Practical Technology Column: Rockschool

Tim Hallas
Friday, January 1, 2021

Continuing our exploration of the different qualification options for music technology, this month Tim Hallas looks at the offer from Rockschool.

As I continue my overview of the different qualifications that include some form of music technology, we move on to RSL Awards (Rockschool). As I'm sure you're aware, Rockschool made its name as an examination board providing rigorous assessment for students of popular musical instruments right through to Grade 8.

However, over the years it has expanded its offering to include vocals, dance, musical theatre and, of course, music production. There are two distinct routes to study music production in Rockschool's suite of qualifications and we will look at both of them here.

Graded examinations

I am sure most of you know how graded examinations work – students can work towards different levels of examination within their specialism from Grade 1 through to Grade 8. These exams all sit on the qualification framework in England and Grade 5 is a Level 2 qualification considered to be the same standard as GCSEs and Scottish Nationals.

Grade 8 is a Level 3 qualification considered to be at the same standard as A Levels in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland and as Highers in Scotland. Although it is important to note that graded exams are significantly smaller qualifications than their curriculum equivalents and this is reflected in the number of points they are worth for further study.

The music production exams from Rockschool are excellent and I use some of them with my students as part of their A Level course. In lieu of an AS qualification at the end of Year 12, I now offer the students the opportunity to sit the Rockschool Grade 6 Music Production exam so that they potentially leave their two-year course with an extra qualification.

The examinations are all designed to be software agnostic and can be completed on any decent DAW, and the lower grades can even be completed on entry level software such as GarageBand and Cubase Elements. It is only in the higher grades that more complex versions of the software are required.

The rigour of these qualifications is excellent, and the Grade 8 specification has a lot of similar requirements to the A level. It's a shorter piece of work, obviously, but the required knowledge and the task briefs are definitely on a par with A level standard work.

Vocational qualifications

Rockschool has also expanded its portfolio to include curriculum taught vocational qualifications at Levels 1, 2 and 3 as alternatives to other more traditional qualifications. The vocational qualifications are just that – vocational, and require no written examinations. They offer flexible pathways to focus on learners’ individual interests and skills within music.

There are a number of core modules within the different pathways. The technology core modules focus on developing musical knowledge, the basics of production, and using a sequencer. Beyond that there is a range of different modules that can be combined to create the requisite number of credits for the qualification to be awarded.

Although I have never taught this qualification myself, I have spoken with colleagues in a number of schools that have, and they speak incredibly highly of it. The students enjoy the learning aims and the practical nature of the qualifications. The ability to choose different pathways for technology students will suit a lot of schools and could be an excellent route for those establishments with a high percentage of music students who don't have a formal music background, but may have learnt by rote (via YouTube), or just don't enjoy the more traditional elements of some of the GCSE syllabuses.

The vocational qualifications at both Level 2 and Level 3 are included within schools’ performance tables and therefore they are viewed by the government as being equally as rigorous as other qualifications at the same level.

Summary

The offering from Rockschool for students of music production is excellent. For schools that are looking for an alternative music qualification that involves less examination preparation, is more vocational, and teaches students real production skills, the Level 1, 2 and 3 courses are ideal. They work well alongside – or as a replacement to – other courses of an equivalent level.

However, if a student is just looking to complete a qualification in music production alongside existing courses, then the graded examinations could be perfect. If music production is a passion, but not a future career plan, then taking a graded exam will look good on UCAS applications, CVs, and will be an excellent addition to whatever else a student is studying.

Rockschool has multiple routes for music technology students and, while they might have slightly different target audiences, they are all undoubtedly good options.