Online lessons backstage at the O2? Meet the music school doing things differently.
BY: John Molloy
02 June 2021
RockAcad is an online only music academy run by David Green, an experienced teacher, professional drummer and session musician who played for the likes of Andy Taylor of Duran Duran, the UK X-Factor, Ricky Warwick of Thin Lizzy and Alice Cooper's guitarist and collaborator Tommy Henriksen. In a poll of 114,000 readers of Rhythm Magazine and MusicRadar, David was voted 2016's Best New Drummer in the World.
The recent pandemic has seen David move into a new direction in setting up his online academy, featuring an all-star team of professional touring and session musicians who are also experienced tutors and who have played and recorded with the likes of Rod Stewart, Selena Gomez, Sam Fender, James Arthur and The Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood. Their most recent addition to the team is Pete Friesen, another long term guitarist with Alice Cooper who also toured with Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson. It is with the help of these musicians that RockAcad's students will get a behind the scenes look at the reality of the music industry.
We caught up with David recently to find a little bit more about how RockAcad are doing things differently.
What was your motivation for setting up RockAcad?
I have been teaching drums for many years in-between my touring and studio session work. It’s always been a big passion for me along with playing. But of course when the pandemic hit, all of my teaching went online.
After the first lockdown ended every single one of my students wanted to keep their lessons going online. I had thought during the lockdown that there could be a future in online education, mainly from starting to understand the many benefits to teaching online as opposed to face-to-face and the logistics surrounding it. For example, many of the parents really loved the fact that they weren’t stuck in rush hour twice by coming to and from a drum lesson after their child’s school day. So after getting customer feedback and seeing how this could really work, it was a no brainer for me!
What's different about your approach to teaching and learning?
Our teaching style is fundamentally based on growth and development of not just the instrument and the student’s talent, but on them as a person too. Encouraging the student to realise they can go further than they ever thought possible, and really bringing out their inner strength, determination and confidence in order to empower them to achieve the best results.
With RockAcad as a whole, the idea is to make the environmental experience fun, less clinical and more like you are part of a community or 'band' type set up. We are very passionate about music and serious about what we do here.
All of our teachers have many years of teaching experience but are also directly involved in the music industry at the highest levels, playing with some of the biggest artists. So they have a very well rounded understanding of not just how to play their instrument, but also on how to make a student 'the complete musician'.
As well as giving the option to study say Trinity's syllabuses and take exams, we also don’t mind having a very geeky chat about certain bands or styles of music over a lesson every now and then.
In my opinion as long as the student can leave a lesson feeling completely enthused about practising and playing their instrument, and then puts in the work to achieve the goals that are set, then it doesn’t matter so much what the lessons entail.
Personally I would have loved something like RockAcad when I was a 14 year old drummer, that’s been a big influence on building the school this way.
How does assessment and formal exams fit into the RockAcad approach? Why do you think it is important/useful?
At RockAcad all of our lessons are live which gives the students instant and constant assessment and critique. We believe this is one of the most important aspects of learning. It’s very hard to know if you are doing the right thing from a pre-recorded lesson. Bad habits can develop and there is no one around to tell you otherwise.
We tailor all of our lessons around the students needs and goals, but we do offer the opportunity to study grades and take formal exams because we believe they give you a real structured learning path. I studied up to Grade 8 Trinity drums from 1994-1999 between the ages of 11-16, and there’s no doubt it was paramount in me becoming a professional musician and then in turn becoming a music teacher.
The music industry isn’t what it used to be, and I always tell my students who want a career in music that you HAVE to diversify in order to sustain a living from it.
So learning to read music can really help your chances of survival. One day you’re doing a session in the studio, the next day your teaching, the next day you’re on a gig that requires you to read etc. And the best way I have found for this is to study grades. Also, to be assessed and take exams not only helps you to become better at your instrument, it also teaches you other very important skills such as discipline, planning and sticking to targets, learning how to take constructive criticism, problem solving and much more.
What do you feel your students get from their exam experience?
I think sometimes you can be learning so many beats, chords, scales, rudiments, songs etc. (depending on your instrument) that sometimes it’s hard to know where it all fits into the context of things and what level you are at. By studying towards and passing exams, the student can see the fruits of their labour so to speak. Plus it always boosts confidence to know they have reached a certain milestone and they have something tangible to show for their hard work.
You received recognition from Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently via a Points of Light award – what was it for and how did it feel to receive it?
We received the ‘Points of Light’ award from the Prime Minister in recognition of 'Exceptional service to online education' and at the time he said:
“Among the many challenges we have faced in this battle against Coronavirus, few compare with the enormity of so rapidly reinventing education online.”
We also offered free online lessons to key workers and their children to which the Prime Minister commented:
“Through ‘RockAcad’ you are making music lessons free and available to those who are working so hard to keep our nation going.”
It was a complete surprise to receive the award and we still are honoured to be recognised. Especially as the school had only been open for 4 months at that point! It also felt great to do something for the key workers. They are the real award winners here.
So WHAT you DO YOU have planned NEXT for RockAcad?
We are very excited about building our relationship with Trinity College London, we believe there are so many avenues to go down with online education and can’t wait to explore them. In the short term we have some new offers about to be announced as well as some really cool summer bits coming up, so keep an eye out!
On a bigger scale we will continue to build the business. The feedback in our first 6 months has been incredible. The fact you can receive a music lesson online at home from anywhere in the world from a very experienced teacher who’s involved in the music industry at the highest level has really turned heads. Plus we get a lot of customers from all over the world who don’t have access to a good music teacher. It’s just great to be able to help people.
We truly believe in what we do and are seriously passionate about all things music and education.
You can find out more about RockAcad and their teaching and even book a free 30-minute lesson at rockacad.com
Visit Trinity's website to learn more about our Digital Grades & Diplomas exams which are available to book at any time.
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