My name is Matt Wensor. I am a professional guitar teacher who runs Guitar Lessons Northampton. Over the years I have entered many of my students into Rockschool graded exams and today I will share my experiences of how lockdown has changed how I teach the guitar.

This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MusicTeacher.com by Matt Wensor

Adapting to Covid

Due to the plight of the Covid-19 pandemic, the music industry ground to an incomparable halt overnight during 2020. As a musician and guitar teacher, it was an incredibly uncertain and challenging time.

To adapt to this climate, I made the decision to migrate all of my teaching online, via Skype and Zoom. Thankfully, as most students were happy to agree to this, I then purchased an Aston Origin condenser microphone, some Adam Audio monitor speakers and created a small home studio space to teach from. The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Music Online that was produced by Leigh, Matthew and the music teachers in our community was of great help as a resource to aid that transition online.

Thankfully, I was able to sustain around 15 - 20 lessons per week over the course of the last year. Considering the average number of in-person lessons I had was around 25 before the pandemic, I feel very fortunate.

This has posed a challenge in itself as an online call can create distance between the teacher and student. We are not in the same room and I couldn’t move students’ fingers to the correct frets, or play musically with them at the same time due to a latency between internet connections.

It has been challenging in many ways, such as poor internet connection on the student’s side, and even having to tune a complete beginner’s guitar, by ear, over a Skype call without my own hands on the guitar to adjust. Believe it or not, this has happened on multiple occasions!

Moving exams online

The impact of the Covid pandemic has not just changed the way we work as teachers, but it has encouraged innovation for the examination boards greatly too. Rockschool’s determination to explore online exams gave me great reassurance that as an industry we could get through this challenging time. I was certainly going to give it a go and was keen to learn how an online exam differs from a physical Rockschool exam.

Firstly, it is to be filmed in its entirety, performed and managed entirely by the student.

Secondly, the student has to talk their way through each section of the grade book themselves, explaining which piece or technical exercise they are about to perform, either with a metronome or backing track.

A third element which is different for an online exam, is that Improvisation and Sight-Reading tests cannot be completed, as they are usually given on the spot by an examiner.

Finally, the student has to then send this completed video file to Rockschool’s website for moderation.

This has introduced a completely new area of content for me to cover with my students, such as learning to balance their guitar amplifier to their CD player/phone/laptop device in volume. This was largely so they can hear themselves and the backing track clearly, but the position of a guitar amp and playback device in the room was also very important, it meant they could produce a clear and balanced sound on the recording. Having one of these devices too close to their mobile phone or camera would distort the microphone and the perfect video take would be ruined.

A lot of time was spent teaching students how to manage these large video files, operating Google Drive to upload and transfer them, and getting students into the habit of setting up a camera every time they would practice.

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Digitally competent students

Speaking of takes, this was a key advantage that students of the ‘online exam’ era had over in-person physical exams. As long as their exam was filmed in one continuous video, they had the ability to do multiple, in fact, unlimited takes. Students who were willing to set up a camera and practise through the grade book over and over had the opportunity to have unlimited attempts at the grade - as many as their discipline would allow.

Dedicated students managed to achieve great results by taking on this practice routine. Another advantage mentioned earlier is that because the Improvisation, Sight Reading and Musical Knowledge questions couldn’t be carried out, much more time and effort could be invested into perfecting their pieces and technical exercises.

A product of this was that it created students who were much more independent, confident, competent physically and comfortable playing in front of a camera. They have built their knowledge of performing, practice, recording and managing video files far beyond what a physical exam would have done, which in this ‘YouTube & Instagram Musician’ era, is not a bad thing at all.

Rockschool Ukulele Method

Overall, it has personally been incredibly interesting and rewarding to coach students from all areas of the country and watch them progress from the comfort of my own room, some of whom I’ve had a working relationship with for over a year that I have never actually met in person. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge and experience which I will take on in my practice and look forward to helping more students achieve their goals and pass these fantastic exams.

About the Author

This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MusicTeacher.com by Matt Wensor, an experienced guitarist, tutor and journalist from Northampton. Matt is part of a community of professional guitar teachers offering guitar lessons to students around the world. Read more of MusicTeacher.com’s pieces relating to Rockschool here...