Phew. What a year. 2020 has seen huge changes across the world and our company has been no different. As December draws to a close, we’ve cast our eye back over the year to pick out some extraordinary moments in a year like no other.


The year started with the launch of our Ukulele Method books. Following the success of our Piano Method books, launched in 2019, we were keen to release a publication that would support the increasing numbers of young students looking to play the four-stringed instrument.

Complete with newly composed exercises, games and pieces, the Ukulele Method books are the perfect entry point for young players to use with their ukulele teachers, for both solo and ensemble performances.

January also saw the first RSL On Tour events of the year, back when conferences and crowds didn’t have to be socially distant (remember that?). Our Business Development team visited The Albemarle Music Centre in Hull and the ISM Music Academy in Kettering - it was great to see so many friendly faces!


In February we gave a platform to the educators on our Teacher Registry, launching our Teacher Tips campaign. We asked teachers from across the globe to send in their best snippets of advice for budding musicians, and boy did they deliver! From Longniddry to Melbourne, words of wisdom ranged from “Don’t overthink it…sit down and play” to “Don’t practise until you get it right; practise until you can’t get it wrong.”

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We also marked Pancake Day in Feburary, celebrating in the only way we know how: a nerdy musical pun. We regret nothing.

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The coronavirus pandemic was well and truly underway by the time we approached March, and, like many other businesses throughout the world, we were forced to close Head Office for a brief period of time. In these dark times, when it seemed that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for students across the globe to continue to study and be rewarded for the hard work they had put in, we had to adapt.

And adapt we did, in the form of Rockschool video exams. Launched on 27th March globally, our flexible exam offering meant that students could continue to be assessed and have their achievements formally acknowledged.

Since launching video exams, thousands of candidates worldwide have had the opportunity to maintain their progress, and with social distancing requirements still in place throughout the majority of the world, we hope that students and teachers alike will continue to benefit from our video exams in the future.

Our quarantined pianist was certainly pleased that he could get his Debut grade…

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As remote working and social distancing became the norm, we continued with our plans to update and expand our existing Rockschool syllabuses, and in April we launched a full suite of Ukulele grades from Debut right through to grade 8. We spoke to our Director of Academic, Tim Bennett-Hart, who said at the time:

“With the Ukulele syllabus we wanted to firstly offer a full suite of grades (Debut to Grade 8) to candidates, secondly create grades that have the same ‘feel’ as our Electric and Acoustic syllabuses where possible, and lastly celebrate the ukulele as an instrument in its own right, exploring the possibilities of its unique ‘re-entrant’ tuning by gradually building up technical knowledge and dexterity, grade by grade..”

Wise words indeed! And we’ve been delighted by the positive feedback we’ve had from students and teachers alike.

We also had the opportunity to collaborate with Ukulele Simon, who gave a swashbuckling performance of the Queens of the Stone Age classic ‘No One Knows’ from the grade 6 syllabus. Check it out!


As the UK summer began to creep around the corner, the month of May saw us launch our first ever week long challenge on social media: the Practise with Purpose challenge! Each day we released a fresh challenge for you to attempt, hopefully becoming a better musician along the way.

The response was amazing, as people from all over the world got involved. Staff from Head Office dusted off their instruments, the legendary Harry Churchill gave the performance of a lifetime, and we even got a hand from Sky Sports cricket commentator, Rockschool bassist, and all-round good guy, Charles Dagnall (AKA Daggers). You can see him getting to grips with his Practise with Purpose Diary below!

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June saw the launch of one of our most beloved blog series: Artists in Focus. Each week we take an in-depth look at one of the artists on our syllabus, thinking about their music, unique career path, and how they fit into the Rockschool syllabus.


We kicked off with Nina Simone way back on 30th June and have profiled everyone from Kaki King to Jimi Hendrix and Ariana Grande to Bill Withers. These fantastic pieces read like a who’s who of contemporary music and are a fantastic educational tool for students looking to expand their horizons, or simply interesting reads for aficionados looking to dive deeper into their favourite artists.

Have a read of our latest Artists in Focus blog right here!


In July we were honoured to be able to donate £3000 to the Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, thanks to all of our dedicated Rockschool customers continuing to enter for their exams during the challenging lockdown period in May of this year.

Norton York (Founder – RSL Awards) and John Simpson (CEO – RSL Awards) presented Sian Bates (Chairman – Kingston Hospital NHS Foundation Trust) with RSL’s donation to the Kingston Hospital Charity in July after launching the pledge back in April.

July also saw the return of face to face Rockschool exams, to the delight of many students who had been waiting to get the recognition they deserved for their hard work and preparation.


The cancellation of music festivals across the world meant that there was a serious hole in everyone’s musical calendar. This left us wondering how we could replicate the festival experience in these uncertain times. Enter, our inaugural Virtual Festival.

Initially scheduled to take place over two days, we extended the festival to three full days from 25th – 27th August due to the overwhelming number of high quality videos we received.

The entry criteria was simple: send a performance in of you performing your favourite Rockschool tracks and we’ll share as many as we can on our social media. Performers were based everywhere from Accrington to Portalegre, and we were delighted to see a wide range of ages involved too. Young budding pianists starting out were included in the line up alongside experienced pros and teachers.

The videos are all up on our Facebook and Instagram pages, so be sure to check those out over the holiday season. We can’t wait for our next Online Festival in 2021!


In September, UK schools got the new academic year underway and we launched our new suite of Creative Qualifications in Vlogging and Podcasting.

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If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we consume a lot of content. In recent years, vlogs and podcasts have become hugely popular ways to share ideas, entertain, and educate. Businesses, celebrities, and hobbyists have used these art forms to explore a wide range of topics, and so we were delighted to release a suite of qualifications to future proof your skills with a globally recognised qualification that carries unparalleled industry relevance.

To accompany the release of these digital books, we also created free downloadable starter packs for each suite. You can get your free download below and start your vlogging and podcasting journeys today!


Podcast Starter Kit


In October we announced that our CEO, John Simpson, would be stepping down from his role in the New Year, to be replaced by Suzanne Harlow.

RSL Awards CEO, Mr John Simpson said, “This change of executive leadership offers an exciting opportunity that will strengthen and expand our geographical presence to provide graded solutions and learning opportunities for all our customers, within the education sector as a whole, not just contemporary” explains Simpson. “With our existing range of high quality qualifications, the onboarding of a new CEO supports our strategy to lead the market and meet the future requirements in this demanding market”.


RSL Awards incoming CEO, Suzanne Harlow said, “I am delighted to be joining RSL at this exciting time. The business is well positioned to develop further in the UK and across the world in both graded exams and the vocational qualifications and to be joining the leading Awarding Organisation in the digitisation of the market is a great privilege".

You can read more and download the full press release here.

October also saw the release of the RSL Learning Platform, a brand new online platform for teachers to revolutionise the way they work. Powered by MatchMySound’s automatic feedback technology, the RSL Learning Platform allows teachers across the globe to assign tasks to their students, giving learners increased focus and more precise feedback.

The RSL Learning Platform is equipped with Zoom integration, meaning teachers can host 1-to-1 and group video lessons via the app and upload their content to provide students with examples, demonstrations, and tutorials ahead of live teaching. Teachers can create progress reports to clarify goals for students and communicate progress to parents, meaning peripatetic teachers, classroom teachers, and music education centres can all benefit in equal measure.

For students, the RSL Learning Platform enhances the creativity and curiosity that lies at the core of musical education. Personalised goals and exemplar recordings keep students motivated as they improve every time they open the app. Their practice sessions take on renewed focus with software that allows harder bars to be slowed and repeated until they are ready to play along with backing tracks.

Teachers can gain free access to all these amazing features, simply by signing up to our free our Teacher Registry . Students can also access a 30-day trial version of the app, before selecting their chosen subscription.


There were fireworks in November, and not just on Guy Fawkes Night! The inaugural launch of RSL Classical was a huge moment at RSL HQ and we were delighted to release its maiden syllabus: RSL Classical Piano.

Our chairman and founder, Norton York, acknowledged the importance of having a diverse and relevant syllabus for classical musicians that truly reflected the demands of the contemporary music industry.

Music, of course, is not just of the past, and the presentation of music’s history to the young people of the 21st century needs to be broadened if it is to be properly understood. Today there are composers of all genders, nationalities and ethnicities producing music for the concert hall, in the media and online. We welcome the opportunity to present and champion this diversity here in our syllabus with pieces by many historic and living female composers from the UK and around the world.

You can read the full statement from Norton here:

Last month we also released a series of packs designed to help students make the most of our new RSL Learning Platform. You can still download your free Ukulele, Piano, and Acoustic packs on our website to get your hands on some inside tips on how to use the Learning Platform effectively.

We recorded some video tutorials and detailed walkthroughs of select pieces. You can watch the tutorial video for ‘This Is Me’, from our grade 2 Piano syllabus below!


Over the past month we’ve been celebrating the festive period and all the joy that comes with it. Christmas may look very different this year, but we’ve managed to put together a pack to keep the children (and any willing adults!) occupied over the holidays.

Download your free Festive Holiday Pack here!

The pack features festive wordsearches, instructions for making your own instruments, and space to write your New Year’s practice Resolutions. Plus, we’ve included an arrangement of ‘Jingle Bells’ for you to play. It was great to see so many people get involved from across the world in our #RSLJingleBellsChallenge. Submissions were made from all over, but you can see one close to home below from a band comprising some of our Head Office staff.

On the far right is our departing CEO, John Simpson. John’s leadership and sensitivity in what has been an incredibly difficult year for the music industry as a whole has been vital in ensuring that RSL Awards has been able to adapt and excel to help students across the world continue their music education.

A huge thanks to you, our customers, who have been custodians of an industry under threat, and agreed on the importance on ensuring a holistic musical education for all.

We would also like to extend a warm welcome to our incoming CEO, Suzanne Harlow, and cannot wait for a jam-packed 2021. With plenty more syllabuses, resources, and innovative software developments in the pipeline, we can’t wait to get going. See you soon!