In today’s installment of the RGT Guitar Tutor Interview Series, we are sitting down with performer and West Midlands RGT Guitar Tutor Des Sherwood.
Des has been playing live and recording with various bands since 1988, having done various live and studio session work from rock to Bhangra and supporting bands such as Aswad and Skid Row.
Starting his tuition business in 1997 with help from the Princes Trust, Des has been a full-time guitar tutor ever since.
In 2005 Des received a phone call from Ozzy Osbourne showing interest in him becoming his next guitar player, but unfortunately Zakk Wylde re-joined the band shortly afterwards.
As well, in 2007 Des was asked by Kevin DuBrow to join his band Quiet Riot and to tour the UK the following year, but unfortunately he passed away a few months later.
Des’ debut instrumental album was released on iTunes and Amazon on the 28th of August, 2013. A musical project that he worked on for two years.
We recently caught up with Des to talk about exam preparation tips, teaching online via Skype video lessons and how he balances teaching and performing during his busy career.
RGT: How did you become aware of RGT, and why do you chose to encourage your students to take RGT guitar exams?
Des Sherwood: It’s been so long that I honestly can’t quite remember how I found out about RGT, but it was probably from a guitar magazine.
I think it’s good for some students to take RGT Guitar Exams, because it gives them a real sense of achievement when they pass and a goal to strive for before they take it.
I find that parents of young students value this too, as it’s confirmation that they are actually progressing.
I think most people find it rewarding to have a certificate in order to visualize their achievements.
RGT: What do you find is the biggest challenge when preparing a student for an upcoming RGT exam?
Des Sherwood: Not a challenge as such, but I do my best to encourage them and compliment students when they do well.
I look in detail at how they play every note, and instruct them on how they could improve various aspects of their playing.
They may only be little things sometimes, but when you get a student to improve 20 little things about their playing, it makes a huge difference overall.
RGT: Most students, if not all, deal with nervousness on some level either before or during their exams. How do you address this issue with your students in their lessons?
Des Sherwood: I think nerves come about as a result of self-doubt. I try and take away as much doubt in their mind as possible by going over the performance pieces and all other aspects of the exam as much as I can, so they gain the inner confidence that they can actually pull it off in the exam.
I go through the exam with them step by step, like a mock exam. Preparation is everything whether it be for live or studio sessions, or successfully sitting an RGT exam.
If you know you’ve done your homework, then all doubt will be removed. I don’t think there’s a total cure for apprehension, and that’s a good thing because a bit of nerves means that you care about the exam.
RGT: As someone who teaches online through Skype and other mediums, how do you find working with students in the online teaching realm?
Des Sherwood: Generally it works very well. I have taught people all over the world, some in remote places like Alaska, where my student literally lived in the middle of nowhere, so he obviously didn’t have a ‘local’ tutor.
His main form of transport was a plane located on a runway outside his lodge, so Skype lessons were invaluable to him.
I have been doing this since 2002 and there were a few teething problems to begin with, like slow 56k modems etc.
I remember one 45 minute lesson took three hours to complete due to technical difficulties on both sides, but fortunately that was a one off.
Today, the internet is faster and these issues don’t seem to happen very often.
RGT: Besides teaching, you are also a performer. How do you balance these two sides of your career, and do you find that your teaching influences your playing and vice-versa?
Des Sherwood: Teaching is my source of income, so whatever band I may be with, I explain to them that I can’t cancel a day’s income, and that I can only really do weekend gigs.
Some respect this and some don’t, so playing live has taken a backseat in recent years.
I also don’t like to cancel lessons because I feel most students need reliability from me, and if you repeatedly cancel they can quickly lose interest altogether or go to another teacher. I can’t remember the last time I actually cancelled a lesson.
I think teaching can influence you as a player because I am constantly being introduced to music from students that I may not have discovered otherwise.
As an example, a couple of years ago I was doing a demo for Tom Galley’s ‘Phenomena’ and was struggling to come up with a way of starting the solo.
I’d got the majority of the solo down but the intro had evaded me. I’d tried all my usual tricks and was getting nowhere.
That same week a student asked me to work out a solo from a band I hadn’t listened to in a while, and it gave me the perfect idea to start my solo.
RGT: If you had one piece of advice for other guitar teachers that are preparing students for RGT exams, what would it be?
Des Sherwood: To make sure the teacher has evaluated the students ability properly and choose the level of exam that will stretch the student’s technique and knowledge, but not to enter them at a level that is too far above them.
I always aim for my students to gain a distinction, so I try and evaluate them as best I can and suggest the appropriate exam for them at that point in their development.
I think it’s also a good idea for teachers to send links to Merv Young’s videos for the appropriate exams, as this will show them exactly what’s required of them in the exam.
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