Projects and Musings

Rockschool - why I was against it, and why I've changed my mind


Rockschool has been available for a number of years now. It was starting to become a bigger thing as I was first opening the teaching studio in Hunstanton about 15 years ago, and I was encouraged to offer it as the primary source material for teaching. I rejected it a the time for a number of reasons. But it’s a position I’ve reconsidered.

The Pros and Cons

My first argument against was “Why do you need a teacher if the teacher doesn’t have to think for himself to create any product?” For me it was a matter of professional pride that I could write and deliver a syllabus of tasks and ideas that would guide the student through the process of learning the instrument, while being able to tailor that to the students own musical taste to at least some degree. That’s still a valid argument, especially when faced with a student that knows exactly what it is they want to achieve.

But there are a growing number of students I find don’t have that direction at the outset - they haven’t been exposed to lots of guitar music in the way that previous generations have been, so they don’t have a clear idea of what they want from the instrument. Some of them are just very young, so haven’t had time to develop much appreciation of the wide history of guitar or rock and pop music. Rockschool gives them a set direction and some confidence that at the end of each step of the process there is a goal to reach. It’s a road map, not the only element of learning, but a single strand of it that becomes augmented by other more imaginative paths as their awareness of the instrument grows.

Another argument is the examination itself, and that music isn’t a competition against some set goal, but a very individual game. That was very much a view that I held at the beginning, but I think now that we are as a educational society much more used to the idea of examination, it’s no longer so much of a pressure. And anyway, nobody is forcing anyone to take the exams, a student might choose to use the course and not take the exams. It’s not the deal breaker that I once believed it to be - I was simply wrong about it for a number of years.

UCAS points are now on offer - this was not always the case. This gives value to the higher grade exams which previously had no intrinsic value for the more experienced student.

What about the courses themselves? Before the last few years I thought they were pretty poor to be honest. Especially the lower grades, which were very uninteresting and had a tendency to have groups of notes that seemed to have no real musical value but were put together to exercise a certain point. This is much less the case now, the pieces make much more musical sense to my ears now, and therefore are more useful. The course has improved a great deal with the last update, and I think it is important to recognise that the writers have made some real strides in that area.

The largest argument that I have taken on board is the one of directed learning. I have come across a number of students over the years, especially younger ones, who lack a little focus simply due to age or having a number of activities to navigate each week. Having the course materials in the format presented helps them focus on each task. Other teachers have had a great deal of success with students who have focus issues because they like the printed book format and the backing tracks. There is also some anecdotal evidence to suggest that in cases where mild Dyslexia is present, the printed format itself makes the course materials easier to digest than hand written music.

In conclusion

It’s not for everyone, but from my initial position of absolutely not offering Rockshool, I have to say I now see a great deal of merit in it for particular students and will be offering it with much more enthusiasm than I thought possible a few years ago.

It does help some students with organisation, demonsterably so, and students with exam passes are encouraged to keep going and get over the next hurdle. The exams and the examiners seem to be fair, and don’t seem to be trying to fail the student but to give them room to show what they can do.

So I’m glad to say that I have definitely changed my mind about Rockschool.