This week’s question

What grade am I?

Well there is a question that has been asked a fair few times in my career as a Guitar Teacher.
Well grades are quite involved exams. These days I generally deal with the RGT and Rockschool. I favour the RGT exams purely because I find that the knowledge required to pass one means that the player will be more rounded in my opinion.

Generally the student is asking a question to try and compare themselves against peers. Whilst this is natural for human nature, music is considered art in most quarters and thus is very hard to quantify. If a student was to start at a level and then progress through the grades they could use it as a good yardstick as to their progression as a guitarist.

A common comment is ” I can play what grade would that make me?
Well if you were taking the Rockschool Performance grades you could get an approximate answer, but with the established grades it isn’t a very good indicator.

Lets look at some requirements for a Grade 1.
Scales required are
C Major scale – 1 octave.
G Pentatonic Major scale – 1 octave.
E Blues scale – 1 octave.
‘Open’ scales of E Natural Minor, E Blues and G Pentatonic Major – 2 octaves.
‘Fretted’ scales of A Major and A Pentatonic Minor – 2 octaves


Major chords – C, D, E, G.
Minor chords – Am, Dm, Em.
Dominant 7th chords – A7, B7, E7.

Major chords – A, C, D, E, G.
Minor chords – Am, Dm, Em.
Dominant 7th chords – A7, B7, D7, E7.
Major 7th chords – AMaj7, CMaj7, DMaj7

Rhythm playing

Candidates will be given a chord progression to play containing chords selected
from  above. Time signature, tempo, (and from Grade 1 onwards) dynamics
and other indications may be marked, however the style of the performance will be
left to the candidate’s initiative

Lead Playing

The examiner will play a chord progression similar to that presented above. The candidate will be required to improvise over this, demonstrating the practical application of scales (and, where appropriate, arpeggios) from the scales above.

Spoken tests

Candidates may be asked questions relating to any of the topics listed below.
Knowledge of notes on the fingerboard  is a core requirement – particularly at earlier
Notes on the fingerboard
Anatomy, mechanism and basic techniques of the instrument.

Aural Tests

Repetition of rhythms.
Repetition of melodic phrases

As you can see this is a bit more involved than playing a tune you like well.  Whilst that is a perfectly legitimate thing to do and is definitely encouraged by myself. The grade takes into account the factor of do you actually understand the tune you are playing. Many students can play tunes parrot fashion verbatim from the tab they have acquired but many lack the ability to name the chords or recognise the scale that the licks are derived from.

A number of students will feel intimidated by the names of chords and scales and feel that they don’t understand “theory”.   Fear of the unknown is a common trait, but really there is nothing to fear and everything to gain from embracing then information and pushing on through to a greater understanding.

See if you can manage the scale and chord requirements above for a grade 1 and I’d be interested to know how many out there can do it without using reference guides for the answer.


Have fun.


~ by Geoff Lea Guitar on April 7, 2011.

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