By: David Millar
Since their launch in 2008, RGT acoustic exams have become increasingly popular and the early level exams have proved to provide an ideal format for young and beginning guitarists.
Click to learn more about RGT acoustic guitar exams.
To begin, here is an RGT early stages acoustic exams summary.
- rhythm study
- 2 pieces.
- rhythm study
- 2 pieces
- aural assessment.
Grades 1 & 2:
- rhythm study
- fingerpick study or piece
- musical knowledge
- aural assessment.
Adapt how you present the grades to different student types. Beginning students may start with you for lessons at different ages and it is important to adapt how the grades are presented accordingly. A typical breakdown is: Young Beginners (age 7-12); Teens (age 13-15 / age 15-19); Adults. Each of these categories might be in either individual lesson or group tuition settings.
The Initial Stage and Preliminary Grades include well-known traditional melodies, which are particularly suited to younger students. Some teenagers may prefer to enter at Grade 1 after having learnt the chords and scales from Preliminary Level, and it is important to supplement the handbook material in lessons with music they enjoy listening to.
Bear in mind that the choice of melodies that can be played in the exams is not limited to those in the handbook – a ‘free-choice’ option of any well-known melody from 1960 onwards is permitted, and some adults and older teens might prefer this option.
Enhance your teaching business by promoting the benefits of grade exams. Grade exams provide an important progress indicator for the student and their parents, as well as for the tutor.
Although not all students may initially aspire to take grade exams, once a teacher explains all the benefits that an exam course brings, such as making sure their playing develops in a really comprehensive way so that they’ll start to become fully developed players that can cope with a wide range of musical styles, then most students are willing to give it a try.
From the teacher’s perspective, once a student has started on an exam course, they are far less likely to give up lessons midway as they have a defined goal to reach.
The teacher also benefits from the ease of teaching from a structured syllabus, and the ability to offer an accredited certificate reward to their students.
Carefully assess when a student is ready to enter an exam. Rather than just do the minimum requirements for a particular exam, it is useful to work through all the material presented in the handbook. For example, get the student to try all the rhythm charts and melodies and then select the most preferred choices for the exam.
At Grade 1, even if the fingerstyle studies are not chosen for the exam they present an effective way of preparing for the fingerstyle techniques required for moving onto some of the Grade 3 pieces.
The following points can help you decide if a student is ready to enter an exam:
- CHORDS: are they accurate and clear? (3 string chords are acceptable at Initial Level).
- SCALES: are they accurate, clear and even? (The acronym ‘ACE’ is useful to remember.)
- RHYTHM STUDY: can they replicate the notated strum pattern with accuracy, fluency and clarity?
- PIECES: can they play these accurately, observing the correct note values and timing? Are the performances fluent and clear?
- ACCOMPANIMENT: can they keep their chord playing in time, and not-stop midway, when a melody is played?
- MUSICAL KNOWLEDGE: have they learnt the relevant fingerboard notes and parts of the guitar?
- AURAL ASSESSMENT: do they understand the range of aural tests that might occur in the exam?
Of course, don’t forget that students only need 65% or above to pass an exam, and 85% to be awarded a ‘distinction’ so they don’t need to be 100% proficient in every single section.
In addition, bear in mind that you can enter your students for their RGT exam up to one year in advance, and the necessary exam entry deadlines mean that you’ll always need to decide whether to enter a student at least one month prior to the likely exam date, so they don’t need to be totally polished in all their performances by the entry deadline, and you’ll often find that the action of entering them for a future exam will dramatically increase their practice levels and can thereby rapidly improve their playing ability at a rate that might pleasantly surprise you!
Alternatively, if you enter your students for RGT’s filmed or recorded Performance Awards instead, then you can simply submit the recordings of their performances at any time throughout the year that best suits them.
Dealing With Exam Nerves
Deal with exam nerves when preparing students for their exams. It is quite a natural thing for students to get a little nervous before an exam. To help overcome this, encourage your students to perform in front of family and friends, or organise student performances, and seek out other performance opportunities such as school assemblies.
Conduct a few mock exams during lessons, so that they get used to the format. Beginner level students also greatly benefit from playing together in small ensembles. Some of the melodies presented in the early grade handbooks can be easily adapted for ensemble performances by adding either a simple harmony part or a chordal accompaniment.
Playing music with others is very rewarding for beginner level students and is one of the most effective ways to help them gain confidence.
For students that have chronic difficulties with nerves, RGT’s filmed or recorded Performance Awards are the ideal alternative, as they can instead submit video or audio recordings of their performances.
These can be made at a time and place where they feel comfortable and relaxed and can perform at their very best.
Top Teaching Tip
Keep lessons fun and enjoyable for students. One of the most common reasons why beginners give up learning is that they don’t enjoy their lessons.
Although a beginner will face many challenges and require regular practice in order to make progress, encouragement and enjoyment are the most important elements to incorporate into lessons in order to give students the best possible start to learning the instrument.