With a firm focus on cohesion and consistency at the forefront of any release, the Rockschool Method is a musical pedagogy that we hope contributes to the production of confident, self-sufficient musicians; empowered with the knowledge and ability to see their musical decisions blossom into authentic musical expression.
The General Musicianship Questions section of the exam gives each candidate the opportunity to dig deeper into aspects of music theory and appreciation, and then consider how to articulate the knowledge gained from each grade into coherent, aural statements. For some, this may seem a little daunting as first, but we promise that each candidate will get a huge amount out of this particular section. Analysis & reflection is an important part of learning in general, so we felt it applied to our exams as much as it should anything else.
Being able to analyse and reflect effectively also involves linking a current experience to previous learning experiences (a process psychologist refer to as ‘scaffolding’). The later grades may include information that is developed from an idea introduced earlier in the syllabus, which is why we encourage that students work through each grade sequentially. We wouldn’t expect a student to work backwards as far as gaining a grade, but engaging with the syllabus in its entirety will certainly aid the progression to a proceeding exam by negating against gaps of knowledge later on.
Rockschool GMQ’s were included to get students into the habit of linking and constructing meaning from their musical experiences, enhancing the significance of each topic learnt. Reflecting on these experiences also encourages insight and the ability to grasp the more complex methods that are included in later grades. Making this an integral part of our learning rituals also means it is easier to foster our own growth – taking control of our own learning – and breathe confidence into our ability to enter into discussion with others.
GMQ’s equate to 5% of the overall mark, which, despite seeming quite a small amount, could quite easily be the difference between one grade boundary and another. It’s important to remember that one of these questions could be the reason you earn a merit or a distinction, so it’s worth preparing for this section as best you can.
The format presented in each grade book will come in the form of four questions on music theory, and another relating to the instrument itself. The detail expected in each answer will be based on particular topics consistent with the syllabus in question. Rockschool Piano, Keys and Ukulele for example, will include one question (per instrument, per grade) on harmony, melody, rhythm, technical application and genre.
Note: These questions have been specifically generated to align with Rockschool’s Performance Pieces, so be mindful when selecting a Free Choice Piece, which may be limited in scope.
Example 1: Rockschool Drums
In this exam, candidates could be asked to identify the notated drum voices that are present within any of the performance pieces chosen for their exam (these are all explained within each grade book). They would also be asked to identify the individual parts of their drum kit (snare, hi hat, ride cymbal etc.). Then, at the other end of the grades – Drums Grade 8, for example – candidates would be asked to identify and explain some of the more complex elements of the notation, which could be in the form of explaining the chosen stylistic approach towards a solo, or the development of a given section within the piece in question.
The knowledge base that Rockschool GMQ’s can engage could be technical, performance-based, aural or visual in nature. The list of topics in each grade book is deliberately broad to ensure that each students preparation includes a wider range of subjects that can feasibly be included in the exam itself. This may seem a bit cheeky once you get out of your exam, but it’s better for you in the long run (and that doesn’t mean that something you’ve learn may not come up later on!). Being in a position to evidence this knowledge when it's applicable later on should provide a genuinely rewarding experience, hopefully going some way to further building your confidence as a musician.
Example 2: Rockschool Guitar
Having the musical knowledge to be undaunted by any of the potential GMQ’s will always relate to the student’s ability to fully understand each of their performance pieces on their own merits. Fortunately, the required level of detail of this musical knowledge will always be commensurate to what is included at each grade. For example, in ‘Carbon Footprint – Electric Guitar grade 4’ the solo backing only outlines a Gm7 chord with no additional harmony. Therefore, the scale options for soloing over it can remain relatively simple and reflective of the scales within the technical exercises. The backing for the guitar solo within Lead Sheet at Grade 8 outlines a F#m which could appear as a similar level of difficulty. However, to maximise marks at this grade candidates are expected to use more advanced modes and scales, such as the ones present in the grade 8 technical exercises – evidencing what has been digested, specifically at this grade.
In essence, Rockschool GMQ’s are another progressive platform that helps to develop a greater awareness of what is being played as students’ progress. As the music becomes more complicated, so do the concepts behind them, which in turn must be factored into the questions posed by Rockschool examiners.
At every stage of learning; in every part of a Rockschool syllabus; broadening a students’ musical vocabulary is paramount. We believe it’s beneficial to see each section of the exam – whether it’s in the performance, the technical exercises, sight reading, improvisation, ear tests or GMQ’s – not as isolated, unrelated events; but as a collection of chapters that belong to a whole story.
…and there we have it! We’ll be back next week with the final instalment in the series: Supporting Tests.