Month: February 2011

At The Most Trying Hours…

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February 23, 2011


Troubles come in my teaching from time to time. They become so overwhelming that teaching seems to be a daunting task.


Those are the times when I start to wonder if I should continue with such task, which meaning I fear skeptical of.


However, every time when such thought of doubt slips in, I receive the warmest response from students and their parents. Such response includes not only students’ improvements in learning attitude, behavior and performance, but also their parents’ support and sincere appreciation in my never-ceasing effort towards better teaching, better learning as well as better communication.


Therefore, I must give my sincere thanks to you all for your support, my Students and their Parents. I shall not give up for those petty obstacles getting in this glorious path of music making and piano teaching.


This is the end of my melodramatic speech.



Teresa Wong

About Practice: Why & How

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PRACTICE IS OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE SECOND TO LESSONS.


Why Do We Practice?

We practice in order to understand a work, in terms of its musical content, its structure, its expression, its character and style. We practice to understand the little details of the work, the phrasing, the dynamic layout, the articulation, the movement of the melodic lines, the rhythm and tempo etc.

We practice to perfect our playing of the work. After we understand the work, we have to express it through our hands. We transfer what we know in our mind to our hands and through our hands to the piano. From the piano our understanding reaches the audience.

We practice to show others through the medium of piano how the work should sound like under our interpretation, through means of lessons, performance, exams and competitions.


How Should We Practice?

Practice is completely different than a performance or an actual rendition of the whole piece. When we practice, most of the time we do not go through the whole work. We do not hear the whole song all the time completely from the beginning to end all the time. Most of the time we merely hear bits and pieces, a phrase here and there.

Practice means drilling difficult bits and pieces of a song in progress. You can first play through once or twice to locate the problems encountered in the song. Then you mark down the areas you have trouble playing through, work on the each problem with concentration and patience, tackle it one by one, and eventually put the whole piece together to become a solid performance.


Practice Session: Time Allocation

Recently one parent asked me as to how specifically the time of each practice session should be allocated.
Now I shall take time to tell you all how is should be done in general:

First of all, students should practice five days a week at the minimum. If you or your kids can practice more (days and times), great. If practice less, do not ask me why you or your kids are not familiar with the songs and are slow with the learning progress. You should know why now. (However, I should add that parents should let younger students have one day off from practice per week.)


For beginners (young and mature):
20-30 minutes per daily session
Steps (in order):
1. 5(-10) minutes: scales- hands separately, together, contrary and similar motion, 1 octave or 2 octaves
2. 10 minutes: first song
3. 10 minutes: another song
We always start with scales to warm up the hands and brains.
Depending on how many songs I have given the student, s/he should spend the time left after scales equally between them. If there are one new song and one revision song, work specifically on the new one (15 minutes) and fine-tune the details on the old one (5 minutes).
I usually have marked down the phrases in numbers in each song. Practice each phrase one by one, especially in the new song(s).
Other than practicing 1 long session of 30 minutes, parents can break down the session into two shorter sessions of 15 minutes for young beginners (age 4-5), so they can practice scales and one song in one session, and another song(s) in the other session. You can read more about this at my previous post: “Young Children’s Practice Sessions” .


For students over 1-year training and lower-grade students (grades 1-5):
30-45 minutes per daily session (at least 30 minutes for 1-year level and at least 45 minutes for those preparing for exams)
Steps (in order):
1. 10(-15) minutes: scales
2: 15 minutes: first song
3: 15 minutes: second song
4: 5(-10) minutes: third song(revision or duet piece)

Same to the beginners, start with scales. All students should spend more time with the scales, with correct notes, correct fingering (MUST follow the directions), steady pulse, then accuracy and fast speed.
By this level students should know how to practice PHRASE BY PHRASE, as I have mentioned many times (and cannot be stressed more) in every student’s lessons and to each student’s parents individually.


For students of higher grades (grades 6-8):
45 minutes – 1 hour per daily session
Steps (in order):
1. 15 minutes: scales – go for speed and accuracy now! If I give you technical exercises other than scales, do it first in your practice session as well
2. 15-20 minutes on each song (solo)
3. 10 minutes or so on duet piece (if any)

You should know how to practice without me mentioning here! But let me stress again the importance of scales (and exercises specifically given to you individually). For pieces, PRACTICE PHRASE BY PHRASE, SECTION BY SECTION! Work on it bit by bit. Although I have said this many times, I know few of you do it. There is ABSOLUTELY no point to play through the song from head to toe 10 times and say you have finished the practice of it. If you are still doing it, it is because YOU ARE LAZY! And do not want to spare your brain to think about HOW to get the song fixed. Go through the problems one by one, fix them one by one, tackle them and do not be afraid of them. Spend more time on the problematic areas than those you already know so well! (Do you spend more time to revise on the subject or chapter you are good at? NO! Then why are you doing it in your practice??Let us do something that makes sense, shall we?)

Listen to your own practice, pay attention and effort to the little details. They are the ones that count.


Diploma students:
Hmm I should not be telling you this, as you should know HOW to practice!
But obviously most of you do not (sigh).

Now, same thing as everyone. Do your technical exercises, etudes FIRST. 10 minutes or so. It is the quality of your practice counts, not the time here.

Next, the pieces. Sometimes there is only one big piece you are working on specifically.
Take time to learn the new piece at the beginning (as do everyone else from beginners to graded students). If you spend more time to understand the piece at the start, you will have a better luck at getting it done in the process of learning it. KNOW YOUR PIECE WELL. What exactly is each phrase doing? Where is each section? What is the music trying to say? And how is this done? (e.g. the music devices used)

Another thing is: spend more time on truly getting the specific techniques and polishing them. For those technical movements I have taught you, you have to work a lot to get it. It is not easy to get it and does take time to do so. With technique, it would be easy for you to get your performance to the next level. Without it, you might be stuck at the same level for the longest period of time.

But again, stay positive. Know that practice with devotion and dedication will always get you somewhere leading towards your goal. Do not rush your practice and progress. It cannot be rushed. If you only think about taking the diplomas, you will not get anywhere, only with much luck those empty certificates hanging on the wall. The papers are meaningless if you do not keep playing and learning and polishing. Stay in love with your playing and practice. Give positive energy in your everyday practice session. Give yourself hope and faith. We can do it together.



Remember this: PRACTICE IS STUDENTS’ AND THEIR PARENTS’ RESPONSIBILITY, NOT THE TEACHER’S.
Teacher is responsible for teaching the students how to practice.
Parents are responsible for reminding their children to practice well before coming to lessons.

Without practice, teacher cannot do much with the students’ learning and progress. It is equal to academic homework and revision study for any school subject. Without knowing the alphabets one cannot learn words, and without words no grammar and sentences. Same goes to piano and music learning. Without knowing the notes and rhythms one cannot play go further to work on the pulse and speed, not to mention the character and emotion of the song.



TO KNOW THE JOY OF MUSIC, ONE HAS TO LEARN THE WAY TO MAKE IT.



Teresa Wong




More on Practice at :
“Piano Practice I”

“The Right Mindset”

How to Make the Most of a Practice Session


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Storytelling in Piano Playing 彈琴講故事

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I always remember that, once upon a time, many years ago, my first Teacher told me to draw a picture about this one Schumann’s piece from “Waldszenen” (Forest Scene Op.82). Although I recalled that my Teacher laughed about my drawing, it was a good experience to create imagery out of a musical work.

我一直記得,曾幾何時,很多年前,我的啟蒙老師叫我這首舒曼的作品(“Waldszenen“, 森林場景 Op.82)畫一幅圖畫。雖然我記得我的老師笑我的畫功很不濟,但是從音樂作品創造出一個意象確實是一個很好的經驗。


Now, sometimes I would ask my students to do the same, make an imagery or a story out of the piece they are working on, as we need to train our imagination and creativity particularly in a society that does not encourage such aspects. The following story is written by a student who has been playing a contemporary piece “Oni-Arare” by the Japanese composer Akira Yuyama:

現在,有時我也會叫我的學生做同樣的事情,把他們正在學習的樂曲晝一幅圖晝或寫一個故事。特別是在一個不鼓勵想像力和創造力的社會中,我們更加需要訓練和培養它們。下面的故事是學生為日本作曲家Akira Yuyama的當代作品”Oni-Anare”寫作的:


Here I have made a video with the simplified storyline in it.
在這視像中,我把故事劇情簡化再加上這首樂曲作背景音樂。

[qt:http://teresawong.dyndns.org:9001/video/onianarestory.m4v 640 360]

Note: For better viewing experience, please click on the post’s title and have the video mostly or fully loaded before you start watching it.
注:為了更好的視覺體驗,請點擊這篇文章的標題和等待視像大部分或完全下載後再開始收看。


Credits-
Piece Title: “Oni-Anare”
Composer: Akira Yuyama
Director & Editor: Teresa Wong

***


The whole story 整個故事:
Oni-Arare Story


(bars 1-19)
There was once a family with three kids living in a valley called the ‘Arare’ family or the Arares for ‘Arare’ was their last name. The names of the threesome were (in order of youngest to eldest) Akira, Hana, then Rikiya. Boy, girl, boy.

Then one day, the three Arares were playing hide and seek outside.
“HA! I found you Hana!” exclaimed Akira. “There’s Rikiya!”
“Wow, it’s getting late. Let’s go home,” said Hana.
“OK,” Rikiya agreed.
They ran back to the house and ate dinner. It was soon their bedtime.
“Oh, I know!” exclaimed Akira.
“What?” Rikiya inquired.
“How about all of us go to the mountain in front of the valley! We could explore the mountain the whole day and then come back for dinner!” Akira said eagerly.
“Wait,” Hana told Akira. “I’ll go ask.”
A minute later, Hana told her brothers that they could go but they had to wake up extra early to prepare.
“Mom says to fix a meeting point in case one of us gets lost,” Hana informed her brothers.
“We could meet at our uncle’s house. He lives very close to the mountain,” says Akira
“That sounds OK. I’ll inform mom and dad tomorrow,” Rikiya replied.


(bars 20-27)
The next day…
The kids were merrily climbing the mountain.
“This is so cool! I think that was a rare type of fox!” exclaimed Hana.
“Yeah!” Akira replied with enthusiasm.
The ground shook.
“What was that?” Akira asked.
“Probably a small earthquake,” replied Rikiya reassuringly. Where they lived, earthquakes were not uncommon occurrences.
(bars 28-39)
10 minutes later…
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
“What was thaat?” Akira asked, his voice shaking.
“Oh my lord. I just remembered that there was a devil living in this mountain! He doesn’t like people coming up his mountain. Especially kids!” Rikiya exclaimed.
un!” Hana cried.
They started running like headless chickens (crazy) down the hill. But the footsteps were getting closer and closer. The Arares were fleeing for their lives. They entered a forest and the footsteps faded away.
“Phew, that was close,” Rikiya sighed.
“Are we really saafe here?” Hana asked, her voice still shaking from the shock.
“Demons are dumb. They would never find us here.”
BOOM! BOOM!
“RUN!” cried Hana.


(bars 40-45)
And they were caught. Grabbed from the back by the giant demon’s hand.
“I’ve got you! Mwahahahaha! There’s no escaping now. I shall eat you for my snack!”
It was the voice of the demon.
So then Akira was dumped into the demon’s mouth.
The demon closed his eyes, a very unwise thing to do. Because the instant he had done so, Hana and Rikiya ran soundlessly out of their forest to their uncle’s house, their meeting point that they had decided on the day before.

(bars 46-the end of the song)
Back with the demon…
The demon is trying and failing to bite little Akira. Akira is too hard for the demon to bite and so the demon absently spit him out. Akira then ran to the meeting point where the siblings made it back home. The demon, however, didn’t know that Akira wasn’t in his mouth anymore. He was still biting when suddenly there was a huge cracking noise and the demon thought that he finally managed to bite Akira. But then a stab of pain brought him to his senses. He found out that there was really no Akira in his mouth and that he had broken his back tooth off!


***


Teresa Wong




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Afterthought On Students’ Recital 2011 學生演奏會後感

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We had our students’ recital on January 30th, 2011.


Ten days before the concert, we had a rehearsal. Some students did not arrive on time as asked, so the rundown was not smooth from the beginning. One of MCs for the first group was not there, I had to stand in for him; the first two performers had to come late and so we had to start rehearsing from the third performer. There were way too many kids at the same time to be handled with; fortunately I had a couple parents to help with and the kids were in general cooperative. There was a big student crowd ready to get out of control and a tight schedule to be overrun at any time. It was a total madness: I would definitely suffer from a massive heart attack should I have cardiac problem.


It was a great experience for most students to have the rehearsal: most of them had never performed in front of a public audience while some of them were still very young, somewhere between age 4 and 5. After the hectic rehearsal, there was little time left for revising the final drafts of the recital brochure and the MC script.


The rehearsal revealed some students were already quite well prepared while others needed much more last-minute brush up than expected. The following week prior to the recital was a tough time for me: I was constantly going through the worst case scenario about the whole recital, especially running out of time due to the tight schedule and making the funniest presentation of the script by our possibly underprepared and nervous little MCs.


Finally, it was the day of our students’ recital.


I went to the recital hall early in the morning and got myself and the hall prepared before the performers arrived. Our backstage coordinators then came to get the students settled down and ready. Everyone was well dressed and excited. We were ready to go. Except our brochure which had not arrived yet.


While I was waiting for the arrival of our lovely brochure, I went outside and saw a great scene: our audience had arrived and was all queuing outside the entrance of the hall, all the way to the staircase!


Our star- brochures brought over by our great event coordinator – came at the very last minute right before our recital was on. I was much relieved. We started our performance a few minutes late as scheduled at 1pm. I, along with another student MC, came on the stage and greeted our audience. Then our concert began.


I had to play with the first few performers as they were quite young to be performed properly on their own. The first pair of MCs were a bit nervous but I could tell, especially one of them, did their homework and spoke much more fluently than in the rehearsal (Note: I decided to have my students to be the MCs because I wanted them to gain more stage performance and confidence in standing and eventually playing in front of the audience. And I did select the chosen ones out of certain reasons, e.g. improved behavior in lessons and progress in playing, etc.).


After the first few young ones had finished their performance, I went into the dressing room and caught my breath. The whole recital seemed to be under control of the backstage coordinators and pre-planned rundown. I began to worry that we might be running out of time since we started our recital late and it seemed that we were using up more time than counted in the rehearsal.


The girls in fact did much better job with the MC presentation than the boys. The older kids were much calmer than the young ones as some of them (my old students) had prior performance experience from our last recital, exams and competitions. I was feeling less anxious and let the students and coordinators do their job.


As the more advanced students went on to perform, I listened to their performance from the backstage. The audience seemed to react well and gave big applause to the courageous little performers. I felt I need not to worry about the last three adult students; they should be worried on their own but fine with their performance.


It came to the last performer of the day. I waited and got prepared for the last speech of the recital. I went out to greet the audience again and thank them for coming to the recital. Students and I took some great photos together; I finally came to my senses again and realized we had completed a wonderful students’ recital once again.


I was exhausted for the whole week after the completion of our recital.


******


To look back at our students’ recital, I could see there was much room for improvement in many areas. For one thing, it was a shame that I did not make time for myself to perform this time and might have disappointed many. There was no time at all for me and I was too involved with the whole event coordination matter. For sure next time I would do so otherwise. Another thing was that there was no intermission during the whole recital (due to tight schedule) and thus the younger performers could not hold still while sitting and inevitably made some noise. I did not blame them for doing so; as a matter of fact, the young ones had been behaving tremendously well for their age, and I was glad to see to it. About the MCs, I knew beforehand there would be much mistakes and mishaps produced by the students, but as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to give them – especially those who needed more encouragement – chances to improve their public performance manner and gain confidence from such opportunity and practice. I could tell both the MCs and performers did do so and they all behaved differently from the rehearsal already.


The recital hall had become too small for our growing crowd of students and audience; we would need a bigger venue for our next students’ recital, and that would mean much more administration and coordination work for the whole event management, and in simple words, bigger challenge for me. But that would just mean progress and improvement, and it would be a great thing, wouldn’t it?


******


After the recital, it is time to plan for the upcoming public performances. I truly need support and opinion from you, students and parents. Two wonderful students’ parents were great in helping us with organizing the recital this time and I was tremendously grateful for that. We would need more support in ideas and actions in the future. Readers and audience, please also feel free to voice out your ideas as well. I will keep posting the performance videos from our recital one by one here, please stay tuned.


Thank you all for your support along the way, whether you have participated in the recital or been reading my posts and following up our progress here or on our Facebook page. I will keep writing, articles and music. You can also let me know what topic you are interested in knowing more.


Thank you.


Teresa Wong
February 8, 2011.