This week's instalment of Rockschool Stories comes to us courtesy of Alex Guilles: drummer, teacher, and all-round good guy.

A big thanks to Alex's teacher, Andy Franklin, for arranging this interview.

Can you give us a brief summary of your musical journey? Include any achievements you’d like to highlight.

My parents made me learn the piano from a young age. I was able to play to a decent standard and enjoyed learning and performing but never really engaged with the instrument. However, after having a few drum lessons, my piano tutor informed my parents that they were wasting their money as I spent most of the piano lessons showing off what I had learnt that week on the drums instead of practising my scales and my arpeggios!

alex-guille

Once I was able to, I would play each week with the local church worship band. This developed the performance side of my drumming by working with many different musicians, often under pressure to play unfamiliar songs with little time to practise. The role meant that I needed to be competent in different styles, able to improvise where required, and adjust my playing dynamically according to the feel of the song and the atmosphere in the room.

In high school I started jamming and writing music with the guy who would eventually become my best mate. Something clicked early on and we have worked as a duo and in bands ever since. We are currently playing together in ‘Shooty and the Bang Bang’ and last year we released our first album. After spending a year gigging it around Colchester, London, and Essex, we are back in the studio working on our second album.

About 3 years ago I decided that my playing had plateaued and I needed a new focus so I started lessons with Andy Franklin at ALF Drum Studios. I hadn't read drum notation before but my piano training meant that I was able to read and understand the note values and dynamic markers. Then it was just a case of learning the notes on the drum stave. Andy has been amazingly patient with me, always encouraging, and under his tutorship I have achieved a distinction at grades 3 & 5 and sat my grade 6 in the first exam window of 2020.

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

I’ve been using the Rockschool syllabus for 3 years. Andy at ALF Drum Studio got me straight onto learning pieces from it. The thing that I have enjoyed most is learning pieces in different genres which I hadn't before, including ska/reggae, hip-hop and various Latin styles.

I like the introduction of popular tracks alongside the Rockschool originals in new books as I was making use of the Hot Rocks books before for my grade 5 exam in which I played ‘Hey Joe’ by Jimi Hendrix as one of my choices.

What’s your favourite performance piece to play, and how did it improve you as a musician?

Mohair Mountain from the Grade 6 book. I'm a big fan of John Bonham's playing and this piece is written in his style.

The piece features time signature changes, a polyrhythm between the hi-hat foot and drums, 16th triplet bursts on the bass drum and my first ever drum solo section that I've written! These were all firsts for me but the way that the piece is written made it a manageable challenge for me to competently learn and perform them all.

How has your teacher influenced you? How would you describe their teaching style?

Andy has encouraged me the whole time. Boosting my confidence by giving positive feedback on my playing and helping me to develop further by highlighting key areas to focus on for practising outside of lessons. Andy has a phenomenal knowledge of the Rockschool syllabus and has prepared both myself and his other students thoroughly for the exams. This allowed us all to remain calm and focused on the pieces rather than worrying about any nasty surprises on the day!

Which skills that you learnt from studying Rockschool have proved most useful?

Practising the technical exercises has opened me to different sticking patterns which I have used when writing fills and beats for numerous songs with my band.

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

As previously mentioned, John Bonham has been a huge influence. Led Zeppelin's live recording at MSG, The Song Remains The Same, is a regular listen on Spotify.

My time at high school was spent listening to the drummers from the 2000s era so drummers such as Travis Barker and Joey Jordison have also influenced me massively. They’re definitely drummers that I aspire to be able to play like.

More recently I have been really digging Christopher Tsagakis (Rx Bandits) who has an incredibly busy, active way of playing that I find unique and mesmerising to watch live.

Do you have any favourite personal experiences as a musician?

Touring the UK with my band has to be a highlight. All the classic tour tales of sleeping on mates’ sofas and in the van, getting lost trying to find venues, making new friends with bands and technicians, and generally having a great time. Best summer holiday ever!

What are your musical goals for the future? Please explain what they are and why they’re important to you.

I am currently working as a business and computer science teacher. My career aspiration is to develop my drumming enough so that I can apply my teaching practice to drumming. It is important to me that I will be able to guide the next generation of drummers to learn and develop. I hope they can achieve excellent results in their Rockschool exams and use the skills they develop to forge their own careers.

What reasons would you give to encourage young musicians to use Rockschool?

The pieces, particularly the originals tracks, allow you to develop and naturally learn the stylistic features used in a wide range of genres. I had not necessarily picked up things like flams and rim shots in rock music, and syncopated note placements in Latin grooves in my years performing and listening to music.

The satisfaction of going from the daunting first read-through of a piece to competently performing it and hitting every note is a great feeling. Rockschool has given me a focus that I was not able to find elsewhere.

You can follow Alex on Instagram HERE, and keep up to date with his band, Shooty and the Bang Bang, on Facebook HERE.

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