Acoustic Guitar Grade 8

The Grade 8 Acoustic exam is for candidates who have been typically learning for five years or more and have now consolidated their playing to a high level. They have mastered the key skills up to Grade 7 and developed heightened technique, use of expressive devices, rhythmic complexity, fluency, co-ordination and musical understanding. Candidates will be able to improvise to an advanced level with effortless assurance and personality plus demonstrate seamless musical form and structure. There will be an innate stylistic conviction and distinctive musicality with strong individuality. Communication will be commanding. There are two types of exam available at Grade 8, either a Grade Exam or Performance Certificate.

At this grade you will have the opportunity to perform repertoire from artists such as Hiatus Kaiyote, Django Reinhardt, Eric Roche and more.

Exam Times

Grade Exam: 32 minutes (approx.)
Performance Certificate: 30 minutes (approx.)

Key Features at: Grade 8

  • Performance Pieces
  • Technical Exercises
  • Supporting Tests

Buy Your Book

The Rockschool Acoustic Guitar Grade 8 book contains everything you need to pass your Grade 8 exam in one essential book, featuring a truly diverse range of contemporary repertoire from some of the world’s most iconic artists, including Hiatus Kaiyote, Django Reinhardt, Eric Roche and more.

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Acoustic Guitar Grade 8 Book

Exam Structure

There are two types of exam available, a Grade Exam or Performance Certificate.

Grade Exam

3 Performance Pieces
(two of which may be Free Choice Pieces)
Candidates choose to play either
Performance Pieces or Technical
Exercises first
These account
for 60% of the
exam mark
Technical Exercises
(Section A, B, C and D for Level 3 qualifications)
Candidates choose to play either
Performance Pieces or Technical
Exercises first
These account
for 15% of the
exam mark
Sight Reading or Improvisation & Interpretation (Debut to Grade 5); Quick Study Pieces (Grade 6 to Grade 8)Candidates are given an unseen
test to prepare and perform
This accounts
for 10% of the exam marks
2 Ear TestsCandidates respond to 2 aural tests.These account
for 10% of the
exam marks
5 General Musicianship QuestionsCandidates answer 5 questions based
on one of the pieces performed
These account
for 5% of the
exam marks

Performance Certificate

5 Performance Pieces only
(three of these can be Free Choice Pieces)
These account for 20% of the exam mark each.

Performance Pieces

The pieces in the grade book can be used for both the Grade Exam and Performance Certificate. At Grade 8 they are longer, typically in the region of three to three and a half minutes in duration. The expectation and length of pieces are designed so candidates can demonstrate the required assessment criteria.

Featured Repertoire:

  • While my Guitar Gently Weeps - The Beatles (Eric Roche arrangement)
  • Kind Hearted Woman - Robert Johnson
  • Tears for Jerusalem - Tommy Emmanuel
  • First Rule of Thumb - Brent Mason
  • Minor Swing - Django Reinhardt
  • Breathing Underwater - Hiatus Kaiyote

Technical Exercises

At Grade 8 there are four groups of technical work: Scales & Modes, Arpeggios, Chords and Stylistic Study.

All exercises need to be played in straight feel, in the keys, octaves and tempos shown. Candidates may use the book during the exam for all groups.

Group A & B need to be played to a click. The examiner will play the click at the given tempo and candidates should begin to play after four clicks.

Group C is played as directed by the examiner.

Group D is played to backing track.

GROUP A: SCALES & MODES

Tempo: q=100 bpm
Rhythms: Eighth Notes
Range: One Octave

  • Whole Tone
  • Diminished
  • Altered

To be prepared as follows:

Root 6th (E) string: G, G#/Ab, A, A#/Bb, B
Root 5th (A) string: C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E

GROUP B: ARPEGGIOS

Tempo: q=100 bpm
Rhythms: Eighth notes

  • Dominant 7#5
  • Dominant 7b5
  • Minor 7b5
  • Dominant 7#9
  • Dominant 7b9
  • Diminished

To be prepared as follows:

Root 6th (E) string: G, G#/Ab, A, A#/Bb, B
Root 5th (A) string: C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E

GROUP C: CHORDS

Strummed and then picked (arpeggiated)

  • Dominant 7#5
  • Dominant 7b5
  • Dominant 7#9
  • Dominant 7b9

Supporting Tests

QUICK STUDY PIECE

At this grade candidates will be asked to prepare and play a short Quick Study Piece (QSP). The QSP chosen will be a previously unseen example, but similar to those provided as exemplar material in the grade book.

Candidates will be shown the test and played the track with the notated parts played. Any bars that require improvisation will not be demonstrated. Candidates will then have three minutes to study the test. The backing track will be played twice more. Candidates will be allowed to practise during the first playing of the backing track, with the notated parts now absent, before playing it to the examiner on the second playing of the backing track.

The style of the QSP is determined by the stylistic study selected by the candidate in the technical exercise section. The QSP is in the form of a lead sheet and candidates must create their own interpretation of the music in the parts where instructed to do so.

Styles:

  • Rock & Pop
  • Blues & Country
  • Acoustic Specialist

EAR TESTS

There are two Ear Tests in this grade. The examiner will play each test twice.

Melodic Recall

Candidates will hear a two-bar melody with a drum backing using the E major pentatonic, F minor pentatonic or B natural minor scale. The first note of the melody will be either the root note, third or fifth and the first interval will be either ascending or descending. Candidates will need to then play back the melody on their instrument.

The test will be played twice. Each time the test is played it is preceded by a one bar vocal count-in.
The tempo is q=90.

Harmonic Recall

Candidates will hear a tonic chord followed by a four-bar sequence in the key of E major played to a bass and drum backing. The sequence will be drawn from the I, ii, iii, IV, V and vi chords. The I and IV chords can be either major or major 7th chords. Candidates will be asked to play the chord sequence to the drum backing in the rhythm shown in the example from the grade book. This rhythm will be used in all examples of this test given in the exam. Candidates will then be asked to identify the sequence they have played to the examiner, including any chord extensions. The test will be played twice.

Each time the test is played the sequence is: count-in, tonic, count-in, chords. There will be a short gap to practise after second playing. Candidates will then hear the count-in and tonic for the third time followed by a vocal count-in then must play the chords to the drum backing. Candidates should then identify the chords. The tempo is q=90.

GENERAL MUSICIANSHIP QUESTIONS

Candidates will be asked five questions. Four of these questions will be about general music knowledge and the fifth question asked will be about instrumental & technical knowledge.

Music Knowledge

The examiner will ask four music knowledge questions based on a piece of music performed in the exam. Candidates will nominate the piece of music about which the questions will be asked.

In Grade 8 candidates will be asked to identify:

  • Names of pitches
  • Any expressive musical marking found in the piece such as palm muting, accents, staccato, legato, vibratio, natural and artificial harmonics
  • Any dynamic marking found in the piece
  • One type of scale that can be used appropriately in the solo section of the piece you have played and its relation to the

underlying harmony of the piece (if relevant) or:

  • How you developed a section of the piece (if relevant) or:
  • A stylistic feature of the piece characteristic of its genre

Technical Knowledge

The examiner will also ask the candidate one question regarding a technical consideration of their piece, in relation to:

  • Picking hand: Strumming or picking technique for a short phrase (up to one bar) – demonstration is acceptable
  • Fretting hand: Fretting position and fingering used to play a short phrase (up to one bar) – demonstration is acceptable

The examiner will choose the section of music and will ask for a brief explanation as to why the technique was appropriate for the chosen section.

Assessment Criteria

Performance Pieces

Attainment BandDistinctionMeritPassBelow PassBelow Pass 2
Mark Range18–2015–1712–146–110–5
Command of InstrumentConsistently clear production of sound and even tone quality throughoutMostly clear production of sound and even tone quality overallSome clear production of sound and generally even tone qualitySound produced is unclear with uneven quality of tone producedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Sync or PulsePerformance consistently synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance mostly synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance sometimes synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance not synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse not maintainedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Accuracy & Understandingall of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated throughout.

Understanding of musical structure shown all of the time.
Most of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated overall.

Understanding of musical structure shown most of the time.
Some of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills generally demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure shown some of the time.
Written music not accurately performed or equivalent skills not demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure not evidenced.
No attempt and/or incomplete performance
Style & ExpressionConsistently convincing projection of the music.Mostly convincing projection of the music.Some convincing projection of the music.Music not convincingly projected.No attempt and/or incomplete performance

Technical Exercises 

Attainment BandDistinction MeritPassBelow PassBelow Pass 2
Mark Range13–1511–129–104–80–3
Command of InstrumentConsistently clear production of sound and even tone quality throughoutMostly clear production of sound and even tone quality overallSome clear production of sound and generally even tone qualitySound produced is unclear with uneven quality of tone producedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Sync or PulsePerformance consistently synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance mostly synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance sometimes synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance not synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse not maintainedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Accuracy & Understandingall of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated throughout.

Understanding of musical structure shown all of the time.
Most of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated overall.

Understanding of musical structure shown most of the time.
Some of the written music accurately performed or equivalent
skills generally demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure shown some of the time.
Written music not accurately performed or equivalent skills not demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure not evidenced.
No attempt and/or incomplete performance

Ear Tests 

Attainment BandDistinction MeritPassBelow PassBelow Pass 2
Mark Range9–107–863–50–2
Accuracy & UnderstandingAll of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated throughout.

Understanding of musical structure shown all of the time.
Most of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated overall.

Understanding of musical structure shown most of the time.
Some of the written music accurately performed or equivalent
skills generally demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure shown some of the time.
Written music not accurately performed or equivalent skills not demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure not evidenced.
No attempt and/or incomplete performance

Supporting Tests

Attainment BandDistinction MeritPassBelow PassBelow Pass 2
Mark Range9–107–863–50–2
Command of InstrumentConsistently clear production of sound and even tone quality throughoutMostly clear production of sound and even tone quality overallSome clear production of sound and generally even tone qualitySound produced is unclear with uneven quality of tone producedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Sync or PulsePerformance consistently synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance mostly synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance sometimes synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance not synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse not maintainedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Accuracy & UnderstandingAll of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated throughout.

Understanding of musical structure shown all of the time.
Most of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated overall.

Understanding of musical structure shown most of the time.
Some of the written music accurately performed or equivalent
skills generally demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure shown some of the time.
Written music not accurately performed or equivalent skills not demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure not evidenced.
No attempt and/or incomplete performance

General Musicianship Questions

Attainment BandDistinction MeritPassBelow PassBelow Pass 2
Mark Range5 correct responses4 correct responses3 correct responses2 correct responses0–1 correct responses

Performance Certificate

Attainment BandDistinctionMeritPassBelow PassBelow Pass 2
Mark Range18–2015–1712–146–110–5
Command of InstrumentConsistently clear production of sound and even tone quality throughoutMostly clear production of sound and even tone quality overallSome clear production of sound and generally even tone qualitySound produced is unclear with uneven quality of tone producedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Sync or PulsePerformance consistently synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance mostly synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance sometimes synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse maintainedPerformance not synchronised to the music, or an internal pulse not maintainedNo attempt and/or incomplete performance
Accuracy & UnderstandingAll of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated throughout.

Understanding of musical structure shown all of the time.
Most of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills demonstrated overall.

Understanding of musical structure shown most of the time.
Some of the written music accurately performed or equivalent skills generally demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure shown some of the time.
Written music not accurately performed or equivalent skills not demonstrated.

Understanding of musical structure not evidenced.
No attempt and/or incomplete performance
Style & ExpressionConsistently convincing projection of the music.Mostly convincing projection of the music.Some convincing projection of the music.Music not convincingly projected.No attempt and/or incomplete performance

Additional Information

The Value of RSL Qualifications

RSL advocates an open access approach to qualifications, providing a range of syllabi, designed to accommodate a wide variety of candidates of different ages, experience and levels of achievement. RSL awards qualifications that are listed on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) in England and Northern Ireland by the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual). RSL is committed to maintaining and improving its reputation for excellence by providing high quality education and training through its syllabi, examinations, music and resources.

UCAS Points

For students applying for work or University, many potential employers see graded music exams in a very positive way. Recognised qualifications demonstrate an ability to dedicate commitment to extra–curricular activities, providing evidence of versatility which many students find beneficial within UCAS (Universities & Colleges Admissions Service) applications and for university entrance interviews. Our qualifications carry allocated points on the UCAS tariff.

Selecting Free Choice Pieces (FCP’s)

For all examinations, candidates are able to play a number of Free Choice Pieces.

Free Choice Pieces must demonstrate a comparable level of technical and musical demand to the pieces given in the set selections in the grade books which can be referred to as an indication of appropriate level.

Free choice pieces must be in a modern popular genre such as Pop, Rock, Jazz, Country, Blues, Soul, Reggae, Film and Musical Theatre. Own compositions are also acceptable.

Pieces should be selected carefully to ensure that the pieces provide suitable opportunity for candidates to demonstrate the relevant assessment criteria. Candidates are reminded that if a chosen Free Choice Piece does not meet these requirements this may impact on the level of achievement possible within the examination.

All pieces must be performed to a backing track (without the examined part on the track) except in case where pieces have been selected from previous Rockschool syllabi and do not have backing track or have been specifically arranged by Rockschool as solo pieces.

Instrument Specification

Candidates are reminded that it is their responsibility to select and provide an appropriate musical instrument for each syllabus to allow demonstration of the relevant stylistic and technical skills within their performance. At all levels of examination, if any outcomes or assessed criteria cannot be demonstrated or are demonstrated less securely as a result of the equipment, this may be reflected in the marks awarded.

General Information

For full details on each grade, please download the complete syllabus document below.

ACOUSTIC 2015 SYLLABUS GUIDE (For candidates taking the 2015-2019 Acoustic syllabus within the crossover period (up to Period C 2020))

Acoustic Syllabus (2016 Edition)

ACOUSTIC 2019 SYLLABUS GUIDE (For candidates taking the newest Acoustuc syllabus (Released 2019))

Acoustic Syllabus (2019 Edition)

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