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Recognising the positive impact of graded exams

Gareth-Siggins-smGareth (Gaz) Siggins started exploring the art of drumming at an early age, picking up the sticks aged just 6 years old. An exciting and varied career has seen him play professionally around the world as both a session artist and live performer, whilst his Grades 1-8 Trinity drums and Level 3 Music and Performance qualifications have served him well in his successful music teaching career.

And if he wasn’t busy enough with his teaching and touring he also recently became a Trinity Rock & Pop examiner!

Gareth has nominated two of his students for the Trinity Talent Class of 2018, so we took the opportunity to have a quick chat with him to hear his thoughts on how exams can form a positive part of the learning experience and the impact of celebrating young people’s musical achievements.

But first we asked Gareth to consider some of his own achievements in music…

Q: Your varied career as a musician has taken you around the world, working with many noted musicians, as well as teaching for many years. What have been your career highlights so far?

There’s an old expression ‘you shouldn’t meet your heroes’. I don’t agree with that. I think you should meet your inspirations, as scary as that may be. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some world class musicians now and those are always precious moments for me to look back on.

I’m extremely proud of my exam track record since I began teaching. I’ve trained over 60 students in the last 4 years to achieve their Grade 8 levels. The difference in their feel, and their techniques are worlds apart from their first lesson. I always want to improve my craft as a musician, teacher and session artist, and Trinity’s graded music exams have been the building blocks to help me achieve this.

Q: Formal drumming exams have been a part of your own learning experience and you are regularly entering your own students for exams, with great success. What do you think students can gain from pursuing the formal qualification route in music?

One key element is developing confidence. This could be something very simple such as playing ‘in the pocket’ of a groove or developing more advanced methods to blitzing a drum solo packed with rudiments and complex ostinatos. The range of abilities and techniques you use in something like the Trinity framework changes your everyday playing and understanding of conceptual performing.

The terminology, theory and sensitivity of genres you discover from the syllabus gives you the confidence and control to adapt. It’s the constant drive to improve as a musician that doesn’t diminish, and you have to embrace that to be a stronger player. This also leads to recognition from family, friends, or peers and social media. That’s one factor that certainly encourages my students to get to the next level, so I think the syllabuses are fantastic for growing new skills and repertoire. It’s important to try, regardless of how difficult it can be to start with.

Q: What would be your top tips for a student just about to enter the exam room?

Prepare the exam routine as much as you can. Not just song 1 and then a break before song 2. Run all routines back to back with the backing tracks. Another great method is to video your performances and look back at them to assess and improve your routines. Something so minor can make the world of difference if you need to adjust your instrument or techniques. Make sure you set up your instrument the way you like it in the exam room and make sure you set up your music stand in the correct place before you begin each performance.

Another few tips would be to try running the exam pieces in a different environment, such as a hired music studio room or a friend’s house. Once you’re there, get a member of your family or a friend to ask you to play the songs to them. The environmental change can be really helpful to students taking exams for the first time or to those that are worried about playing in front of new faces. Lastly, keep calm throughout and enjoy playing along.

Q: You recently nominated a couple of your students for the Trinity Talent Class of 2018 – what inspired you to nominate them?

I nominated twins Sam and Joe after they both achieved their Grade 8 drum kit exams with me this year. If anyone has ever studied at this level, they will know the intensity and work that’s needed to prepare for this. For me it’s always a milestone to take anyone from zero experience to Grade 8 certification, so this case was particularly special for me. I’ve been training the twins for a few years now and they love music and love each other dearly too. After taking both boys through all their exams I’ve seen dramatic changes to their playing and their confidence soars. It’s also inspired their younger brother Harry who achieved his Grade 6 with me this year and is now studying for his Grade 8.

Q: What impact do you feel this kind of recognition can have on young people?

It’s life changing. I’ve seen this change people’s half empty glass attitude into a half full for many years of teaching when they succeed in their studies. The success of achieving your goals can have a massive impact on your life. It leads to so many other subconscious skills. It’s important to challenge yourself too and I think there’s a more enjoyable aspect to learning this syllabus than others.

I hope that anyone reading this blog, will close the door to previous negative experiences and take a leap into a new chapter. If you work hard towards something it is possible to achieve it through dedication. I owe most of my techniques to my mentors, heroes and of course to Trinity. I wouldn’t be the musician I am today if I didn’t study hard and believe in my musical ability to grow.

Good luck to you all and prepare fully. Most importantly, enjoy!

  • Gareth Siggins is a Partner Director of PPM (Professional Play Music), offering workshops and teaching for drums, percussion, bass, guitar and ukulele.

If you know a young musician in the UK aged 13-25 who has achieved a Trinity music qualification in either our Classical & Jazz or Rock & Pop syllabuses during 2018, and demonstrated musical achievement, creativity, progress or leadership, then you can nominate them for the Trinity Talent Class of 2018.

Find out more and nominate at – nominations close on 14 December 2018.



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