Sept 2016 I graduated from DIME ONLINE and Falmouth University's Creative Music Performance BA (Hons) and looked to see what I should have my next challenge. Not one to rest on my laurels. Once I have completed something I am always looking for something new to work towards.
In this instance I decided to undertake the Registry of Guitar Teachers/ University of West London's Fellowship of London College of Music exam. The exam is a Level 7 exam.
For those that don't understand the level system for exams, It ranges from 1-8.
Level 1 equates to a D or Lower at GCSE
Level 2 equates to C or above at GCSE
Level 3 equates to A level
Level 4 equates to HNC
Level 5 equates to Foundation degree
Level 6 equates to Honours degree
Level 7 equates to Masters degree
Level 8 equates to PhD
The entry requirements are as follows :
FLCM in Performance: LLCM in Performance in electric guitar or LLCM(TD) in Teaching in electric guitar must normally be passed before entering this examination. However, candidates who feel they have relevant professional experience, and have attained the appropriate standard of performance, may apply to enter directly for the FLCM without holding previous qualifications. Such a candidate would be expected to have secured national or international recognition as a professional performer. Such an application must be made in advance of entry in writing to the RGT Examinations Office, outlining the rationale for entering directly at this level, accompanied by evidence in the form of press cuttings, reviews, concert programmes, CD recordings, etc., and supported by at least two references from professional musicians, who must not be the candidate's teacher.
They describe the exam as follows
FLCM in Performance. This diploma, the highest awarded by The University of West London, demands a truly exceptional demonstration of performing ability of the very highest standard. In order to pass, the candidate must present a performance of a standard which one might expect to hear at a major concert venue, demonstrating a clear maturity of personality and interpretation.
With this in mind I realised I would have to work extensively.
The initial challenge was to select a series of pieces that would represent me and be of a high enough standard for the the exam. I made a lists and revised it numerous times. Whilst making the lists I also learnt the pieces I was considering. In total I may have learnt 20-30 pieces ranging from Malmsteen to Larry Carlton. The challenge being finding instrumentals that were, to mind, strong enough in melody and structure to appeal to me. A few of the pieces I original listed were demonstrations of technique but to my ear were melodically disjointed and not representative of me.
The final shortlist became :
It was only Yesterday Larry Carlton
Memories Joe Satriani
Dave's gone skiing Toto
Key to the city Tony MacAlpine
El Becko Jeff Beck
The Prophet Gary Moore
Circles Joe Satriani
Two Rivers Jeff Beck
Party in Simon's Pants Steve Lukather
Brief encounter Jan Cyrka
Surfing with the Alien Joe Satriani
Why this selection?
It was only Yesterday is a sensitive piece utilising harmonic minor harmony and a range of dynamics. Larry Carlton is a Grammy winning guitarist with more session credits than I can wave a stick at. Having played with Steely Dan he is widely accepted as one of the finest players of all time. His credibility and the fact the piece is beautiful made it a shoe in.
Memories. Joe Satriani is one of my favourite players of all time. He has sold more instrumental rock albums than anyone. I could in theory have played all Satriani tunes and would have ticked all my boxes, however I wanted some diversity to the programme. In the end I narrowed it down to 3 Satriani pieces that I felt offered different elements. Memories from his Not of this Earth album, wasn't one of the usual suspects for Satriani covers. It had interesting harmonic elements and structure. It also ticked my strong melody requirement.
I prefer instrumentals that use strong structures as opposed to pieces that sound like someone noodling over a backing track and using it to demonstrate technique as opposed to captivate the listener. As a guitar player, I love exceptional guitar playing, but as a lay person, I want melody that I can understand interspersed with elements of flash technique. Using a football analogy, a player who can score simple tap in and 40 yard screamers as well as tackle and hit passes be they short or long.
Circles was completely different. It has two distinct feels. The opening ideas having a clean reggae feel then the solo being foot to the floor high octane rock then in the blink of an eye back to clean and laid back. A good test of dynamic control.
Surfing with the Alien was my concession to a popular hit by Joe. I did resist including it for ages, but in the end, it ticked so many boxes in terms of key changes, techniques, lesser used scales. There is a reason it is one of his most heralded tracks so I gave in and played it.
Dave's gone Skiing and Party in Simon's pants are both Steve Lukather tracks. Luke is another strong influence on my playing but doesn't have an abundance of instrumentals. These two were selected as they were in complex time signatures and were extremely melodic. Luke, has Grammy's coming out of his ears and is still the top go to guitar player on the planet. Ringo currently has him in his band. If you are going to play with a Beatle, you need to be the best of the best. Luke tracks gave me musical sophistication that you'd expect from a member of Toto.
Jeff Beck's El Becko and Two Rivers offered very different elements. Jeff Beck is a guitarist that is held in the highest esteem by all other guitarists. Luke has been his back up guy, Satriani adores him and did Gary Moore. He sets guitar playing standards every time he releases an album. El Becko has an insane opening melody. Co written by Simon Phillips, who also played on the Luke tracks it allowed me to draw threads through the tracks as a kind of narrative. Two Rivers offered a dynamic challenge. A piece played nearly completely on harmonics and manipulated with the vibrato arm to change pitch. It requires great control of the arm and an ability to pitch accurately.
The Prophet by Gary Moore, was a lesser played piece that had a gorgeous melody, and a wide range of dynamic. The majority of the melody is played with bent notes to give it a vocal quality to the lead instrument. Gary Moore also happens to be my first and strongest influence. No performance would be complete without me paying homage to Gary Moore.
Key to the City by Tony Macalpine was an early choice that stayed. I love Macalpine. Out of all the Neo classical guitarists that were on Shrapnel, he was my favourite. His pieces never sounded as if any note was filler.
Brief encounter by Jan Cyrka was a piece that I loved from initially hearing it. Jan doesn't get enough love and I wanted to play a piece by him. His sense of melody is superb as is the phrasing.
All the pieces bar one were pieces that I hadn't gigged, so they required learning for the challenge. I wanted that as part of the process. What would I learn from just playing things I already knew? Surfing was the only piece I had gigged previously hence my initial reluctance to include it.
This selection of songs, once settled on were then practised daily, several times as day. Initially it was learning the pieces. In many cases bar by bar as runs and lines were complex and needed to be ingested. My intention being to replicate the pieces as closely to the originals as I was able. This meant that as well as playing the pieces note for note I spent a huge amount of time trying to replicate the tones on the recordings. I use a Fractal AX8 as my amp/modeller. A daily routine of tweaking patches to get the tone and levels spot on. This attention to detail I felt was necessary. I didn't want to to leave any area uncovered.
At this point it is worth mentioning that all pieces were played over backing tracks which I either acquired or created/modified. For instance Key to the City required that I added better drum sounds and harmony guitar parts.
I will attach my programme notes, as I discovered whilst preparing for this exam, that no other examples were on line for me to have an idea of what I needed to create.
Programme notes are the other section of the exam. An informed document but not overly technical. Essentially a guide to what is being played highlighting the elements that are of note, as well on details on the artists being replicated, This took a fair bit of research, an in-depth theoretical understanding of everything that is being played. It was written, rewritten, re re written, edited, reedited and you get the general idea. This programme constitutes 40% of the marks and is not to be overlooked.
To the exam
Mine took place on a snowy Sunday in December. An 80 mile car journey to London taking all the equipment necessary. In my case this was
2 PA speakers
1 mixing desk
1 set of In ear monitors
All the leads and connectors
The good news was that the venue was on the second floor of the University but there was a lift. None the less it was "fun" getting everything up there in the snow and cold.
Once there I set about making sure the guitars were tuned and acclimatised to the change in temperature. Don't want it going out of tune mid piece. Both guitars were restrung 3 days prior to the exam and played extensively to make sure they were stretched in.
Then I'm called in by the examiners. There are 2. They sit in front of you a few feet away and scrutinise everything you are doing. Pressure like this I had not experienced since I was at GIT. It is more intense than any gig. No gig has 2 people sat feet away making notes on every note you play. In this instance my 3000+ gig experience came in handy but none the less I was still out of my comfort zone.
I played. As well as I had repeatedly at home? No, but very close. None the less, I was unsure of whether or not what I had presented was good enough for the criteria they specified. You cannot ask if your pieces are deemed good enough. You have to make quality control decisions and hope you chose correctly.
Then the pack up and the drive home. It's done. I did what I could on the day. Now the wait.
Two weeks past and on the 23rd Dec the Postman brought me an envelope. I tentatively opened it. genuinely not sure if I had passed or not. 2 seconds later, The jigging and whooping would be a give away that I had. Now I was Geoff Lea FLCM. 2 years after collapsing with Bowel cancer I had passed a Degree ( level 6) and now FLCM Level 7.
Geoff Lea FLCM Performance Programme 2017 • It Was Only Yesterday : Larry Carlton (4'35) • Memories : Joe Satriani (4'05) • El Becko : Jeff Beck (4'03) • Dave's Gone Skiing : Toto (4'59) • Key to the City : Tony MacAlpine (4'38) • The Prophet : Gary Moore (4'46) • Circles : Joe Satriani (3'28) • Two Rivers : Jeff Beck (5'22) • Party in Simon's Pants : Steve Lukather (5'45) • Brief Encounter : Jan Cyrka • Surfing with the Alien : Joe Satriani (4'29) Larry Carlton (1948- present) Four time Grammy award winner. As a session guitarist Larry played on hundreds of albums and amass over 100 Gold records. It was only Yesterday, taken from his eponymous solo album released in 1978. The piece explores a range of dynamics, vibrato and tone. The progression draws from elements of the harmonic minor scale. Im ivm motion with use of secondary dominants and substitutions makes up the opening section. The B section having a parallel harmony section moving from C major to C min, again littered with secondary dominants and substitutions. A delicate dynamic utilising slides, half and whole tone bends introduce the melody. The piece builds to a trademark Carlton solo. Intelligent and tasteful use of extended arpeggios, a particular highlight being the sequenced Abmaj7 arpeggio leading into the EbMaj7 arpeggio, which has its own technical challenge. . This piece demonstrates subtlety in dynamics, a change of feel for the solo section implying a tempo change although the piece does not vary from its 58bpm starting point. Carlton makes great use of a chromatic motif to navigate ii V I after having plotted it as an arpeggio line initially. Joe Satriani (1956-present) 15 time Grammy nominated artist with over 10 million record sales make Satriani the biggest selling instrumental guitarist of all time. The inclusion of his pieces is due to the massive impact he had on my playing from the moment I fist heard him. Memories The 4th track from Satriani's debut album Not of the Earth, and has been a staple in his live set since then. The opening riff utilising add9 chords reminiscent of the work of Andy Summers with The Police. The guitar solo modulates giving a sense of intensity. Technique abounds through the piece. A fast ascending legato line opens the solo section, covering most of the neck. A smorgasbord of technique Joe's ever present sense of melody pervades throughout and no notes are “filler”. Moving effortlessly between swept arpeggios into blues tinged licks Circles Taken from the 1987 Platinum album Surfing with the Alien. It is a piece of contrast. The first section, a reggae tinged, spacey feel, using stripped back chordal harmony of diads, implying an E minor progression mostly devoid of 3rds. The second section is simpler harmony, however the feel is in stark contrast with a doubling of the tempo. High octane guitar, fast legato lines, tapping and screaming harmonic trem work comprise the solo section utilising firstly the E dorian scale and then the B Phrygian Dominant. As Satriani states in his autobiography, “the solo is the ultimate expression of the song” and he applies this harmonically and technically whilst never losing sight of the melodic requirement. Surfing with the Alien The title track of the groundbreaking album. Legato lines, super fast tapping, agile picking and trem arm work. Based in G, moving through Major, Minor, Dorian, Mixolydian all through Pitch axis, a device he discovered via John Coltrane. The piece having deep harmonic complexity paired with advanced technique makes it the antithesis of modern pop music and thus appealing to me. The solo opening with the attention grabbing phrygian dominant pick-tapped line, moving through 4 key changes and concluding with a countryesque bending lick. The main melody returns post the solo reinforcing Satriani's compositions as having more of a song quality that just straight instrumental indulgence. The song plays out with another solo this time drawing from the Rock n roll book of licks, Chuck Berry style licks and double stops with tapping and trem abuse added for good measure. Jeff Beck (1944-Present) 8 times Grammy award winning Beck, has been ranked 5th best guitarist of all time in Rolling Stones Top 100 guitarists of all time and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. El Becko From his third solo album There and Back, and features Tony Hymas (keyboards) and Simon Phillips (Drums) who composed the track for Beck. The intro melody being far from cliched navigates a fusion progression punctuated with brass stabs before leading into a driving riff. The opening melody that is revisited as the coda is a fine example of playing through some extremely challenging changes. Starting from the min7b5 chord opening, into 11th chords and altered dominants. The main melody is a bluesy slide idea often found in Beck's technique pallet. The solo, often improvised by Beck is drawn from a number of his staples. Rapid fire finger picked doublestops, whammy dive bombs all make an appeaance before the intro melody reappears. Two Rivers From Beck's Grammy Award winning 5th Studio album, Guitar Shop. It was written by Beck, Hymas and Terry Bozzio. The piece's main feature is that the melody is played with naturally occurring harmonics being manipulated with the tremelo arm. This creates a haunting vocal quality whilst being a technical challenge to pitch accurately. Tonally the guitar has a large reverb sound creating a huge presence. A piece best described as majestic and requiring authoritative control of the guitar. The exiguous solo section is in keeping with the haunting nature of the piece. Jan Cyrka (1963-Present ) A director of Jam Track Central, Guitarist magazine columnist and former guitarist of 80's rock band Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction. Jan released 3 solo albums. Jan creates library music and is responsible for a number of top British TV music including the Jeremy Kyle Show, Homes under the Hammer and Absolutely Fabulous. Brief Encounter Taken from his 1993 Album Spirit. A melodic ballad in F# minor. The main melodic hook is introduced from the off and is embellished throughout. The B section uses some open voiced arpeggios before returning to the main melody. The embellishments come in the form melodic bending licks double stops. ascending scale lines, and changes of octave. As the piece reaches it's conclusion there is a melodic intervallic line utilising 6ths that leads into a smooth legato descending line. Tony MacAlpine 1960-present Having studied classical piano and violin from the age of 5 at the Springfield Conservatory of Music. His love of Chopin has influenced his compositional style and most of his 14 solo albums contain at least one Chopin piece performed on the piano. Key to the City Taken from the 1987 album Maximum Security, his best selling solo album. The main melody is based around F#minor, moving to an E min section and the solo section being in D min. MacAlpine makes great use of arpeggios throughout the piece implying a variety of devices from sweeps, tapping and slides. Of all the prominent neo-classical guitarists MacAlpine is my favourite, his compositions always having strong melodic themes, solos with all the fat trimmed off and a musical dexterity. The piece utilises arpeggios in a variety guises, tapped, slide and sweeps. As the solo reaches it's conclusion there is a descended tapped line that brings it self out into a series of ascending arpeggios in a highly melodic fashion. Gary Moore (1952-2011) Northern Irish guitarist, former member of Thin Lizzy, and solo artist with numerous multi platinum albums. His compositions becoming standards for guitarists. The Prophet is a typical Moore instrumental blues ballad. The emphasis is on the feel and the bends, that most pitches are approached with. Moore's favoured Aeolian scale is present throughout. My reason for taking up guitar 36 years ago was Gary Moore and he remains my main influence. Moore has many iconic guitar pieces, my reason for choosing this is that is a lesser performed track that demonstrates his powerful use of melody and dynamic. Moving from sensitive openings to a passionate powerful solo section and back to sensitive demonstrates Moore's mastery of feel. His live performance at Montreux is a show stopper in itself. Steve Lukather (1957-Present) 5 times Grammy award winning guitarist Lukather, is known as a session guitarist with over 1500 album credits including Michael Jacksons Thriller, and as a member of the 6 times Grammy award winning band Toto. These tunes are performed as they demonstrate Lukather in an instrumental capacity and bring a sophistication to a rock context. Dave's gone skiing Taken from the Grammy award winning album Tambu. The opening unison guitar/piano 9/4 riff soon gives way to the latin flavoured 7/8 section. The 3rd section coming in as a standard rock riff. Giving the three main sections very distinct feels. The solo starts with a halftime feel and builds to a rapid fire crescendo. Party in Simon's pants Featuring Simon Phillips on drums bringing rhythmic interest in the form of the main riff in 17/8. The tune is the key of G but moves seamlessly between major and minor tonalities. The piece has half and double time sections to add to the dynamic, culminating in frenetic drum outro in 17/8. The solo being played over a I bV IV progression and utilising trem swoops, stacked arpeggios and slurred chromatic lines. The equipment used to perform these pieces are Suhr Guitars and Fractal Audio effects. The Suhr's offer a great deal of tonal variation through the pickup configurations. The Fractal effects allow me to model amplifiers and reproduce as best I can the tones used on the original recordings.