I just go where the guitar takes me.
~ Angus Young (AC/DC lead guitarist) ~
Playing the guitar has been described as a passion. A lifestyle. And, for some, it's also their ticket to fame.
Where would a band be without its guitar players? What would Queen have sounded like without Brian May? Or AC/DC without Angus Young? Or Spiderbait without Janet English?
The influence of these musicians inspires many a young (and old) enthusiast to take up guitar playing.
It's estimated that there are over 800 million people around the world who play, or are learning to play, guitar. The gender breakdown is roughly 50/50 and reasons for learning tend to be:
- want to play the music of a favourite band
- gain a life skill
- see the guitar as part of their identity.
The ability to play the guitar to the level of Janet English or Angus Young is going to take years and years of practice. Like you, though, these guitar-playing greats would have started plucking away at the strings, learning chords, practising repetitive rhythms and probably studying musical theory.
Even if you don't aspire to nationwide, or world, fame, wouldn't it still be nice to be able to play a tune that people recognise? Maybe even build your own repertoire of pieces?
If you want to join the millions of guitarists and learners worldwide — let's find out a little more about what's involved.
Are Classical Guitar Grades Important?
The question on everyone's lips is: Do I have to take classical guitar exams, or any examination, to be a good player?
The short answer is no.
The longer one goes into a bit more detail, questioning you about why you're learning and what your goals are.
An exam, or even just the thought of the work required to prepare for the different grades, can make some students freeze. It can also take the enjoyment out of playing. However, if your goal is to get into a music school or degree, audition for a performance group or teach guitar to students any level, then you'll probably need to work your way through each guitar level, so sitting those exams is something you'll simply have to do.
Of course, you may want to find out your grade level and work your way up, just for your own personal achievement. But, if you're happy playing and developing your own repertoire of pieces that bring you joy, then by all means continue doing what you love. Music should not be stressful.
How Do You Progress Through Each Guitar Level?
Have you noticed students seem to learn everything online or on YouTube these days? (If you're a teenager, or have teenagers, this will not be new news.) Yes, even music. Classical guitar, bass guitar, rock, jazz, piano, musical theory — if you want free lessons, there are hundreds of channels you can subscribe to.
But — will YouTube help you progress past that beginner stage? Will it help you pass your classical guitar exams?
While it is possible to search online for the exam syllabus and purchase the required sheet music for each guitar level from online stores such as Unicorn Music or the AMEB Online Music Shop, having knowledge of the syllabus and access to the sheet music will obviously not be enough to pass your exam.
If you haven't done so already, and you're committed to sitting for classical guitar exams and passing each grade level, it's probably a good time to work on finding yourself a tutor.
Along with piano tutors, people teaching guitar would be the most commonly found music tutors. However, as with all teachers, each piano and guitar tutor has a different level of expertise and experience. It can be a mistake to assume that a tutor with loads of practical performance experience has a depth of knowledge about guitar levels. Above all else, you should be looking for a tutor who has knowledge of the syllabus for classical guitar grades.
How do you find this out?
Good tutors will provide happily provide references and a CV, stating their experience and knowledge base. Superprof tutors all have their own online profile pages which prospective students can browse to find information about each tutor's qualifications, experience, syllabus knowledge, the level of students taught and the type of lessons (online, face-to-face or group).
Once you have your tutor and know the content of the exam syllabus at each grade level, it's really a matter of solid practice.
Over to you.
What is Involved in the Different AMEB Guitar Grades?
The Australian Music Examination Board (AMEB) was established in 1918 as a national body with the goal of providing grade assessments for music students. AMEB is now the most respected body in its field and has long been the benchmark for the exams and assessment of music, drama and speech students.
AMEB is the only examination body with links to the major Australian universities and regularly updates each syllabus and ensures the content is accessible by all students in a cost-effective manner.
The classical guitar exams with AMEB are divided into levels. The starting level is the Preliminary stage, and is followed by 8 grade levels and then by two diplomas. Students should expect to work for one year per level up to Grade 5, then for 2 years to attain each level from Grade 6 to Grade 8.
At each grade level from preliminary to Grade 8, students can choose to sit a repertoire exam or a comprehensive exam.
These exams are recommended for students who may wish to achieve a grade but have other hobbies or instruments they play in addition to the guitar. Students are required to prepare and present between 4 to 6 pieces, depending on their grade, consisting of set list pieces and pieces of their choice.
Each of the classical guitar comprehensive exams run by AMEB has 6 main areas:
- set pieces — a selection of pieces from a range of up to 4 lists
- technical work — scales and technical exercises as per the AMEB Technical Work book
- sight reading — play unfamiliar pieces by sight from 2 grades lower than the grade being attempted
- general knowledge — oral tests focusing general musical knowledge, including harmony, theory and history of music (e.g. the name of the composer of a given piece of music)
- aural tests — recognition of rhythm and short phrases
- extra pieces — only required from Grade 2, these pieces are chosen by the students but must be at the same technical level as the set pieces.
In addition to the above, students sitting both the repertoire and comprehensive exams at Grade 6 to Grade 8 must achieve at least 65 per cent in the AMEB Theory, Music Craft or Musicianship written exams.
Beyond Grade 8, students may choose to continue with three final AMEB guitar grades.
Classical Guitar Certificate of Performance
Students are required to achieve a pass mark in one of the AMEB theory exams and perform a list repertoire of between 25 and 35 minutes, demonstrating:
- polished technique
Classical Guitar Associate (AMUSA)
One of the AMEB theory exams at Grade 5 must be passed. Students also perform a repertoire for up to 40 minutes followed by a comprehensive general knowledge discussion with the examiners.
Classical Guitar Licentiate (LMUSA)
This performance diploma is for students who can demonstrate performance experience through the presentation of a challenging 50-minute reportoire. As with AMUSA, the examination involves a detailed general knowledge discussion and a written exam.
Why Classical Guitar?
There are many different types of guitar to choose from, apart from the classical guitar. These include:
- steel-string acoustic
- electro acoustic
- 12-string guitars
- lap steel
- hollow body.
Nobody is saying you have to choose classical to begin with, but here are 5 good reasons why you should think about it.
- Learning classical guitar grows your technique and your technical skill, which you can apply later to other types of guitar.
- Classical doesn't mean you're limited to classical music. In fact, the repertoire you can play is probably more diverse than on other guitar types.
- You can choose to play solo or in an ensemble because the classical guitar sounds great in both situations.
- Nylon strings are easy on your fingers, unlike the steel strings on acoustic guitars.
- Classical does not mean nerd — Metallica bass guitarist, Robert Trujillo, played the nylon-stringed classical guitar!
So, get out there. Find yourself a tutor. Make music.
My guitar is not a thing. It is an extension of myself. It is who I am.
~ Joan Jett ~