Name: Oliver Zhang
Location: United Kingdom
Trinity qualification: Rock & Pop Drums (Initial - Grade 7)
Oliver is 13 years old and currently a student at City of London School. He has completed Initial through to Grade 7 in Trinity Rock & Pop Drums and has also achieved a Grade 5 in the Trinity Drum Kit syllabus. He completed all his exams as an external student, booking his assessments online and then attending the High Gate centre in Islington for face-to-face exams.
His drumming journey was completely accidental. Oliver’s parents are not musical but wanted him to learn an instrument. He didn’t express a strong preference for an instrument, so they originally picked piano. However, on the day of his first lesson his mum got lost and they missed the slot. Hurst Music Services said they had a drum teacher nearby who could get started quickly, and Oliver’s never looked back. It was that initial teacher that started Oliver on the Trinity Rock & Pop syllabus, and he enjoyed the structure so decided to stick with it.
He cites Dave Grohl as an inspiration, both for his musical output but also his own prowess on the drums.
The experience of working towards a Trinity qualification
Oliver enjoyed the process of working on his Trinity Rock & Pop qualifications, especially the systematic approach to skill development. He felt that the qualification sets out a clear goal and structure for achievement.
“There were clear goals, and I knew the next little step is achievable, and that I can work towards that. Then, when I achieve it, I know that I’m on the right track."
"At each level, there are different rudiments, scales, and skills. The syllabus gives you the opportunity to learn those through different songs.”
Oliver currently sees two music teachers; one in school for 30 minutes each week, and an independent teacher that he sees an hour a fortnight. During lockdown he also had a third teacher based in China that he learned with over Zoom once a week.
Zoom isn’t the only digital platform Oliver has used to advance his learning. He also felt that YouTube has been a great resource for learning songs, specifically to support his timings. These included both Trinity-made videos and those uploaded by other creators.
That is as far as his digital experience goes, however, always opting to do face-to-face exams rather than a digital submission. He has experimented with recording, sending the footage to his teachers to see if they felt it was good enough, but ultimately the familiarity of the in-person exams kept him from changing.
Welcoming new opportunities
Oliver’s Trinity Rock & Pop qualifications have presented many opportunities for him to expand his craft. After his music teacher saw his proficiencies with percussion instruments, he was invited to join his school’s second orchestra. It was here that he first got to play the timpani – something he really enjoyed.
He is also part of the school swing band, where he plays the drums. One thing he did note was how, although his exams have given him competency with the drums, they hadn’t necessarily taught him to perform as part of a band, where nuances about timings, anticipating your bandmates and knowing when to be loud or quiet were more driven by intuition.
The school puts on at least one concert every term, but there are frequently other opportunities to perform with his peers.
Perhaps the biggest opportunity was his acceptance into the NSSO philharmonic orchestra, where during his audition, he performed songs from his Grade 6 Trinity Rock & Pop. He had a week-long residency in April, where he got to experiment with new instruments, including the snare drums, crash symbols, and the marimba. He also learned how to play the triangle correctly: “There’s not a wrong way, but there is a right way.”
The residential was the first time Oliver had ever stayed away from home, where he “met other musicians, met new teachers and new friends.” Immediately after getting home he was asking his parents to go back next year.
The impact of the experience
Completing his (to date) eight Trinity music qualifications has really boosted Oliver’s confidence – especially around exams. To start with, he was very nervous about sitting any exam, but now he views them as an objective. He’s comfortable booking an exam and then working to that deadline, rather than being perfect beforehand. It adds a little bit of pressure to put in the hours in practising.
“I’m definitely less nervous when going into an exam. Passing an exam is a goal, so it’s about planning for a goal and how to achieve that goal.”
The next steps in his journey
Oliver admits that whatever his future career is, it’s unlikely to centre around music. He feels that drumming is more likely to be a hobby or a skill that he continues to refine outside of work, although does have some interest in performing in a band.
Similarly, he is keen to continue learning other percussion instruments, particularly orchestra instruments like the timpani.
Personal tips and advice
Despite being so young, and so early in his musical journey, Oliver had some great advice for other aspiring Trinity candidates.
“Starting something new, it can be difficult, but once you get used to it and practise it, it feels good once you’ve learned it.“