To start off with this week I’d like to congratulate my student Luke on getting a Distinction in his Grade 6 RGT guitar exam. It’s an inspiring and fantastic achievement and much hard work paid off.
Luke is 16 and he’s a great guitarist. He plays a variety of styles of guitar and also other instruments and is hugely interested in music and playing music. I’m a very proud guitar tutor 🙂
This brings me to the subject of my blog today…..
How important are grades for the guitarist? Are grades essential? And, what are my opinions on them?
I am frequently asked these questions by my students and the parents of my students. It is a subject not short on discussion amongst many a musician and on many a forum and it has as many varying viewpoints as people have opinions…
To start off with, my story is that I passed my grade 8 guitar and my grade 5 Music Theory in college, whilst studying for a BTEC in Popular Music. I then chose to go to University to study music. I’ve since gone into a career in music. Were grades essential for me? Yes. They helped my theory and motivation. I felt encouraged by having certificates and benchmarks to work towards. They contributed to me getting onto my University course.
The part to take note of is…
I didn’t ONLY do grades… the graded aspect of my guitar playing life was a very small percentage. I was mainly out playing in bands (a lot!) and writing music, learning songs etc. The balance was very important for me and the grades complemented everything else. I did the work but I also enjoyed playing. That’s the thing to remember. Work on feel and performance, play and creativity as well as theory….if that’s your thing it will all work together.
My opinion as a teacher?
As a guitar teacher my feelings have changed more than once and ultimately there is no overall fixed opinion for this subject. Having taught many different styles/abilities/ages I can see that working through guitar grades is definitely the best choice for some and definitely not for everyone. There are so many reasons why people enter into the world of playing guitar and it is here that will help you to decide whether working towards grades is relevant and/or useful to you or your child.
Ask yourself why you are playing guitar.
The next step…?
What will grades offer you?
- A recognised system of measurement for your playing.
- A qualification regulated by Ofqual – grades contribute towards UCAS/A Level/GCSE points.
- A structured and digestible progression. Discipline.
- A certificate from a recognised body – markers of achievement and deadlines for your learning.
- Learning the theory and techniques to create an all round foundation for your playing.
If the above list appeals to you then I would encourage you to look into attaining grades a little bit further. If it doesn’t appeal then maybe it’s not for you. This doesn’t make you any more or less allowed to enjoy playing this awesome instrument 🙂
As a rule of thumb, if you are looking to follow the music education/career route then grades are most likely expected of you. For children (and indeed adults!) who are motivated by achieving awards they will also be beneficial to you too. Many people have the ability to self-discipline and can structure their own learning. Others require help from an external source and hence look for a teacher. This helps with focus, structure and an organised lesson with a deadline.
Each person has an individual need in this case and I would suggest if you have more questions after reading this then you should have a more detailed conversation with a professional (many professionals)…
please feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Beware the myths…
Some people feel that working towards grades contributes towards making your playing ‘serious’ and ‘heavy’ or that it ‘stunts’ your creativity. It doesn’t have to. It is down to the person. Be a balanced player.
Have structure but ultimately remember how to play and have fun! 🙂
See you next time
For those who would like to read further, here are links to the 2 main recognised popular guitar grading systems in the UK:
I teach grades where requested. I’m happy to not teach grades. Guitar is about the individual.
Anybody who would like to add to this or comment by way of discussion please do.