Author: Teresa Wong

To My Old Piano Students

Dear Students,

How are you? I wonder how you’ve been doing. When’s the last time you played your piano? When’s the last time you shared music with others?

I think about you often. I do. 

I remember how our first piano lessons together, and how that evolved to become a long-term relationship as teacher and students, as well as friends. 

I remember we had the first breakthrough in one of our lessons, it was amazing.

I remember how I felt so emotional and touched when I heard you play in some occasions, thinking I was really blessed to have all these lovely students who wanted to share music with me for so many years.

I remember how I told you to have a haircut because your hair was frankly, messy (you see, your teacher, aka moi, also have the same problem from time to time when life gets hectic, still do).

I remember we had that talk, and I really hoped it resonated with you and helped you through.

I remember we had all those performance classes, masterclasses, concerts, all the rehearsals and performances – some frustrating moments, but always so many more good ones. 

I remember we would go to concerts together, and discussed about the concert afterwards with a drink each in our hands.

We also had lunch, dinner, barbecue and all sorts of gathering. There were never short of laughters. 

We had a lot of music gatherings and parties at my place.. it was a lot of fun. I love having parties and you all come over. 

I remember I cared. And I still do.

Frankly, I really miss all of you.

I hope you are good, and still play the piano.

Have a happy Chinese New Year,

Your Teacher,

TW

Must I learn to read music to play piano?

Some new piano students ask me this when we first meet, “Do I really have to read music? I just want to play the piano.” My answer is, “yes and no”. It depends on what you want to learn and play. There are a lot of great musicians who never learn to read music and yet they play marvellously. And then there are a lot of other great musicians who learn to read music and they play spectacularly. The first group of musicians is usually in the jazz/blues/pop/world music genre. They play by ear, they understand music differently the way those who read music. They usually improvise and create music more freely. The second group of musicians is the classically trained ones. These musicians learnt to read since they were young. They went through all the strict and traditional training. They understand music deeply and through various means. It is not just the reading that they need to learn, but they also know the theory, form and structure behind those notes. All these help them listen and play better. So, if you want to just play pop music and never care to bother with the classical pieces, then “no” I say you probably don’t really need to read music at all, and find someone who can teach you just like that (not the strictly classical piano teachers because they probably don’t know what to do with you!). But, if you ever want to learn something more complicated like a prelude and fugue by Bach or a nocturne by Chopin, then “yes” you would want to learn how to read. I always compare music learning to language learning. It’s really quite similar. Did you learn to read English? I am sure you did because you are now reading my article :) Did you ever wonder, “can I learn to speak English without learning to read English?” It sounds absurd. But the truth is, I bet you learnt to speak before you actually read it – you would probably know more words in your speech way ahead of your reading. It’s the chicken and egg theory. For me, I love to read (I’m an absolute bookworm). So I love to read music as well. I devoured a lot of new music just by playing through them the first second I see them. It’s an amazing feeling to have the ability to be able to sight-read in no time. It’s a lot of fun. But at the same time I like how some jazz and blues musicians who can improvise like mad – that’s really amazing to watch and listen to as well. In fact, I started improvising (and composing) a few years ago. At first, I found it hard to play random things because I was so used to read everything from the score and play exactly that. I was a bit “confused” (a popular word commonly used by my students). I was feeling that I couldn’t make mistake or “ugly sound” like that as I improvised, “that’s embarrassing!”. But I got over it, that’s the only way to learn to play differently. And it got better and was a lot of fun since then. Now I learn to play some blues because it’s just fun to learn something new, and I get to teach students that. For me, it’s not about just strictly “how you must read!” or “it doesn’t matter whether you read or not”, it’s rather what benefits that student the most. After all, music is about enjoyment (not so much for professional musicians all the time! Just like anyone in their field doing it professionally). It’s about people expressing themselves and sharing it with others. Of course there are times it’s challenging in the process of learning – there are obstacles and hurdles, there are setbacks and disappointment. But most important of all, we make progress by making mistakes, getting over them and moving onward and forward. With the new students, I combine listening and reading. Learning by rote is important for any beginners. With listening, memorizing patterns by sight and sound, as well as remembering notes one or two at a time, students make progress very quickly. It’s important for students to gain confidence by being able to play something simply successfully at the beginning, that sense of enjoyment and satisfaction, knowing that they can actually play the piano and make music, is the motive that moves them forward and keep learning. I could go on and on about music learning and piano playing, but I shall stop here and continue with another post on how teachers can motivate students in a positive direction with very simple cues in their piano journey. Teresa Wong

5 Tips to Prepare for Your Piano Diploma Exam (ATCL/dipABRSM)

Here are 5 tips to help you prepare for your piano diploma exam:

 

1. Read the Official Syllabus

Read the syllabus carefully: everything is written out very clearly in the syllabus provided by the music exam board you’re taking exam with, from the repertoire list, to time limit, writing format and word count. Go to the relevant link for your piano diploma:

ABRSM

Trinity College of Music

 

2. Choose a Well-balanced Program

It is advised to choose a program that includes pieces of not only from different musical periods but also varieties in musical styles and technical command. So think tempo contrast, different genres and structures (sonata/character piece/technical piece/fugue).

3. Show Your Strength and Hide Your Weakness

The recital program is for you to SHINE, to show your performance ability and musical understanding, rather than displaying your shortcomings in commanding a piece or two. Know your strength – usually your teacher (if you have one) would know quite well what that would be. Explore your ability and learn to perform pieces of higher level of difficulties is commendable, but knowing your limit is worth noting especially for exam purpose.

 

4. Combine Interest and Mastery in Your Exam Pieces

Choosing pieces you would like to learn is very important – but so is choosing pieces you CAN perform them technically and musically to the level of the diploma exam required. Do not choose pieces just because they are popular or technically demanding, but at the same time do not choose some music simply because they are obscure thinking the examiners have never heard and do not know how to mark them (think “new music”) – if that ever happens I suppose you as the candidate would not understand how to play it either! And don’t forget you have to talk about them if you’re taking any diploma exams with the ABRSM!

 

5. Understand the Difficulty when Preparing for a Diploma Exam

Preparing for a performance exam at a diploma level (whether ATCL/dipABRSM or higher) is a huge step up from grade 8 level – you have to not only learn how to play the piece but also really present the pieces at the performance level that a diploma requires. It’s a PERFORMANCE not just an exam.

Give time to prepare for it. Listen to a lot of performances, read a lot about the music, the history and the composer (you can find a lot of information online or at your local library). Find a great teacher to help you: even if it’s not regular lessons, take some lessons from a teacher or two to get advice and suggestions on your performance would really help you improve and be prepared for the exam.

Good luck to all of you who are preparing for your upcoming piano diploma. Enjoy the process and have fun with it!

 

Teresa Wong

Online Piano Consultation Program Special Promotion

To celebrate a special milestone with my lovely readers in my teaching and performing career, I am giving away a special promotion for all online consultation sessions, including:

piano diploma programs (dipABRSM piano, ATCL piano, LRSM piano, LTCL piano, dipABRSM piano teaching) –

repertoire advice,

performance improvement,

musical, technical and stylistic awareness,

quick study,

viva voce preparation,

programme notes writing (all instruments),

mock exams;

music college audition advice,

competition preparation,

college paper writing help;

piano teaching consultation-

ABRSM and TCL exams, and any general issues,

general teaching business consultation,

piano technique issues, music theory exams (grade 5 and grade 8),

music instruction book writing and publishing advice,

general performance improvement.

Anything music /piano-related topics!

When you sign up between now and the end of January 2019,  you can enjoy this offer until March 2019.

 

Teresa Wong Piano: music consultation (4 lessons)

 

Teresa Wong Piano: music consultation (2 lessons)





DipABRSM: Examples of Viva-Voce Questions(2)

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