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Born to rock

Preparing students for the dream job of being a professional rock and pop musician is the aim behind Rockschool's new syllabus. Hugh John reports

There's a whole generation of music students for whom the phrase "you can take music exams and actually enjoy them" has the same bogus credibility as "Cod liver oil? You'll love it."

Times change. These days, inclusive syllabuses, and the emergence of online music resources, give students the opportunity and incentive to study styles and genres that are topical, stimulating and relevant to their own musical experiences.

Established 15 years ago, Rockschool has helped pioneer these changes and - the adoption of jazz into academic mainstream notwithstanding - is still the UK's only dedicated rock and pop examination board. Rockschool exams are validated by Trinity College, London, and fully accredited by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Their grading system meets the same standards as those set by the more traditional examination boards.

Students can study for grades 1 to 8 in guitar, bass, drums, vocals and popular piano and results in the final three levels count towards UCAS points. Rockschool offers three types of exams: grade exams for students who want to develop performance and technical skills, performance certificates for players who intend to perform in a range of styles, and band exams for musicians who want to perform in an ensemble.

Visitors to the Education Show will have the chance to familiarise themselves with the new Rockschool syllabuses for guitar, bass and drums.

Available in May, they will include more than 126 specially commissioned pieces in a variety of styles. The complementary CDs feature complete band recordings of each piece, both with and without the chosen instrument, giving aspiring musicians the chance to play along with the group in "music-minus-one" mode.

As well as more traditional music exam requirements - such as sight reading, aural tests, rhythm awareness and technical exercises - students will encounter improvisation and quick-study pieces that should prepare them for the demands of modern day professional musicians, whether that be playing in a band, doing session work or as a solo performer. Examinees can opt to play with a backing track in the actual exam and they can, within specified parameters, opt to play a piece of their own choice. The new syllabuses set out to retain those expressive and improvisatory skills essential in contemporary rock and pop while developing more general instrumental and musical competences. Rockschool's candidates, the company says, are encouraged not only to be more musical, but to actually enjoy their exams. Hm. Pass me that cod liver oil.

* Rockschool Stand PZ-K18

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