A big thanks to RSL's Portuguese rep, Víctor Gomes, who conducted this interview with Carolina Marques (AKA Karol). In a fascinating discussion, Carolina discusses how her teachers have influenced her, the rewards in pursuing music, and which Jamie Cullum tune she's been playing on repeat.

My name is Carolina Marques, and my stage name is Karol. I'm 22 years old and I was born in Porto, Portugal. I'm a pianist, singer, songwriter, teacher and aspiring producer. I began my musical journey at the age of 13 when I decided to take piano lessons. I started by taking classical piano lessons but during high-school I gave up on them for an entire year. It became too much to juggle with the work I had in the final years of art school, and so I decided to take a break. I was planning to go to the UK to study something completely different at uni, but then I realized I didn't want to give up on music. That's when I found Rockschool, or better yet, when it found me!

I was told piano wasn't for me, that I wasn't going to be able to finish the classical syllabus. And they were right, that path wasn't for me. When I started Rockschool I jumped straight to grade 6 because I already had enough knowledge to attempt that exam. It was absolutely terrifying but, at the same time, it was the most eye-opening experience. I didn't know how fun piano pieces could be, because I was never told that you could play jazz, film scores, pop, rock, bossa nova, whatever it was, and be recognised for playing that genre of music. That was an entirely foreign concept to me. I loved it so much, and so I ended up completing grade 8 in piano, vocals and music production. I found where I belonged with Rockschool and I was always on the search to know more.

I found where I belonged with Rockschool and I was always on the search to know more.

Since then I have become a piano and musical theatre teacher at a dance and music academy in my city (Academia Alberta Lima), and I also self-released my first EP entitled "KIN" on Spotify, after finishing grade 8 music production last year. I'm currently working with RSL to bring to our students what I believe is the best syllabus platform for learning music and playing contemporary songs. Working in this academy with all these different areas like dance, theatre, and music, Rockschool is the perfect choice for us.

Which grades did you do?

I started the Rockschool program on grade 6 for piano, the first year was the hardest one because, like a lot of people, I was convinced contemporary music was easy. I have never been more wrong in my life. The first year was about discovering all these different rhythms and time signatures and how harmony can change an entire song and make it richer and fun to play. I had no idea about all that, all I knew how to do was read notes and play what was written. With Rockschool I learnt how to feel what I was playing, while improving my technique much, much more, because sometimes I just had to improvise! I completed grades 6, 7 and 8 on Piano, while at the same time completing grades 3, 5, 6, and 8 on Vocals and wrapping up last year grades 1-8 of Musical Production in a 2-year long course.

Any songs that stayed with you?

Definitely! "These Are The Days" (grade 8) by Jamie Cullum is something I still play all the time! It's an amazing theme and so fun to play! I also remember crying my heart out every time I started studying the "Theme from Schindler's list" (grade 7); that piece is absolutely breathtaking. I wasn't expecting to be able to play any of John William's works in any sort of exam. That one really made me understand why playing with feeling is the most important thing.

Who was your teacher?

My teacher, my mentor through life and the person who most helped me become who I am today is Víctor Gomes (with a background experience as a pianist, teacher and composer, having worked with great composers like Christopher Norton). He took me in right at the start when I wanted to get back on piano lessons and he showed me a whole new world of music and gave me quite a few life lectures as well. Whenever I felt like music wasn't for me, he'd always prove me wrong, and always pushed me to do better. I'm forever grateful to have had such an amazing teacher, such a great mentor, and such a great friend and colleague.

My current vocal coach is the wonderful Cristina Maltieira who has a great background in lyrical and belting techniques, having performed as a soloist as well. I had classes with her through all the Rockschool grades I completed and never in a billion years thought belting was possible for me. She proved me wrong, and continues to do so, every day. She's really one of a kind, I've never met someone like her before and couldn't think of trusting another person with my voice. I'm grateful to call her a friend and colleague nowadays.

Carolina Marques teaching Rockschool Victor Gomes

Last but definitely not least, Pedro Vieira was my teacher throughout the musical production Grades. He has worked as a producer, pianist, sound engineer and teacher, and he was such a positive and encouraging presence in my journey! I learnt a lot from him, especially on how to listen, how to be creative and step more outside of the box. I initially decided to take the course so I could learn how to record covers better, and ended up with an actual EP. He was very supportive and every time I needed his help at the studio he was there. Whenever I wanted to change all my songs last minute, he was nothing but supportive and always gave me solutions to help me through it. Thanks to him I produced tracks that I'm really proud of - even if they're not an example of perfection, they're songs that I actually was able to release to the world, from my mind, to paper.

How did Rockschool improve your confidence as a musician?

Tremendously! I could never walk into an exam without shaking before Rockschool. In all my previous piano exams any little mistake felt like the end of the world, like the God of pianos would cast me away forever! With Rockschool I learnt how to deal with my own mistakes, how to carry on, and how to deliver the performance - no matter what. I also formed a band when first taking the piano grades, and it was so much fun being on stage with them; I was never on stage with anyone before that. Rockschool gave me the confidence to perform with other amazing musicians, to adapt, to have my own solo shows, to present my songs confidently to people. This translated into the confidence I have today to take every opportunity that comes my way.

Do you have any experiences you'd like to share?

So many! I feel like every performance has been meaningful. Releasing my EP was amazing because I finally felt like a musician, creating, and expressing myself the way I know best. Every part of it has been wonderful. No matter the hardships that came with it, I think it's always worth mentioning that above all it's important to take care of your physical and mental health. Teaching music is such a beautiful sharing experience. I think one of the best advantages of teaching through the Rockschool syllabus is that the students know the songs and get so excited to, finally, play their favourite ones. It’s beautiful to witness.

So, what next?

I’m planning to continue my journey with RSL Awards by taking a Professional Diploma, but at the moment I'm focused on bringing all that Rockschool has to offer to my own students. I sincerely hope it becomes the number one thing that people look for when they think of studying contemporary music. I've loved every second of the journey - I've even considered taking some guitar lessons as well just to have more fun producing! I feel like that’s the fun of Rockschool: there are no boundaries, no limits to what your creative heart and mind might want to do. I want to show to the younger generation that the sky's the limit. I plan on doing my absolute best to pass on all the wonderful experiences Rockschool has brought me, and to put all of what it taught me to good use on my own musical career.

Carolina Marques Karol

Carolina has released her EP, KIN, under the name Karol - it's available to stream on Spotify now!

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!