Tips For HSC Guitar Students

I commonly meet students in year 10 and 11 who have chosen music (and guitar) as an elective for their HSC. Sure this may seem like a really fun idea because you get to play guitar for your school work, but how can you score your bet marks in your HSC? The short answer is simple to get as good as you possible can.

But how can this be done? Years 11 and 12 are busy with many assessments for many subjects, so try implementing these ideas to perform to your maximum potential for your Music HSC.

Choose Wisely

Whilst you have one compulsory performance, there are several options for your other three electives in HSC music. You can choose more performances, a viva-voce or a composition. I always recommend for students to play their strengths. If you’re a highly skilled guitarist, then go with performance. If you have an depth knowledge about a particular band, genre, style or musical concept, then you might be better off going with a viva. I rarely recommend composition because the odds of a young student making a piece that will score them high marks is quite slim, however if you feel that you can create a piece that showcases outstanding musicianship, then composition may be for you. You can choose any combination of these options, however if you are wanting to become a highly skilled guitarist, then choosing performance allows you to focus on that.

Commit To Minimum Practice

Take your practice seriously. After all, it’s what makes you the musician that you are. You should decide on a minimum amount of practice per week. This could be 30 minutes every day, 60 minutes every second day – whatever it is, make it something realistic for your busy schedule. Once you complete this minimum amount of practice, you can choose to keep playing if you wish, or put the guitar away.

Commit to this, no matter what. Even if you have to stay up later at night to get the practice in. I distinctly remember practicing late at night during my senior years at school, just so I could get my guitar practice in. Joe Robinson (an Australian guitarist) used to get up and do four hours of practice before school each day.

Whatever you end up choosing – commit to it. Make it a priority.

Practice Routine

Some people don’t like turning practice into a routine, but I recommend having at least a small portion of your practice time as some kind of routine that is the same every time. It could be a warm up of scales or exercises, or even just a handful of songs that you play through every practice session. Focus on things that will develop skill, technique and knowledge. Play exactly the same way every time. The key is consistency.


Just because there’s an awesome song out there, doesn’t mean it should be played for the HSC exactly as the original recording. I recommend minimising the amount of time spent repeating sections and playing basic aspects like strumming chords. The majority of the playing should revolve around earning your marks by playing picking, fingerpicking, percussive finger style, guitar solos, arpeggios etc. I rarely have HSC students play the song exactly as it originally was, we typically cut the verses down a lot and rarely repeat the same guitar part. A great example of this would be to strum the chords in verse 1, but pick the melody in verse 2 – which is also half the length of verse 1.

If the examiner has seen that you can strum four chords in verse 1, they (usually) then want to see you do something different from then on.

Earn Your Marks

Imagine that you start your performance with 0 marks. Every time the examiner sees you do something, you earn one mark. So if you play a G chord, that’s one mark. If you play the G chord again, you don’t receive another mark because he’s already seen that you can play that chord.

In order to receive full marks, you’ll need to earn them by showing lots of flashy guitar playing like picking, sweeping, fingerpicking, complicated rhythms, arpeggios, legato etc. The catch is that it has to be played well and in time. After all, complicated guitar work that’s played incorrect is still incorrect. It’s best to play something simpler and get it right.

Don't Limit Yourself

Let’s be honest – most guitarists just want to learn and play songs. And why not, they’re great. But there’s much more to music than just songs. There’s scales, sight reading, exercises, interval training, music theory… the list is just about endless. It’s a common misconception that the only thing that really matters is playing songs, but all of the other areas will greatly impact how you play songs. Exercises develop technique, interval training improves pitch identification and sight reading drastically corrects timing and rhythm – and guitarists are renown for always being out of time.

My point is this – all of these other areas help make you a better musician and guitarist, so there’s no reason for a dedicated musician to neglect them. Students who learn these areas typically improve in ways they would never have expected and ultimately become much better musicians.

Acoustic, Electric, Fingerpicking... Does It Matter?

A common misconception is that beginner guitarists start on acoustic and the good players go to electric, therefore the HSC exam guitar performance should be on electric. But this is ridiculously false. There are plenty of easy and challenging songs on both acoustic and electric guitar.

Having that said, you need to keep in mind that the HSC performance is all about earning marks by showcasing your skills. So simple chords and strumming won’t get you far. You’re usually better off going with finger picking (especially percussive finger-style) for acoustic guitar, and any form of lead guitar song for electric. It could be rock, pop, jazz, fusion, blues, metal… it doesn’t really matter too much. The showcase of talent is far more important than musical genre or type of guitar you play it on.


This playlist contains some great ideas for HSC pieces. They showcase a high level of skill and musicianship, which is exactly what you want to do to earn your marks. Don’t feel limited to the artists on this list, there are plenty more who have ideal songs for the HSC guitar exams.

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