 9-year-old student of mine passionately announcing “I LOVE MUSIC!”’ after they had finally mastered a really challenging grade song that had been frustrating them for a long time. It’s always extremely rewarding to see a student really persevere because you know they will always appreciate what they’ve just achieved.”

Piano Method Book 1 Inside

LEARN MORE ABOUT ROCKSCHOOL’S NEW PIANO METHOD BOOKS

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

“On the Classical side, Chopin. His music is romantic, passionate, intense and so musically dynamic. The spectrum of emotional highs and lows can be felt from an entire lifetime throughout his work.

On the contemporary side, there are simply too many to name! I have always loved Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Bud Powell, to name a few. Natural players that were absolute geniuses.”


If you want to find out more about Vicki’s teaching services, head over to her profile on our Teacher Registry for all info relating to VS Music Tuition.


If you’re interested in taking part in our Rockschool Stories series, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Simply drop us an email introducing yourself to marketing@rslawards.com with “Rockschool Stories” as the subject header!

What Age is Best to Start Piano Lessons

August 14th, 2019 by

If you’ve been teaching piano for a while you’ve probably been asked this many, many times: “What is the best age to start piano lessons?”

Hand size, finger independence, and the desire to persevere all play their part in the beginning, but the answer should almost always be “start now!”. If you’d like to immerse your child into the world of music – why not, see how it goes? If they think those prime years of opportunity have already passed – they’re wrong. Adults: if you feel the same about starting yourself – guess what? So are you. Studying music at any age is good for body, mind, and spirit, and something to enjoy for a lifetime, whenever that journey begins.

To play, study and appreciate music is of course a wonderful thing; but in more practical terms, learning the piano aids the development of self-discipline, hand-eye coordination and problem solving (to name a few), whilst embedding a skill that can bring a lifetime of happiness and sense of achievement. According to the Journal of Educational Psychology, “students who take music courses score significantly better on maths, science and English exams than their non-musical peers.” Surely, even if it’s something you don’t stick with for life, the act itself carries with it many substantial benefits.

Is It Ever Too Early?

Now, it’s true that a quick Google-search can probably find a three-year-old playing like they’re Jimmy Smith (among other things) but that certainly doesn’t mean that your three-year-old is ready to commit to lessons each week. Children under the age of five who show an interest in the piano should probably be allowed to explore the instrument (among other things) without any kind of formal structure. They may be incredibly curious, which is fantastic, but the attention span needed to actually progress might take a little while longer to develop.

Cultivating a general interest in music and its innumerable expressions is only ever going to be a good thing (and something we actively encourage). Singing, dancing, and listening to your favourite music around the home is a wonderful way to spend time with your family whilst exposing young ears to a myriad of sonic adventures; but If you’d like to be a little more hands-on than that, then there are also many pre-school music programs available, such as Little Notes (other services are available).

LEARN MORE ABOUT ROCKSCHOOL’S NEW PIANO METHOD BOOKS

Are You Ready?

The best time to start piano lessons will be different for everyone, but how do you know what the right age is for your child? Here’s a three-part checklist to help:

1. Hand Size

Before starting piano lessons, make sure that the child has hands large enough to be comfortable using a keyboard. If the can cover 5 white keys within the span of little-finger and thumb, that’s a pretty good rule of… thumb.

2. Finger Independence

Working from one finger to the next, you should work on developing the finger independence for each hand of the player. The little finger is definitely the trickiest to move without affecting the ring finger next door (try it yourself!), but with a little practise each digit can be strengthened pretty quickly.

3. A love of Music

Without doubt, this is the most important factor to consider before you even begin to explore the subject of trying piano lessons: do they (the child) actually take a real interest in music? All of you adults will appreciate (especially the Brits) that nobody likes forced fun. Well, this concept also applies to forced hobbies. If the interest is led by the child then you can expect them to succeed because of their own desire. If that passion isn’t present, you might find you’ll end up in power struggle that ultimately someone has to lose (worse-case scenario, you both do).

The Sweet Spot – Five to Eight

Within this age range, kids have already had pre-school/nursery and primary school experience, with adult-directed lessons imbedded into their learning. Young, ‘spongy’ minds of this age are primed to pick up new languages and build neuro-connections at an amazing rate – learning the language of music applies just the same.

Another, more practical reason, is that it’s much easier to pick up a new skill when you’ve got lots of time to grow at your own pace. The older you get, the more likely it is that our lives fill up with a variety of other interests. A good thing with an array of its own positives, of course, but time itself will become a scarcer, so it’s really profitable for the learner to build a solid foundation before their wide interests start to accelerate later on.

Reading Skills

One thing that might slow a five-year-old down as they begin to study is their ability to read fluently at this early age. With this in mind, the Rockschool Piano Method books stimulate the development of this skill from the beginning. Although this might be a struggle and cause some frustration early on, a good foundation of decoding symbols from a page is incredibly value when it comes to developing musically later on.

What this development also means it that you don’t have to wait until a child can read before beginning music lessons. Reading and writing music shouldn’t be introduced until much later, but they will be much more prepared for it when that time comes.

Is It Ever Too Late?

If you were taking notice during the intro, you already know the answer – it’s it is, of course: absolutely not. Anyone who really wants to learn the piano and is willing to put in the time to practice can learn as quickly or even quicker than a younger child in those most influential years. (Especially if that child doesn’t really like playing in the first place.)

As we get older, it is not only our bodies that get less flexible, but also our brains! But, at the same time, our ability to focus, conceptualise and stubbornly persevere can most definitely increase. Your determination and tenacity to excel on the piano is a gift. If you possess it – why not start now?

What a lot of people forget post-childhood is that they’re actually really good at lots of things. They’ve mastered their native language (and maybe some non-native ones along the way), they can do mathematics, developed problem-solving skills for multiple situations. They can walk, run, dance, ride a bike, drive a car, play sports, cook, read and many, many things younger children would struggle with.

Young children aren’t actually good at much yet, for obvious reasons. Because of that – compared to their adult counterparts – they are less likely to get frustrated and then feel awkward about their limitations. It’s easier to stick with the things that you’ve already mastered. The struggle and obduracy that you’ll end up displaying should also ensure that you feel proud of yourself after each hurdle is cleared. Don’t give up – you can do this. Remember: all you’re really doing is connecting with your inner child all over again. Set whatever time you have aside, make sure your environment is right for you to lock-in and, most importantly, enjoy it.

Not that hard really is it?

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Recovering from Mistakes During Exams

July 20th, 2019 by

So, you’re sitting in the exam room with your examiner ready to take on your graded exam. You’ve put in a lot of work up to this point, spent countless hours learning the material and practising…

You’re going to nail it, don’t worry!

If you make a mistake here and there, that’s ok. No one wants to make mistakes, especially when you’re being marked on it, here are a few things to consider to keep your performance rolling ahead even if you make a mistake.

As a musician, and a semi-perfectionist, I used to dwell on mistakes. If I made a mistake during a gig, I would get very annoyed at myself and it would put a dark cloud over the rest of my gig. I’ve played many gigs where I’ve noticed myself slipping up on something minor and regardless of how good the gig is, that would ruin it for me.

In recent years, I’ve learnt to let this go. I had a revelation in 2014 at Download Festival watching Aerosmith. Steven Tyler the bands frontman started the piano intro to the hit Dream On and low and behold in front of 85,000 screaming rock fans, he messed up. He played a chord that was a screamer of a wrong chord. What did he do next? He threw his head back, laughed out loud and carried on.

For me, this made me realise, maybe it’s not so bad to make a mistake occasionally. Here are some tips to help you recover when you make mistakes in times of pressure.

Don’t Panic, It Happens!

Mistakes happen. If you panic, you are more likely to follow that mistake with more mistakes. Let the mistake go, it’s a small moment. Don’t let that moment define the rest of your performance. Once you make a mistake, a good thing to practise is the art of simply forgetting that you made it. This will allow you to focus on the parts ahead.

Relax and Have Fun

If you go into the exam relaxed, you are less likely to make mistake. Even if mistakes do happen, maintain your relaxed mindset and see them for what they are. I always find that if I’m feeling stressed or worked up before playing, I don’t play to my full potential. Before you go into the exam, spend some time warming up and generally trying to keep yourself relaxed and keep your mindset positive. Try to get excited about the prospect of the exam rather than afraid of it.

Focus on What Comes Next

One of the most important things to think about when a mistake occurs is to consider where you can re-join the piece with minimal disruption. Try not to pause for too long, if you hit a wrong note or skip a beat then try to catch up with yourself by the next beat. You can blend mistakes into a performance very well just by considering what is going on around the mistake and how you can carry on unscathed.

Plan for Mistakes

You can almost expect it to happen. You’re going into an exam which will add a little pressure, but also, you’re human. There isn’t a musician in the world who doesn’t make mistakes, but we will all make them at some point. Consider the piece you’re performing as a whole, if you make one or two small mistakes, does it really detract from the overall performance.


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…