Inspired by Alex Lifeson from Canadian prog-rockers, Rush, Simon kindly gave up his time to help us better understand how he uses a variety of Rockschool resources to help inspire students of all ages throughout his home-city of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Simon Arbuthnot was first introduced to Rockschool over 12 years ago! As a music teacher specialising in Guitar and Bass, Simon has taken students through every grade available for over a decade; and with a Level 6 Rockschool Diploma under his belt, Simon is as experienced as they come with the Rockschool method for music teaching.
How long have you been using Rockschool, and why has it worked for you?
For nearly 12 years now. I started my teaching career with Yamaha music schools & so was introduced to Rockschool exams as part of the Yamaha exam syllabus, and was lucky enough to sit a level 6 RSL teaching diploma through that time.
It works for me because of the gradation of difficulty between grades & levels. I feel that the song choices are appropriate for each grade in the main, and it gives students a way to learn songs in a simplified manner, so their progress is not solely focused on technique but mainly driven by the songs.
By examining and analysing most RSL songs, students can be shown many techniques in songwriting & playing. The pieces offer plenty of scope for developing fundamental techniques as well as their own creativity, soloing and development/variation sections.
The backing tracks are excellent quality and give students a chance to play along with a musical backing, focusing them on rhythmic security & musicality in a way that merely following TAB will never do.
What’s your favourite performance piece to teach, and how does it improve your learners?
Hard to answer, but at a push I think that "Circus Experience" in grade 4 guitar is an excellent example. It improves learners by offering a chance to use new chord inversions (hence learning new chord shapes & ways to move them around the neck) and add embellishments to chords, rather than just strumming patterns. It also offers a great musical way to describe and experience a simple chord progression (C - G - F - Em) in several different inversions, which can then be extrapolated to show how a student can create their own interesting chord progressions and variations using inversions.
The solo section also offers a chance for grade 4 students to progress from simple grade 3 pentatonic soloing into using some natural minor scale notes to enhance the breadth of note choices, and to better match the chord progression.
What’s your favourite test (sight reading, improv etc) to teach, and why is it important for your learners?
Improvisation is by far the most common choice for my students, and it is pretty nerve-wracking for them having to improvise on the spot, even with me in a lesson, let alone in an exam.
At the early levels the chord improvisation is the most accessible, and definitely works well to focus them on creating strumming patterns to match a backing rhythm, but again is very difficult for most students.
Later grades tend towards melodic improvisation, given that they are now soloing In songs by this stage. It becomes easier for them, but it is challenging getting students confident with identifying key signatures and scale choices. But, these things are vital for Improving musicians, and so even with the difficulty I am always able to progress with students using these tests, even if it's a painful process sometimes!
What’s your favourite learner success story?
I have many, but one that sticks out is a student who I have had since age 8, who struggled very much for the first few years. He mostly only listened to pop music on the radio, but always loved the RSL song choices. It was simply his desire to learn to play the song choices in each grade that kept him going, but because of what he has learnt during this process he is now a keen rock music fan. We've just started Grade 6, so it's been fantastic to see him make it all the way to level 3 standard.
What musician(s) inspired you to start playing?
Alex Lifeson from Rush!
If you want to find out more about Simon, as well as many other Rockschool teachers throughout the world, head over to our Teacher Registry for more info! You can also contact Simon directly via AAA Music, who offer one-to-one and group guitar lessons for all.
If you're interested in taking part in our Rockschool Stories series, please don't hesitate to get in touch. Simply drop us an email introducing yourself to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Rockschool Stories" as the subject header!