How a Battle of the Bands is raising the profile of Rock & Pop exams

How a Battle of the Bands is raising the profile of Rock & Pop exams

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BY: Guest Writer
11 April 2024

In this blog post, we hear from John Stephens, Director of Music at Inspiration Trust, one of our Trinity Champion Centres, who shares how the use of Trinity College London's Rock & Pop exams can enhance a student’s wider musical journey beyond exams and inspire them to take part in a Battle of the Bands competition… 

I have been an advocate for Trinity’s music exams and Arts Award for nearly 20 years. When I became Director of Music for the Inspiration Trust seven years ago, one of my first moves was to register the trust as a Trinity exam centre, so that the Multi Academy Trust could provide music exam services to the schools. Now, just this week, we’ve received the great news that the Inspiration Trust retains its ‘Champion Centre’ status for the second year in a row. It’s great to have partnerships on a national level which have such a strong impact on a local level.  

I found that most of the trust-wide events that I had started were far more traditional and therefore more orientated towards classical music. We have a very large number of pupils, across our network of schools, learning the guitar and the drums (209 per week, that's over 30% of the lessons we offer), and we always have a waiting list for these instruments, but it’s pretty hard to involve a Rock & Pop guitarist in a traditional Lessons & Carols service at Christmas, for instance! With this in mind, I decided to create an annual Battle of the Bands! 

Offering a Battle of the Bands, trust-wide, with schools competing against each other, means that we can involve our Rock & Poppers in something bigger than their school community, in a style which is more in keeping with their instruments and which puts a spotlight on the music that they love. While some of our other events involve rock and pop music, this one is created solely for it, to celebrate and promote it. It has created a sense of pride, and a sense of forward drive which is very exciting. 

By holding the competition, we’re also setting the expectation that each school in our trust will put forward at least one band for the Battle of the Bands. This has certainly increased the amount of band work we’re seeing in our family of schools, which is really encouraging. Ensemble opportunities are so important for the development of young musicians and are a key way to encourage perseverance through the social aspect of music. Like pianists, many guitarists and drummers simply play in their lesson and (hopefully) at home in their room, with no audience or collaboration. Our competitions are levelling up both the expectations and available experiences for, musicians in all genres.  

Before the first Battle of the Bands, and for each new thing we start, I create an ‘Information Booklet’ that lists everything I can possibly think of which a teacher in school might need to know about the event. Everything from First Aid to who can enter the competition and what they can play is included in the booklet. This naturally evolves over time, but it sets the expectations from the beginning, clearly articulates the practicalities for busy school-based staff, and set the agenda for the event for the years to come.  

To ensure all students are able to access the competition we hold these events during the school day, and transport the pupils and staff from school to a central trust location. We’re finding that the bands forming in schools possibly represent a greater diversity of pupils working together, more often, all year round, than anything else we offer. Bands are now including mixtures of ‘traditional’ and ‘rock & pop’ instruments. Brass and string players are joining bands, ‘classical’ musicians are picking up bass guitars, ‘choral singers’ are trying lead singing into microphones, guitarists and drummers are actually working with others and also hearing different kinds of musicians talk about being in orchestra or taking their next grade exam... the list of positive implications of collaboration are endless.  

Offering a Battle of the Bands competition has helped us raise the profile of music, bring many different people together in an inclusive way through the power of music, and its huge fun! Most importantly of all though, it’s helping towards real-world positive outcomes for our pupils.  

Inspiration Trust is one of our Trinity Champion Centres who have run Arts Award, Classical and Jazz, and Rock and Pop exams. 

To find out more about the Inspiration Trust take a look here, or get in touch with the music department directly at 


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