Recently, RGT guitar tutor Carlos Thrale and his young, 5 year-old, student Alexander Santarpia have made national press in the Sun and Nottingham Post after the talented guitarist was awarded three distinctions in one day from RGT.
Performing for packed audiences at his parent’s pub in Caythorpe, Alexander has quickly progressed through the first three RGT exams as he continues to turn heads in the local music scene.
We recently caught up with Carlos Thrale to discuss his approach to teaching Alexander, why he chooses RGT exams, and his advice for working with highly talented, young students such as Alexander.
RGT: Why did you choose to enter Alexander in RGT exams as compared to other exam options on the market today?
Carlos Thrale: The RGT Electric Guitar Grades offer a clear structure for incremental progression that can be applied to a variety of musical styles.
I used the grades to consolidate Alexander’s playing and to help him build from a strong foundation with the Preliminary Grade.
These grades have helped towards developing his potential without the confines of prescribed set pieces.
This allowed lessons to be focused on our short-term goal of the examination, together with being flexible enough to meet his needs and interests.
The impartial feedback from his RGT examinations has been invaluable in helping to reflect on how teaching and learning have progressed and in planning future lessons.
With a view to grade three we are currently working on lead improvisation with arpeggios and scale runs. As well, barré chords and more complex strumming patterns are helping to develop Alexander’s rhythm playing.
RGT: What was your first lesson with Alexander like, did you know right away that he possessed an advanced level of performance, or did it take time for that talent to come to the surface?
Carlos Thrale: The structure of our first lesson was like any other. We discussed what Alexander had been performing on guitar, the music he listens to and what he hopes to do in the future.
I asked him to play any piece of music that he felt comfortable with, then a couple of exercises to assess his technique. We played through rhythm and lead progressions at various levels.
It was quite amazing. He wasn’t as tall as his full size guitar. However, he could easily move between open chords and clearly articulate a few scales and melodic phrases. It was clear that his passion and focus would enable him to develop reasonably quickly.
I assessed his average ability to be at about grade three. However, there were many areas that still needed to be developed.
I gave him and his father feedback on all aspects of his playing and how we might progress.
RGT: As a teacher, what is the most rewarding aspect of working with a student as accomplished as Alexander?
Carlos Thrale: To support a student with Alexander’s ability, focus and passion is wonderful. A lot of progress can be achieved in a relatively short time.
However, because he is able to learn and perform fairly complex exercises with ease there is a temptation for him to prematurely move on to the next topic. He needs reminding that it’s not a race and that quality in performance is the aim.
It has been important to ensure that he develops an understanding of clarity, evenness and accuracy in his playing and not to rush.
However, the process needs to be enjoyable so sometimes we stomp on the distortion pedal and rock.
RGT: Where do you see Alexander going next as he continues his advanced growth on the instrument?
Carlos Thrale: Alexander is keen to attempt the next couple of RGT grades. There’s plenty for him to learn and explore. It’s exciting to imagine how he will develop through listening and performing music in the future.
With care and support I’m sure that he will continue to enjoy and develop his guitar playing.
RGT: What advice do you have for other teachers who find themselves working with a young, very talented student such as Alexander?
Carlos Thrale: Be careful, focused and flexible. It is very important to involve the parents and carers of young student during their tuition. Then you can all work as a team.
Parents can get involved by taking notes, video recording parts of the lesson and even learning guitar along with the student. The lesson is only for a short time and parents’ participation can maintain the student’s focus between lessons.
It’s essential to be able to support any new ideas a student wishes to pursue. However, there must be clear mutually agreed short and long-term goals.
During every lesson I write a review of all topics covered. I give a copy the student, so they know what to work on and I have record for our next meeting.
I have audio, video and text files on my website for students to refer to between lessons.
These are catalogued at various levels so students can explore ideas at a level appropriate to them.
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