In this edition of the RGT Guitar Tutor Interview Series, we are sitting down with jazz guitarist, RGT examiner and guitar tutor Paul Hill.
As an accomplished performer and tutor, in both schools and private settings, Paul was the first guitarist to sit and successfully achieve the FLCM Jazz Guitar Performance Diploma from the RGT and LCM.
A published author, Paul has recently released a digital version of the Paul Hill Guitar Theory and Technique Book, which was previously available only in hard copy.
Paul Hill: I first became an RGT member in 1995, although back then it was the REGT – Registry of Electric Guitar Tutors.
At the time, RGT was the only organization to offer a full range of officially accredited qualifications for electric guitarists, and I was made aware of RGT by an incredible guitarist named Colin Pincott.
I was having lessons with Colin when the RGT was formed and he entered me for a Grade 8 exam. Soon after joining the RGT, I became an examiner.
RGT exams have always been very beneficial to my students. Not only do they offer a comprehensive study course in learning the guitar, there is also the prospect of officially recognized academic qualifications.
There is also a good range of guitar exam options available so students can decide to study a syllabus that will suit them.
RGT: What do you find is the biggest challenge when preparing a student for an upcoming RGT exam?
Paul Hill: Every student has different strengths and weaknesses, although the most common challenge is in dealing with actually taking the exam and dealing with the pressures on the day.
RGT: Which leads nicely to my next question. 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?
Paul Hill: Each student deals with nerves in a different way, but I always try to assure students that the examiners are a friendly group of people.
I also find it helpful if the student can organize performances in front of an audience prior to the exam.
For younger students, this could be a performance in front of their class or making sure that their exam pieces are included in school concerts.
Repertoire from the rock guitar exams is excellent material for the various guitar groups and bands that I organize in schools.
Having the pieces performed in concerts rather than only with a backing track is very helpful in developing confidence which will help with any nervousness problems when it comes to exam time.
I arrange the pieces so that students have a chance to play the melody and improvise which helps to gain confidence in other areas of the exam too.
It is very fulfilling to stand in front of 20 to 30 guitarists playing a concert in front of proud parents and knowing that they are developing their performance skills.
RGT: What is your guitar of choice these days, and what is your typical setup when playing a jazz-guitar gig?
Paul Hill: I have a broad range of instruments depending on the type of gig that I play.
My main guitar that I use for jazz gigs and solo work is my BJH 7-string archtop, which is built by my dad – Bryan Hill.
The guitar is hand carved with spruce top, maple back and sides, mahogany neck and ebony fingerboard. The strings I use are a set of .013s with a .085 for the low A string.
I also use a hand wired Vox AC30 head and cab depending on the sound that I am after.
If I am playing a fusion type of gig, there will be numerous pedals involved, although generally I keep things simple and portable.
RGT: You were one of the first guitarists to successfully complete the RGT Jazz Guitar Performance FLCM exam. Why did you choose to take this RGT jazz guitar exam, and how has completing the exam affecting your teaching and performing career?
Paul Hill: When I heard that an FLCM Jazz Guitar Performance exam was going to be available, I entered the exam as soon as it was possible.
I play all styles of music, although I have been very busy playing jazz for a number of years, so I was very excited at the prospect of achieving a qualification for my jazz performance.
I found out later that I was the first person to pass the FLCM exam, which was icing on the cake really.
As I teach both privately and in schools, I feel that achieving good qualifications is essential.
It looks much better for the school if the teachers that work for them have good qualifications, and it is reassuring for parents of students as well.
RGT: Were there any particular exercises that you did in the practice room that you felt helped fully prepare you to succeed with the FLCM exam?
Paul Hill: No specific exercises, although I did get my guitar out and play for while to get everything fired up for the exam.
I felt as though I had prepared well enough so decided to enjoy the experience. It is strange performing to a panel of examiners rather than to an audience, although I tried to think of it as a regular performance.
RGT: You are an active performer on the British Jazz scene, as well as a busy guitar tutor. How do you find that your performing influences your teaching and vice-versa?
Paul Hill: I feel very strongly that a guitar teacher should be an active performer. Having experience in many different styles of music has certainly helped me see what is required when teaching a student.
Even though I am very thorough on teaching a student all of the theoretical concepts of the guitar, it can’t be forgotten that the end result is that the student plays music.
The most helpful way that teaching influences my performing is in developing new ideas and repertoire.
Students are often asking questions or wanting to learn something new that will give me new ideas.
A student will often ask me to transcribe something that will develop into fresh material for the both of us.
RGT: If you had one piece of advice for guitarists that are thinking about taking the RGT Jazz Guitar Performance Exams, what would it be?
Paul Hill: Go for it! I really enjoyed taking the exam and feel that it is a valuable experience.
If a guitarist enjoys playing jazz and wants to get better, the Jazz Guitar Performance exams will definitely help.
If a guitarist works all the way to the FLCM exam, not only will performance skills be greatly improved, but also the official qualification is a great accomplishment.