So you've been playing the guitar for a little while and you want to check your place, so to speak, among the ranks of all those who play guitar?

Well, AMEB over a long and proud history have developed the only standardised way to assess what your place is, in terms of your ear, your ability to produce sound and play songs on an acoustic or electric guitar.

So when thinking about the best guide for building and being assessed on guitar ability, look no further than the AMEB exams!

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Step-by-step, Get Ready to Take Exams

For beginners, this process can be a little daunting and you're going to want to do a lot of preparation to make sure your fingers are ready to do the best playing that you are capable of.

This guide hopes to prepare you in the best possible way for what you will need to know about guitar playing to ensure that you spend each second of practice preparing appropriately for your exams, in order to achieve a great mark at the end of it!

All the tips here will help to boil down to a well-played tune.

Playing the guitar can be very relaxing
Chill out and learn guitar (Source: Kari Shea - Unsplash)

The fundamentals of guitar playing

So, let's start off our journey by exploring the various techniques you will have to grapple with in order to get started learning the guitar and scoring well in the elementary grades of classical and/or rock guitar exams.

Right-hand technique

There are different aspects of guitar playing you will have to practice in terms of the left and the right hand.

Assuming you are a right-handed player, you will be using your right hand to either strum or pluck the strings.

You can either learn to pick the strings with a plastic pick or you can learn how to use your fingers in what is known as 'finger style' playing.

There is also a style known as 'hybrid' which uses both pick playing and finger playing simultaneously, but we won't worry about that too much for now!

The key with strumming is to only hit the strings which you are fingering (or muting) with your left hand. This will keep your chord voicings sounding the way there are intended in the book!

Another important thing to keep in mind while strumming is to play dynamically in a way that emphasises particular beats which are important to the song.

The way this is done depends on the genre of music you are playing. For example, if you are playing reggae, you will emphasise the 2 and 4 downbeats of every bar.

As you progress with your playing, you will gradually introduce more and more complicated strumming rhythms.

A good way to practice strumming dynamics and rhythm is to play along with a backing track or a metronome.

Left-hand technique

The left hand is where you will carefully place each finger on the correct string and correct fret in order for each to note or chord to sound good.

Building up left-hand skill is not easy, it requires a great deal of practice and will have to be taken step-by-step.

You will learn techniques such as placing your finger on the correct part of the string and fret, how to create bar chords, how to play notes quickly in succession and how to change between different chords quickly and accurately.

Beginners should start with some, non-bar chords such as the E major chord, A minor, D major, C major, G major, E minor and any other variations of these chords which do not require any bar chords and which are relatively easy to play.

At the same time, the student should be learning beginner riffs which involve only playing one note at a time.

Some basic riffs that students can start with are the classics such as 'Smoke on the Water', 'Enter Sandman', 'Sunshine of Your Love' and other classic basic rock riffs that you desire to learn.

Guaranteed you can find beginner tutorials for these simple riffs on sites such as YouTube.

With more practice, you'll be confidently playing in front of others
Being a rock star involves learning the fundamentals first (Source: Marcus Neto - Unsplash)

Take lessons before considering doing exams

A noble rocker should take guitar lessons for a deeper reason than to do well in exams, the music has to bring some joy in and of itself.

Before the student thinks about exams and grades, they should take lesson after lesson, building up the fundamental skills of guitar playing, and only then consider going to do exams.

History of guitar exams in Australia

AMEB began offering classical guitar qualifications in 1887. They are the only musical examinations board with formal links to Australian Universities and Ministries of Education.

Their syllabi are developed by leading Australian musicians and educators specifically for the Australian music education system.

Nowadays, AMEB also offers exams for students of speech and drama.

The first time that examiners met from every state in Australia was in 1918, when the NSW State Conservatorium of Music hosted professors/examiners from across the entire country and the name "Australia Music Examinations Board" was officially adopted.

The entire curriculum was standardised in 1921, and from that point onwards students all across Australia were be assessed to the same standards and with the same assessment materials used.

To help you understand AMEB's exam grading system, the following can act as a guide to help you find the correct level exam for you to play, relative to the capacity of your ear and fingers to understand and play music.

The AMEB uses the following grades for assessing students in:
- Level 1 (Preliminary to Grade 4)
- Level 2 (Grade 5 to 8)
- Certificate of Performance
- Music exams

- Pass with high distinction (A+)

- Pass with honours (A)

- Pass with credit (B+ OR B)

- Pass (Satisfactory) (C+ OR C)

- Not satisfactory (D)

- Unable to assess (UA)

Playing with others can be a great way to increase your skills
Who knows where guitar mastery could take you? (Source: Mike Giles - Unsplash)

How to get a high distinction in your exam: Tips and Tricks

Practice

Practice makes perfect, as the old saying goes!

The more you play chords, the better each chord will sound. The more you practice a song all the way through, the more likely that you will produce a strong performance in the examination.

A song is more than putting your fingers on each fret correctly, you have to think about intonation, tempo, expression and flow.

The notes have so much more meaning than a simple 'A' or 'G' and it is through intensive practice that you will uncover the beauty and essence of each song you are learning.

Hone Performance Skills

You might be a master during practice, but you might start to strum out of time due to nerves in performance!

Exam students should ensure that they check their performance skills in front of a small audience or another pressurised environment before conducting their exam, to make sure that nerves won't get the better of them!

Failing to do this, the student might miss a note or drop a second or two out of time, purely due to the stress of the exam environment!

Hire a tutor

And now, potentially the most important tip of the lot: hire a private tutor to help you with the aforementioned practice and performance skills!

There are many ways to do this, but one way to ensure quality and experience from your tutor is to find them on Superprof!

Superprof is an online network of tutors for whatever skill you are wishing to master, where there is an abundance of teachers teaching musical skills on guitar, piano, violin and any other instrument that you are currently learning!

Just sign up and find somebody in your area giving guitar lessons. The best way to ensure that they are what you are looking for is by having a read of the reviews and recommendations left by former students of that tutor!

This will help you establish the teaching style of that person and their ability to form a rapport with their students.

What are you waiting for?

AMEB exams are universally respected and sought after for assessing the quality of instrument playing at a variety of levels, including those near the beginner end of the learning process.

Don't hesitate to book an exam and prepare diligently, your playing will benefit greatly for having done so!

Now it's up to you, provide yourself with the ultimate motivation for your music lessons by booking a guitar exam, and ace it by following the tips in this article! Good luck.

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Jack

An English Teacher by day, a writer and musician by night. Teaching is my adult passion the same way Pokemon was my childhood passion.