As RGT exams have grown and prospered over the years, they have spread beyond the borders of the UK and ROI and are now offered throughout the world.
One of these thriving international exam locations in recent years has been New Zealand, with exams being offered across the entire North Island.
Recently, RGT sat down with Auckland based guitar teacher Perrin Madsen to discuss his relationship with RGT exams, his influences, and his advice for preparing students to be successful with RGT exams of all levels and styles.
For more information on Perrin, his teaching and performing, please visit the Perrin Madsen teaching homepage.
RGT: How did you become aware of RGT exams, and why do you choose to enter students into RGT exams?
Perrin Madsen: I had a student interested in exams, and so I contacted another local guitar teacher who told me about RGT.
I find it important for the development of my students to provide a real disciplined focus for part of the year. That’s where the RGT exams work really well, especially over the winter months.
RGT: What do you find is the hardest part of any RGT exam for a student to study, and how do you approach these tricky sections in your guitar lessons?
Perrin Madsen: Aural Assessment. It’s one of those areas that grows with the student’s playing, and you never know how long it might take for the student to grasp it for themselves.
So, as a teacher, I think you have to have that section in mind right from the start when preparing for the exams.
I have developed materials, song repertoires etc., that highlight the RGT tests. I choose material that reflects the level of the exam.
I then get them to work a section of the solo by ear, or randomly tell me if the chord was minor or major, or strum a 6/8 timing for me, that sort of thing. I will sometimes play a short melody or rhythm and ask them to play it back by ear.
Another thing I do is create and record more aural assessment examples and give them to students to test themselves with.
I tend to do this closer to the exam, and if you’ve laid the foundations for this appropriately, it will only build confidence. I must admit it’s an area I want to improve on each year with my students.
Making up the examples for students has also made me a lot more aware of the slight increases in difficulty as the grades go up, which helps me be more accurate at giving music that is appropriate to their present skill level – a very good insight when you are trying to prepare student lessons.
RGT: As well as entering your students, you have chosen to keep working on the exams yourself. Why did you choose to advance your playing through taking RGT exams as a tutor?
Perrin Madsen: It’s a great motivational tool for both student and teacher. The fact that an Examiner comes half way around the world to hear my students and me is enough to get us more motivated to practice.
When first seeing the RGT material I knew I had a few potholes in my playing, which got me interested enough to want to study it.
I could see that RGT would give me a realistic framework for achieving realistic goals.
I also thought that if I was going to teach this material and put students through exams I wanted to experience the exams for myself.
It’s humbling to put yourself through an exam and feel the pressure your students feel. You can identify and empathise with their learning process a lot more.
You get a real sense of how much practice goes into being really ready for an exam. It’s made me a lot more interested in the learning process and finding better ways to help my students in this process.
RGT: What is the hardest part of balancing your studies as a guitarist and your busy teaching schedule?
Perrin Madsen: Managing my own time and deadlines can be hard. There are different times of the year that make it harder for me, like when we have student concerts or exams.
But I’ve also learnt not to let deadlines rush my personal progress, or to stop me from my regular practice. I think keeping to a set time limit helps maintain the habit and saves frustration.
RGT: Who was the biggest influence on your playing, and do you try to pass along your influences to your students in lessons?
Perrin Madsen: There have been many wonderful teachers over the years too, but the greatest influence would be my College music teacher, Mr Doug Hill.
He really created a wonderful environment for students to be involved in many musical groups.
He always made it fun and relevant. I played in Jazz/Concert bands, sung in choirs, barbershops, and we toured parts of Australia and New Zealand, which really motivated all of us.
I know that young people want music to be enjoyable and have a practical application so I certainly try to implement this same approach into my teaching.
RGT: Do you work with students outside private lessons, such as in bands or with performances, and if so, do you find that helps prepare them for RGT exams?
Perrin Madsen: Yes, I form bands amongst my students and put together bi-annual concerts for them. My students always rise to new heights due to the thrill of performing.
The RGT exposure, the disciplined side of learning an instrument, helps bring the songs together a lot quicker and easier.
This helps students to realize the benefits of the exams, and gives them more and more clues of the bigger picture.
RGT: What advice do you have for any guitar tutor that is thinking of entering students into RGT exams?
Perrin Madsen: I would recommend you just make a start with a small number of students.
Each year you will have more insights on how to teach the material and will build the confidence to perhaps put more students through.
The exams do get harder to teach as the grades go higher, but the student needs to also own it more as they become more competent in their ability.