Rockschool ? RGT ? Structured learning vs a more freelance approach?

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mli3mli3 Frets: 203
I've been playing on and off for about 10 years, taking long breaks for kids etc, I've had lessons which I think were great, but just really want to make progress. 
My goal is to be able to hold my own at a jam session (I would be coming to the Southern one in April if it was one weekend either side of that date !! ).
I've studied a few rockschool pieces with a teacher and learnt to play them, and now i just use the books to get tab for tracks I want to learn. 

Has anyone here gone through the whole grading system with Rockschool / RGT ? Would you say it is worth it, or is it a narrow way of looking at learning - should I just be playing / noodling as much as I can fitting in a few lessons when I have time ?

Thought / opinions appreciated ? I love music, always have, and I've been told i have a good ear (whatever that means).. I just want to get better !

Thanks !
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  • LestratcasterLestratcaster Frets: 502
    edited August 2018
    As a private tutor of 10 years I use the RGT and RSL syllabuses alot with my learners. I would say the RGT is very well structured into 6 sections, scales/arpeggios, chords, rhythm playing, lead playing, spoken tests and aural assessments. Its very well rounded ensuring you have the vitals to play at a certain grade. (E.g you can't be good at soloing but be crap at chords and rhythm playing to pass the exam). There are 4 different types of syllabus, electric guitar (full proper grade) electric playing (a mix of performance and the full one) Rock Guitar, and Performance (pre-prepared pieces only). I have done the full one with numerous learners and proud to say I have a 100% pass rate with everyone.

    The RSL one is a bit different, I'm not a fan of the structure but essentially the content is the same. Scales, chords, improvisation and a performance piece. The only difference that sets the two apart is RGT are a bit outdated with their choices of performance pieces, e.g Smoke on The Water, Smells Like Teen Spirit, All Right now are in the Rock Performance piece choices.
    RSL however are doing artists like Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Taylor Swift and Adele (well, for the acoustic grades anyway) so a bit more contemporary and modern. I would like to see RGT update their repertoire a bit more to more up-to-date artists as the majority of new learners I take on are from the younger generation.

    So for what you want to do, is to be competent at jamming? Well, knowing how to solo is a good place to start and there is a lead playing section in the RGT section of the exam. There isn't so much in RSL but I did do a grade 5 with a young teenage learner last year and there was a piece that required a 16 bar improvised solo. Knowing how to follow a chord chart either by ear or by reading is important so you know where the changes are. E.g you must know a 12-bar blues by now but what about a Dorian/Mixolydian chart where you could throw in some arpeggios over extended shapes? Stuff like that. Having a good ear is also helpful, and sometimes you may be required to comp/play the chords in the rhythm section. I have noticed grades 1-2 are solely about learning dots on a fretboard, 3-4 opens up to barre chords, 5 and above really brings out the musicality in your playing.

    Is it worth it? Well that depends what you want out of it. As a tutor I would say its certainly not going to make you worse but it is very academic and thorough. For some people it might be too much, they only seem to want to focus on certain parts of the grade, soloing and scales for example, and skip more important parts like rhythm playing (90-95% of guitar playing) and aural assessments.

    You may enjoy the Rock Performance/Guitar ones more as there's less sections, the Rock Guitar playing syllabus requires you to play 2 pieces (pre-prepared) improvise and do chords for 1 chart and 3 aural tests (Rhythm/Pitch/Harmony). I have one young kid doing this and he's enjoying it. No scales, no theory. Just playing.

    I think there is a Performance based syllabus with RSL which is similar, 3 pieces and some short improvisation though I haven't done it with any learners yet.

    So in short, its worth it if you want to go all the way and learn everything about playing, but if you just want to jam you're better off with a tutor and really cleaning up your scales/technique. 

    Sorry for the long post!
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  • mli3mli3 Frets: 203
    thanks @Lestratcaster for the detailed answer  - appreciated
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  • Thanks for that answer. Helped my decide what to do, to get myself out of my guitar rut.

    I did a couple of RSL grades at school, been playing on and off since. Was going to back with Rock School, but RGT sounds like the way forward. Just ordered some books off of
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  • Good move. RGT is better structured than RSL for me.
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  • I think you should take on a structured approach because you'll nail the understanding better that way. But you should also step outside the structure to look at what else interests you. Your tutor ought to be able to help you with that too, if their attitude is flexible enough. The only time I wouldn't be happy stepping outside the structure was if a student was preparing for a grade exam and was fearful that the result would not be as good as it could be if attention was diverted.
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