In this edition of the RGT Guitar Tutor Interview Series, we are sitting down with guitarist, software designer and guitar tutor Pete Farrugia.
With over 40 years of playing under his belt, Pete is a highly experienced teacher, performing and recording artist that is currently based in Surrey, where he performs and runs a private teaching studio.
We recently caught up with Pete to discuss his long relationship with RGT, how he successfully prepares students for RGT Exams, the Practice Pal Software system and more.
Pete Farrugia: The RGT’s director is Tony Skinner, who is one of my oldest friends. We first met at primary school, but we really started hanging out together when we were both about 12 or 13.
I had started learning the guitar, and I remembered that Tony had been part of a group class that one of our primary school teachers used to run.
We formed our first band which was called, don’t laugh, “Feedback.” We spent many hours at each other’s houses swapping licks and chords, rehearsing with the band, and also playing our first live shows.
We both used to do temporary jobs in the summer holidays to earn some much needed cash. We found office furniture removals too much like hard work, so one year when we were both around 17 we had the idea of giving private guitar lessons.
Some years later, after Tony established RGT, I returned to teaching the guitar, and was very pleased that at last an organisation was offering graded exams in electric guitar.
Both Tony and I had studied classical guitar in our teens, which we both love, but RGT’s electric guitar exams filled a huge gap in the guitar education world. So I joined, and haven’t looked back since.
The skills that studying for the RGT exams give to guitarists are exactly those skills that are needed in the “real world” of auditions, gigs, and sessions.
I have inherited students that have previously studied using other examining board’s materials, and have found that they have been completely unable to even play one simple song, even after passing Grade 3. That would never happen with RGT exams.
RGT: What do you find is the biggest challenge when preparing a student for an upcoming RGT exam?
Pete Farrugia: Some of my younger students have too many demands on their time, and find it a challenge to carry out a regular-enough practice schedule.
Schools give teenagers colossal amounts of time-consuming homework. Also, many modern parents feel that they are failing their children if they don’t sign them up for every after-school activity going, such as football, rugby, cricket, extra maths lessons, chess club.
There’s also peer pressure to keep up with all the latest fads from games consoles to social media.
I encourage students to start preparing several weeks before the date of the exam, so that they are confident of their abilities on the day.
RGT: You are the designer and builder of the RGT Practice Pal Software Programs. How did that come about and can you talk about that program for people who haven’t seen it before?
Pete Farrugia: When I joined RGT, I didn’t want to start sending students for exams that I hadn’t taken myself, so I did the electric guitar grades.
I wanted someone or something to randomly ask me to play scales, chords and arpeggios from the particular grade I was studying for, and nothing was available.
At that time I had a day job as a software developer, we used to be called computer programmers in those days. So I went ahead and wrote the first version of Practice Pal for myself.
I showed it to Tony Skinner, and he convinced me that other teachers and students would find it useful, so we put it on the market, and it has sold steadily ever since.
Practice Pal runs on Windows PCs. It uses audio and graphics to show you how to play all of the scales, chords and arpeggios for the RGT grades.
It shows guitar neck positions, note names, standard musical stave notation, and piano keyboard positions.
The PC’s built-in MIDI synthesiser is used to play the items, and you can play along at a full range of speeds.
The random practice mode is the most useful feature – this simulates an examiner, by randomly selecting scales, chords and arpeggios from your chosen grade and asking you to play them.
Practice Pal is a useful confidence-booster for anyone taking the RGT exams, and can be used by RGT teachers in their lessons, and also in their waiting rooms.
RGT: You have recently had a lot of positive response from your Facebook guitar teaching videos. What inspired you to launch those videos, and what are your plans for these videos in future?
Pete Farrugia: I wanted to give my students what I call “persistently available lessons.” Sometimes it can take many repetitions before the “penny drops,” particularly with advanced musical theory.
I believe that watching these videos helps reinforce some of the points that I cover in my face-to-face lessons.
That was my original intention, but since I started making these videos, I have connected with many guitarists and teachers around the world.
That has brought enormous benefits to me, and I have found material online that has improved my own playing.
No matter how good you are, there’s always someone better out there with something to teach you.
I plan to build a library of videos demonstrating not only the common ideas that all competent guitarists need to know, but also some of my specialisms, such as Blues, Soul, R’n’B, Rock’n’Roll, Country etc.
RGT: For good, bad or funny reasons, do you have any memorable or favourite gigs?
Pete Farrugia: Way too many to go into here, but here are some tasters.
Getting lost between the dressing room and stage, Spinal Tap-style, in France.
Using my trusty soldering-iron to repair an electric double bass on stage at the Lugano Jazz and Blues festival. Someone had to, as we’d have been bass-less otherwise!
Playing the Blues to 3,000 wildly enthusiastic Belgians in a muddy field. A review in French described me as “short, fat, shaven-headed, but with a guitar in his hands, he’s a killer”!
Playing the Blues as part of an opening act at Blackheath Concert Hall, while one of my great inspirations, headliner Peter Green watched me from the wings.
There’s a ton more, but that gives you a good picture of the funny and memorable gigs I’ve been on over the years.
RGT: You are an experienced touring and performing artist. How do you find that your performing influences your guitar teaching?
Pete Farrugia: I have never seen the point of restricting your guitar playing to your bedroom. I work hard to give my students the confidence to get out there and perform, from local jam sessions, to forming their own bands.
Seeing students become successful recording and touring artists gives me great job-satisfaction.
RGT: If you had one piece of advice for guitar tutors starting with the RGT syllabus, what would it be?
Pete Farrugia: Take the exams yourself. Only then can you truly let your students know what to expect when they take the exams.
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