Improvising in a reggae style

Reggae originated in the Caribbean island of Jamaica in the late 1960s. There were many musical genres that influenced it including rhythm and blues, jazz, calypso and mento. However it evolved mainly from ska and rocksteady; popular dance styles in Jamaica in the early 60s.

In ska, the bass underpins the pulse with a walking line, accompanied with an offbeat comping pattern on piano or guitar. The horns have a fairly prominent role, with repeating figures (similar to rhythm and blues). Rocksteady shares the offbeat comping with ska, but is a significantly slower tempo, and has more stress on beats 2 and 4 (and less on 1 and 3). This more relaxed tempo led to more interaction between the players, different stresses in the comping and more rhythmically involved bass lines create a subtler groove.

With reggae, we can see the same stress on beats 2 and 4 and the same offbeat comping pattern. The tempo is similar to rocksteady, but the interaction between the different roles is more involved. The grooves are constructed of repeating cycles (often with variations), which may change in different sections of the song. Like many other groove based genres, when we look at the whole picture of what everyone is playing, we find rhythmic cycles of different lengths in the groove.

We can see this when looking at the song ‘Natural Mystic’ by Bob Marley & The Wailers.

Music image

This is the groove at the start of the song. The swing is really clear on the percussion and the hi-hat. The keys are comping offbeats, following a 1 beat rhythmic cycle, and the bass, drums and percussion are following a 2 beat cycle. This drum pattern with the kick and cross stick snare only on beats 2 and 4, and the closed hi-hat on beat 1 is called the ‘one drop’.

The swing in reggae is very important and unique to the style. The smallest divisions of the groove (semiquavers in the example above) are not evenly placed through the beat. The best way to get to grips with this is to tap semiquavers along with recordings, whilst keeping the pulse with your feet, and try to hook up with the groove that they are playing.

Instrumental solos are rare in reggae, but it’s worth noting that the guitar in this song plays some solo lines that answer the melody (from about 0.45). Call and response is a very important aspect of reggae.

Improvising in the style

When we improvise in the style, we need to ask ourselves some questions for each song we play. What is your role in the groove? How does it fit together with the other elements? Are you hooking up with the swing? If you’re not sure to the answer of any of these questions, then check out some more recordings.

The role of the bass is fundamental to reggae. The high frequencies are removed with equalization, giving it the characteristically fat sound. The bass often plays a riff that repeats the same rhythm through a given section of the song, but may be altered to fit the changing harmony. The above example is a 2 beat cycle, but 4 beat cycles are also common. The riff will often emphasize beats 2 and 4.

There are different drum styles within the genre, but the cross-stick technique is normally employed on the snare through most of the groove, saving the open snare for the fills to mark the form. The snare is tuned very high and fills rarely end with cymbal crashes.

One of the most striking characteristics of reggae is the offbeat comping pattern, which could be played either by the guitar or keys. The non-comping player will often have a riff, which supports the bass line or answers other parts of the groove.

Influential artists

The success of Bob Marley & The Wailers in the late 60s and 70s brought wider international interest to reggae and Jamaican music. Socio-political and spiritual themes were often raised in reggae in the 70s, but songs about more personal experiences of love and socializing were also common. Peter Tosh was one of the original members of The Wailers and he went on to have a successful solo career in the late 70s and 80s.

In the 70s dub developed from reggae and became popular in Jamaica. Dub artists such as Lee “Scratch” Perry were record producers and they remixed earlier recordings, usually with the vocals removed and with more emphasis on the bass and heavy use of special effects. Reggae and ska had a huge influence on British punk in the 70s and there was a resurgence of ska in the UK, with bands like Madness. This ’second wave’ of ska tended to have faster tempos than the Jamaican ska of the 60s and a more aggressive sound, showing the influence of punk. Ska had a ’third wave’ of popularity in the late 80s and 90s in America. Dancehall emerged in the late 70s in Jamaica. The early songs were like a less busy style of reggae, but the vocals were often spoken or chanted to a monotone as well as sung (by the ’deejay’). Dancehall lyrics were often about dancing, violence and sexuality; rather than the political and spiritual themes common in reggae in the 70s. Like dub, dancehall has more emphasis on the lead vocalist than in reggae, where the singer is always with a band. Eek-a-Mouse was one of the most popular deejays of early dancehall.

In the 80s the use of electronic instruments increased in dancehall, reflective of their wider use in popular music. Ragga also emerged (with artists such as Chaka Demus & Pliers), using programmed drums and increasingly faster rhythms. These developments represent a significant stylistic shift from the reggae of the 60s.

In the 90s international hits from artists including Dawn Penn brought dancehall to a much wider audience. Early 00s saw success from emerging artists like Sean Paul, whose numerous accolades include the Grammy for the Best Reggae Album 2004 with ‘Dutty Rock‘. In many ways this is quite far removed from the reggae of the 60s, demonstrating how the term is sometimes used in a wider context today.

An example of reggae in the syllabus is: ‘You Don’t Love Me‘ by Dawn Penn (bass)

Blog post written by: Paul Trippett

Find out more about the Session Skill Improvising in our Rock & Pop exams

Check out our Improvising in a funk style blog post

Check out our Improvising in a heavy rock style blog post

Check out our Improvising in a ballad style blog post

Check out our Improvising in a rock style blog post

Check out our Trinity Rock & Pop Czar Tyler Smith’s blog post on Improvisation

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Improvising in a funk style

The funk style was born around the 1960’s and utilises features and sounds common to soul, jazz and R’n’B music. Funk typically reverses the trends featuring melody and harmony seen in earlier styles of music, instead placing greater emphasis on rhythmic drive and groove. Many early funk songs featured one-chord and repetitive patterns (vamps), over which there would be embellishments or vocal lines. The focus is often on the placement of notes in a rhythmically appropriate and ‘groovy’ way, rather than flourishes of notes or technically accomplished melodic lines.

As with most styles, we’ve seen development and cross-pollination with other genres to create even more types of music, such as disco or sub-genres, such as funk-rock, acid jazz and neo-soul. Even some of the styles not directly associated with funk often bear many of the features and stylistic traits pioneered by the funk movement. Pop songs often feature simple, instantly recognisable vamps or ostinatos and dance music relies heavily on a continuous drum pattern. Many of today’s hip hop and rap artists pay homage to the funk movement, regularly sampling sections from old funk records, most famously the ‘Amen Drum Break’, which is prevalent in hundreds of pop, hip hop, rap and dance tracks. This was originally performed by G. C. Coleman on The Winstones’ funk song ‘Amen, Brother’ and can be found from 1:27 to 1:34 of the YouTube video.

Improvising in the style

Funk is less about navigating chord progressions or creating winding melodies and more about the rhythmic content. This applies to any instrument or singer performing within the style. First and foremost, it’s worth getting to know some of the key artists and songs within the history to get a feel for the music and the features.

When performing and improvising in the funk style, the first thing to think about is beat placement. What is the feel of the music? Do we want to create a forward drive (potentially quite aggressive in sound), is it all incredibly precise or is the music more laid-back? If the feel is laid-back, we want to make the music sound as relaxed and ‘groovy’ as possible. Therefore, whatever you choose to play, try to sit on the ‘back’ of the beat (i.e. ‘behind’ or just after the beat, rather than ahead of it).

Simplicity is often key. If you can present an idea and make it sit ‘in the pocket’, this will sound a million times better than rushing into a complex run of notes, which bear little resemblance to the style. Funk is about groove, feeling and making people want to move, not showing off your licks! Try taking a short phrase or idea and repeating it several times. You can develop this idea by starting on different beats of the bar, or adding/subtracting parts of the phrases, or even embellishing the phrase with melismas (for vocalists), grace notes (keyboardists), hammer-ons and bends (for guitarists) or ghost notes and drags (drummers).

Influential Artists

James Brown is probably the most famous of the founding fathers of funk. By the mid-1960’s hits such as ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’ and ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ were storming the U.S. charts, with later iconic hits such as ‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine’ also achieving world-wide recognition to this day. Alongside James Brown artists such as Sly & The Family Stone and The Meters grew to fame. ‘Cissy Strut’ by The Meters has grown in funk cult status, despite only reaching no. 4 in the R’n’B charts and no. 23 in the Billboard 100 upon its release in 1969. Chaka Khan is one of leading lights for ladies in funk, with ‘Ain’t Nobody’ and ‘I’m Every Woman’ now considered funk classics.

More recent artists include Bruno Mars, producer Mark Ronson, Tower of Power and British Hammond-led band The James Taylor Quartet, whose career grew out of the heavily funk influenced acid-jazz movement in the late 1980’s/early-90’s. Many other huge acts such as Red Hot Chilli Peppers also cite funk as an important part of their style.

Examples of funk songs in the syllabus are:

Rock Steady‘ by Aretha Franklin, (Drums), ‘I Say A Little Prayer‘ by Aretha Franklin (Vocals), ‘Chain Of Fools‘ by Aretha Franklin (Drums), ‘I Get High On You‘ by Sly And The Family Stone (Bass), ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)‘ by James Brown (Bass), ‘Funky Drummer‘ by James Brown (Drums), ‘1 Thing‘ by Amerie (Drums) and ‘Crazy In Love‘ by Beyoncé (Drums and Vocals).

Blog post written by: JJ Wheeler, Trinity Rock & Pop Examiner

Find out more about the Session Skill Improvising in our Rock & Pop exams

Check out our Improvising in a heavy rock style blog post

Check out our Improvising in a ballad style blog post

Check out our Improvising in a rock style blog post

Check out our Trinity Rock & Pop Czar Tyler Smith’s blog post on Improvisation

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Improvising in a heavy rock style

Heavy rock, or hard rock as it is also known, is typically louder, faster, and more complex than rock or pop music, and came from a generation of great experimental musicians including Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. In the same way that classical music evolved in the late 19th century due to the development of better quality instruments, resulting in more virtuosic and exciting musical performance, a new age of instruments and voices began to push the boundaries of rock a hundred or so years later. The genre originated as a subgenre of rock music and was derived from mid-1960s garage rock, blues-rock and psychedelic rock. Heavy rock is defined by its use of aggressive sound, which is achieved by developing more complex rhythmic and melodic patterns, using louder and thicker textures. It usually contains strong vocals, the distorted sound of electric guitars, intermittent riffs from the bass guitar, driving drum rhythms and a piano or keyboard.

During the mid-1960s a number of American and British rock bands started to change some of the characteristics of the rock ‘n’ roll genre. However, heavy rock only began to become more mainstream in the 1970s and the 1980s. During this time, a new style of heavy rock music called stadium or arena rock started to become popular, and bands began to incorporate louder sounds, special effects and more of a visual performance than was previously seen at shows. More recently, a number of post-grunge, garage and punk bands such as Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Creed and Nickelback revisited the genre and incorporated aspects of the heavy rock style into their music, including the traditional distorted guitar sounds and the aggressive nature of the music.

Improvising in the style

When you think about improvising in this style, you should be doing so from a good knowledge of what typifies the style. So, do listen to some of the artists mentioned here, and try to pick out your instrument, listening to how the player manipulates the sound, making it heavier; with more notes and repetition, louder, faster and with a grittier sound.  You might come across heavy rock songs at Grade 1 onwards.

Influential Artists

Several classic heavy rock bands have influenced the genre such as AC/DC and Guns ‘n’ Roses.  The band AC/DC is known as one of the best selling bands of all time. ‘Highway to Hell’, their first commercially successful album, established them as one of the top hard rock bands worldwide and included a lot of traditional heavy rock themes. Guns ‘n’ Roses also played a key part in bringing the heavy rock genre into the mainstream and are also considered one of the best heavy rock bands of all time. Over the years, they have also added a number of more classical instruments into their line-up including strings, horns and wind instruments.

A number of more contemporary heavy rock bands have influenced the genre, such as Radiohead, Kings of Leon and Biffy Clyro. Radiohead was largely influenced by artists such as Queen and Pink Floyd as well as the classic rock bands of the 60s. Their 1997 album ‘OK Computer’ consisted primarily of heavy rock songs and was regarded by many critics as one of the best albums in existence. Rolling Stone called the album a ‘stunning art-rock tour de force’. Kings of Leon were influenced by a number of artists, including The Rolling Stones, The Clash, Thin Lizzy and the Pixies. Their early music contained a mix of both Southern rock and blues, however as they progressed within the industry, their songs began to feature more of a heavy rock sound. Biffy Clyro are another more contemporary influential band within the heavy rock genre. Their early music displayed a more unique sound, with complex rhythms and styles. However, their fourth album ‘Puzzle’ brought them further into the mainstream style of heavy rock music.

Examples of heavy rock songs in the syllabus are:

My Generation by The Who (drums and bass), You Really Got Me by The Kinks (bass and drums), My Iron Lung by Radiohead (bass), Airbag by Radiohead (drums), Just by Radiohead (guitar), White Room by Cream (bass and drums), The Crying Machine by Steve Vai (bass and guitar), The Captain by Biffy Clyro (bass), That Golden Rule by Biffy Clyro (drums and guitar), Use Somebody by Kings of Leon (drums and guitar) and Bat out of Hell by Meatloaf (keyboard and vocals).

Find out more about the Session Skill Improvising in our Rock & Pop exams

Check out our Improvising in a ballad style blog post

Check out our Improvising in a rock style blog post

Check out our Trinity Rock & Pop Czar Tyler Smith’s blog post on Improvisation

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Improvising in a ballad style

A ballad is a narrative verse set to music, which originated from the medieval French style of musical verse called ‘chanson balladée’ or ‘ballade’, which were dancing songs.  As a ballad was created to be played alongside a dance, they were written in couplets with a refrain in every other line, which would have been sung by the dancers, keeping in time with the beat of the dance. The genre of the ballad was an extremely significant style of poetry and song within British culture during the medieval era, which lasted right up until the 19th Century. This style was then transferred firstly across to Europe and then much later to the Americas, Australia and North Africa.

The narrative side of the original ballad is said to have also been influenced by Scandinavian and Germanic styles of storytelling, such as the poem Beowulf. But musically, it is said to have been shaped by the 12th century German form of song writing called ‘Minnesang’. The first ballad that’s documented in England is called ‘Judas’ and was found in a 13th century manuscript. At first, ballads were usually produced and distributed on a single sheet broadside, which was also the method in which 18th century poets and composers created their own lyrical ballads. In the late 19th century the genre of the ballad started to move and change to form the type of ballad we know today; a slow song with lyrics concerning love.

There are a number of different types of modern ballad, for example: the jazz ballad, the pop and rock ballad and the power ballad. The modern ballad has a slower tempo with beat ranges from crotchet 50 to 80, and is either a 4/4 or 12/8 time signature. It usually starts with an introductory verse, which is often 16 bars, and ends on the dominant, which is primarily a 16 or 32 bar chorus or refrain in AABA or ABAC form. When using the AABA forms, the B section is commonly known as the bridge.

According to British sociomusicologist, Simon Frith, the power ballad is said to have been created by the emotional singing of artists such as Ray Charles, as well as the interpretation of the style by artists such as Tom Jones and Joe Cocker, where the slow-tempo songs build up to a loud and emotional chorus, with the help of drums, electric guitar and occasionally a chorus of singers. In addition, journalist Charles Aaron claims that the power ballad originated in the early 1970s, where rock artists tried to portray deep and meaningful messages to their fans. Some of the most famous examples of power ballads are ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ by Bonnie Tyler, ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ by Journey and ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ by Aerosmith.

Improvising in the style

Ballads are usually quite emotionally charged with a slower tempo, so it’s good to use longer phrases, allowing musical ideas to generate over a few bars, especially during the first and second repetitions. One way to create longer phrases is to focus on beats one and three each bar (if in 4/4), so one bar feels a little bit more like half a bar. You could aim to pick a small musical idea and develop it over the repetitions, so you begin with the germ of an idea and expand it each time. Don’t be afraid to use long notes across chord changes (suspensions), or perhaps use brushes if you are a drummer. Vocalists should use melisma; this means to move between notes on one syllable, showing flexibility across ranges. Don’t forget this is probably a love song, so imagine a story and it will help you to be inspired!

Key Players

There are a number of significant female vocalists within the ballad genre, such as Celine Dion, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. These artists have been considered to have brought back the power ballad into the mainstream, through their enormous catalogue of songs within this genre. They have also each made a huge impression on the music industry as a whole, with numerous singers both male and female citing them as their influence. Whitney Houston was internationally renowned for her vocal talents and was predominantly known as a mezzo-soprano, with a huge vocal range and astounding technical skills. One of her greatest talents was the meaning and emotion that she could portray within a song, which is a key aspect within the ballad genre. Celine Dion is famous for her skilled and strong vocals, with a steady and precise pitch and vibrato. Her famous ballads include the internationally acclaimed song from Titanic ‘My Heart Will Go On’ and her original top hit ‘The Power of Love’. Mariah Carey’s voice has been described as both an alto and a soprano over the years. She has a five-octave vocal range with a melismatic style, but has also previously reached notes even further than the seventh octave. Her style of vocals includes a mix of strong belting, breathy notes, riffs, whispers and syncopation.

Meat Loaf, is one of the best selling artists of all time and is extremely influential within the ballad genre. He has a three octave vocal range and is widely thought of as the king of the power ballads, with such songs as ‘I Would Do Anything For Love’ and ‘Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad’.

There are also a number of more contemporary artists who are significant within the ballad genre, such as Beyoncé, Leona LewisKelly Clarkson and Adele. Throughout Beyoncé’s career she has recorded a large number of both slow and power ballads, such as the songs ‘Listen’ and ‘If I Were a Boy’. She has a vast vocal range and puts a modern take on her power ballads, through her unique tone and timbre. Leona Lewis, who is a mezzo-soprano and has a four octave vocal range, is famous for her technically skilled vocals. She is able to move from low notes to high falsetto in a smooth and controlled way, whilst adding in both fluctuations and modulations. Her song ‘Bleeding Love’ is an extremely popular contemporary ballad, with vast international success. American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson is also renowned for her power ballads, as seen with her hit song ‘Because Of You’. As a soprano singer, she has an extremely large vocal range and is known for her outstanding technical skills, adaptable vocals and meaningful performances. Singer-songwriter Adele brings a slightly edgier sound to the traditional ballad, but her lyrics are renowned for their description of love, and relationships which is a common aspect of the genre. Her song ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ is one of the most famous power ballads of the noughties, and she even won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance for the song following her Live at the Royal Albert Hall concert.

Examples of ballad songs in the syllabus are ‘The Devil’ by Anna Calvi (guitar), ‘The Climb’ by Miley Cyrus (keyboard), ‘Nobody Does It Better’ by Carly Simon (keyboard), ‘Nights In White Satin’ by The Moody Blues (vocals and keyboard), ‘I Have Nothing’ by Whitney Houston (keyboard and vocals), ‘The Greatest Love Of All’ by Whitney Houston (vocals), ‘One Moment In Time’ by Whitney Houston (vocals), and ‘Without You’ by Mariah Carey (vocals).

Find out more about the Session Skill Improvising in our Rock & Pop exams.

Check out our Improvising in a rock style blog post.

Check out our Trinity Rock & Pop Czar Tyler Smith’s blog post on Improvisation.

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Rock & Pop Exam Day: ‘The Gig’ (Performance)

When I’m performing, I like to arrive for the gig early. For the Rock & Pop performance, I think you should arrive at least 30 minutes early. This gives you time to relax, focus and warm-up before you walk on to the stage (exam room).  Before you leave for the gig, make sure you have your music and the gear that you need; back up stuff like strings, sticks, picks, cables etc., just in case something breaks. Make sure you also have your original Rock & Pop book and CD with you (you will use your CD to warm up with). If you have transposed vocal pieces or have an own choice song (song 2) for any instrument, I suggest you bring that on a USB stick or flash drive. That’s what we will use in the exam room.

Now that you have arrived:

  • You should check in with the stage manager; we call them the Rock & Pop steward.
  • Give them your appointment slip (set list), already filled in. They will talk to you about warm-up time and when you will play based upon the other acts or candidates performing that day.
  • You will be taken to the warm-up room about 10-15 minutes before your exam to focus and get in the zone. This not time for a lesson, but as I said, a warm-up. When I go play, I use the time before I hit the stage to get my voice, fingers and mind ready for the show.
  • When it’s time for your performance, the steward will take you to the Rock & Pop room and introduce you.
  • Enter the exam room like you own it. You’re on stage; this is your performance.
  • To start, once you’re on stage you should make sure your gear is set, tuned and do a sound check for your first piece. Put your original music on the stand open to your first piece. Make sure you are happy with the sound and the balance. If you want adjustments to your sound check just ask the engineer (the examiner, who is a player just like you).
  • You will then be asked to perform each piece of your set as listed on the appointment slip, including the Session Skill that you have ticked.
  • Once you exit, the steward will confirm the dates when marks and certificates will be released.

So that’s it! The next thing I do after a gig is go out and eat some food, hang out and talk to my friends about the performance, have some fun. That’s what musicians do – we work hard, play music and have fun!

Now that you know what is happening the day of your performance (exam), I would go check out some of our Rock & Pop demos for your instrument:

Later,

Tyler Smith, Trinity Rock & Pop Czar

www.trinityrock.com

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Improvising in a rock style

Rock music is a genre which originated as rock’n’roll in 1950s USA. Stemming  from 1940s and 1950s rhythm and blues and country music, rock music is influenced by a number of other genres, such as blues, folk, jazz and classical music. The creation of rock’n’roll during the 50s also encouraged a wave of fandom with teenagers and inspired a new style of dancing, which lead to disapproving parents worldwide thinking it was a bad influence on their children.

Debate surrounds which should be considered the first rock’n’roll record and it has been argued that Elvis Presley’s first single with Sun Records, ‘That’s All Right (Mama)’ was the first. However, in 1955, Bill Haley’sRock Around the Clock’ became the first rock’n’roll song to top Billboard magazine’s main sales and airplay charts. 

The ‘British Invasion’ was also a key aspect in the development of rock music. During the mid-1960s rock and pop music acts from the UK, such as The Beatles, started to become popular in the USA, by drawing on elements from other styles of distinctive music, including soul, rhythm and blues and surf. In the late 1960s during the classic rock period, a number of sub-genres emerged, including hybrids like blues rock, folk rock, country rock, jazz-rock fusion, progressive rock and glam rock. Subsequently, this was the introduction of the types of rock groups we know today; who produce their own material and consist of guitarists, drummers and vocalists.

In the mid-late 1970s, punk rock became stronger and started to introduce a rawer, livelier style of music which focused on social and political problems within society. Punk rock was also a huge influence in the 1980s and resulted in the development of other sub-genres, such as new wave, post-punk and the alternative rock movement. However, from the 1990s a new style of alternative rock started to prevail within rock music and also break through into the mainstream; this included a number of sub-genres such as punk rock, grunge, Britpop, and indie rock.

Instruments

Musically, rock is focused around the electric guitar, which usually forms part of a rock group with electric bass and drums. Typically, a rock song has a 4/4 time signature using a verse-chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse over the years. Lyrics are often about love, but they also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political. Rock places a high degree of emphasis on live performance and an ideology of authenticity.

Improvising in the style

When improvising in a rock genre it’s good to remember that rock is characterised by a driving rhythm and uses straight quavers, so you should use these within your improvisation and keep it in time with the beat. It’s more important to be accurate and confident rather than complex, so don’t worry too much about showing off with fast runs of notes, just keep them simple, in order to capture the driving energy of rock.

In the Rock & Pop parameters, the genre is described as ‘simple rock’, but this just means that the backing track will have a standard rock feel and won’t be anything too exotic or unusual. You might come across rock at Initial onwards.

Key Players

Jimi Hendrix is considered one of the greatest rock guitarists, and it is said he pioneered the use of the electric guitar within the genre. Hendrix also liked to use overdriven amplifiers with high volume and gain, and was instrumental in the development of the technique of guitar amplifier feedback. He additionally helped popularise the use of a wah-wah pedal in rock and was the first musician to implement stereophonic phasing effects in his recordings.

A number of British bands from the late 60s were hugely influential within the rock genre, such as The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. The Rolling Stones were at the forefront of the British Invasion in 1964 and 1965 and were a big influence within the rebellious counterculture of the 1960s. They also helped to introduce blues as a major part of rock’n’roll music. Pink Floyd were additionally very significant during this period and were famous for their new dynamic music and their use of philosophical lyrics. They were also said to be one of the UK’s first psychedelic rock bands, and they used aspects of other genres such as hard rock, blues, country, folk, and electronic music within their songs. Led Zeppelin were also extremely significant within the creation of rock music and were also said to be one of the originators of the heavy metal genre. Their music focused around a guitar driven sound and their music was influenced by a number of other genres, including blues and folk music.

The alternative rock band Muse are often associated with space and progressive rock, with their music including styles from a number of genres such as electronic music, hard rock, experimental rock, classical music and rock opera. Many Muse songs are recognisable by lead vocalist Matthew Bellamy’s use of vibrato, falsetto, and melismatic phrasing. Muse songs often use the broken chords technique on the piano, as well as a variety of electronic effects to the bass tone. The bass line is also frequently featured as the central theme of the song, in order to add embellishments in the lower register. They additionally use an arpeggiator and pitch-shift effects on the guitar, to help add to their signature electronic sound.

Examples of rock songs in the syllabus are ‘Heroes‘ by David Bowie (bass, drums, guitar, vocals and keyboard), ‘YYZ‘ by Rush (bass and drums), ‘My Generation‘ by The Who (bass and drums), ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash‘ by The Rolling Stones (drums), ‘Time Is Running Out‘ by Muse (bass and drums) and ‘All Day And All Of The Night‘ by The Kinks (bass, drums, guitar, vocals and keyboard).

Find out more about the Session Skill Improvising in our Rock & Pop exams.

Check out our Trinity Rock & Pop Czar Tyler Smith’s blog post on Improvisation.

Freaking out… two weeks to my performance!

Easy for me to say, I’m Trinity’s Rock & Pop Czar, but ’relax‘.

Now let’s review some lesson planning for your performance in the exam: common sense tips for playing and stage presence.

Two weeks before your exam performance you should be polishing your technique, performance and stagecraft.  This is what pros do before the tour begins, checking that all parts of the performance are ready for the first tour date. Do I know the music, is my set list ready (the three pieces you will perform and the order), and is my gear ready: strings, sticks, picks, voice? Am I ‘in the zone’ – the mindset that this is a stage performance and not just another lesson? Do I look and feel like I’m ready for the stage, the exam?

During these last weeks of practice, focus on sound check and knowing your levels. Understand that you are playing within the band (on the backing track) and make sure you get the levels right for your playing. You (and your teacher if you have one) should go through this process during lesson time to make sure your music gets heard and you begin to understand the importance of balance in the monitors. Take charge – it’s your stage. As musicians, if we don’t hear the music, the backing tracks, with the balance we have practised, we don’t play as well – it’s that simple. You have to understand the sound check and know the balance you want to hear in your ears and mind.

Hit the stage, the exam room, with conviction and real stage presence. Know the exam and what’s going to happen. Plan your set list (the order you will play), and end your exam with your best music. Practice and perform your play list, in the order of performance you have set out, for the last 2+ weeks before your exam. Song 1, Song 2, Song 3, Session Skill (Playback or Improvising). This is the layout of your performance. Know it!!! Take charge – it’s your stage.

Have your teacher video your performance and watch it together. Look at how you stand, play, and communicate your cover songs, and find your stage persona. Take charge – it’s your stage. This is your performance, so remember you are not in lesson mode, you’re in performance mode, on stage, rockin’ mode. Show it, perform it. The whole performance must keep this level of energy and should stimulate the audience/examiner.

Double-check your Session Skills parameters for Playback or Improvising. Know what styles will be asked in Improvising or the notation level you will be expected to perform in Playback. Check this link: http://www.trinityrock.com/exams/syllabus. Each grade has guidelines for what you must know for Playback and Improvising.

So stop freaking out!! Keep practicing, don’t miss your lessons, get your performance slick and cool, and know your Session Skill guidelines. If you do all of this, you will have a great gig!

Later,

Tyler Smith, Trinity Rock & Pop Czar

www.trinityrock.com

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