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How To Dominate Your VCE Guitar Studies In 2022

Are you undertaking VCE Guitar as part of your secondary schooling? Do you want to know how you can dominate VCE guitar and get the best mark possible? Do you have a burning desire to be the best guitarist you can be and go on to be a future musician? If you’ve answered a big fat yes to any of these questions then get excited because In this article I am going to outline everything you need to do to smash year 12 music and improve your guitar playing out of sight in 2022! If you’re in a younger year level or you’ve just started guitar and aren’t quite sure if you’re going to undertake VCE guitar, continue to read on because what you’re about to learn will not only help influence your decision to study guitar more formally, but will give you a special advantage that those who wait much later to become serious about learning guitar will kick themselves for missing out on. 
All right, let’s go!
 
Some of the best years I had in my own guitar playing were my formative years taking lessons in high school and completing VCE Music (Victorian Certificate of Education) majoring in guitar as my primary instrument. There is something magical about learning guitar as a teen because not only are you learning the instrument for the first time, you’re also discovering new music which will go on to shape part of your identity. In this article I am going to talk about how you can come to dominate your VCE studies so that you excel at guitar and get a fantastic study score. While this article specifically mentions VCE Guitar (Victorian Certificate of Education) reflecting my home state of Victoria, Australia, the principles outlined here can be used by guitarists Australia-wide and indeed worldwide who are completing guitar as a subject in their secondary school education. I hope to share with you some insights and strategies that will no doubt make you the top of your class in music and give you everything you need to excel.
 
While I’m a firm believer that having fun on our instrument comes first and that the way we’re assessed in musical exams is often incongruent with the day to day dealings of a professional musician, I am even more firm in my belief of being the best you can and always striving to do a great job. When I was 15 I wanted to be the next Eddie Van Halen and had a burning desire to be the worlds best guitarist. There was several other guitar students in my year level also completing VCE music. Some of them wanted to get a good score, but most of them just went through the motions, put in a little bit of effort, and only did so, so.
 
I was a late starter to guitar and only picked up the instrument at age 15, but quickly became one of the best guitarists in my school and went on to have the highest subject score at the end of year 12. Part of this result came about due to my burning desire to succeed and the hours of practice I put in, while the rest of it came from being organised and having a plan to follow. I definitely did not have natural talent, and was several years behind the other students in my class, but I went on to get a great score, and more importantly coach dozens of other VCE guitar students to getting great results in their VCE Music.
 
Here are my tips if you want to not only succeed at your VCE guitar studies but to become the best guitar player that you can be and use these formative years as a launchpad into the rest of your music career.
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Tip 1: Get Organised

The biggest asset you have when you are young is the abundance of time. The sooner you start guitar the better, and if you can compound the time you have by being organised and working with purpose it will make a huge difference to your development. When it comes to being organised the first thing you need to do is have a plan. The plan you make and the action you take will be determined by how much time you have before you have to do your exams. Ideally you don’t want to wait until the first day of year 12 to think about the pieces you will be performing. Instead, you want to plan these pieces as early as you can so that you can maximise the amount of time you have to work on them. 

The best thing you can do is make a list of all the songs you will be learning and performing in both VCE Guitar Units 1 & 2 in year 11 as well as unites 3 & 4 in year 12. Look at the List of Prescribed Works For VCE Guitar with your teacher and determine which pieces you will be performing in your Year 12 recital and your year 11 performances. My recommendation is to aim to learn 12-16 pieces in a 2-3 year period starting in year 10 (or earlier) so you have plenty of time to learn the pieces, refine them and perform them so that by the time your recital comes around every note of every piece is already ingrained in your muscle memory.
 
Next is to make a list of all the technical work you need to perform for your classroom assessments and to plan out when you will start working on it with your teacher. A big mistake most people make is only learning their technical works (chords, scales, arpeggios etc) to be able to play them well enough in an exam. You need to understand each technical item on a theoretical level as well as how to put it into practice in actual music. Don’t just learn it to forget it, learn it so it becomes a tool in your arsenal as a professional guitarist.
 
Lastly, make a list of all the music theory that you need to know then go out and learn it. As guitar players music theory is often one of our weak points (and no wonder with how boring they make it to learn in the classroom). Despite what most of us think about music theory, the better you are with it the better your musicianship skills and subsequently your guitar skills will be. Blitz your theory and ever other element of music becomes easier!

Tip 2: Learn The Fretboard

The biggest gap in my knowledge when I was completing VCE Guitar was the fact that I barely knew the instrument. Sure I knew the locations of the notes in open position, but I didn’t know anything beyond the 3rd fret and didn’t even understand how bar chords worked because I didn’t know the notes on string 6. I memorised a lot of patterns in isolation, and I could repeat things like a parrot, but If I didn’t have music in front of me or I had to jam with others, I was totally stuffed because I didn’t know anything.

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These days one of the first things I do with advancing guitarists is teach them the fretboard because when guitarists know their fretboard they can see how the notes become scales, the scales are arranged into chords and arpeggios, and how the chords are put together into keys. We can combine this knowledge with our music theory and use it to bring any concept or sound to life on our instrument.
 
If you can learn your fretboard and have a deep understanding of how the guitar works it will unlock so many things for you and help you make so much more sense of the music you are playing. Make it your mission to learn the fretboard and increase your understanding of your instrument.
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Tip 3: Make It Your Mission To Understand Music Theory

I’ve already touched on this earlier but I cannot understate the importance of learning your music theory. Music theory is like having a treasure map that will tell you exactly where you need to dig to find the treasure. Contrary to popular belief learning theory will not limit you in any way nor will it stifle your creativity or make you sound like everybody else. Instead it gives you a framework to create whatever sound you’re aiming for and to have a deeper understanding of how music works.

It is essential that you know how scales are constructed, how chords are created, and how major keys and the circle of 5ths works. This is a practical understanding of music theory that will help you make sense of the contemporary music you are playing and all the scales and chords you need to learn, but most importantly it will show you how it is used and applied to real music. Don’t confuse learning music theory with sight reading. Learning how to read music is important, but it is secondary to understanding what is going on.

Make it your mission to understand theory. This might mean getting a few extra books, taking a short course, getting specific theory lessons from a teacher (most of which are so eager to teach students who actually want to learn music theory) or easiest of all, watching some videos on YouTube explaining it all to you (man I wish we had the resources that are now on Youtube back in my day!)
 
At the end of the day music theory isn’t actually that complicated, and the benefits you’ll get for your guitar playing from putting a few hours into theory will far outweigh any short term confusion and frustration.

Tip 4: Know Your Pieces Inside Out

When I first learned my VCE Guitar Pieces I had no idea about how to properly learn songs and as a result it would often take me a few months to complete an entire piece and commit it to memory. These days I use my special 3X Rapid Learning System when learning new pieces and am able to memorise more in an hour than what I used to in a month.
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The key is to be able to learn your pieces efficiently so that the majority of your time goes into practicing each piece with the intent of improving them and making things better rather than spending all of your time trying to memorise the piece and just get the notes right.

When you practice with purpose you get very good, very quickly, and the compounding effect of your improvement makes everything else you do easier and easier. On top of all this, the sooner you learn your pieces, the longer you have to refine them. If you’ve learned all of your pieces a year out, you can focus on performing them so that by the time the VCE Guitar recital comes around you’ve already played the songs hundreds of times and perhaps even performed it dozens of times so that you’re used to playing under pressure.
 
You don’t want to be 2 weeks out of the exam and still be scrambling to learn and memorise pieces, this is a recipe for a mediocre result. Prepare your list, learn your songs ASAP and spend as much time identifying problems and improving the pieces as you can.
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Tip 5: Learn From A Great Teacher

The person most responsible for you getting a great mark in your VCE class is you, and there is no way to get a great mark without putting in effort. Having said that, employing a great guitar teacher to give you quality guidance and direction with your guitar studies will make a world of difference to the end result, not just of your VCE Guitar score, but your guitar playing across the board. If you’re learning from an average teacher because they are the only teacher at your school – Find someone else!

You need to take responsibility for your outcome and the best way to do that is to go out and find a great guitar teacher who can get the best out of you. You owe this to yourself!

When I did VCE guitar I was definitely the best guitar player in my class, but I was only slightly above average on the state level. Considering I had only been playing for 18 months when I started VCE guitar I think I did reasonable well, but if I could have my time again and apply what I know now to the whole process there would be a totally different outcome. Fortunately I’ve been able to live vicariously through dozens of students and give them systems to efficiently learn songs, effectively improve their skills and score much higher in their VCE than I ever did (including one students who got the highest score in the state in 2016. The teacher I had was a great person and made every lesson very fun, but they didn’t help me get the most out of my lessons or become the best I could, and that has caused me to be years behind my potential and is one of the driving forces behind why I put so much effort in to my students and creating the best guitar program for them possible.
 
You can practice for 3+ hours a day, but if you’re lacking direction you might only get 30 minutes of actual progress for all your hard work. A great teacher will help you get more done in less time so that you make dramatic improvement in your guitar playing skills and can reinvest the time you save into become even better, or mastering music theory, or working on your ear training. You need to take responsibility for yourself and find a VCE Guitar Teacher in Melbourne who can help you become the best guitarist you can and dominate your VCE Guitar studies.

In Conclusion

So now you have 5 tips that will help you dramatically improve your guitar playing and musicianship while studying VCE Guitar in 2022. Implement one of these tips and you will see a big increase in your outcome. Implement all 5 tips and you will improve beyond belief. Some of the ideas here might seem challenging, but I assure you if you want to be a truly great guitar player, this is what you must do, and with the right guidance and balance of skills (including music theory) you can get much further with much less effort, and become exponentially great with the effort that you put it. Happy studying and good luck!
 
To Your Success in 2022 and beyond!
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About The Author

Michel Gumley is the owner and head teacher at Melbourne Guitar Academy. He is passionate about helping aspiring guitarists become the guitar heroes of the future and has coached dozens of students through VCE Guitar successfully including the highest score in the state of Victoria in 2016. If you’re looking for a Melbourne VCE  Guitar Teacher that will help you reach peak performance in your own guitar studies look no further than Michael.

If you have any questions about guitar or how to do really well in your VCE studies don’t hesitate to comment below or reach out to Michael on social media via @MichaelGumley

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