Interview (2009) with UK Rockschool examiner Ed Walker

The Australian Music Examinations Board (AMEB) recently announced that they are offering the Rockschool syllabus, and that the first exams will be held in Australia, across the country in October and November 2015.

Here is the post on their website.

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Ed Walker

In 2009 I met UK Rockschool examiner Ed Walker, in Kota Kinabalu. He’s Scottish and a rocker, and was fun to interview.

Here is an excerpt. The original interview was on my previous blog.

JF: Okay, let’s cut to the chase. I’m a parent, I want to know whether sending my kid for RockSchool examinations is just for fun, or is this a serious qualification? Grade 1 RockSchool versus Grade 1 Associated Board. Can we compare them?

EW:  Whether you are playing rock guitar or rock drums, or classical violin, if it is Grade 1, the standard is exactly the same. So if you get a Grade 1 rock drums, it will be exactly the same standard of musicianship which you would need for Grade 1 classical violin at Trinity, or Associated Board or any of the big examination boards.

The format is virtually the same. You get 3 pieces to be played, technical exercises like scales and arpeggios, a sight-reading OR an improvisation test, an aural test and general musicianship questions.

It’s exactly the same as a Trinity classical music exam, except that the music is loud and fun, and the kids love it.

JF: More about RockSchool. How did it come about, who owns it, and who accredits it?

EW: RockSchool has been established for nearly 20 years. The two guys who originally started the company – Norton York and Dr. Simon Pitt – they are the two main working directors.

Trinity College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music have merged, and RockSchool is part of Trinity.  In the early days, Trinity accredited us, but we are now accredited by the Q and C (UK Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.)

The way the RockSchool syllabus is set up,  you’re playing your tracks along with a CD.  It’s like playing with a virtual band.  It’s the nearest thing to playing in a band, without playing with a band, if you know what I mean.

Students for a particular grade in drums, bass or electric guitar, will play along with a backing track CD, with the respective instrument missing. But they are all learning the same song. This means you can bring students together to jam.

Recently, I had three Grades 5 candidates in an exam: bass, drums and guitar. None of them had ever played in a band before.  I got them to come back in the evening for a get-together presentation, and the three of them played it live. It was the first time any of them had interacted with another musician.  You should have heard them!  They were amazing, and they surprised themselves. It was just fantastic. It was almost as if they were a well-rehearsed band, but if was off-the-cuff, just like that.

JF: If you’re playing Smoke on the Water, what level are we talking about?

EW:  Smoke On The Water would probably be about Grade 4 or Grade 5. You can choose your own pieces, so if you wanted to bring in Smoke on the Water as part of your exam, you could probably do it for Grade 4 or 5. That would be fine. A lot of people do that [in the UK].  You get a lot of choices, and people bring in very adventurous stuff some times. I mean, by Grade 8,  you’re getting into professional territory

RockSchool is broadening its offering. We have a brand new keyboard syllabus out as well. It just came out in the last few weeks, and it’s all band based as well, and in Grade 3, 5 and 8,  the pieces are all the same as the drums and bass.

There are crossovers within RockSchool too, just off the top of my head, at least three pieces within the Grade 8  guitar syllabus are jazz.  So you’ve got rock, jazz. blues, lots of contemporary styles.

RockSchool has introduced four diplomas. There are two diplomas in teaching, and two in performing.
The first one [in each category] is the equivalent of the final of your first year in university, and the second diploma is equivalent to your final year of university.  So for anyone getting this new RockSchool diploma, it’s equivalent to a university qualification.

JF: This qualification would be in order to teach?

EW: Yes. Actually, in the UK right now,  to teach privately, you don’t need any qualifications to teach. But shortly, the government are going to bring in some new regulations saying anyone teaching music must be qualified. So this new qualification is perfect. It’s like, for anyone who already teaches, it’s a very natural progression to make. It’s not like you suddenly start studying up for it. If you’re doing the job properly, it’s a very natural qualification to achieve.
[END]

I can’t wait to explore this next year. I have a feeling some of my little ones (and their parents!) will be as keen as me to check out the Rockschool syllabus! Bring it on!

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