What Makes The JTC Degree So Special? Head of Guitar, Martin Goulding Gives A Detailed Overview

Since graduating from the Guitar Institute of Technology in 1993, Martin Goulding has become one of the foremost modern rock educators in the UK and an internationally respected guitarist. He is featured regularly in publications/websites such as Guitar TechniquesTotal GuitarGuitar World, and Guitar Interactive. DIME ONLINE has partnered with JTC to create the world’s leading specialist online guitar degree – validated and awarded by Falmouth University. As Head of Guitar, Martin has developed the key subject areas of the BA(Hons) Creative Music Performance – JTC Degree.

I’d like to provide an overview of this course and offer some insight into the work that has gone into its structure and design. I’m extremely proud that we have seen a number of students now graduate from the course successfully, with a high percentage of these being awarded first-class honours degrees.

It was a great honour to be involved in the design of the Technical Development and Improvisation modules for the JTC degree, which form the majority of the curriculum at levels 4 and 5. These two subjects are delivered over four thirteen-week trimesters. The subjects are then combined in the Applied Techniques module which continues on in level 6.

To maximise learning, all of the Technical Development and Improvisation modules were written in parallel. The concepts from the technical modules are then directly applied into an improvisational context. This gives the curriculum a sense of continuity, with key skills always being developed within two adjoining modules. As the JTC Degree has been written from the ground up, the vision was to present these two subjects as tightly knit counterparts. This helps to develop a more detailed knowledge of the concepts covered, with all relevant harmony, theory, technique and improvisational use incorporated across both modules.

To provide a logical and progressive flow throughout the course, the design of the Technical Development modules has been based around the step-by-step unfolding of Western Harmony, from the intervals of the major and minor scales, to the triads, seventh chords, extensions, pentatonic and blues scales and modes found within the diatonic system, while at the same time developing intervallic recognition and technical control. As the course progresses, harmonic and melodic minor scale systems are studied in depth, as well as symmetrical scales such as half-whole diminished. Each new tonality is accompanied by exercises, licks and ideas in the style of some of the world’s most renowned players to help you build your knowledge and expand your vocabulary. Along with a thorough grounding in harmony and theory from simple to progressively more sophisticated concepts, the module is also structured around the historic development of styles and techniques, with level 4 themed around the country-blues, rock ’n’ roll, classic rock and early modern rock styles. This covers a period in guitar playing from the mid-1950s to the early 1980s, with references to players including Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Angus Young, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads.

  • The CAGED/EDCAG system for major, minor, major 7, minor 7, dominant 7, major and minor 7b5 chords, scales and arpeggios
  • Parallel major and minor scale studies
  • Relative major and minor, pentatonic and blues scale studies
  • Open and closed-voiced triads, inversions and harmonised scale studies
  • Key change studies – cycle of fourths
  • Dominant I IV V blues and minor ii V I jazz progression studies
  • The modes of the major scale
  • Intervallic scale studies including 3rds, 4ths, 5ths and 6ths
  • Techniques and the development of a vocabulary associated with the classic country, blues and rock styles including riffs, open string licks, hammer-ons and pull-offs, bending and vibrato, repetition licks, blues scale licks and double-stops
  • Techniques and the development of a vocabulary associated with the modern rock/metal style including alternate picking, sweeping and legato techniques

As mentioned, the Improvisation modules take these fretboard skills and develop them further. This reinforces the technical concepts covered and helps to place the ideas within a stylistic improvisational context. With a natural overlap from the practising of a technique to the development of an associated vocabulary of ideas for improvisation, this module also contains licks and phrases as well as frameworks for developing intervallic recognition and identifying chord tones when improvising. The main idea being that by integrating new ideas with our existing vocabulary, we can gradually expand our base of musical ideas in a particular style. Similar to the Technical Development modules, all lessons include video demonstrations, full notation/tablature, lecture notes and professional quality backing tracks.

  • The identification of chord tones and extensions within scales and modes
  • Sequencing and transposing melodies
  • Approaches to parallel and relative major and minor scale improvisation
  • Approaches to major and minor pentatonic improvisation
  • Approaches to major and minor blues scale improvisation
  • The targeting of chord tones using upper and lower neighbour tone enclosures
  • Using eighth- and sixteenth-note lead-in phrases – tension and resolution
  • Major and minor modes and the targeting of colour tones
  • The use or omission of ‘avoid’ notes when improvising
  • The use of primary triads and inversions in rhythm-part construction and single line improvisation
  • Superimposing triads and arpeggios – extended harmony
  • Visualisation of common tones and chord tones across major, natural minor and modal key changes arranged in one area of the fretboard
  • Developing pentatonic and modal vocabulary for improvisation
  • Approaches to dominant I IV V and minor ii V I progressions

Moving on to the Advanced Techniques modules at level 5, the lesson content starts to focus on more specialised styles but continuing on with a study of the harmonic minor scale. You will look at a range of diverse styles which feature the use of this scale. This includes jazz, with a study on the minor ii-V-I progression and lines in the style of the great jazz players. Additionally, the classic rock style is examined with reference to players known for their use of this sound such as Ritchie Blackmore and Uli Roth. Finally, you will finish with a modern Neo-classical rock/metal study with reference to players such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Vinnie Moore and Tony Macalpine. As the module progresses, there is an alternating emphasis on both modern rock and jazz/fusion styles, with the modules broken down into mini courses.

  • The harmonic minor diatonic system including chords, arpeggios and modes with an emphasis on the V dominant 7b9/Phrygian dominant sound.
  • Extended chords and arpeggios/diatonic superimposition
  • Chromatic enclosure study
  • Developing a jazz-line/bebop vocabulary over major 7, minor 7 and dominant tonalities
  • Modern fusion sequences using economy picking/legato
  • Position/3-notes-per-string scale system
  • Advanced modern rock technique study including alternate picking, full-roll legato, 2-handed tapping and sweeping used in conjunction with left and right-handed tapping.
  • The melodic minor diatonic system including chords, arpeggios and modes
  • Lydian Dominant and Superlocrian studies including guest lectures by  Tom Quayle
  • Altered dominant chords/the major ii V I progression/voice leading and the use of guide-tones

The counterpart Advanced Improvisation modules at level 5 run in parallel with Advanced Techniques course and focus on applying the ideas from the latter in an improvisational context. With an equal blend of rock/metal and jazz-rock-fusion concepts, the emphasis is on expanding our vocabulary of stylistic ideas and appreciating the differences in presentation form one style to another.

  • The establishment of triad and arpeggio-based improvisational frameworks taken from the harmonic minor scale for applying in a variety of styles; these include the traditional minor ii-V-i jazz progression, as well as static fusion vamps and classically-influenced classic and modern rock progressions.
  • Improvisational elements including the use of space, dynamics and rhythmic groupings as a means to create tension and resolution
  • Specialised modern neo-classical rock/metal study, featuring a range of backing tracks, rhythm-part arrangements, licks and solo studies.
  • Development of a natural minor and Phrygian dominant-based rock vocabulary, including the use of extended range scalar runs, sweep-arpeggio playing, and bending and vibrato techniques.
  • Modal Interchange, and the arrangement of the seven modes in parallel. The use of mode-specific chord voicings, and the targeting of colour tones
  • Arpeggio-based chromatic enclosure study. Techniques and improvisational frameworks for the development of a jazz-line vocabulary, including the concept of superimposition as a means to create extended sounds
  • 7-position 3-notes-per-string system for the diatonic major scale
  • Specialised modern rock study in A Dorian, featuring a range of backing tracks, rhythm-part arrangements, concepts, and examples highlighting the use of half and full-roll legato styles; 2-handed tapping; and sweeping integrated with left and right-handed tapping.
  • The use of the melodic minor scale in conjunction with the Dorian mode over ii minor 7 chords
  • The use of the Lydian b7 mode in conjunction with the Mixolydian mode over non-functional V dominant 7 chords
  • Approaches to playing over altered dominant chords – the Superlocrian mode
  • The major ii V I progression

The Applied Techniques module at level 6 has an emphasis on harmonically advanced improvisational styles and continues on from the harmonic concepts covered at the end of the Advanced Techniques and Advanced Improvisation modules. As the course progresses, a range of styles are studied with an emphasis on recognising chord tones and introducing tension and resolution within a progression. After a two-week study on the use of the altered scale as a means to heighten tension within a blues progression (with references to some of the great bebop players as well as a study in the style of blues-fusion guitarist Robben Ford) the module then moves into a four-week study of some of the main concepts used in bebop improvisation. Techniques covered include the use of: octave-displacement as a means of creating interest in a melodic line; direct, indirect and double indirect approaches to using guide-tones; the use of the b9 to 5th (V7 to I) resolution; as well as the targeting of altered intervals such as the b9th, #9th and #5th degrees as a means of creating tension within the progression. These techniques, which are applied to both scalar and arpeggio-based frameworks, are then used as concepts for improvisation over backing tracks in the swing jazz/bebop style.

The module then continues on with developing vocabulary using the half-whole scale, with arpeggio-based sequences, scalar lines and licks in the style of some of the great fusion improvisers such as John Scofield, Bireli Lagrene, Frank Gambale and Michael Brecker. For stylistic contrast, we also take a look at how this sound can also be applied in a progressive rock/metal context to provide tension and colour.

These modules form the harmonic, technical and improvisational core and are accompanied by a range of other modules which build key skills in other areas of guitar-based professional musicianship. At level 4, there is the Rhythm Studies module written by top international touring/session guitarist and JTC artist Denny Ilett. A popular module with our students, the course is structured with a different style presented each week in the form of a video masterclass, along with notation/tablature and lecture notes. This module develops an awareness of the authenticity and presentation of each style, with the emphasis based around the characteristic sound and use of certain stylistic techniques. An essential component for developing session skills alongside rhythmic and stylistic versatility, this module provides a tour through a broad and diverse range of styles including folk, blues, soul, pop, rock, metal, jazz, funk, flat-picking and fingerstyle.

Another popular module at level 4 is Artist Studies. This module is based around analysing your musical goals on the instrument and then choosing a particular ‘iconic’ guitarist, who by studying can help to elevate your own skill set as well as develop a deeper knowledge of the artist’s style and associated techniques. Over the last couple of years delivering this module, I have seen rapid progress in the overall musicianship of the students, with final performances demonstrating repertoire by players such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Nuno Bettencourt. This part of the course is primarily based on self-directed study, with the opportunity to focus on some of the great players that have influenced you. At level 5, the concept behind the module expands in Artist Analysis, with a new artist studied and a new repertoire of tracks selected for research and then performance in the final assessment.

Running alongside Advanced Techniques, Advanced Improvisation and Artist Analysis at level 5 is the Composition and Arrangement module. This module provides our students with an opportunity to study and apply a range of methods for composing and arranging original music. With weekly tasks based around producing original compositions to specific briefs, the course is supported by interviews with professional composers and arrangers including Rupert Christie (U2, Greenday, Coldplay, Jessie J), Mark Taylor (Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Lionel Richie), and David Saunders (Film/TV composer – BBC, Kevin Spacey, Judge Dredd). The themes set up and explored in this module then create a solid foundation as we move into level 6, with the ‘Developing Your Own Style’ module. DYOS again encourages and develops critical thinking, research and analysis as well as creative output. With Solo Performance and the Professional Practice Portfolio modules in the completing level 6, there is an emphasis on performance with an extended portfolio of original compositions performed in the final assessment, as well as a thorough grounding in how to approach developing and sustaining a career in music.

The course places equal importance on technical development, harmonic knowledge, building vocabulary of rhythm and lead-based ideas across a broad range of styles, intervallic recognition and improvisational control, the process of writing and arranging music, the development of your own sound and style and the ways in which you can build a professional practice. We offer JTC membership throughout the duration of the course, with unlimited access to their extensive catalogue of masterclasses, backing tracks and exclusive tuition packages by some of the world’s top players. We also feature exclusive interviews, masterclasses and guest lessons from artists in their roster including Guthrie GovanTom QuayleDenny IlettJake WillsonAndy James and Sam Birchall with more being added all the time.

One of the most important aspects of an online course at this level is the sense of community and support. Online learning is like working from home and will demand a certain level of self-motivation. To enhance the student experience, all of us at DIME ONLINE have worked hard to create the conditions for a thriving community, with individual weekly feedback on the tasks and assignments,1-to-1 Skype tutorials and regular group tutorials. I am joined on the guitar faculty by Jon Bishop, a professional studio and touring guitarist as well as highly respected educator and writer for Total Guitar and Guitar Techniques magazines. You are also closely supported by Mike Sturgis (Head of Education), who has worked in further and higher education for many years and as a professional musician who has toured and recorded with a long list of top artists. Along with the student administration and wellbeing team (also comprised of experienced teachers and creative professionals) there is plenty of direct access and interaction with a whole team of professionals who are there to support you throughout the course.

From being involved in the course design to delivering the modules, I have seen incredible dedication and progress from our students. One clear way in which the online model encourages a quicker level of development than what I’ve seen in conventional campus-based courses is the way in which the students submit their weekly assignments as videos. This gives a regular opportunity not only to receive individual written feedback from tutors (as opposed to the more general group feedback given in a lecture hall full of students) but also for the students to be able to reflect and self-critique their demonstrations and performances. With all weekly tasks recorded to video, awareness develops at a much higher rate; any problem areas in the playing are more easily identified and corrected.

With a strong technical emphasis and with much of the course based around performance, this course has more in common with traditional conservatoires than many campus-based music degrees, where lessons are often delivered to groups of students from different instrumental backgrounds and in a classroom environment. At DIME ONLINE, we’ve taken a more specialised approach, with the instrument at the centre of the experience and the course-content carefully written and structured around developing a professional level of instrumental skill in a range of styles, as well as a broad and well-developed knowledge of contemporary music.

Martin Goulding



If you’d like to get in touch to ask a question or find out more, then email info@dime-online.org