A really fun and engaging part of Rockschool's grade exams is the option to perform a track you love that does not appear on the current syllabus material.
A 'Free Choice Piece', or 'FCP', is an additional performance piece that can be chosen to showcase your skill level at the particular grade instead of one of the tracks already assigned by Rockschool. But, how do you decide if what you've chosen is the right track?
This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge
You've worked really hard towards your final performance, so it would be a massive shame if your FCP was the thing that brought your marks down. So, with this in mind, I thought it would be really beneficial for many teachers and their candidates if I took the time to concentrate on how to look at Rockschool's criteria for choosing your FCP's, and how to ensure that you pick the right track before your grade performance.
How Many Free Choice Pieces Can I Play?
All candidates of Graded Music Exams can perform a maximum of two free choice pieces in addition to one performance piece from the Rockschool grade book for each level. If you are taking a Performance Certification Exam however, you are allowed to perform a maximum of three free choice pieces alongside two Rockschool grade book pieces. The criteria for choosing a piece is that is must be a popular genre such as pop, rock, blues, country, metal (and, of course, any other that you can think of!) and should contain enough content that displays the technical and musical competence for the specific grade you are working on. Original compositions are also acceptable, again, providing they meet the criteria for that grade, as stated in the official Rockschool guidelines.
Quick Tip: if a student approaches you with a piece they’d like to consider, but it doesn’t tick all the boxes, as a teacher you could work with the student to find a similar piece by the same artist that they may feel comfortable using in its place.
Positive Prep: a student and teacher at The Rhythm Studio break down a Rockschool Drums piece
If you are looking for a starting place, check out this great resource on Free Choice Pieces which provides a downloadable list for each instrument type. This instrument based guide will break down the criteria that a piece of each level should contain. It goes into a lot of detail that you can then use to aptly cross-reference with your chosen track(s) to determine if it's suitable for the grade in question.
Each entry will list the skills and techniques that must be included, as well as any other techniques that has been specifically included within the compositions produced by Rockschool in each book. Finally, it will also give an indication of the theoretical understanding required. For example, the grade 8 electric guitar criteria states that the candidate should have “complete mastery of the fretboard”. Although this could seem quite a broad statement, it is something you must consider when asking yourself "does my track do a good job in demonstrating this?".
All free choice pieces must be played with a backing track with the part you are performing removed so that the examiner can hear your playing clearly. The feasible availability of a good backing track must also be a part of the consideration process, and can often be overlooked when choosing.
Do not start practising a FCP for your upcoming exam until you have secured the backing track first. It may all be a waste of time, and cause you unnecessary stress, in a time when you should be enjoying your playing and looking forward to the challenge presented by the exam. As a seasoned Rockschool teacher, you should be able to check the piece against the assessment criteria to make sure that it ticks all the relevant boxes; but if you have any concerns at all, contact RSL straight away and the Academic Team will be more than happy to help you assess your progress.
About the Author:
This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge, a professional guitarist, tutor and journalist from Wales in the UK. He has been working in the music industry for over 10 years as a touring and studio musician with various artists, guitar tutor and writer for many high profile guitar publications. Read more of Leigh's pieces relating to Rockschool here...