I have been a Trinity examiner for almost three years and have enjoyed every minute! One of the many reasons I enjoy examining is my belief in our syllabus. The Rock & Pop syllabus really helps develop the skills needed to work in this genre and the songs are so varied, there is something for everyone. It’s also great that candidates are able to perform an ‘own choice’ song within the exam.
Candidates present a wide variety of songs and are able to showcase the best aspects of their style of playing or singing. The Rock & Pop exams have a relaxed feel and I love hearing candidates expressing themselves through the many opportunities to ad-lib and improvise in the exams.
It is such a privilege to share in the musical lives of students around the world – my work has taken me to India, Malaysia, Thailand, and many corners of the UK that I wouldn’t otherwise have visited. I love travelling and it is fascinating to see the examination process at work in different places. It can be a little daunting visiting a new country for the first time, but each time I come home from a tour it is with happy memories of fantastic music making. Trinity feels like a big, global (and very noisy!) family.
There are times when language barriers can make communication tricky, but with lots of smiles, pointing and thumbs up gestures, we get there in the end! Something that often strikes me when I’m examining outside the UK is that despite not speaking the same language, as soon as candidates begin to play, we are able to communicate through our common language – music.
Communication is a big part of our marking process in Rock & Pop. If you have done a Rock & Pop exam before, you might have noticed the box marked ‘communication and style’ which is worth 9 marks for songs one and two and a massive 10 marks for the technical focus song! We spend so much of our practice time making sure that notes and rhythms are correct, it’s easy to overlook this vital element of music making.
In the communication and style category we are looking at the performance as a whole – confidence, expression, character, stylistic ad-libs and improvised sections, as well as a sense that candidates are musically engaged. Easy! It would be difficult to give a confident performance if the technical elements of a piece are not secure, so consistent practice is vital to exam success.
Here are some thoughts to help you prepare:
- Think of the exam as a gig, with a very small audience and the examination room as your stage. In a gig you play out to your audience, so play to your examiner. If you plan on using your music in the exam, practice looking up from it when you can. Making eye contact with your examiner can feel daunting, but try directing your gaze just above their head. This gives your audience the feeling that you are playing just for them – which in this case, you are!
- Throughout the Rock & Pop syllabus you will find ad-lib markings and in higher grades, whole improvised sections. When you are thinking about how to approach these, it’s very important that they are sympathetic to the style of the song. To get a feel for the style, listen to the original recording and to other songs by the same artist.
- Think about what you want to communicate when you perform. Some songs have a very clear narrative, while the meaning of others can be more ambiguous and open to interpretation. You could write your own back-story to give yourself a clear idea of the mood and character of the song you are presenting. Try including details such as location, what the characters look like and how old they are. The more vivid the images that you conjure up are, the easier it will be to communicate the mood when you perform. Although this might seem most relevant to singers, who will be directly telling the story, this technique also gives instrumentalists a deeper understanding of the music they are performing.
- My hobby is contemporary dance. I love dancing – to me it feels like an extension of music and it’s one of the many ways we respond to it. I often use movement when I’m teaching or preparing for a performance – it can be very freeing! When no one is watching, put on the demo track for one of your exam songs and prepare to rock! Imagine you’ve just walked on stage at The O2, there are 20,000 people screaming your name. Let the music flow through you and air drum, sing into a hairbrush or bust out your best dance moves. Next time you come to practice the song, take your mind back to how it felt when you let yourself move. Maybe this time when you play, your head might be bobbing in time or your foot might tap along. Or maybe there might be a fully-fledged dance routine ending in a power crouch with the guitar swinging over your head. Whatever happens, you will be musically engaged and having fun.