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It’s All Relative

Since 2019 all of my students have been having a bit more scale focus in their lessons. That’s not to say we’ve done more… even in a first lesson I try and encourage warming up using scale based shapes. (I’m sure you don’t need reminding why scales are important, but if you do why not read up on why you should love your scales with this blog post.)

So – no. Not *more* scales during lessons. But actually being more focused on them by using a bit of randomness (so I don’t get the blame for giving mean scales) and giving students the tools to help them figure out their majors as well as all of their relative minor scales.

I’ve been road-testing my great new product (and aptly named) Scale Flashcards on my students of all ages and have had brilliant success with them!

They allow students to cover a great range of scales, more than they perhaps might do if they were just concentrating on those included with their exams. And also by  making sure I don’t keep picking the same five nice ones. By getting students to select a card at random they then have to figure out what they need, but with having a visual aid.

The Scale Flashcard pack includes scales with the label on, and those that don’t. For my students I also write just the accidentals on the back of the card, so they get to think about the same scale in a variety of different ways – depending on how they select the card. Extra scale fun!

There’ll soon be a tuition video going up on our Roo Records Music YouTube channel to help but here’s our (simple) guide to figuring out your scales by figuring out your keys and relative minors.

It might seem more long winded than just learning your scales as F major has a Bb and remembering it – but actually. If you spend a bit of time figuring them out then they mean something more. So you’ll be more likely to retain it.

Key Signatures

These are easy when you remember these simple rules:

Sharp Keys:

To figure out your key (and your scale):

Look at the last sharp written down on the page.

Go up one note


It’s that easy.

If you have F#,C# then the key is D

If you have F#,C#, G# then the key is A

If you have F#,C#, G#, D#, A# then the key is B

Last sharp then up one note. The last sharp functions as the 7th note and 7th’s always need to go up to the root.

Flat Keys

This is almost as straight forward.

You look at the second flat back.

That’s what key it is


If you have:

Bb, Eb  …. Bb is the second one back so that’s your key

Bb, Eb, Ab  …. Eb is the second one back so that’s your key

Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb  …. Db is the second one back so that’s your key

Second flat back. Done.

Sharps up

Flats back one


There’s always pesky things that don’t fit

C major doesn’t have any sharps or flats… so you can’t use any of the rules above

F major – one Bb…. doesn’t fit into the flat key rule as there aren’t enough of them

Relative Minors

Ok here’s where things go a bit more complicated.

First thing…



(But I am aware a lot of minors do actually have flats…..)

Right – so here we’ll be looking at harmonic minors. They’re the most common minor while you’re learning and are ‘easier’. We’ll come to melodic and natural minors at a later date.

The most important thing to remember is we’re looking for the relative minor when we look at a key signature.

If you just need D minor without seeing a key signature then this won’t work – see the next section for how to figure out those…

Relative minors. These will not have the same scale name as the major. C major and C minor are not related, they just happen to have the same note.

1. Figure out your major key signature using the method above

2. Now we need to figure out what the relative minor is. A minor is lower than the major… it’s three semitones (half steps) away.

3. Count down three semitones from your major. That will give you the scale.

4. You now need to change one note to make it a minor scale, rather than a major scale where you’re starting on the wrong note. It’s all about the 7th. Sharpen the seventh note (see told you minors weren’t about flats only).

5. Starting on your minor scale note. Play up the scale, remembering to play any accidentals from the major scale and add the sharp to the seventh note.


But remember – if you’re sharpening the seventh note you might not actually be adding a sharp. Sharpening just means raising the note a semitone higher – if it’s a flat then a semitone higher will just take you to a natural.

Let’s work through it together:

Key Signature: Bb and Eb

1. Bb and Eb – go to the second flat back: Bb major

2. Counting back 3 semitones from Bb:  Bb-A-Ab-G:  The relative minor is G Minor

3. #7th note: G, A, B, C, D, E, F  – We’ll turn the F into and F#

4. Playing the scale with the flats from Bb major (relative) and the #7th

          G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F#, G:  G Minor

One more just for luck….

Key Signature:  F#, C#, G#

1. F#, C#, G# – go to the last sharp and go up one note: A major

2. Counting back 3 semitones from A:  A-Ab-G-F# :  The relative minor is F# Minor

3. #7th note: F, G, A, B, C, D, E  – We’ll turn the E into and E#  (Which is F natural)

4. Playing the scale with the sharps from A major (relative) and the #7th

          F#, G# A, B, C#, D, E#:  F# Minor

Look out for the video if you need a visual prompt for these.

Otherwise – have fun figuring out your majors and relative minors!

Our Scale Flashcards are only 99p and are a brilliant teaching aid as well as great for students of all ages to practise with.

Grab a copy now!

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How to Be A Resilient Artist – New Book!

As well all know 2020 and now 2021 have been life changing years. The world as we knew it has changed and I’m not sure whether we will see the return of life as we knew it before.

Throughout all of this stormy weather for many one thing has been a constant. And this has been our creativity. For many lockdown and furlough meant more time finding their creative passion again. Having more time to paint, draw and revisit old musical passions. For some it has been finding the joy of exercise, allotmenting and generally taking time to stop and stand still.

But for many the arts have become a difficult area. Uncertainty, home schooling, worry for family, grief for the loss of friends, family, work or even grief for our lives changing has had a detrimental effect on our creative output. And for many we need this creativity to help express who we are and what we feel.

If you’re struggling to get back into the rhythm of creating, then How To Be A Resilient Artist is for you. You may be looking to boost your creativity in some way, to find a new way of working or regain some areas of your art that have fallen apart. You’re not alone, many people go through a “wilderness” period with their creativity. It’s all part of the artistic journey. Life is full of difficult twists and turns; recession, divorce, death, illness, failed businesses and of course, the unforeseen pandemic. All of these situations are tough for anyone working in business, however the unpredictable nature of the creative industries can make this a lot tougher. For others it could be that boredom and lack of direction has brought you to a halt and you’re now not sure how to kick start your enjoyment of playing your instrument or picking up your paintbrushes. These “wilderness” periods can be confusing, disorientating and draining. They also give us the opportunity to assess where we’re going and what we want out of life and ultimately, our music. The trick is not to let the “wilderness” journey overwhelm you but redirect you. 

This book is designed to give you some hope that your setback is only a season and not a life sentence! Better times will come and eventually you will feel stronger from what you have learnt through this experience. There are plenty of ideas to get the creative juices going, and stories of how we overcame obstacles and found a new way to make things work. It’s always possible to recover from the pressure and regain a rhythm of working and performing. 

Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, this book has insights and tips on how to reinvigorate your creativity and regain your focus. Whatever season you are in, you can make a fresh start and discover the creativity within you. 

To order our ebook go to the book section HERE

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Under Pressure – Digital Music Exams

Under Pressure – August, 2020

As Covid-19 continues to a global issue, there have been many industries hard hit by the virus, and none more so than the music industry. Teachers needing to adapt and teach online, all concerts and recording projects shelved and with no grass roots rehearsals – many musicians have been at home with nothing to practice for. At the time of writing things are starting to ease slightly. We’re seeing the reintroduction of socially distanced concerts as well as community rehearsal allowed to return with many, many guidelines observed for safety.

But while the music world has been at a standstill things have still had to move forward. Teachers have had to adapt or loose their income, and students have had to adapt as well or give up their joy of progressing and continued musical development. I’ve enjoyed teaching online, especially as it’s something I’ve been doing since 2015 when a new baby and house moves happened. It’s not the same as one to one lessons but actually despite it being more exhausting, it has been a welcome change as I’ve found it has really worked students ears and brains a bit more.

While lessons were almost the same online, it did mean that many students missed out on music exams when lockdown started. Now there are some great exam boards out that who already offer online / skype exams, like my favorite Victoria College of Music, but the ‘main’ exam boards were left napping and unprepared.

It was great to see Trinity was the first to prepare itself for a possible long term transition to online exams as we still don’t yet know when ‘real’ exams will resume.  As I had students preparing for exams in the Winter I wanted to complete an online exam to see what they were like as I don’t like entering students for exams I haven’t experience myself first.

So with the closing day approaching I finally made my choices, and thanks to the super speedy delivery from June Emerson Music my music arrived before the closing date too.

The task was simple. Record all three of the pieces chosen from the syllabus in one video and submit them before the closing date which was 14 days later. Easy I hear you say! Well yes, and quite  a lot no. You would expect on a first glance to say that these would be much easier than exams. You can do as many takes as you like, there’s no supporting tests to do so you have less to worry about and less overall to practice. Trinity then mark your three pieces out of a hundred, instead of the whole exam being out of a hundred, and there you go. That should be easier, that should be cheating and be worth less than a ‘normal’ exam surely.

Erm no!

The lack of supporting tests were viewed as a much easier option, indeed Trinity underestimated the popularity of the exam process so did struggle slightly with the admissions and website end of things. But actually I think most people found the lack of supporting tests harder… Make a mistake on your pieces? That’s ok because your scales can bring the marks up again. Forgot your dynamics? That’s ok … because you can soon get some mark backs in the aural tests… oh..

Now I am aware that there would have been no way logistically Trinity could have offered a great number of people supporting tests. Scales could have been practiced too much, where as off the cuff randomly chosen scales are often a better indication of knowledge. And the aural and sight-reading tests would have been difficult to arrange. So there was no option really but to run the exams without.

But that means the whole exam is on your performance and for most of us that meant no accompanist as well. Now that might sound easier, no piano to keep up with, no bars rest to count, no introduction to hope they have at the speed you want to go at….

The reality of doing an exam that’s ‘just’ playing three pieces was a lot different to how a lot of people envisaged.

Obviously the advantage of recording one video to submit is that you can record as many takes as you like. But this is not easier. You play it once, decide to go again, but this time mess up something different to the first time. Listening back is horrible – you are really well and truly exposed. There’s no piano to hide behind, no one there to help support your tricky runs and breathing… its all just you. Recording yourself while you practice is always something I’ve advised student to do, but I’ve never actually asked them to do a video as most hate being on camera, which is another downside to online exams in this way.  But I think recording video will be a new teaching aid when we’re back to school.

Intonation, breathing and note production are so much clearer using a video. It could be that because there’s a picture that we focus on it more. Or it could just be that hearing outselves on video is like hearing ourselves talk, no one really enjoys that either.

It will be interesting to get the exam results and feedback. One of my concerns is how the examiners are watching the video. Are they treating it like a ‘live’ exam, so playing the video and writing as they go. (Hopefully!) Or are they really concentrating solely on the pieces and then pausing the video to write as they go. Would they listen again? (Hopefully not) Would the examiner be more lenient as there are no supporting tests, or harsher as it’s all about the performance side…. All these are unknowns as it’s never been done before. 

Overall I’m not sure I’d encourage students to do these exams. Yes as a stop gap they’re a good idea. But actually having the whole exam ride on the examiners interpretation of your video and performance… not sure about that.

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Music in Lockdown

Making Lockdown Musical

As I’m sure you’re all probably aware but music is so much more than just the dots on the page. Yes this has something to do with it, but music always has and will be important to people for lots of different reasons. Creativity can be so important for mental health and making music, singing in particular, has been well documented as being brilliant for the brain and overall physical health too.

So as we enter week… 8? 9? 121? of lockdown here’s my tips on how to stay musically creative.

A lot of teachers have now moved into online teaching. I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to help a lot of teachers get themselves set up in the virtual world as I’ve actually been offering online sessions since 2015. This switch on to virtual lessons has been great as for many this has meant no pause to their musical journey. They work pretty much the same as ‘normal’ lessons with the right set up and are easily managed over apps such as Skype, Facetime or Zoom.

With a lot of people now being furloughed it has also meant that this online lesson situation has meant people are now fulfilling the dream to play as finding they now have the time and energy available. (And indeed many people are now digging out instruments they found in the loft!)

But actually I’ve found that a lot of my students are struggling musically at the moment. Obviously being at home with children to help ‘school’ and balancing that with work and home can prove difficult. And those who have more time on their hands are finding that, in fact, they have too much time, so they’re struggling to get in to a lockdown music routine.

So how do you find a musical balance for you or the kids…

1. If the kids need something constructive to do then perhaps investigate online lessons.

2. Find a routine that works. Try and find a day and time that suits you in the current situation.

3. Remember, sometimes less is more. Don’t force yourself or the kids to practise if you don’t feel like it. Do a bit then step away. It should always be fun.

4. Find something fun! Dig out something you loved to play or something that you’ve always wanted to play. There’s a host of websites that you can download sheet music from as well as lots of playalong tutorials from sites such as YouTube. You can also practise without playing. Spend a bit of time doing some music note games or again online music games.

5. Find some free online sessions. From virtual choirs and orchestras for experienced players through to playalong sessions for beginners – there are a host of great workshops to get involved with. I have been running some First Steps workshops as well as some online jam sessions. If your missing your normal musical fix, it’s worth investigating whether there is something else you could try while in lockdown.

Most of all keep playing.

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New Look Website!

Hi All !

Well lockdown is upon us again but we’re celebrating slightly with the new look website.

You’ll find all of our lovely books ready to go to make excellent Christmas presents – and you can also find our instant downloads that are available to keep your musical mind busy during our second lockdown.

Take care!