Classical vs Rock and Pop School: Which is Better?

If you’ve ever researched what music course you should take, you might be overwhelmed by how much choice there is. Options range from private music teachers writing a bespoke syllabus to UNISA offering correspondence music courses. One of the most popular and prestigious music education institutions is the Trinity College of Music.

What sets Trinity apart is that they offer both Classical Music training, as well as Rock & Pop training. Additionally, more private educators teach the Trinity course work than any other institution.

If you choose to do music grading, you will not struggle to find a teacher who can teach you the Trinity syllabus. Most of the Paul Bothner Music in-house teachers offer the Trinity Rock & Pop school courses. Best of all, the South African Education Department recognises the Trinity course work.

The Trinity courses start at the introductory level aimed at young kids or people taking music for the first time and go all the way up to teaching qualifications. So no matter how far you want to take your education, Trinity has a course for you.

As mentioned already, the two streams that Trinity offers are Classical or Rock & Pop, but what are the differences, and which one should you study?

Do You Need Graded Music Training?

Before you dive head-first into your training, you should first determine whether or not you need graded music training in the first place. To figure this out, you should first decide why you want to do music lessons.

If all you want is to play and write a few songs, and maybe join a band, you most likely don’t need any graded courses. There are scores of professional musicians who have never had formal training.

If this sounds like you, then go to a local music teacher, and have them design a bespoke music syllabus for you. Paul Bothner Music has a selection of in-store teachers who can teach you to play an instrument, without the stress of writing exams.

Why Do Graded Music Lessons?

There is no single reason why anyone should do formal music lessons. Ultimately, your decision will be based on your motivation. Having said that we’re going to look at the two primary motivations that music teachers hear: passion or an educational requirement.

If you are passionate about music, you should take every edge to improve not only your playing but your knowledge of music theory. You’re not being forced or coerced into lessons, all you want is get better.

By taking formal lessons, you can improve your songwriting, and develop new playing techniques. The great thing with this approach is that you don’t need to write the exams. You can get the books you need and work through them until you reach the top music grade (grade 8).

Of course, if you’ve gone through the effort of learning the material, you may as well write the exam so that you can have some bragging rights.

The second, and arguably most common reason that people take up formal graded music lessons is that they want to study music in school. If you’re going to take music as a high-school subject, you will be required to play at a grade-6 musical level by matric.

If you want to study music at university, you should aim for grade 8. Some of the top music universities will require that you play two instruments; one will need to be at grade 8 level, with the other at grade 6.

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Choosing the Best Course

By now, you should have already decided whether or not you need to do formal graded lessons. But, just because you’ve decided to do grading, that doesn’t help you choose which stream is best for you.

Your initial thinking might be that you should study the genre that you enjoy listening to the most. And while that is true for the most part, you also need to determine how far you want to take your music studies.

If you love Rock or Pop music and want to be a performer, then the Rock & Pop School is the ideal choice. But, if you’re going to study music at a university level, then it’s recommended that you take classical lessons, regardless of your musical tastes.

Rock School vs Classical Training - What are the Differences?

Music Theory

While both options expect a student to master a certain degree of music theory, Classical training often demands a higher degree of music theory training.

Traditionally, in Classical grading, you will also do theory grading. If your primary instrument is at Grade 8, your theory level should be at grade 6.

The type of theory you do will also differ. Rock and Pop music training will focus more on popular music, the modes, and straightforward songwriting.

Classical music theory will teach you more about orchestrations, song arrangements, and has a higher emphasis on music theory as a whole. If you love music theory and want to explore it on a deeper level, then classical training is a better option.

Having said that, you can always take a Rock School course and supplement that by doing Classical theory grading.

Reading Music

While doing classical training, you will be expected to master sight-reading. For the uninitiated, sight-reading is where you are given a piece of sheet music, and you have to play what’s on the page.

Sight-reading is so essential to classical training that every exam you play will have 5-20% of the final score assigned to sight-reading.

While Rock & Pop School teaches some sight-reading, it is not emphasised. Instead, the focus is more on playing by ear. When playing an exam, the student will have the option to do either an Aurol test or a sight-reading test.

However, while sight-reading is optional for Rock School exams, if you take music as a high-school subject, you will still need to demonstrate your ability to sight-read during exams.

Sitting/Playing Position

Classical training is rigid when it comes to how you sit or how you hold your instrument. A few years ago it wasn’t uncommon for guitar students to lose a few points in an exam if they held their guitar wrong. Ouch! That’s not the most pleasant way to have a few points docked.

Rock & Pop School is somewhat lax in this regard. As long as how you hold your instrument doesn’t affect your ability to play well, you get free rein.


Since the genres of music you’re playing are different, you will learn different techniques. So you might find yourself wondering, “Which is easier?”

The truth is that neither one is easier than the other to master. A classically trained guitarist won’t automatically be a better shredder than someone who has been ripping it up for years.

Classical training often has the stigma that the techniques are harder, but ultimately this is false.

Which is Better?

If you came here looking for a hard result saying that one stream is better than the other, we’re sorry to disappoint you, but neither is better than the other.

Like with most things when it comes to music, the best option is a personal choice that you need to make. If you want to study music at university, play for the Cape Philharmonic, or you love classical music, then do classical training.

If you love Rock or Pop music, want to take music as a high-school subject, or want to write contemporary music, then take on the Rock and Pop School course.

Ultimately, the BEST choice is whichever choice keeps you interested in playing music.

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